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Eastern Michigan University
Ypsilanti, MI, USA 48197
University Information:
(734) 487-1849



A Brief History of EMU

Established by the State of Michigan in 1849, Eastern Michigan University opened its doors as the Michigan State Normal School in 1853. Michigan had only been a state for 10 years, but as its state constitution made clear, education was to be of primary importance in the region. The new Michigan State Normal School was the first teachers' training school west of the Allegheny Mountains. Unlike today's University, the Normal School initially taught students at a basic secondary level, instructing them in teaching methods and material to cover at a variety of levels.

Original Building Erected in 1852

Original building, constructed in 1852

One hundred and twenty-two students started classes March 29, 1853. Almost half were men. Students could choose from two standardized programs of study instituted by the State Board of Education and outlined in the Michigan State Normal School Catalogue. The first was a two-year plan of study called the English Course. This program sought to instill in teachers a broad range of academic subjects that they would need to cover in primary schools. The second was a three-year degree called the Classical Course. This course focused primarily on language instruction for teachers who would teach at a secondary level or for students who wished to go on to college.

Restored In 1860 After 1859 Fire

Restored in 1860 after 1859 fire
Early Photo: Conservatory & Main Bldg.

Early photo: conservatory and main building
Main Building After Front Addition 1878

Main building after front addition, 1878

Students entered Normal School at much earlier ages than today. Admission requirements stated that those who wished to take the English Course must be at least 14 years of age and those who wished to study the Classical Course must be at least 13 years of age. When it opened, Normal could admit students with high school diplomas, or students without diplomas who were able to pass the entrance exam. Normal could therefore grant high school diplomas, as well as teaching certificates to qualified graduates.

Above all, teaching was the primary focus of the school. Some students might come to Normal as preparation for college, but most were encouraged to enter teaching as profession. Even the tuition codes nudged students toward education. Students preparing to be teachers paid $3 per term or $4 for Classics. Those not planning to teach but preparing for college paid $8 a term for Classics and $6 for English.

Over the next 40 years, Michigan State Normal School grew rapidly, both in numbers of students and in variety of classes offered. During the 1880s, dissention tore the school as professors debated the proper focus of a teaching school. One faction, lead by Charles Fitz Roy Bellows, initiated a movement in 1870 that stated a teaching school should focus primarily on pedagogy, or the art of teaching, and the specific techniques used for this end. The opposition faction believed that teachers also needed a broad academic background in order to offer their students a well-balanced education. After over two decades of divisive debate, Richard Gause Boone, then the principal of the school, set the school on a course toward a broader education. His decision set the stage for today's large, broad-based university.

None of the original buildings survive from Normal’s formative years. Many were wood frame buildings that did not age well. Slowly, the older buildings at the heart of the campus were torn down and others rebuilt on the same land. Only Starkweather Hall and Welch Hall remain from Normal’s early years. These two masonry buildings were constructed in 1896, 43 years after the school opened its doors, and dedicated in March 1897. Their construction signals the profound growth that Normal had experienced in that time. By the mid-1890s, the teacher’s school in Ypsilanti had expanded enough to support not only a larger laboratory school, housed in Welch, but also a building devoted to religious life on campus, housed in Starkweather.

Gymnasium Erected in 1894

Gymnasium, erected in 1894

Another important change took place at the end of the nineteenth century. In 1899, Michigan State Normal School changed its name to Michigan State Normal College. This seemingly insignificant change actually describes an important shift in the mission of the school. Richard Gause Boone lobbied to establish Normal as four-year college, rather than a glorified secondary school. Normal entered the twentieth century as Michigan's premier teacher-training school and had become the first teacher-training school in the United States to have a four-year degree program.

The twentieth century was an exciting time for Michigan State Normal College.

Between 1900 and 1950, at least 20 buildings were built on campus. Though the University suffered through the hard times of World War I, the Great Depression and World War II, it survived and continued to expand. For the first time, the campus had its own auditorium built — Pease Auditorium. The school outgrew its library room in the old Main Building, so it constructed a new library building, now called Ford Hall. By 1939, students, for the first time, were living in dorms on campus instead of in boarding houses off campus.

During this period, the University added a number of ground-breaking programs to its expanding curriculum. In 1901, Normal was the first school in Michigan to offer an industrial arts program. The school was also the first in the nation to offer a program to train teachers of the disabled, starting in 1915. In 1940, it was the first teacher training school to offer a program in library services. During the years of World War II, the school trained soldiers for the military as well as civilian students. Following the war, the school experienced a population explosion greater than it had ever seen in almost a century of existence.

Aerial View of the EMU Campus (1997)

An aerial view of the EMU campus (1997)

In the education explosion following World War II, Normal again changed its name as it continued to expand. In 1956, to reflect the changes that had taken place in developing a wide range of educational programs, the school became known as Eastern Michigan College. Three years later, the school gained the status of a university by formally establishing the Graduate School (graduate classes had been offered since 1939) and changed its name again, for the final time, to Eastern Michigan University. The new names not only demonstrated that the school had become a university, but also broadened the emphasis of the school from teacher training to a wider range of baccalaureate programs. In 1959, the university established the College of Education and the College of Arts and Sciences as two separate entities. Although the colleges would have a close partnership in the education of students, students attending Eastern had a broader range of options in their courses of study and future plans.

Present EMU Campus

The EMU campus in 2003

Again, the University built rapidly to keep up with increasing enrollments. From 1950 to the present, nearly 30 new buildings have been constructed and many more renovated to meet the needs of the institution. New dormitories and classroom buildings provide for the needs of new students.

Today, Eastern offers a range of programs of study in a number of areas, including Arts and Sciences, Business, Education, Health and Human Services, and Technology. More than 23,000 students from around the world call EMU their educational home. The University has expanded and changed dramatically during its 160+ years of existence, yet remains true to its roots as an educator of tomorrow's leaders.