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Minnesota State University, Mankato
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University began as Mankato Normal School

Mankato Free Press provides a “glimpse of the past.”

Jacob Johnson, Mankato Free Press, 8-25-2013

Blue Earth County Historical Society

The largest college in Mankato — now Minnesota State University, Mankato — has gone by many names since the 1800s. Originally a teacher-training institution, it was first called Mankato Normal School. The school’s early years were a time of building fires, new buildings and an undefeated football team.

Mankato’s site was the second normal school in the state. According to the Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins, normal schools derived their name from the French word phrase “ecole normale.” It does mean normal in the sense of average. Instead, the schools were to set a pattern, a norm which others would follow. In the fall of 1868, Mankato’s normal school started in the basement of a Methodist church. Its first student body had 27 students. They were taught by four instructors, compared to today when colleges have at least 27 students in one class. The first graduating class had 10 members.

Over time, the school was able to move into a building that it could call home. The new building was more suitable and enrollment grew steadily over the years. Soon there was a need to enlarge the school. In 1893, a renovation was done by architects Gerlach, Thayer and Pass. One of the major technologies of the renovated building was a telephone (the only one on campus) located in the president’s office.

During the cold Minnesota winters, the school was heated by 32 furnaces. The south campus yard was filled with cord wood to feed their fires. The school building suffered damage from fires. A fire in 1892 broke out on the ground level of the building one afternoon. There were students in the upper rooms, but all safely exited the building.

A fire in February 1922 destroyed the building. The buildings were replaced and students again could pursue their educations.

Classes weren’t the only thing happening at Mankato Normal School. In 1898 the school’s football team went undefeated.

Football was then seen as a game for ruffians and its rules were very different than today’s. There was no passing and the ball carrier decided when the play was over. The football season was six games in that day. The football team only allowed one touchdown during their amazing season.

The entire version of this story can be read in a print copy of the Mankato Free Press. Call the Mankato Free Press at 625-4451 or (800) 657-4662 to find out how to purchase a print copy. The Free Press also prints select stories online at

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