Ohio Northern University was founded in 1871 by Dr. Henry Solomon Lehr as Northwest Ohio Normal School. The school was one of many normal schools begun in the midwest following the Civil War to provide the benefits of higher education to the growing middle class. It is one of the few such schools to survive and make the transition to a distinguished university. From the beginning, the strengths of the institution have been its small size and the close relationships between students and faculty. In 1900, the university became affiliated with the Methodist Church, an association continuing to this day. The University's location in rural northwest Ohio, its origins as a normal school, and the Methodist affiliation have forged a strong spirit of community within the institution. Through 120 years of growth and development, Ohio Northern University has become a unique combination of liberal arts and professional colleges.
The College of Law at Ohio Northern University was begun in 1885, making it the second oldest of the nine Ohio law schools. As a small school, the college has its own tradition of providing an outstanding legal education in a less formal, familiar environment. In 1895, the college issued its first LL.B. and instituted a three-year program of study. The school began a long tradition of training lawyers for the practice of law and for public service. As graduates of Ohio Northern spread throughout the state and region, they became judges and elected officials across the midwest. One of the most distinguished graduates of this era was Frank B. Willis, former governor of Ohio and U. S. Senator until his death in 1928. While in the Senate, Willis served with two other former Ohio Northern University law students, senators from Indiana and Kentucky.
Legal education developed and matured in America, and the law school also evolved. The lecture and recitation method of instruction gave way to the case method. In 1927, two years of college were required for admission to the law college, three years in 1952, and in 1960, a baccalaureate degree. In the 1940s, the school became accredited by the American Bar Association and in 1965 became a member of the Association of American Law Schools. In 1973, the college was named the Claude W. Pettit College of Law, in honor of Judge Pettit who served as dean from 1933 to 1955. The current law building was completed in 1974, with a substantial annex added in 1984.
The College of Law continues its historic commitment to teaching and developing lawyers dedicated to the law and to public service. The traditions of Ohio Northern's origins are reflected in the smaller classes and ready accessibility of faculty. The national and international scope of the curriculum and credentials of the faculty reflect the modern dedication to a law school of national repute.