On July 3, 1839, three young women braved a fierce thunderstorm to enroll in a new school of higher education in Lexington, Massachusetts. This school, the first state-supported school dedicated to training teachers in America, would one day become Framingham State University.
The Normal School, as it was known, came about because of the chronic need in an expanding United States for professional-quality teachers of grammar and secondary school students. While young people of the upper social strata of the time could receive quality educations at private academies and universities, students who came from the middle and working classes and who attended free public schools received little or no education. Poorly trained teachers, incapable of properly educating students, could not teach the principles that would produce knowledgeable and valuable citizens in the young Republic. Throughout the 1820s and 1830s, campaigns for normal schools to train teachers became more and more part of the political dialogue. Frequently cited in the argument for these schools were examples of established, successful normal schools in Europe.
Finally, in 1837 the Massachusetts Legislature passed a bill that established the State Board of Education. The Board’s first Secretary was Horace Mann, the most enthusiastic advocate for establishing the normal schools. Edmund Dwight, a wealthy philanthropist from Boston, gave the fledgling schools ten thousand dollars, matched by the Legislature, for equipment and instructional expenses. In 1838, three normal schools were legally established in Massachusetts on a three-year experimental basis, and in 1839 the first of these opened in Lexington. While the other two normal schools that opened later in 1839 and 1840 – Barre (now Westfield State College) and Bridgewater (Bridgewater State College) – accepted male and female students, the Normal School at Lexington set another precedent by being the first public women-only teachers college.
The Normal School began in a building that still stands today on the northeast corner of Lexington Common. The Reverend Cyrus Peirce, a Unitarian minister and hard-working educator, was the first Principal at Lexington. It was his enlightened leadership that established the mission of the Normal School. As part of the curriculum he set up, a model school was created as a practicum for the future teachers. In 1840, the first class of twenty-five women graduated from the Normal School. Two of these graduates included Mary Swift Lamson, a teacher in the newly-conceived education of the blind and deaf, as well as a co-founder of the YWCA in Boston, and Rebecca Pennell Dean, who in 1853 at Antioch College became the first female college professor in the United States.
In 1843, Mary E. Miles became the first African-American student to graduate from the Normal School at Lexington. She was also the first African-American graduate of any public teachers college in America. As Mary Miles Bibb, she would eventually teach and become a leader in the abolition movement while living in Ontario. By 1845, despite some opposition and financial struggles, all three of the Normal Schools had survived and flourished.
The Massachusetts Legislature designated them as State Normal Schools, ensuring their future. What had begun as an experiment had become a great success. Twice the Normal School outgrew its facilities, moving first to West Newton in 1844 and finally in 1853 to its permanent location in Framingham. A suitable location of five and three-quarter acres on scenic Bare Hill in Framingham Centre was offered by the Town. With appropriations from Framingham, the Boston and Albany Railroad, and the Massachusetts Legislature, a new school building designed by local architect Alexander Esty was constructed.
The building was dedicated and opened on December 15, 1853. The School’s motto “Live to the Truth,” was inscribed in black and gold lettering on the new building. This motto derived from Cyrus Peirce’s standard statement upon closing his lessons at the end of each day. The Normal School became a model for the education of excellent teachers to meet the demand of common schools in Massachusetts, the United States, and throughout the world. In 1850, to certify a standard of professionalism for its graduates, the School’s first printed diplomas were issued.
School alumnae traveled to the American South and West to teach at institutions for groups who generally had not attended public schools and colleges before, including African-Americans and Native Americans. Some went overseas as missionaries. Some helped found normal schools in the United States and other lands. One such alumna was Olivia Davidson, class of 1881. She co-founded, with her future husband Booker T. Washington, the Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University) in Alabama.
From 1848 to 1898, the Normal School conducted an advanced program for students who aspired to careers in high school and college teaching, school administration, law and medicine. This program opened unprecedented educational and career opportunities for women. In addition to teachers, there were principals, professors, doctors, lawyers, poets and writers among these Nineteenth Century graduates. There were also Normal School women who participated in the suffrage and temperance movements, and in all of the significant educational and social reforms of the time. In 1866, Annie Johnson was appointed Principal, the first woman to serve as head of a Massachusetts Normal School. Ellen Hyde, class of 1862, succeeded her as Principal in 1875 and served until 1898, becoming the only graduate of Framingham Normal School to also be its chief administrator. Under both these women, the School expanded its academic programs. The School also began and nurtured associations with other public education institutions.
