East Central University was one of three normal schools established in eastern Oklahoma in 1909. Three similar institutions had been established earlier in the western half of the new state and each provided preparatory education including two years of college leading to teacher certification.

Ada's selection as the college's location followed intensive lobbying efforts by the 25,000 Club, a local booster club which also raised funds for faculty salaries so classes could begin that fall in local churches and public school classrooms. The 1910 legislature appropriated funds for faculty salaries and construction of a building which was completed later that year on a 16-acre site donated by Dan Hays, a Chickasaw allottee.

In 1919,  the six normal schools became teachers' colleges and began to confer bachelor's degrees. In 1939, they added degree programs in Arts and Sciences and were designated as state colleges. In 1954, the six colleges were authorized to offer their first graduate work in a fifth-year program for teachers. Other master's degrees have since been added. In 1974, East Central became East Central Oklahoma State University. The name was changed to East Central University in 1985.

ECU has had 10 presidents during its history: Charles Briles, James Gordon, Adolph Linscheid, Charles Spencer, Stanley Wagner, Bill Cole, Richard Rafes, John Hargrave, Katricia Pierson, and Wendell Godwin. Distinguished alumni include four governors. Those serving Oklahoma were Robert S. Kerr, who is also noted for his career in the U.S. Senate, and George Nigh. Ernest McFarland, governor and U.S. Senator from Arizona, was a classmate of Kerr's. Several Chickasaw and Choctaw officials, including Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby, also graduated from the University.

Other ECU distinctives include pioneering efforts among Oklahoma universities promoting access to students with disabilities and the development of corresponding undergraduate and graduate degree programs for rehabilitation services, services to the deaf, and similar areas. Today the campus consists of 40 buildings on 142.3 acres; the university typically enrolls more than 3,500 students per semester.

- Alvin O. Turner

Biles, J. Hugh. The Early History of Ada. (Oklahoma State Bank, 1954).
Boeger, Palmer, et. al. The East Central Story. (East Central University, 1984).
East Central University, 2002-03 Catalog. (East Central University, Ada, OK, 2002).
A History of Pontotoc County, unpublished Master's Thesis. (Oklahoma State U, 1940).
Kroeker, Marvin E. and Guy W. Logsdon. Ada, Oklahoma, Queen City of the Chickasaw Nation. (Donning Co., 1998).