Winona State History

Winona State University was founded in 1858 when the first Minnesota State Legislature established normal schools “to prepare teachers for the common schools of the state.” The first tax-supported school west of the Mississippi River was established at Winona to train teachers for a new frontier. Citizens of Winona quickly supported the school with donations of more than $7,000 in money and land.

Classes began in 1860, although the school closed for nearly three years during the Civil War. It reopened in November 1864 to continue its mission of preparing teachers for the new State of Minnesota. Construction of the first building, situated on ancestral lands of the Dakota people, was completed in 1866, and classes were held in Main Hall by 1869. Winona State acknowledges and honors the Dakota Nations and the sacred land of all indigenous peoples.

Winona State Teachers College
Phelps Hall, with a kindergarten teaching lab, gymnasium, and library, opened in 1909. Classes for students in Rochester were first offered in 1917. The Winona State Normal School became Winona State Teachers College in 1921 and was authorized to grant the bachelor’s degree. In 1926, four students – two men and two women – graduated with the four-year teaching degree.

From the 1920s until World War II, significant curriculum changes enhanced the academic quality of educating teachers. New courses were added and departments emerged to organize a growing institution. Intramural and extramural athletics, social organizations and co-curricular activities grew with the student population.

Winona State College
The boom following World War II spurred rapid growth. In 1957, the institution was renamed as Winona State College, reflecting an expanded mission that included the addition of the bachelor’s, master’s, and associate’s degrees. By the late 1960s the campus had six residence halls, a new library, five academic buildings, athletics facilities, a student center, and an expanded and remodeled Somsen Hall.

A Growing University
In 1975, the school became Winona State University. Today, the university is structured into five colleges, Business, Education, Liberal Arts, Nursing and Health Sciences, and Science and Engineering. It is a member of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System. Two campuses now comprise the university. The original Winona campus serves primarily traditional students, while the Rochester campus focuses on non-traditional students and graduate programs.