During the late Nineteenth Century, with increased demand for educational and residential space, the Normal School outgrew its original lone building. In 1869, Normal Hall was built as the first on-campus residence for students, administrators and faculty. It burned in 1914 and was eventually replaced by Horace Mann Hall. In 1886, Crocker Hall opened. Crocker Hall was named for Lucretia Crocker, class of 1850, who was the first woman supervisor of the Boston Public Schools from 1876-1886. Originally constructed as a residence, later it also held classes.
It was extensively rebuilt after being damaged by several fires and the Hurricane of 1938. Today it is the oldest building on campus and houses faculty offices. In 1889, May Hall was built, named for Abigail Williams “Abby” May, a distant cousin of author Louisa May Alcott. Abby May, a leader among Boston’s social reformers, was the first woman to be named an Official Visitor to the Framingham Normal School by the Massachusetts Board of Education. May Hall replaced the original Normal School Building, which was razed. May Hall provided expanded classroom and laboratory space, faculty offices, and a small gymnasium, as well as meal services.
Damaged by the Hurricane of 1938 and renovated several times, today it houses the liberal arts departments’ offices and classes. Its image is also featured on the seal of the Town of Framingham. In 1898, a new program was instituted at the Normal School when the Boston School of Cookery moved to Framingham and became the Mary Hemenway Department of Household Arts. This department provided a unique distinction for the School and diversified its mission as a teacher training institution. Distinguished alumnae of this pioneering program laid the foundation for studies in consumer sciences, including nutrition and food, dietetics, and clothing and textiles.
During the first half of the Twentieth Century, the number of students steadily increased, necessitating growth in the number of school buildings and the size of the campus. In 1902, Wells Hall was constructed, which provided new classroom and lab space, and a gymnasium. This building was named for Kate Gannett Wells, who had succeeded Abby May as Official Visitor to the Normal School. In 1915, a dormitory, Peirce Hall, named after the first principal of the Normal School, was completed, and in 1920 another dormitory, Horace Mann Hall, named after the great Massachusetts educator and champion of the normal school idea, was built. In 1937, Dwight Hall, an administration building named after Edmund Dwight, the wealthy benefactor of the original Normal Schools, was opened.
New courses were developed and evolved within the core programs to reflect the increasing professionalism and varied skills needed for degreed educators. In 1922, the first Bachelors of Science in Education were awarded. Also during the early years of the Twentieth Century, co-curricular clubs and organizations formed, including the Glee Club, the Home Economics Club, the Fine Arts Club, the campus newspaper, The Gatepost, and the campus yearbook, The Dial. Activities such as Senior Class Day, Senior Investiture, “Harvard-Yale” Weekend, May Day festivities, and Stunt Night (class skits) became popular.
In 1924, Ruth Graves graduated Framingham Normal School with a degree in Household Arts. She worked as a dietician and food lecturer, and in 1930 with her husband, Ken Wakefield, opened the Toll House Inn in Whitman, Massachusetts, which became a great success. During the mid-1930s she experimented with different recipes for chocolate chip cookies, and by cutting up small chunks of baking chocolate she came up with the popular Toll House cookie. The chunks later became little morsels of chocolate, and to this day the recipe and the Toll House story are printed on the back of Nestlé chocolate chip packages.
In 1932, all of the Normal Schools in Massachusetts became State Teachers Colleges, and a new four-year undergraduate program became standard. The title of the head administrator of the College changed from principal to president. Francis Bagnall, who administered the College from 1930-1936, holds the distinction of having been both the Framingham Normal School’s ninth and last Principal, and the first President of Framingham State Teachers College. Dr. Martin F. O’Connor, President from 1936 to 1961, oversaw a new period of change at the College as it entered its second century. In 1939, the College celebrated the Centennial of its founding, for which Dr. O’Connor composed the Alma Mater, “Hymn to Framingham.” During World War II, the College provided more dietitians to the armed services than any other academic institution except for Iowa State. In 1949, the Household Arts Department changed its name to the Home Economics Department to reflect a broader academic application.
