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Located at Salem in Harrison County, Salem University (formerly Salem College) was established in 1888 with the help of the Seventh Day Baptist religious denomination. A key leader in the establishment of the school was Jesse Randolph, mayor of Salem and grandfather of future U.S. Sen. Jennings Randolph. The first president was John L. Huffman.

Although Salem Academy changed its name to Salem College in 1890, it maintained an academy or preparatory department until 1929, while adding college-level classes. It started with a single building on Main Street. Around 1900, a drunken mob armed with torches was deterred from burning down the college by President Theodore Gardiner, who threatened to shoot anyone who stepped on campus. The standoff occurred during a time of widespread arson caused by rivalry between citizens of the town and workers in the booming oil fields. Gradually, other buildings were built on the Main Street campus.

Salem College saw much development during the long presidencies of S. Orestes Bond (1919–51) and K. Duane Hurley (1951–73). Salem had long been accredited by the West Virginia State Department of Education, and under Hurley’s leadership in 1963 gained full accreditation by the North Central Association of Secondary Schools and Colleges. A great increase in enrollment followed. For many years Salem had offered evening extension classes at public high schools in various locations. A Clarksburg campus was established in 1958 and expanded in 1964 when the former Waldo Hotel was transformed into a downtown residence campus.

Dormitories and other buildings were built in Salem in the 1960s, and by the early 1970s a new campus was developed in the ‘‘Valley of Learning’’ near the front campus. This included Carlson Hall of Science (a large classroom building), Randolph Campus Center, and the Benedum Learning Resources Center (a library). Later the T. Edward Davis Physical Education Building and the Brewster All-Faiths Chapel were added. Fort New Salem, designed to represent an early 19th-century Appalachian pioneer village, and the Barker Equestrian Center occupied other locations in the Salem area.

Presidents since 1973 have included Dallas Bailey (1973–78), James Stam (1978–82), Ronald Ohl (1983–2001), Richard Ferrin (2002–05), and R. John Reynolds (2005–2006). In 2022, the president was Danny Finuf.

In 1989, Salem College affiliated with Teikyo University of Japan and changed its name to Salem-Teikyo University. Programs in English as a second language and Japanese Studies were added to the curriculum. A new academic calendar was developed, replacing traditional semesters with four-week modules, allowing undivided attention to one class. Academic departments were consolidated and a new mission statement was developed, emphasizing the development of world citizens with an international viewpoint. Many students came from Japan and other nations, especially in Asia. Students were offered the opportunity of a semester of European Studies at Teikyo campuses in Berlin and the Netherlands. A re-entry program in Japan was established for Salem-Teikyo’s Japanese students to take their last four classes in Japan; Salem faculty members were given the opportunity to spend time in Japan to teach in that program.

Salem disaffiliated with Teikyo at the turn of the new century. In October 2000, the name was changed to Salem International University; in June 2001, a new partnership was established with Informatics, a Singapore institution emphasizing global on-line education. Salem underwent difficult times while these changes were under way. Layoffs were undertaken to ease the school’s financial problems, along with a reduction in tuition and other changes. The college announced significant financial improvements in 2004, and in 2005 Salem Education LLC assumed control of the school. The name was changed to Salem University in September 2017.

Total enrollment at Salem University in 2021 was 991 and remained fairly steady the following year at 984. The distinguished alumni include U.S. Senators Jennings Randolph, Rush Holt, and Joseph Rosier, as well as Gov. Cecil Underwood and Matthew M. Neely, who served as a congressman, U.S. senator, and governor.

Salem University website

This Article was written by Robert B. Florian

Last Revised on October 10, 2023

Related Articles


Bond, S. Orestes. The Light of the Hills. Charleston: West Virginia Education Foundation, 1960.

Smith, Myron J. 100 Years of Opportunity: A Pictorial History of Salem College. Marceline, MO: Walsworth Press, 1988.

Cite This Article

Florian, Robert B. "Salem University." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 10 October 2023. Web. 24 May 2024.


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