LAKE ERIE COLLEGE. Located in Painesville at 391 W. Washington Lake Erie College can trace its beginnings back to the Willoughby Female Seminary, which was founded in 1847. The Seminary was then the only institution of higher education for women in the Western Reserve. The trustees appealed to Mary Lyon, the leader of Mount Holyoke for a teacher for the seminary. Roxena Tenney, who came to serve as principal of the Seminary, grew enrollment to 211 students. Nine years later, the Seminary was destroyed by a fire.

Six Painesville businessmen then established a successor institution, the Lake Erie Female Seminary in Painesville in 1857. They purchased 13 acres of land for $4,175, and the cornerstone for the new school was laid on July 4, 1857. Local residents assisted with construction; on Saturdays men would help grade the grounds and then women served dinner. Every Wednesday, sewing circles met and made the bedding and linen. During construction, four of the founders’ daughters attended Mount Holyoke.  They returned with ideas that would help shape the Lake Erie Female Seminary. All of the six founders became the first trustees, and each sent at least one daughter to the Seminary; Aaron Wilcox and Silas Trumbull Ladd each sent five of their daughters. The Seminary opened in 1859, though the structure was not yet complete.

The school replicated Mount Holyoke, including in the structure of its courses, instruction methods, discipline, and rules. Principal Lydia Sessions presided until 1866. The first teachers were six women from Mount Holyoke. The program of study was in the liberal arts but focused on domestic affairs and preparation for wifely and motherly duties. Students worked one hour daily on domestic duties; this type of education continued until 1917. Very few women completed their studies through graduation, however.  They supposedly viewed their experience as something that might enhance their marriage prospects.

At the time of the seminary’s opening tuition was $90 a year and 127 students were enrolled. The first class graduated in 1860. In 1898, the coursework was modified to qualify students for a college degree instead of a seminary diploma, and the school changed its name to Lake Erie Seminary and College. In 1908, Ohio granted a charter establishing Lake Erie College. The Ritchie Gymnasium was dedicated in 1920. The gym was designed by ABRAM GARFIELD, son of President JAMES GARFIELD, who visited the college just months before his death. The first dormitory was Avery Hall, which broke ground in 1954.

Enrollment stayed between 148 and 316 during the 1940s and ‘50s. In 1964, 1,075 students were enrolled, but enrollment fell to 738 in 1969 and continued to decline; new curriculum in business and equine studies were created to draw additional students. In 1972 Lake Erie established a separate, co-equal men’s college, Garfield Senior College which had 1,114 students enrolled in 1974. Garfield Senior College closed when Lake Erie College became co-educational in 1985. Enrollment continued to fluctuate. The creation of business and education master’s degrees and a weekend college for working adults helped increase the student population in the 1990s, which leveled off to 860. Fall 2004 saw 1,056 students enrolled. Brian D. Posler was appointed president in 2016. Current (2019) enrollment is 1,200 students. Lake Erie offers 35 undergraduate programs and 28 minors, including a school of equine studies. Tuition was $42,320 for the 2019-2020 year.

Lake Erie College is an inductee of the ONE HUNDRED YEAR CLUB OF THE WESTERN RESERVE.

Gretchen Norton