Historical Narrative

A history of Towson University from 1866 to present

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Maryland State Normal School Era, 1866-1935

In 1864, in the midst of the American Civil War, Maryland ratified a new state constitution and created a school for the instruction of teachers, naming it the Maryland State Normal School. Normal in this instance referred to the French term Ecole Normale , which were institutions in France that promoted standardized teaching methods. Until 1864, each county in Maryland decided what was appropriate for its students to learn and appointed teachers based on its own standards. The new law meant that teachers across Maryland would be trained to teach the same things to all pupils.

A year later, McFadden Alexander Newell was appointed the first Principal of MSNS, and on January 15, 1866, the school opened its doors in Baltimore. Besides Newell, there were three other faculty members who taught drawing, music, and calisthenics, and eleven pupils. In June, MSNS graduated its first class of new teachers.

Newell believed that the best way to learn was by doing, and so he set up a practice or model school where the MSNS students could see firsthand how their teaching methods worked on elementary school students. Unfortunately, due to space limitations, this school was often across the City from the MSNS location.

At first, counties selected promising students to attend for free, so long as those students signed pledges that their objective in attending MSNS was to earn a teaching certificate and teach in the State’s public school system. The curriculum was flexible, adjusting to the students needs as they entered the school. This was necessary because of the differences in educational practices across the counties. Some students had not had the opportunity to learn things others had, so remedial work was needed before they could begin the core teacher training program. At the end of the program -- whether it took one year or three -- the graduates received a teaching certificate which allowed them to teach at any public school in Maryland.

Maryland State Normal School at Carrollton & Lafayette Avenue

Between 1866 and 1876, the school occupied three different buildings in Baltimore, renting them until Baltimore City built its first home at Carrollton and Lafayette Avenues. This space was large enough for the now 206 students and 11 teachers, as well as the Model School, and the school remained here for almost 40 years. According to the school catalog of 1877 , the curriculum consisted of classes in "Geometry, Algebra, Book-keeping, Physiology and Natural Philosophy. To these are added, English Literature, Latin, Mental and Moral Philosophy, Chemistry, Botany, Zoology, Vocal Music, and Drawing. Provision has also been made for thorough instruction, at the expense of the students but much below the ordinary rates, in French, German, Painting, Instrumental Music, and Telegraphy."

While the school building was certainly larger certainly larger and more comfortable, it didn’t remain so for long. The building was constructed to accommodate 226 students, but by 1909, the State needed 350 new teachers every year to fill vacant positions. Even with the construction of a second Normal School in Frostburg in 1902, there weren’t enough graduates to fill the teacher shortage. And there were other concerns about its location. The Carrollton building had large lecture halls, but changes in teaching practices demanded smaller classrooms and it was not easy to adapt the building to fit those needs. Because there were no dormitories, students who lived too far from the school to commute had to find boarding houses in Baltimore. The lack of space led to a campaign by the school’s fourth Principal, Sarah Richmond, to convince the State to find a new location where MSNS could grow.

Richmond was herself an alumnus, a member of the very first class. She’d risen through the ranks of the school and taken on the role of Principal in 1909. She made moving the school her primary goal, and in 1912, the General Assembly passed a bill releasing funds to build a new space for the Maryland State Normal School. After a search for a suitable property, three farms were purchased in Towson, just north of Baltimore, and the school had 88 acres of land upon which to build and grow.

On September 20, 1915, the first classes were held at the new location in Towson. Three buildings had been erected -- an Administration Building, today known as Stephens Hall, which held all the classes as well as a library, space for the model elementary school, and the offices for the staff and faculty; Newell Hall which was a dormitory for women and also held a dining hall; and the Power House, now known as the Power Plant. Other buildings already stood on campus including an elegant house named Glen Esk which became the Principal’s residence as well as the main focus for entertaining on the campus.

Glen Esk as Principal's residence

For the next twenty-five years, MSNS’ future was linked to the nation’s as America teetered from World War I, to the Depression, to World War II. The school numbers dwindled as students and teachers enlisted or found higher paying civil service jobs to aid the war effort. A campaign to raise the pay rates of state teachers was waged by the school leaders, hoping that by doing so they could attract more prospective teachers to the school.

