"What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 1:9). I had one of those “isn’t that the truth” moments this week.
You may have heard the OSU medical students studying here in Tahlequah were invited to a reception in their honor, to make them a bit more comfortable in the community. I was pleased to be asked to provide a welcome from the City of Tahlequah. What a wonderful event! The amount of energy in that room was impressive.
Here in the “City of Firsts," these students are attending the first tribally affiliated college of medicine. Just one more “first” in a string of beads that adorn the tapestry that is Tahlequah.
Some of us may have forgotten Tahlequah once was known as the City of Firsts. The list is impressive: the first masonic lodge chartered in Oklahoma, the first commercial telephone system west of the Mississippi, the first city in Oklahoma to have a plotted and surveyed main street, first home of Bacone College. Like the new OSU Medical School, many of our “firsts” have to do with education.
When the Cherokee Nation established its male and female seminaries, it was creating educational history. The National Park Service still recognizes Seminary Hall as the second-oldest public institution of higher learning west of the Mississippi River. The NPS website says Seminary Hall is one of the oldest American institutions to provide a liberal arts education for women. It was the first institution in America to pay equal salaries to men and women professors. It was the first institution of higher education to provide tuition, books, room, board and supplies free of charge to its students.
The Oklahoma Historical Society notes that when Northeastern Normal College opened in Seminary Hall in September 1909, it admitted anyone who had completed the eighth grade to tuition-free classes to prepare students for teacher certification tests.
There has been higher education in Tahlequah almost as long as there has been a Tahlequah. Affordable education designed to meet the most pressing challenges of our future has been our norm. How appropriate that the OSU Medical School partnership with the Cherokee Nation continues that tradition.
Over 170 years ago, the people in this community recognized the way to prosperity, to economic and commercial growth, to building a society poised to create a strong future, was through education of our youth. Nothing new under the sun. It’s still true today.
Sue Catron, former assistant vice president of Business and Finance at Northeastern State University, is mayor of Tahlequah.