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Red River Valley University

Wahpeton, North Dakota



Following a North Dakota belief that colleges should be located as close as possible to neighboring states or—in the case of the School of Forestry—to Canada, the College of Science is located at Wahpeton, just across the Red River from Breckenridge, MN.  This school occupies the old Red River Valley University campus.  I made the trip down in 2010 to photograph Old Main.  One R.R.V.U. catalog is located at the University of North Dakota at Grand Forks.


Red River Valley University, a Methodist school, was incorporated in 1891 with classes beginning for 80 students that same year.   By the Twentieth Century, the university contained four colleges or schools.  The College of Liberal Arts offered programs leading to Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Letters degrees.  Both the entrance requirements and the course of study were very stringent.  The Academy offered a three-year program “designed to prepare students for corresponding college courses.”  The School of Business offered courses in “Business, Stenography and Typewriting.” The School of Music had “complete courses in Voice Culture, Instrumental Music, Harmony and the Theory and History of Music.”  In 1905 the university enrolled 284 students: 18 in the College of Liberal Arts, 57 in the Academy, 49 in the School of Business, and 160 in the School of Music.


Newspaper accounts show that Red River Valley University held chapters of three national literary societies—Sigma Kappa Phi, Browning, and Philomathean.  As a result, it had a formidable debate program at both intersociety and intercollegiate levels.


Strapped for cash, Red River Valley University entered into an agreement with the University of North Dakota in 1905.  The University of North Dakota would receive a religious presence on campus; Red River Valley University would leave its Wahpeton campus and be housed on the U.N.D. campus.  It would assume the name Wesley College as an autonomous unit within the University.  Students of the two schools would be able to access each other’s course offerings and receive credit for work completed at the other school. 

Wesley College ceased operations in 1963.

Red River Valley Intercollegiate debate champions for 1904. (Courtesy of University of North Dakota, Special Collections)

Bricks and Mortar

The cornerstone for Red River Valley University was laid in 1891 on an 80-acre tract of land provided by the city of Wahpeton.  As part of the agreement for the move to Grand Forks, Red River Valley University gave the campus with its building to the state science school. 


Today that building is Old Main, the administrative building for the State College of Science. It is on the Historical Register.   

Old Main in 2010.  


       Color: Crimson

       Team name: The Fargo Forum referred to the team as the “Methodists” and also as the “Preachers.”


Red River Valley University played football between 1901 and 1905.  In 1901, the team played two games, losing to North Dakota Agricultural College 60-0 on October 5 and to Fargo College 28-5 on October 19.  The Fargo Forum noted that at R.R.V.U. football “is relatively young and the boys lack the advantage of proper coaching.”  Enrollment numbers would likely also have worked against a successful football program.  However, a year later, R.R.V. U. went undefeated against less formidable opposition.  


End of season coverage in the Grand Forks Herald noted that RRV.U. had one of the top programs in the Northwest following victories over Barnesville 28-0, Fargo College 18-11, Moorhead Normal 10-0, and Fergus Falls 10-0.  An end-of-season match with Wahpeton AC was cancelled due to snow.   According to the Herald, a 1904 match with the University of North Dakota was cancelled because RRV was “too light” to take on the University.  In that same season R.R.V.U. defeated the Morris, MN Indian School.


R.R.V.U. also participated in a state track and field day held at Grand Forks in 1899.

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