Also in 1949, for the first time in the College’s history, married students were allowed to enroll. In 1953 the College celebrated the Centennial of its permanent home in Framingham. In 1956, the Division of Continuing Education was established. With the huge increase in students seeking higher education after World War II, a wider variety of programs became necessary for the continued success and popularity of the public colleges. In 1959, the Board of Education authorized all of the State Colleges to develop liberal arts curricula and to grant Bachelor of Arts degrees. In 1960, Framingham State Teachers College was renamed the State College at Framingham. The College initiated degree programs in English, history, biology, and medical technology, and Masters of Education programs were offered as well.
A new phase of expansion got underway on campus during the administration of Dr. D. Justin McCarthy, President from 1961 to 1985. Within a decade-and-a-half, classroom, administration and dormitory space significantly increased with the constructions of O’Connor, Hemenway (which replaced Wells Hall), Larned, Linsley, and Foster Halls, Corinne Hall Towers, the Henry Whittemore Library, and the D. Justin McCarthy College Center. The Ecumenical and Cultural Center was purchased. Overall, the campus had expanded to its present 73 acres.
In 1964, after 125 years as a female-only College, the State College at Framingham became coeducational with the admittance of the first class of thirteen men. In 1968 the official name became Framingham State University. One of the notable alumnae during this time was Sharon Christa Corrigan, later Christa McAuliffe, who in 1970 earned a Bachelor’s degree in history. In 1985 she was selected to be the first teacher in space by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and was one of the Challenger crew when the space shuttle tragically exploded in 1986.
Her memory lives on at Framingham State: the Christa Corrigan McAuliffe/Challenger Center, a resource for physical and space science education, is located behind O’Connor Hall. The College continued to grow and developed more and more choices of academic programs in the succeeding decades. In addition to the traditional and distinctive Applied Studies programs of Teacher Education, and Consumer and Family Studies, many other academic programs were instituted, among which were business, the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, communication arts, mathematics and advanced technology. The Graduate Degree programs grew as well, with Masters of Art, Education and Science offered in a variety of fields that included counseling psychology, health care administration, curriculum and instructional technology, art, English, history, and food and nutrition, among many others.
Co-curricular activities continued to be important to the experience of the College’s students. In the 1970s, the Student Government Association formed to reflect the increasing responsibilities of decision-making by students on campus. Student clubs and cultural organizations contributed to the enrichment of the College community with a variety of activities and gatherings over the years. Before the late 1960s, College athletics had been played at an informal intramural level, usually organized around special events such as Field Day, Harvard-Yale, or Black and Gold Weekends. By 1968, the first basketball and soccer teams were organized for intercollegiate play. Today, men’s, women’s and co-ed teams as varied as football, basketball, equestrian, street hockey and cheerleading, among other sports, successfully compete at the NCAA Division III, intramural, and club sport levels.
In 1989, Framingham State University celebrated the Sesquicentennial of its founding with a wide range of ceremonial and celebratory events. A history of the College, Pioneers in Education, was published. In 1999, Dr. Helen Heineman was appointed as the College’s fifth President (and fourteenth head administrator). She was the first woman and first faculty member to become President of Framingham State University.
In 2000, the Ecumenical and Cultural Center reopened after a renovation, and in 2001 a new Athletic and Recreation Center opened on the south side of Dwight Hall. Starting in 2002, in order to enrich the classroom experience, a program to ensure that all students had wireless laptop computers was introduced, taking the College into the forefront of technology in learning. In 2003, Framingham State University celebrates its 150th
Anniversary in the Town of Framingham. The College’s proud and diverse traditions and history continue today. Its alumni have gone on to careers as teachers, business and community leaders, nutritionists, scientists, university presidents, politicians, media personalities, artists, screenwriters, and many other professions, and have achieved renown. Beginning with three students in 1839, the College today has approximately 6,000 students enrolled in a variety of degree programs designed to meet their educational and career goals, as well as the needs of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the rest of the world. Framingham State University looks forward to continuing its legacy for the next 150 years – and beyond.
Written by Christopher Carden, Special Collections Librarian