People around the Northern Michigan University campus may not have celebrated with a cake and candles, but today marked an important occasion in the university’s history. In a sense, Monday was NMU’s 115th birthday.
On April 28th, 1899, Michigan Governor Hazen Pingree signed into law the piece of legislation that created what is now NMU, but it wasn’t known as NMU back then. It was called Northern State Normal School, “which came from the French, which meant a teachers’ school, and we really weren’t a college,” NMU history professor and NMU Center for U.P. Studies Dr. Russell Magnaghi said. “For many years, we gave a teaching certificate, and then as time went on, the 1920s came along and we started giving a bachelor’s degree and then really didn’t become a full-blown university until the 1960s.”
Northern State Normal School began classes that September. It opened in such a hurry that no structures had been built on campus yet. The earliest classes were held on the third floor of the old City Hall on Washington Street.
“We’re standing on the original campus, and it was about 20 acres,” Magnaghi said. “It was donated by John Longyear and Frederick Ayres, and they were both from Massachusetts. That was kind of the beginning of the campus, and at that point we were in the middle of the woods out here.”
NMU has experienced tremendous growth over the years, from its original 32 students and six faculty members to today’s 9,000 or so undergraduates. There’s no word yet on whether or not NMU will have any formal celebration of its birthday in September.