Heritage Day 2010

In 1885, Ohio Wesleyan students risk ‘it all for the stage’

These OWU students confessed to sneaking off to the Delaware Opera House so see William Shakespeare’s ‘Richard III’ in 1885. (Photo courtesy of the OWU Archives Collection)

During its early years, Ohio Wesleyan University enforced a Methodist prohibition against students attending “dramatic entertainments.” In 1885, many students defied the order and sneaked over to the Old City Hall and Opera House in Delaware to see a touring production of William Shakespeare’s Richard III.

When faculty and administration heard of the violation, they conducted a roll call during chapel and ordered students to confess if they attended the play. Most students were reprimanded and made to re-sign their matriculation cards, committing to follow OWU’s guidelines. But the seniors were held to a higher standard, and those who confessed were suspended and ordered to leave campus for the rest of the term.

OWU President Charles Payne enforced the prohibition against students attending theatrical performances. (Photo courtesy of the OWU Archives Collection)

The seniors appeared before the faculty to explain their actions. Nine left Ohio Wesleyan, with six transferring to DePauw and one to Harvard. Three seniors who were disciplined but not suspended also left the University. Years later, Ohio Wesleyan recognized the suspended students as OWU graduates.

This incident will be highlighted on the stage of Gray Chapel at 7:30 p.m. November 11 during Heritage Day 2010 “Stand and Be Counted: Risking It All for the Stage.” The evolution of theatre at Ohio Wesleyan also will be commemorated during this event.

“It is truly ironic that this scandal occurred at Ohio Wesleyan,” says Bonnie Milne Gardner, a professor in the Department of Theatre & Dance and a member of the Heritage Day Committee. “Shakespeare has been such a rich tradition in our drama program here.”

The Heritage Day Committee is reaching out to the campus and Delaware communities, as well as alumni, to encourage all to attend this free public event, which will be streamed live and archived online at StreamOWU.

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