In the meantime, educational advances were underway. Summer sessions were begun in 1918. By 1920, standards for incoming students were changed and the course in remedial education was phased out. The curriculum was now a two year program. Enrollment was on the upswing after the end of the First World War, and in reaction to one of the first recruiting tools created for the school, a film entitled "The Call of the Hour." Richmond Hall was constructed in 1923 to house more female students. Then, in 1924, the Baltimore Teacher’s Training School was merged with the Maryland State Normal School so that all state teachers would go through the same training. This increased the enrollment of students and also the number of faculty for that year. In 1931, the school curriculum was increased from a two year course of study to three years. And in 1933, the Campus Elementary Model School was built, thanks to the efforts of the sixth school Principal, Lida Lee Tall, to get funding and legislation passed for its construction.

Tall also placed special emphasis on the students’ social and physical education needs. After her arrival, growth in student organizations and sports teams grew. The school began a student newspaper called The Oriole in 1921 which was re-named The Towerlight in 1927. The school began to celebrate May Day which included dancing around the May Pole and crowning the May Queen. And with the arrival of Donald "Doc" Minnegan as a Physical Education teacher in 1927 who established a men’s soccer team quickly after his arrival, the school began giving serious thought to creating a sports program on campus.

But by 1933, the enrollment at MSNS was drastically reduced, owing in part to tuition increases, and the school suffered a 45% budget cut due to economic fallout from the Great Depression.


State Teachers College at Towson Era, 1935-1963

In 1934, after a change in Maryland laws that required teachers to have a baccalaureate degree, the curriculum was again amended, and the school was granted the ability to award four year Bachelor of Science degrees in Elementary Education. This also led to name changes for the Maryland State Normal Schools, which were now called State Teachers Colleges, and the title of Principal was changed to President. By 1936, STC was meeting accreditation standards set forth by the American Association of Teachers Colleges and the American Council of Education.

With the advent of World War Two, the need for teachers across the state skyrocketed while the enrollment at STC dwindled. Dr. M. Theresa Wiedefeld, who became President of STC in 1938, took a two-pronged approach to the dilemma. First, in 1943 she created an accelerated program so that students could condense four years of study into three years and therefore more quickly enter the teacher workforce. Secondly, she created a junior college program for arts and sciences courses in 1946 which allowed returning military veterans to take background courses in liberal arts programs to then matriculate into liberal arts colleges. This would pave the way for Towson’s transformation into a liberal arts college thirty years later.

The post-World War Two period for the school was one of amazing growth and expansion in enrollment, campus facilities, and academic programs. Dr. Earle Taylor Hawkins became President of the school in 1947, and during his twenty-two years of leadership, enrollment increased by over 2100%, and more than 12 structures were built on campus more than doubling the number of existing buildings. The Lida Lee Tall School was built in 1960, the second building to bear her name on campus. This building housed the campus elementary school until 1991 when the experiment in campus elementary schools was brought to a close. In 1949, the curriculum was expanded and students could now opt for a Bachelors degree in Elementary Education or Primary Education. This is also the year that the school was first given accreditation by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools.

The Barracks

As the nation’s post-war economy grew, so did enrollment at the school, and for the first time, enrollment of men was high. In 1951, the school built two dormitories, Ward and West Hall, to accommodate male students. Prior to these dormitories, any men who needed to live on or near campus had been housed in various non-academic buildings, such as The Cottage or on the top floor of the Power Plant, or lived in boarding houses in Towson.

Thanks in large part to Minnegan’s efforts, the sports teams continued to grow with the addition of baseball, gymnastics, track, wrestling, and in 1958, lacrosse. In 1942, a gymnasium was built and would later be dedicated to Wiedefeld.

