WSU Prepares to Celebrate 150 Years
A Legacy of Leadership
By Tom Grier (‘90, ‘97)
During the 2007-08 academic year Winona State University will celebrate its Sesquicentennial. In preparation for that year-long celebration, Currents presents a series of articles honoring this grand old institution's 150 years of public service and leadership to the citizens of Minnesota and the nation.
About 148 years ago Winona was a busy outpost on the western frontier of the United States. Community leaders, knowing that a prosperous future relied on well-educated citizens, lobbied the territorial government to create a school to prepare teachers for the families flowing into the area and points west.
On Aug. 2, 1858 the Minnesota state government was just 93 days old. On the suggestion of Dr. John D. Ford of Winona, it enacted legislation establishing a normal school system, with an institution going to the first city that came up with $5,000 in donations of money or land to erect buildings and support professors. Almost overnight, Ford secured $7,000 from his fellow citizens. With the agreement of the state legislature and Governor Henry Sibley, the first public teacher training institution west of the Mississippi was located in Winona. Winona State Normal School was born. Winona State Normal School was born.
There's a proud heritage of educational leadership at Winona State University. Ford was named president of the State Normal School Board, and founders of the school were early leaders of the National Education Association (NEA). Even as these men advocated for quality teaching, they were adamant that a professional association of educators, with regular meetings and exchange of ideas, was critical to improving education. Because it was the home of the NEA, a Winona, postmark was one of the most important addresses in education circles for many years.
As Winona State University approaches its 150th anniversary the legacy of these leaders is as alive as it was in the 1850s.With a thriving teacher preparation program, Winona State education majors make up one of the NEA's most active student chapters and the University maintains a relationship with the organization. Robert Chase, president of the NEA, traveled to Winona to celebrate the organization's 100th anniversary in 1998.
Beginning in 1855, principals of the handful of normal schools around the country met informally at the annual meetings of the American Association for the Advancement of Education. That group evolved into the American Normal School Association, which held its first annual convention in 1859 in Trenton, New Jersey. Present at that first meeting were John Ogden and William F. Phelps, who both would later become principals of Winona State Normal School.
Ogden was president of the Hopedale Normal School in Ohio. At the first American Normal School Association convention in 1859, both he and Phelps presented comments on the value of model schools, where future teachers could practice and learn in a true classroom setting.
Immediately following the inaugural Normal School Association convention, Ogden would become Winona State Normal School's first principal, while his and Phelps' ideas on model schools would become an integral part of teacher training at the institution.
The National Teachers Association was formed at about the same time. At its third meeting in 1860 in Buffalo, Phelps was present and prominent as the organization's vice president and member of the officers' nominating committee. Four years later, Phelps succeeded Ogden as the second principal of Winona State Normal School.
The Civil War, and Ogden's resignation to fight for the Union, caused Winona's normal school to close for nearly three years. It reopened in 1864 under the guidance of Phelps, who was principal until 1876.
Under Phelps' leadership the school's enrollment grew steadily. In 1866 he proudly placed the cornerstone for Old Main, Minnesota's first normal school building. He worked closely with the architect on plans for the building to meet the specific needs of a model school that would be essential to the normal program. Phelps freely shared his plans with his colleagues and his plans for Old Main were adopted almost unchanged for normal schools in Buffalo and Normal, Illinois.
While he was principal at Winona State, Phelps maintained a leadership role in national education. He was present at the National Teachers Association convention in St. Louis in 1871, the first meeting under the organization's new name: the National Education Association. The new name recognized the acceptance of the American Normal School Association, The Central College Association, and the National Association of School Superintendents as new departments within the organization.
At the 1871 convention, Phelps spoke about the value to society of well-educated citizens. "The best, the surest, the cheapest method of increasing the wealth of the state is to increase the sum total of its mental and moral power educated labor is far more profitable than ignorant labor." Phelps went on the serve as NEA president in 1875, and presided over its first International Educational Conference a year later.
Through the tenures of Ogden, Phelps and Charles Morey, the head of the Winona State Normal School was known as "principal." Dr. Irwin Shepard was named the institution's first president. He served for 19 years, from 1879-1998, and the school rapidly expanded, adding a kindergarten which was the first of its kind west of the Mississippi.
Shepard was a prominent on the national education scene. In 1893 he was elected secretary of the NEA National Executive Board of Trustees, and he volunteered as general secretary of the organization for five years. Finally in 1898, Shepard was appointed full-time secretary and Winona was designated as the first national office of the NEA.
