David Ross Boyd
When OU’s first President, David Ross Boyd, stepped off the train in Norman, Oklahoma, he was greeted with the barren expanse of prairie without a university building or tree to be seen. His only remark at this sight of the future location of the University of Oklahoma was “What possibilities!”
Born on a farm in Ohio in 1853, Boyd raised his tuition for a college education by growing and harvesting a field of corn. He became a teacher at an early age and was later offered the position of superintendent of the Arkansas City, Kansas school system. While there, he persuaded town leaders to hire many of the future land run participants who had been camping nearby and organized them into making improvements to the local roads and schools buildings.
The first legislature of the Oklahoma Territory provided for the establishment of a university. In the winter of 1891-92, a committee from the Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma, which as yet existed only on paper, came to Arkansas City to view the heating system that Boyd had installed in the school buildings. He became acquainted with the regents and even recommended two potential choices for the presidency of the new university. The regents, however, selected Boyd.
Boyd reached Norman on August 6, 1892. It was a small town on the prairie with hardly a tree in sight. In September, he was joined by his wife and daughter. Construction of the first University building was completed in August 1893 at a total cost of $32,000.
In the spring of 1893, President Boyd began planting trees on the University grounds and along University Boulevard. Using his own funds, Boyd purchased the stock of a bankrupt nursery in Winfield, Kansas and built a five-acre nursery southwest of the University building. He gave these trees to Norman residents who were willing to plant and care for them under a contract that they must pay for each tree that died, while those that lived were free.
Boyd served as President of the University of Oklahoma from September 1892 to July 1908. He later served as superintendent of education for the Presbyterian Mission and established schools in Utah and the Southwest United States. His final position in the field of education was seven years as President of the University of New Mexico.
Boyd embodied in his life and effort the now famous Seed Sower, the central figure of the University seal, sowing not only the seeds of knowledge and opportunity, but the seeds of history and tradition. From humble beginnings, the continued quest for excellence by University of Oklahoma leaders like David Ross Boyd has created one of the nation’s premier learning institutions.
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