Thursday, September 22, 2016

Opening Day for the Academy of Idaho (Now Idaho State University) Classes [otd 9/22]

On Monday September 22, 1902, the Academy of Idaho – precursor to today’s Idaho State University – celebrated its first opening exercise. Ironically, the people of Pocatello wanted the Academy so badly, it almost didn’t get off the ground.
Pocatello, ca 1895. Bannock County Historical Society.

Pocatello was incorporated in 1889. As a major railroad junction, it grew explosively, topping 4,000 citizens by the 1900 census. After hard lobbying by locals, the governor signed a bill, in March 1901, that authorized the creation of the Academy [blog, Mar 11]. The institution would provide college prep and “industrial” (vo-tech) courses. However, the Act allocated no money to buy land for the school; that was up to the people of Pocatello. The bill set a deadline of May 1st for a site decision.

The subsequent dispute almost killed the Academy before it started. The city split mainly over whether the school should be east or west of the railroad tracks and yards. However, even within those factions, splinter groups formed to push specific sites. The wrangling continued for over six weeks. By April 30, the day before the legal deadline, they had reached an impasse. The Pocatello Tribune reported, “The Board then took a recess and a lot of people went out on the streets and swore.”

Finally, “under the gun,” they settled on what is now the lower part of the ISU campus. Forty students showed up for those first classes in 1902. By the end of the decade, school enrollment would reach nearly 300. In 1906, the Academy’s first Principal, John W. Faris, wrote, “The Academy has demonstrated beyond the question of a doubt that it fills a most important place in the educational system of Idaho.”
Academy, ca. 1914. H. T. French.

School administrators moved aggressively, adding three city blocks to the campus in 1910 and expanding the school’s offerings: night classes for adult education, winter short courses, and summer sessions. Even that early, they had aspirations to attain full four-year status. The only immediate result of their lobbying was a name change – to “Idaho Technical Institute” (ITI) – in 1915.

Recovering from a severe downturn during World War I, the school’s enrollment topped a thousand by 1920. Locals continued to push for four-year status. Finally fed up, the 1927 legislature took drastic action: They made ITI a subordinate division of the University. For the next twenty years, the Pocatello school would be the “Southern Branch of the University of Idaho.”

World War II crushed enrollment again, but afterwards about a thousand veterans attending under the G.I. Bill increased the student body to over 1,800 students. Thus, in 1947, the school became Idaho State College, an independent, four-year institution. Curriculum expansion became a major priority, and the school attained University status in 1963.

Since then the school has grown steadily. That included the addition of a major “College of Health-Related Professions” and a nearby Research and Business Park. The Park began with a large Technology Center that provided space for business start-ups and science-related spin-offs. It now contains a half-dozen substantial facilities, private and public.
                                                                                                                                     
References: [Hawley]
Merrill D. Beal, History of Idaho State College, Idaho State College (1952).
Diane Olson, Idaho State University: A Centennial Chronicle, Idaho State University (2000).

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