History of Fort Hays State University

The first students at the school that would become known as Fort Hays State University couldn’t have envisioned how a prairie dog town would be transferred into a sprawling campus 100 years later.

In fact, the first building ever inhabited by the school wasn’t even located on the present-day campus.

The infirmary at Fort Hays, a former army post that had been abandoned in 1889, was where 57 students paid a tuition fee of $5 for the first summer courses in 1902. The stone guardhouse down the path at what is now Historic Fort Hays served as the gymnasium.

The school’s first leader, William S. Picken, actually was in favor of keeping the college on the site of Fort Hays. But a group of townspeople, spurred by real estate interests, wanted to move the college closer to the city of Hays.

And so the move began in 1904, but not before a prairie dog town had to be removed from the land where the college’s first building on that site, Picken Hall, was under construction.

The construction (and subsequent renovation) of numerous buildings, both academic and residential, followed over the next 100 years, and today FHSU remains the heart of Hays.

FHSU went through a variety of name changes during its first 75 years, from a branch of a normal (teacher training) school to university status:

1902 - Western Branch of the Kansas Normal School
1914 - Fort Hays Kansas State Normal School
1923 - Kansas State Teachers College of Hays
1931 - Fort Hays Kansas State College
1977 - Fort Hays State University

FHSU has grown into a regional comprehensive university with over 14,000 on-campus, Virtual College (online), graduate, and international students. And while tuition costs have risen from that meager $5 amount over a century ago, FHSU still has the lowest tuition rates in the Kansas Board of Regents system, and provides one of the best educational values in the nation.

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