History

The History of Truman State University

Joseph Baldwin,  an innovative educator who devoted his life to the professional education of teachers, opened the North Missouri Normal School and Commercial College on Sept. 2, 1867. Originally founded as a teacher’s college, Truman State University has evolved into Missouri’s only public 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 continues to prepare students to be adaptable in an every-changing world.

Truman State University, Missouri’s highly selective public liberal arts and sciences university, began September 2, 1867, when Joseph Baldwin opened the North Missouri Normal School and Commercial College. Truman bears a long history of name changes, each reflecting a new institutional mission. On December 29, 1870, as a result of persistent leadership by Baldwin and Adair County citizens, Missouri’s General Assembly acted to make 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.

Nearly fifty years later, through an act passed by the General Assembly and signed by the Governor on May 20, 1919, the normal school became Northeast Missouri State Teachers College. Throughout its history, Truman has steadily provided leadership and reflected a spirit of innovation in response to need. Programs other than teacher education were implemented to better serve the people of Missouri. In 1967, the Board of Regents recognized the institution’s wider mission and acted to change the name first to Northeast Missouri State College, and then in 1972 to Northeast Missouri State University.

Truman historically has welcomed change. To better serve the needs and actualize the potential of its students, the University has met challenges creatively but realistically. The signing of House Bill 196 on June 20, 1985, changed Truman’s mission from an open enrollment, regional, multipurpose university to the statewide, public, liberal arts and sciences institution with highly selective admission requirements. Truman was chosen to assume this unique role because the institution had already begun moving away from a multipurpose curriculum toward a competitive liberal arts curriculum. The state’s goal was to provide a public institution that could compete with the nation’s finest undergraduate liberal arts colleges, and stem the flow of Missouri’s best and brightest students to other states. In March 1993 Truman became Missouri’s only public university opting to achieve the Missouri Coordinating Board for Higher Education’s highly selective mission category. The University’s name change to Truman State University on July 1, 1996, was part of the logical progression of its new mission.

Today, almost 6,000 young men and women come to Truman annually to gain a high-quality liberal arts and sciences education at an affordable price. Truman now offers 52 undergraduate and 9 graduate degree programs, 62 minors, and several additional areas of specialized study. Each year, graduates seeking admission to graduate and professional schools around the world enjoy a very high acceptance rate. Of the 2016 graduates reporting placement, 36.99% went on to attend graduate and professional school, 48.6% went on to full-time employment, 2.25% participated in a volunteer/service opportunity, .66% served in the US armed forces, 6.65% were seeking employment, 4.03% planned to attend graduate school but not yet enrolled, and .84% did not plan to seek for six months.

Forty years ago in another innovative venture, Truman initiated a comprehensive student assessment program to measure the quality of education at Truman. During recent years, Truman has continued to build its assessment program, the purpose of which is to ensure that each of its students receives the highest-quality liberal arts and sciences education, tailored to his or her needs, and an academic degree of integrity. Numerous institutions, authors, and leaders in higher education have cited the program as a viable model to emulate in efforts to ensure educational accountability.

A continuity of purpose is evident in the growth and changes of Truman. The University has consistently been committed to academic excellence and has espoused the belief that a strong education is the best means of preparing for a life of continuing personal growth and service. Moreover, its historic mission to improve the preparation of teachers has prompted the University to be among the nation’s leaders in making education more professional. Commitment, unity of purpose, and concentration on student learning – putting first things first – have brought Truman to its present mission and academic excellence.


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.

1867

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.

1868

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

1870

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.

1873

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.


1902

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

1913

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.

1915

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

1919

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

1924

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.

1927

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.

1967

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.

1968

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.

1972

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

1974

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

1983

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.

1985

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.

1992

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.

1995

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.

1996

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

TODAY

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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