Wittenberg was one of the earliest colleges to be founded in what was at the time a frontier region of the United States. In the early 19th century a movement known as American Lutheranism was breaking at many points with the tradition of the Old World. In 1836, pastors adhering to the use of the English language separated from the Joint Synod of Ohio and organized the English Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Ohio.
In 1842, this new synod voted unanimously to establish a theological and literary institution that would teach in English and serve American students. The Ohio group was joined by the Synod of the West, which included Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan and Illinois. Wittenberg was named after the German university in Wittenberg, Germany, where Martin Luther posted his famous 95 theses and where William Shakespeare, in his play, sent the young Hamlet for his early schooling.
Founding President Ezra Keller was interested in locating Wittenberg in a central location of the state, near the National Road, over which German and other immigrants moved westward through Springfield. On March 11, 1845, the Ohio Legislature issued a charter to the board of directors to open a new college in Springfield.
When Wittenberg began, it offered the traditional classical curriculum of Latin, Greek, Hebrew, moral philosophy, religion and mathematics but also included an emphasis on geology and other emerging sciences. Its founders were opposed to slavery and to undue foreign influences in education and religion.
In the past century the university has more than doubled in size and facilities and has greatly enlarged its endowment. In addition, continued curricular reforms have resulted in greater attention to the breadth of the liberal arts and a stronger sense of responsibility to the community.
Wittenberg’s mission is to develop the whole person – intellectually, spiritually, aesthetically, socially and physically.
Wittenberg University strives to educate students by developing in harmony the intellectual, spiritual, aesthetic, social and physical qualities that characterize wholeness of person. Wittenberg's primary purpose is to provide a learning environment and a teaching faculty of superior quality committed to liberal arts education and designed to impart knowledge, inspire inquiry and encourage independent thought so that Wittenberg men and women will live responsibly, think critically and creatively, judge rationally, communicate effectively, appreciate the aesthetic, and develop a commitment and enthusiasm for learning that will last throughout their lives.
Wittenberg, related to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, seeks to manifest its Christian commitment and Lutheran heritage. For academic and social integrity, Wittenberg encourages an environment of respect for all people and diverse beliefs. However, the university also encourages critical assessment of personal faith, beliefs and ethics. The university community challenges its members to perceive themselves as servants in society through clarification, assessment, and development of their spiritual beliefs and ethical values as these are manifested in academic, personal and social pursuits.
Wittenberg encourages an understanding and appreciation of the fine and performing arts – music, literature, theatre, dance and the visual arts – to enrich life’s aesthetic experience. It believes that the rewards from such study and performance significantly enhance the lives of its students. It believes that developing their ability to communicate through the arts and to respond to the arts sensitizes them to the human condition.
Wittenberg teaches moral responsibility, social consciousness, vocational commitment, and constructive social change as the foundation of citizenship in the world’s human community and in each person’s particular society. The university emphasizes learning that prepares its students for the many occupations and professions necessary for society’s well-being.
Wittenberg teaches respect for and appreciation of the physical world and the place in nature for humanity, and recognizes the obligation to care for the human body and to nurture, conserve and protect natural resources.
The Objectives of a Liberal Education at Wittenberg
A liberal education imparts a broad base of knowledge, and understanding, that enables the individual to discover his or her own interests and potentialities in a life that will likely extend well past the middle of the 21st century. To that end, the Wittenberg program sets broad, general requirements designed to enable the student to explore as many frontiers of knowledge as possible while becoming acquainted with the continuing traditions of society, thus preparing the student for the continuity and change that he or she will experience. In addition, the student is expected to pursue a particular field or fields in greater depth by means of the major and minor areas of concentration.
Wittenberg University’s mission finds expression in a liberal arts curriculum that seeks specifically to develop persons who: