Sunday, January 6, 2019

Lewiston Normal School Receives its First Students [otd 1/6]

On Monday, January 6, 1896, Lewiston State Normal School – today’s Lewis-Clark State College – opened its doors to receive its first students. That event was a key milestone on the long path to establishing a teacher’s college in the town.
Young students with teacher, ca 1892. Arizona State University.

The second session of the Territorial Legislature, in 1864, passed a “common” school law, but the system developed slowly at first. In fact, most of the earliest local schools were private ventures, or established by churches. Still, by 1880 the system had grown enough that the legislature created two formal school districts, one in Boise City, the other in Lewiston.

A decade later, schools statewide had grown even further, and many regions began to experience a shortage of qualified teachers. In fact, far too many teachers were hired simply because they would accept the meager salaries offered. Local school boards turned a blind eye to their lack of training.

That pressure continued to build, and received further impetus in 1892 when the University of Idaho greeted its first students [blog, Oct 3]. The public school system failed to provide even one student who was qualified to begin college-level classes. (The University would continue to offer prep-school classes for over twenty years.)

Thus, the 1893 Idaho legislature authorized a Normal school in Lewiston: “Normal” schools taught the “norms and standards” of primary-school teaching. To gain support from the southern counties, that same session authorized a Normal school in Albion. Neither school, however, received any state funding at that time.

Anxious to exploit the opportunity, Lewistonians donated some mostly-vacant land on the hill that overlooked the town itself. Then private citizens dug into their own pockets for some early planning and site preparation. However, not until 1895 did the legislature issue bonds to fund construction, and the building was not completed until May of the following year.

While they waited for their building, school administrators leased the second floor of a store in town and remodeled it into space suitable for Normal school classes. It was here the three faculty members, two men and a woman, greeted 46 students on January 6. Between them, the three taught a basic curriculum: English, Latin, history, civics, physiology, commercial arithmetic, mathematics, elocution, pedagogy, commercial law, and physical education.
Lewiston State Normal School, before 1917. J. H. Hawley Photo.
Soon, the Normal School’s graduates were spread all over the state. They had to be well prepared with a broad and thorough education. Until the 1920s, one-room schools served well over half of Idaho’s primary students. In those districts, the lone Lewiston (or Albion) Normal-trained teacher was often the only person who actually knew how a school should be set up and run.

However, in the late 1920s the “Normal School” concept began to give way to a new “teacher's college” approach. By 1935, only five old-style Normal schools remained in the U. S. … and two of those were in Idaho. But financial and political infighting prevented any change in their status. Finally, in 1943, the legislature granted them four-year status: They were the last two-year teachers’ schools to make the change.

Operating as North Idaho College of Education, the school still faced opposition. It was shut down in 1951, but – plagued by a calamitous shortage of qualified teachers – the state re-opened it four years later as Lewis-Clark Normal School. It finally became Lewis-Clark State College in 1971.
References: [French], [Hawley]
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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