To devote his full attention to his NEA position, Shepard resigned as president of Winona State Teachers College. His home on Wabasha Street, just a block from Old Main, became the first national NEA headquarters. It remained the location of the national office until 1913 when Shepard retired from the secretary's position due to failing health.
By the turn of the century, the Winona model, or training teachers in a real classroom environment, was practiced from coast to coast. Jesse F. Millspaugh, Winona's fifth president from 1889-1904, took the Winona model west to California. He helped the fledgling Los Angeles Normal School through its conversion to a state-sponsored school, and became the first president of the California State Normal School at Los Angeles. That institution grew into UCLA.
As Winona State grew from its origin as a normal school, its mission changed and expanded. Recognizing the addition of graduate education programs, the school changed its name to Winona State Teacher's College in 1921. With a broader curriculum of the liberal arts and sciences, the school changed its name again in 1957 to Winona State College. In 1975, the school added additional graduate degrees and organized into five colleges and adopted its current name, Winona State University.
While Winona State has changed, the preparation of teachers has remained its main focus. Maintaining connections with the NEA, although college professors are no longer considered part of the NEA membership, has remained important. In 1986, Mary Hatwood Futrell, president of the NEA, delivered the University's commencement address.
To honor the 100th anniversary of the NEA's first national office in Winona, Robert Chase, who was then president of the organization, participated in a number of campus events and delivered a series of talks on teaching. Speaking to a large audience of WSU education students, he addressed "Preparing to be a Teacher of Quality," while later sharing his thoughts on "Promoting and Supporting Teacher Quality" with education leaders from Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa. Chase ended the day with an address to the public on "Quality Teaching in a Historical Context."
From its beginnings, Winona State's leaders have led and supported the growth and development of the nation's teachers. The legacy of these leaders is evident on the University's grounds - the names Ogden, Phelps and Shepard adorn campus buildings - and sensed in the hallways of Gildemeister, home of the College of Education. Each day as students attend classes, host workshops, attend conferences, or teach in their own model classrooms, they benefit from the wisdom and foresight of Winona State University's founders.
"The bravest and the best"
The Winona State Normal School was established in 1858, just three years before the start of the Civil War. Like the rest of the nation, the war profoundly affected the school. In one case it nearly caused its demise, and in the other it led to a period of growth and influence.
Although it was founded two years earlier, the first class entered Winona's normal school in 1860. Closing exercises were held in June, 1861 at the Baptist Church with the second school year set to begin on September 2. But several of the normal school's teachers had left to serve in the Union army, and on December 14, 1861, Principal John Ogden resigned to fight in the Civil War. He ended his resignation letter with the words, "My brethren and fellow teachers are in the field. Some of them - the bravest and the best - have already fallen. Their blood will do more to cleanse this nation than their teaching would. So will mine."
On March 2, 1862, the Winona State Normal School closed. Qualified teachers could not be found, and Minnesota and the nation were preoccupied with survival, not education. Winona's normal school was reopened almost three years later, after prominent Winona citizens Dr. John Ford and E.S. Youmans convinced the state legislature to grant permanent appropriations for buildings and operations.
While Ogden's resignation led to its closure, the appointment of a Civil War hero established the Winona State Normal School as a model for teacher education. Dr. Irwin Shepard, a native of Skaneateles, New York, who was educated in Michigan, was named the first president of Winona's normal school in June, 1879.
Shepard served with the 17th Michigan Infantry and saw action at Fredericksburg, Virginia and the siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi, but he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery during the siege of Knoxville, Tennessee.
Union forces, serving under Ambrose Burnside, were under heavy pressure in eastern Tennessee from a Confederate army corps led by James Longstreet. Awaiting General William Tecumseh Sherman as he advanced from the south, Union troops fell back to the outskirts of Knoxville and came under a siege that lasted most of November, 1863.
On the night of November 20, Shepard was part of a small advance party sent out to burn buildings harboring Confederate sharpshooters. After torching the first building, the men were suddenly brightly illuminated, and drew fire from everything the rebels had, including cannons.
The order was given to retire, and everyone in the party did, with the exception of Corporal Shepard and Private Andrew Kelly. Both stayed back and set fire to every one of the remaining buildings, leading to their total destruction. Somehow, both then sprinted back to the safety of the Union lines.
For his courage under fire, Shepard (along with his fellow arsonist, Andrew Kelly) was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor on August 3, 1897, just a few months before he resigned as president of the Winona State Normal School.