Friends University is a private non-denominational Christian university in Wichita, Kansas.
Friends University was founded in 1898. The main building was originally built in 1886 for Garfield University, but was donated in 1898 to the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) by James Davis, a St. Louis business man. In the 1930s the leadership of the school was turned over to an independent Board of Trustees, with some representation of the Mid-America Yearly Meeting of Friends on the board. It operates today with “an amicable but independent relationship with the evangelical branch of the Society of Friends.”
The building now known as the Davis Administration Building was completed in September 1887 to house Garfield University. Garfield was an effort by the Christian Churches of Kansas led by Dr. W.B. Hendryx to build a Christian college in the Wichita area. Hendryx wanted to name the college after his good friend, President James Garfield. At the time, it occupied the largest single building used for educational purposes west of the Mississippi river.
Garfield University opened its doors for classes in 1887. The University had 500 students enrolled for the first year and 1,070 for the second year. After graduating its first and only senior class, Garfield University closed its doors in 1890 due to financial difficulties. The school was reorganized and opened again in March 1892 as Garfield Central Memorial University. It closed for good November 18, 1893.
As crop failures and deaths made it difficult for pledges to be paid, the university floundered financially. Edgar Harding of Bostoneventually became the owner of the property, and began putting out ads for someone to purchase it; James Davis of St. Louis, a Quaker, answered one of those ads. Davis had “proclaimed he would buy a college and give it to the Quakers with his first million dollars”. After three visits to the building that would eventually be named after him, he began looking into purchasing the land.
On March 31, 1898, Davis had closed the purchase. Representatives were called in May of that year for a called meeting of the Kansas Yearly Meeting of Friends, because Davis wanted classes to begin that autumn and the meeting was not scheduled until October. The Friends unanimously decided to accept the offer, and Edmund Stanley (A Clerk of the Kansas Yearly Meeting) was recruited to serve as Friends University’s first President.
In October, at the scheduled meeting, Stanley reported that the school was opened on September 21, 1898, and that “In accordance with the purposes in organizing and maintaining a denominational institution for higher education, we are encouraging such movements as will cultivate and stimulate spiritual growth and development.” He also acknowledged additional gifts from local citizens of Wichita (Davis included) in the form of works of art. Davis made one request at the donation of the land that the university be named Friend’s University. The name has never changed, or ever been different, from Friends University, even though the university did not offer Master’s degrees until the 1980s.
53 students enrolled initially, of whom only 12 were ready for college work. A college of liberal arts and a preparatory department offered classes in Literature, History, Mathematics, Astronomy, Bible, German, Elocution, and oratory. Classes were also available in Piano, Voice, and Music Harmony and Theory.
President Stanley shared the vision and future he saw for the University during the opening meeting: “The purpose of this school shall be to give to the world and to give our country a class of citizens that will be in every sense loyal citizens. Loyalty has in it more than we often think… Loyalty means that mental training and discipline which makes the child think, the development which makes him strong in mind and body, strong in his moral nature, a full man in that intelligence which should direct the efforts of all men for conscientious, honorable and successful private life and citizenship.”
Friends University grants a wide range of degrees through the College of Business, Arts, Sciences and Education (CBASE), the College of Adult and Professional Studies (CAPS), and a Graduate School (GRAD).
CBASE, Friends’ undergraduate school, offers degrees in Business and Information Technology, Education, Fine Arts, Natural Science and Mathematics, Religion and Humanities, and Social and Behavioral Sciences. Friends offers a Bachelor of Fine Arts in ballet and a Bachelor of Science in Zoo Science, both of which are rarely offered by other institutions.
CAPS offers seven adult bachelor’s degree programs and the Graduate School offers seven Master’s level degrees. Classes taught in CAPS and GRAD generally meet one night a week or online.
The Friends University Art Department has a track record in the Wichita area of producing professional contemporary artists as well as being the home of the Epsilon Rho chapter of the Kappa Pi International Honorary Art Fraternity.
Another renowned arts program at Friends University is the main choir, named the Singing Quakers. Led by Dr. Cecil Riney for over 45 years from 1959–2005, the choir came to national recognition and acclaim. Many great composers and artists have worked with the group, including Moses Hogan and John Rutter. They have traveled the globe to many locations including most of the United States, Canada, Mexico, Germany, Australia, Austria, and many others. The choir is now led by Dr. Mark Bartel.
Friends University athletic teams are nicknamed as the Falcons. The university is a member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), competing in the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference (KCAC). Men’s sports include baseball, basketball, cross country, football, golf, soccer, tennis and track & field; while women’s sports include basketball, cross country, soccer, softball, tennis, track & field and volleyball.