The History of Truman State University

Truman State University’s rich history tells the story about a place where great ideas flow and where young people become adults—a place where intellectual pursuits produce high-achieving and knowledgeable leaders who pursue lives that make a difference in the world.

University Founder Joseph Baldwin
University Founder Joseph Baldwin

When founded in the 1860s, the school fulfilled Joseph Baldwin’s dream of providing a rigorous educational environment. An innovative educator who devoted his life to the professional education of teachers, Baldwin was a strong proponent of providing a broad education for students. After locating a suitable building in Kirksville, Mo., and recruiting the school’s first faculty, he opened the school on Sept. 2, 1867.

Originally founded as a teacher’s college, then a regional university, Truman State University has evolved into Missouri’s only public highly selective, liberal arts and sciences institution.

The presidents who have followed in Baldwin’s footsteps have continued the tradition of focusing on a high-quality education. Fast forward to today and Truman has transformed into a learning destination where intellectually curious students come to pursue a well-rounded education in a wide variety of academic areas.

Historical Timeline

This timeline illustrates the evolution of Truman State University from a training ground for teachers during its early years to a nationally recognized liberal arts and sciences institution that prepares students for success in whatever profession they pursue.

Cumberland Academy 1867
Cumberland Academy Building


Joseph Baldwin opens the North Missouri Normal School and Commercial College in Kirksville, Missouri, on Sept. 2, 1867. For the first two years, the private school operates in a facility originally built to house the Cumberland Academy, a noncollegiate school established by the Kirksville Presbytery of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.


The school’s name is changed to North Missouri Normal School.


On Dec. 29, 1870, Missouri’s General Assembly makes Joseph Baldwin’s private college the First District Normal School, the first Missouri supported institution of higher education established for the primary purpose of preparing teachers for public schools.


The Normal Building, later renamed Baldwin Hall in 1905, is the first building erected on the site of the current campus, which was outside the Kirksville city limits at the time. It serves as the only building on campus from 1873 to 1901. The Kirk Memorial dome is located on the area formerly occupied by the tower of Old Baldwin Hall.

Old Baldwin Hall
The first Baldwin Hall


Basil Brewer writes a school song named The Purple and the White, and the school adopts purple and white as the official colors.


Eugene Morrow Violette
E. M. Violette

Eugene Morrow Violette, professor of history, sees the usefulness of visual aids in teaching and begins collecting materials and artifacts representative of early life in northeast Missouri. Some of the items he collected are now on display in the Ruth Towne Museum and Visitors Center which also houses Truman’s Office of Admission.


The Bulldog, a symbol of tenacity, is adopted as the official school mascot.


The name is changed from First District Normal School to Northeast Missouri State Teachers College.


Old Baldwin Hall is destroyed by a fire. The lake was emptied to combat the fire, resulting in the Quad as we know it today.

The lake in front of the Normal School
Library Hall (on left) and Science Hall (on right) were added to Old Baldwin Hall (center) in the early 1900s


The statue of Joseph Baldwin that stands near the south end of the Quad is erected in honor of our founder’s 100th birthday, Oct. 31, 1927.


The Bell Wall is built between Missouri Hall and the Quadrangle and is dedicated at the Centennial Celebration. The bells were donated by Joe Burdman, a local businessman and University benefactor. Burdman collected the five bronze bells from churches, schoolhouses and public buildings in northeast Missouri.

Bell Wall
Bell Wall


Programs other than teacher education are implemented, and the Board of Regents acts to change the name of the college to Northeast Missouri State College.


The school’s name is changed from Northeast Missouri State College to Northeast Missouri State University.


Gail Albright, retired assistant professor of speech, writes the Truman fight song, “Hail to the Bulldogs!”


The University is awarded the prestigious G. Theodore Mitau Award for Innovation and Change in Higher Education by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.


On June 20, 1985, Gov. John Ashcroft, signs legislation designating the University as Missouri’s only statewide public liberal arts and sciences university, expanding its mission from a regional to a statewide institution.


The Clock Tower bells are dedicated on Oct. 16, 1992. Ruth Warner  Towne (’39), the University’s first honor graduate who taught history at Truman and also served as dean of Graduate Studies from 1983 to 1988, presented the University with a gift of four bronze bells and a carillon for the Pickler Memorial Library clock tower in memory of her parents.

Harry Truman with the Class of 1943
In 1943, Harry S. Truman presented the Commencement address to the University’s graduating class.


On June 15, 1995, coinciding with the 10th anniversary of the mission change to a statewide university, Gov. Mel Carnahan signs legislation changing the University’s name from Northeast Missouri State University to Truman State University, giving the University a name that complements its statewide mission and honors Harry S. Truman, the only Missourian to serve as the President of the United States.


The new name, Truman State University, becomes official on July 1, 1996.


Building on its rich history, Truman State University is committed to providing a high-quality liberal arts and sciences education to academically talented students from across the state of Missouri as well as from all parts of the world. Truman attracts smart and curious students fueled by the desire to turn their intellectual and emotional connections into action, whether in a profession such as medicine or education, in an endeavor such as scientific research or business leadership, or through community and public service.

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