Biography of Ovid Butler
Ovid Butler (Feb. 7, 1801-July 12,
1881) was a lawyer, abolitionist, journalist, and founder of North
West Christian University, which became Butler University. Without
his vision, leadership, and financial support, Butler University
may not have come into being, or survived its early years.
Butler and his family moved to Indianapolis in 1836. Ten years
later, he bought farmland at the corner of what is now Park Avenue
and 13th Street. The land on the northeast corner of the farm would
become the first site of the University.
In 1847, Butler engaged with the Disciples of Christ to found an
institution of higher learning in Indiana. In 1850, the charter he
wrote to create the North Western Christian University was approved
by the Indiana General Assembly. He offered 20 acres of his own
property as the location. As a member of the board, he saw the
school through its founding, its first years of operation, and the
move to a new campus in Irvington. In 1877, the University was
renamed in his honor.
Ovid Butler is buried in the Butler family plot at Crown Hill
Cemetery, another project he helped develop. On Jan. 12, 1882, the
year after Butler's death, the board of directors declared that
Feb. 7-his birthday-would be observed as Founder's Day. On that
first observance, his son Scot presented the University with a
life-sized oil painting of his father. An address given by Gen.
James Coburn noted Ovid's mark on the school:
"His ambition was to make this
institution as liberal, as thorough, and as beneficent as any one
anywhere. … He believed in the equal rights of men and women;
that all should be free; that all should be educated alike. … He
put his faith and creed in the charter of the University, and upon
these stones he builded. His taste, his ambition, and his
conscience acting in harmony carried him forward and over all the
obstacles he met."