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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

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A Look at MSU's History

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Looking at the university today, it is hard to believe that the institution which developed into Minnesota State University, Mankato spent its first century in a valley location that was to become too confining for expansion in its second century.

Opening its doors on Oct. 7, 1868, Mankato Normal School (officially the second state Normal School), the forerunner of Mankato State, began its first year with 27 pupils. The school operated out of rented quarters at the Methodist Episcopal Church. All students were from Mankato or the immediate area.

Back in 1866, the Minnesota Legislature authorized the establishment of a normal (or teacher-training) school in Mankato, but only on the condition that the City of Mankato donate $5,000 before the State Normal School Board could authorize the founding of the institution. Another law in 1867 authorized the city to issue and sell bonds as a way of raising the $5,000. Until that second legislation, Mankato was having difficulty raising the needed funds. Mankato attorney Daniel Buck, a member of the state legislature, was Mankato's leader in securing both the acts of 1866 and 1867.

After three weeks of classes, the school moved to semi-permanent quarters in the Shaubut building in downtown Mankato. Mankato Normal established itself physically when the three-story Old Main was completed in 1870. Only 14 subjects were taught then, none straying beyond the basic "3 Rs."

The Mankato Normal School of 1868 became the Mankato State Teachers College in 1921, Mankato State College in 1957, and Mankato State University in 1975. The original one- to two-year curriculum of teacher training was gradually broadened to today's comprehensive undergraduate curriculum and graduate curriculum. The institution's first four-year degree, a bachelor of education, was awarded in 1927.

George Gage was the first principal, succeeded in 1872 by his assistant, Julia Sears. In 1873 a retired Methodist minister, David John, abruptly replaced Sears amid some controversy about her continuance at the time of the women's suffrage movement. In 1880, Edward Searing became the school's first head to be called president. His tenure also brought 18 years of expansion and curriculum development. During that period, the school began offering courses above the high-school level as well as a five-year instructional program.

Searing was succeeded by Charles Cooper in 1899. The first women's dormitory, Daniel Buck Hall, was erected in 1913, followed by Cooper Hall in 1921.

The school experienced near disaster in 1922, when Old Main was destroyed by fire. But the state legislature responded immediately, approving funds for a replacement (which now serves as senior-citizen housing) in 1924.

In 1930, Frank McElroy became president, the first head of the institution to hold a Ph.D. In 1933, tuition was charged for the first time. The tuition fee replaced the pledge to teach which granted students free tuition. Students were charged $10 per quarter, and non-resident students paid an additional $5 per quarter.

Clarence Crawford was named president in 1946. He and state senator Val Imm were the catalysts in first optimizing Mankato State's confined campus, blueprinting a new hilltop location that was once a cornfield one mile away.

Climbing enrollments and subsequent space limitations on the lower campus pushed work on new facilities on the school's Highland campus. As classrooms were located on both campus sites, an inter-campus bus service was set up to move students between the two campuses. With the completion of Armstrong Hall in 1964 on the upper campus, the number of classes for the first time were about equally divided between the lower and upper campuses.

James Nickerson was president from 1966-1972. Enrollment grew to more than 12,000 students during this period. Douglas Moore was president of Mankato State from 1973-1978, and he was considered a leader in the consolidation of the two sites of the campus.

After operating 20 years at the two sites, the shift to the upper campus was finally completed in 1979 with the construction of the Wigley Administration Building.

Margaret R. Preska became president in 1979. During her tenure, enrollment grew nearly 43 percent, resulting in a much-needed expansion and remodeling of many campus buildings. She was also instrumental in obtaining donations to construct such prominent facilities as the Andreas Observatory and the Ostrander Student Bell Tower.

The university's next president, Richard R. Rush, came to MSU in 1992. Recent additions in the university's curriculum include a new master's degree in nursing and a master of fine arts in creative writing. Enrollment is currently around 13,000 students with faculty and staff numbering around 1,300. In addition to their excellence in teaching, the university's faculty members continue to be recognized for their work in research and service. On the average, one member of Mankato State's faculty is chosen as a Fulbright scholar each year.

More than 125 years after its founding, Minnesota State University, Mankato offers modern, efficient facilities and diverse academic, athletic and social opportunities for its students. Known for its strong cultural diversity programs and services, Mankato State looks toward the future. Its development from a teacher-training institution to a comprehensive university with six undergraduate colleges and one graduate college enriches the region and fulfills Daniel Buck's early promise that if citizens would support the school, untold benefits would be repaid "tenfold every dollar invested."

History for MSUS Capstone publication
Provided by Peter Raeker: Media Relations