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.