The Master’s of Education program began in 1958, and two years later, the Bachelor’s program was expanded once again, this time to include a specialization in high school education. At the same time, the junior college begun by Wiedefeld was extended to a 4 year program, and students could now earn a Bachelors of Science or Arts in Art, Biology, English, Speech and Drama, Elementary Education, Geography, History, Mathematics, and Physical Education. This was due in part to the huge influx of students generated by the coming of age of the Baby Boom generation. Higher education was flooded with students, and in order to accommodate them all, teachers colleges could no longer afford to specialize only in education.

Towson State College Era, 1963 - 1976

In 1963, the State of Maryland, in response to the Curlett Commission findings, made five of the State Teachers Colleges -- Towson as well as Bowie, Coppin, Frostburg, and Salisbury -- into liberal arts colleges, and Towson’s name changed to Towson State College. And almost ten years later, in 1972, the Pledge to Teach tuition waiver was abolished -- over one hundred years since it was first put into place. However, Towson still focused heavily on education for teachers, as it does to the present day.

This time period was another of expansive growth in Towson’s history. Ten more buildings were added to the campus. Enrollment for day and evening students had climbed to over 14,000 students by 1976. In 1965, evening and summer classes, which had begun for employed students working on their education master’s degrees in 1958, expanded to include more offerings in other concentrations. And by 1976, the academic program offered 40 Majors including Art, Business Administration, English, Nursing, Political Science, and Theater, and six Master’s programs in Geography, Psychology, Audiovisual Communications, Biology, Speech Pathology and Audiology, and Education.

The school’s sports programs also grew. In 1963, the Towson Tiger was adopted as the school’s mascot. In 1968, Towson established a football team, which lost its first homecoming game played against Gallaudet College. This is the same year that Wiedefeld Gymnasium was razed and replaced by a more state of the art facility, Burdick Hall. In 1974, the men’s lacrosse team won the NCAA College Division lacrosse title.

This period of growth was set against a chaotic period in history beginning with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 and ending just after the United States withdrew from the conflict in Vietnam.

Dr. James L. Fisher became President at TSC in 1969. His tenure in office was marked by tension both within the campus community, taking office as he did just before the shootings at Kent State in Ohio in 1970, and conflicts with the state leadership. Fisher saw that TSC could be a great school and began to put the administrative staff in place to support the growth needed. He created 4 vice-presidential positions, established 5 academic deans, found the Academic Council as a legislative and advisory body of faculty and students, and created the Office of Institutional Development.

Towson State University, 1976 - 1997

Fisher’s frustration with what he perceived as the state’s disregard for Towson’s potential was underscored by the fight to have the name changed in 1976. Fisher maintained that the name change was necessary to attract prospective students and add credence to the work done on campus. Governor Mandel vetoed the change, fearing it would lead to all the other state colleges to want to also change their names. After specific guidelines were created to establish the difference between a college and university, guidelines that Towson met, Towson State College became Towson State University on July 1, 1976.

Fisher left two years after the name change, and was succeeded by Dr. Hoke L. Smith. While Smith’s leadership style was the polar opposite of Fisher’s, his goals were very much the same. Smith led the school through another period of substantial growth, even in the midst of a quite debilitating global recession that upended the state budget in the early 1990s.

Twelve more buildings were added to the campus, most of them student service buildings like dormitories and parking garages. A stadium, originally called Minnegan Stadium opened in 1977, highlighting TSU’s dedication to growing its athletic programs. In fact, in the 1980s, the football team would win the Eastern College Athletic Conference for Division II.

Academic programs were also expanding during this time period. The departments themselves were re-structured into six colleges: Allied Health and Physical Education, Education, Fine Arts and Communication, Liberal Arts, Natural and Mathematical Sciences; and the School of Business and Economics. This arrangement still stands today; however, Towson now has eight colleges with the additions of the Honors College and the College of Graduate Studies and Research to the original six. And in 1987, Towson began its first international student exchange program, partnering with Carl Von Ossietzky University in Oldenburg, Germany.

Higher education in Maryland was also re-organized. In 1988, Towson, along with other Maryland schools, merged to form the University of Maryland System, headed by a Board of Regents and Chancellor. This organization was renamed the University System of Maryland in 1997.

