Historical Markers
Millersville University Historical Marker
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Millersville University

Hershey/Gettysburg/Dutch Country Region


Marker Location:
On N. George St. at campus

Behind the Marker

Exterior and grounds
Millersville State Normal School, Millersville, PA, 1915.
Part of a broad nineteenth-century movement for educational reform, Millersville University has its origins in the 1854 Lancaster County Normal Institute. Early supporters included markerThaddeus Stevens and President James Buchanan. This institute sponsored a series of workshops around the county aimed at improving public school instruction. As other state-sponsored teachers academies appeared around the Commonwealth, the institution became known as the Millersville State Normal School.

The movement for "normal education," as teacher training was called, was part of a much larger and sometimes controversial campaign for state-supported public education. Ever since the passage of the 1834 Free School Act, which established the structure for statewide public, or common, schools, educational reformers recognized the lack of professional training for teachers as a serious deficiency.

Oil on canvas portrait, head and shoulders, facing front, of a bearded, mustached, man wearing a suit coat, white shirt, and a bow tie.
Pennsylvania Superintendent of Public Instruction James Pyle Wickersham, circa...
Over twenty years, friends of public education lobbied unsuccessfully for state-supported normal schools. Nowhere was this movement more influential than in Lancaster County, where powerful politicians like Thomas Burrowes, a Stevens ally, joined with James Pyle Wickersham, Pennsylvania's most famous educator, to champion the cause of professional teaching standards. Burrowes and Wickersham cooperated in the creation in 1852 of what became the Pennsylvania State Teachers Association, and they worked hand in hand to open a permanent normal school in the county.

In January 1855, Wickersham accepted the invitation of a group of businessmen who had planned to open a select academy in Millersville, and he brought the teachers institute to the borough. Months later, Wickersham was named Principal. Two years later, following extensive debate on the comparative merits of marker public verses the private education of teachers, the state legislature passed the 1857 Normal School Act, which Burrowes and Wickersham had helped craft. That year, the Millersville Academy offered three courses of study: marker Normal, Scientific, and Classical.

After an ambitious campaign by Millersville's trustees, the academy in December 1859, was designated the Pennsylvania State Normal School, the first of its kind in the Commonwealth. Over seventy-five years, thirteen other state normal schools joined Millersville in the campaign to improve teaching standards. They are the same institutions that today constitute the State System of Higher Education.
Team photograph
Millersville Normal School's women's basketball team, Millersville, PA, 1908.

Until 1916, when the Commonwealth acquired the school's assets, the Millersville State Normal School was a public institution in name only. In addition to its commitment to teacher training, the school reflected the board of trustees' conservative social values, including their deep commitment to Protestant Christianity as a basis for sound scholarship. The curriculum was practical, geared to mastering the subjects taught in Pennsylvania's public schools and developing what Wickersham called the "art and science of teaching."

A nucleus of skilled instructors guided students, many of whom were adults, through daily classes in the subjects taught in the public schools, with afternoons reserved for practical application of classroom technique in the innovative Model School. Most students attended for two years, long enough to master the course of study and earn a teaching certificate, the passport to a permanent post in a Pennsylvania public school. Only later, in the twentieth century, when Millersville and its sister schools became teachers colleges, was a four-year baccalaureate program adopted.

Exterior with students posing next to the school.
The Millersville Model School, Millersville, PA, circa 1910.
The everyday routine was closely regulated, with strict roles and stiff penalties for any student who transgressed the code of conduct. Millersville, like the other state normal schools, was coeducational, a novel feature in the 1800s. Prohibited from social contact outside the classroom, except under close supervision by the faculty, students developed an informal system of finger clicking called "snapping" as a way to communicate more personal intentions. In 1890, Millersville admitted its first African-American student.

In the 1890s, as the school's enrollment approached 1,000 and with Old Main badly overcrowded, trustees embarked on the first major building campaign. By mid-decade, new library, gymnasium, and science buildings, the first of their kind at a state normal school, were completed. Several years later a separate Model School building went up on the expanding campus. During this period, under the leadership of Principal E.O. Lyte, the curriculum and social life evolved toward what Lyte called a more "Progressive Normal School."

John Sutton Hall, Indiana Normal School, Indiana, PA, circa 1910.
When the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania took formal possession of school property on the eve of World War One, Millersville surrendered a degree of local autonomy for the promise of regular state appropriations. Reflecting the changing demands in public education, in 1928, Millersville was renamed the Millersville State Teachers College and a new four-year curriculum was in place.

Having survived the twin hardships of the Great Depression and World War II, Millersville and its sister institutions embarked upon another building campaign that reflected a broadened mission. Student enrollment tripled after the war, in large part because of returning veterans who took advantage of the G.I. Bill.

Without abandoning the traditional teacher-training mandate, Millersville reinvented itself by 1960, when it became a full-fledged, and multi-purpose, liberal-arts college. A generation later, in 1982, Millersville and the other state colleges, underwent another transformation with the creation of the State System of Higher Education.

In 2006, Millersville University enrolled nearly 8,000 undergraduate and graduate students, and had more than 50,000 living alumni. More than sixty undergraduate and twenty-five graduate degree programs have replaced the single normal school tract of yesteryear.
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