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A Most Noble Enterprise

The Story of Kent State University, 1910-2010

Regional Interest


The centennial history of one of Ohio’s premier public universities

“This book tells the story of Kent State University’s first hundred years. It
is a story replete with hairbreadth escapes and pratfalls, with moments of low comedy, high drama, and real tragedy. It features a cast of complex, talented, dedicated, and imperfect individuals. It is, in short, a story about very human beings engaged in what Henry Steele Commager called that ‘most noble enterprise, the advancement of learning’ as carried out for the past hundred years at Kent State University. And it is, I believe, a story both instructive and inspiring.” —from the Preface

Author William H. Hildebrand takes readers on an exhilarating and illuminating ride through Kent State University’s ten decades: from its beginning under its visionary founder John Edward McGilvrey to the hardships of the Great Depression; through the post–World War II boom years and the tumultuous sixties culminating in the May 4, 1970, tragedy; from the university’s struggle to regain its bearings during the decade-long aftermath, to its restoration and academic resurgence in the eighties and nineties; and into the emerging opportunities and challenges of the new millennium.

Complemented by scores of photographs, A Most Noble Enterprise features vivid portraits of the school’s eleven presidents and their distinctive contributions to the university’s character and development. Along with snapshots of changing campus culture and student life, Hildebrand details the ongoing attempts to define the purpose and value of a university education, the relation of undergraduate and graduate education in a public research institution, the evolution of important centers and institutes in the arts and sciences, and the place of varsity sports in a public university during the most recent decades. The interplays among faculty, administrators, students, town, government, and university are key themes that flow throughout this engaging history. With supple, witty, and sparkling prose, the author evokes the triumphs and follies and humor and pathos of this complex, diverse university in all their fascinating, colorful reality.

Long after the centennial celebrations and speeches have faded from memory, A Most Noble Enterprise will stand as a testament to Kent State’s dedication to the ancient purpose of a university education—the advancement of learning.


Emeritus professor of English William H. Hildebrand received his B.A. (1952) and M.A. (1954) degrees from Kent State University and his Ph.D. from Western Reserve University (1967). In addition to his scholarly studies of English and American Romantic writers, he coedited a photographic history, A Book of Memories: Kent State University 1910–1992 (Kent State University Press, 1993). He received an Alumni Distinguished Teaching Award in 1971 and a President’s Medal in 1996. He is married to Kent State alumna Ann Meinzen Hildebrand (’55).