Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Legislature Authorizes Albion State Normal School [otd 03/07]

On March 7, 1893 the Idaho legislature passed a law to create Albion State Normal School, as they had authorized the Lewiston State Normal School earlier in the year [blog, Jan 6]. The Act required that land be donated as a site for the school (the offer had already been tendered) but did not appropriate any funds for construction.
Administration building, ca 1910. H. T. French photo.

Nonetheless, the school began classes in September 1894, using a structure built by volunteers. The 1895 legislature authorized issuance of construction bonds and a new administration building was completed the following year.

School enrollment grew steadily and, in 1901, the legislature provided funding for construction of a men’s dormitory. Officials called it Miller Hall, after Josiah Miller, who had donated the original plot of land. They added a women’s dormitory four years later. Over the next ten to fifteen years, Albion Normal acquired additional land and built more facilities.

When the school first opened, officials had to face the reality that Idaho’s rudimentary school system produced few students qualified for a standard curriculum. Thus, the institution not only had to provide a considerable array of high school classes, they even had to dip down to the seventh and eighth grade for some candidates.

That remained true even as late as 1914. Still, Hiram T. French wrote, “As fast as it is practical all studies properly belonging to the common school system are being eliminated, it being the aim finally to require a high school diploma for entrance.”

Cost cutters made a number of attempts to eliminate the institution or move it into Burley. In an odd turn, one attempt failed because of foresighted (but flawed) planning in its passage. The bill, originated by the state Senate, included (Idaho Statesman, June 2, 1922) a tax levy, “to provide funds for starting the new buildings at Burley.” The Idaho Supreme Court overturned the Act on a technicality: revenue bills must be originated in the House of Representatives.

In any case, the need for teachers was so great that the school thrived in the 1920s. Although enrollment fell early in the Great Depression, it recovered to peak in 1939.
Albion State Normal School, 1922. Albion Valley Historical Society.

By then, however, the Albion and Lewiston schools were out of step with the times. Most states had abandoned the two-year Normal School track in favor of a four-year teachers’ college approach. Idaho had two of just five Normal schools remaining in the entire country.

In 1943, Idaho reluctantly granted the Normals four-year status, the last state to make the move. Both schools began “acting the part,” and the legislature went along in 1947. Albion Normal became the Southern Idaho College of Education (SICE, with NICE in Lewiston).

After a dip during World War II, the postwar influx of G.I. Bill students provided several years of surging enrollment for the newly-name SICE. However, the old arguments against having so many four-year schools soon arose again. With three other four-year schools turning out teachers, the state could dispense with one.

In May 1951, SICE – once Albion State Normal School – held its final commencement exercise. The school had made an indispensable contribution to Idaho education, but it was doomed by its relatively isolated location.
References: [French], [Hawley]
"Albion State Normal School: Historical Sketch," Idaho State University Manuscript Collection (online).
Keith C. Petersen, Educating in the American West: One Hundred Years at Lewis-Clark State College, 1893-1993, Confluence Press, Lewiston, Idaho (© Lewis-Clark State College, 1993).

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