Friday, September 22, 2017

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).

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Lewiston State Normal School President George Knepper [otd 9/7]

President Knepper. J. H. Hawley photo.
Lewiston State Normal School President George E. Knepper was born September 7, 1849 in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, 40-60 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. Later the family moved to Illinois.

George did well with a “common” education, finding a job as a teacher while also doing farm work. Later, he taught part-time and served as a school administrator to help finance an A.B. degree and then a Master’s. (He would earn a Ph.D. from a Kansas university in 1904.)

Meanwhile, in Idaho, businessman James Reid coaxed a bill through the legislature to create the Lewiston State Normal School. Backers hoped to alleviate a severe teacher shortage in the state. In 1893, Reid was selected as president of the institution’s Board of Trustees. He knew Knepper through membership in the Masonic Lodge and recruited him as the school’s first President.

Then contractor problems delayed construction of a facility on the bluff overlooking Lewiston. Knepper scrambled to lease space in town, and classes began in January 1896 [blog, Jan 6]. Besides his administrative duties, Knepper taught pedagogy, math, and commercial law. The promised main building was finally dedicated during the summer.

Still, Knepper worried most about money to keep the school going. The 1897 legislative appropriation was so stingy, he removed the school’s only telephone and pared salaries and ancillary costs to the bone. The next session, two years later, added only $1,000 to the allocation. Although enrollment, and income from student fees, had increased, the school remained desperately short of funds.

Knepper turned to the local community. Lewiston responded with a needed piano and contributions to buy books for the beginnings of a library. At-cost donations of labor and materials also helped fund badly needed dormitories in 1897.

Knepper also appealed to the student body, urging and sometimes requiring their participation in programs to enhance the school’s sense of community. They responded to his enthusiasm, giving recitations, entertaining with musical shows, playing sports, and more.

Despite its financial problems, the Normal School grew rapidly. On a visit to Boise, Knepper spoke enthusiastically to the Idaho Statesman about their gains. The paper reported (September 29, 1901) that, “This year they have a new department of chemistry, with a very complete laboratory and a special equipment of the most modern and efficient make.”

Then, in 1902, James Reid – Knepper’s good friend and sponsor – died. Within a year, the Board asked (demanded, really) that Knepper resign. No one ever discovered a credible reason for his dismissal.
Lewiston Normal in 1915. Lewis-Clark State College.

Ironically, all his lobbying had finally persuaded the legislature to substantially increase the school’s funding, which he was not there to enjoy. Despite many ups and downs, the college grew, changing its name to Lewis-Clark State College in 1971.

Knepper found employment as president or dean at a succession of small colleges in the midwest until about 1911. That year, he returned to Kendrick, Idaho (18-20 miles east of Moscow), where his son Ralph ran a newspaper. After teaching in the area for several years, he moved to Boise to serve as Secretary for the Masonic Lodge of Idaho.

He passed away, aged 90, in Salmon, where he had gone to live with Ralph.
References: [Hawley]
Keith C. Petersen, Educating in the American West: One Hundred Years at Lewis-Clark State College, 1893-1993, © Lewis-Clark State College, Confluence Press, Lewiston, Idaho  (1993).