Dakota was still a territory in 1885 when the Dakota Conference of the Methodist Church voted to establish Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell (known as Dakota University until Oct. 14, 1904). These pioneers had deep religious convictions about the education and future of their children. Some lived in houses of sod on the Dakota prairie as they forged ahead with their dream of building this institution of stone.
The founders of Dakota Wesleyan University envisioned an institution that epitomized the highest in Christian thought and deed, and so adopted the motto, “Sacrifice or Service.” This is depicted in the collegiate seal with the altar, the ox and the plow – symbols for these concepts. To this day, those associated with Dakota Wesleyan University endeavor to carry out its mission of service to God and humanity.
By 1920, Dakota Wesleyan University was the largest independent college in the state, with an enrollment of more than 300. During the hard times of the 1930s, farm produce was accepted for tuition. As part of their pay, teachers received housing in Graham Hall and coupons to purchase merchandise in Mitchell. As in earlier days, the faculty, townspeople and parishioners of the Methodist church pulled together to sustain the university.
Many Dakota Wesleyan University alumni have distinguished themselves in a variety of careers in business, education, government and religion. The university counts among its alumni many leaders of major corporations, six college presidents, three United States senators and numerous pastors.
Blessed with gifted leadership at critical points throughout its history, Dakota Wesleyan University stands today as the pride of the prairie. As in Dakota Wesleyan’s early years, today’s students enjoy an environment where minds are challenged, souls are nourished, friendships are forged and lives are transformed.
The stone memorial pillars at the north end of campus are engraved with these words: “This gateway is dedicated to pioneer men and women of the middle border who sacrificed that here the torch might be relighted.” Sacrifice or service – the cornerstone on which Dakota Wesleyan University was built – remains the foundation for its second century of educating the leaders of the future.