It is during this time that Towson also began establishing partnerships outside its borders with regional and international organizations. Towson began hosting the Senior and Special Olympics competitions, the Maryland Arts Festival, and organizing and hosting World Cello Congresses. It also began cultural exchange programs with schools in Leningrad, Germany, Korea, Japan, and China. Partnerships with local organizations are also begun, such as the Wellness Center, which is a fitness center on-campus that is managed by both the College of Health Professions and St. Joseph Hospital’s Heart Institute.

Ultimately, all the work towards growth and expansion paid off as Towson was recognized by national publications as a leader in higher education. In 1985, Towson appeared in U.S. News & World Report’s survey of Best Colleges. Ten years later, U.S. World & News Report ranked Towson second in the "Most Efficient Schools" and fourth in the "Best Sticker Price" category for institutions in the north. Towson continues to rank high, placing tenth in the 2011 public Regional Universities (North) category. Towson has also been named one of 100 "Best College Buys" in America by Forbes which featured Towson on its 2010 list of "America’s Best Colleges" and Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine named Towson University one of the top 100 best values in public colleges for the 2010-2011 academic year.

As funding from the state began drying up, the school had to rely heavily on tuition and fees to operate and Smith worked to secure new funding from other sources such as endowments from alumni and other fundraising efforts.

Towson University, 1997 - present

In 1997, after years of discussion and debate, Towson dropped the word "State" from its name. It was considered a step that would elevate the University in people’s minds, and also allow the school to develop its own identity while remaining in the University system, and one that had been taken by schools in neighboring states. The change also was a reflection on the lack of funding the school received from the state.

In the time since our latest name change, Towson has continued to grow and expand in terms of enrollment, academic programs, and campus facilities. Soon after the arrival of Dr. Robert L. Caret as President in 2003, TU implemented the TU 2010: Mapping the Future strategic plan to foster and steer the school’s progress. Towson is now working towards its second master plan, Towson University 2016: Building Within - Reaching Out, to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the school’s founding.

Since 2000, the campus has erected or is in the process of constructing 14 new structures. The new College of Liberal Arts building, the first phase of which was completed in 2009, was the first academic building constructed on campus in 30 years. Dormitory space has also continued to increase with the construction of the West Village residence halls. These dormitories, like Millennium Hall which was constructed in 2000, are privatized and co-managed by an outside company. Since 2000, the campus has created residence space for over 1,000 students and has plans to continue expanding those numbers.

In 2001, Towson joined the Colonial Athletic Association conference in the NCAA, and currently has 20 Division I athletic teams. It was also in 2001 that Towson upgraded its baseball field, adding permanent seating, restroom facilities, and concession areas, dedicating the complex to alum John Schuerholz who made the upgrades possible. Two years later, Minnegan Stadium was re-named Johnny Unitas Stadium in honor of the former Baltimore Colts quarterback. There is still, however, a room in the stadium dedicated to the memory of Donald "Doc" Minnegan. In 2011, Towson celebrated the broke ground for the new Tiger Arena, slated to open in the spring of 2013.

Also in 2001, TU inaugurated its first doctoral programs, one in Audiology and another in Occupational Science. Since that time, the school has established two more, one in Information Technology, and another in Instructional Technology. TU also now offers 63 undergraduate majors and 44 master’s programs, including one undergraduate and four master’s programs which are all available as online degrees.

The number of students enrolled in Towson during the fall of 2010 totaled 21,840, while TU employed over 1700 people to support that student population. Enrollment for 2016 is expected to be at 25,000 students.

In 2005, Towson underscored its almost 150 year commitment to education and outreach and began the Cherry Hill Learning Zone, a partnership with Baltimore City schools, neighborhoods, and government to improve Cherry Hill public schools.

As a metropolitan university, Towson University endeavors to create and continue partnerships within the community, underscoring the school’s history as an organization that applies methods learned in the classroom to real-world experiences. Its abilities to adapt to a constantly changing world while continuing to build on its long history has helped to make Towson University the second largest public institution of higher learning in the state of Maryland, a distinction it has held for almost fifty years.