The Northern Almanac Ep. 16 - 'What's in a Name?'

May 18, 2020

Welcome to The Northern Almanac, a WNIJ living history project coinciding with NIU's 125th anniversary. 


What’s in a name? Well, at Northern Illinois University, you can learn a lot about the school’s history from the four names it has operated under. When it was founded in 1895, Northern was called Northern Illinois State Normal School. It offered a two-year teaching degree, which allowed its graduates to teach in elementary schools.


Northern continued in this manner until 1921, when it began offering a four-year teaching degree, which allowed graduates to teach high school. This brought on the first name change, to Northern Illinois State Teachers College. Northern already had a practice elementary school on campus to train teachers, so it worked with two nearby high schools for secondary-school teacher training. 


When Leslie Holmes became president in 1949, times were changing, and pressure was mounting for Northern to broaden its curriculum and purpose. President Holmes and community leaders joined with State Senator Dennis Collins and Board Chair Kenneth Snyder, both of DeKalb, in an attempt to make Northern a full-fledged university. The Teachers College Board disagreed with this move, and a contentious State Legislative session in 1955 blocked the attempt. But because Northern had already started offering its first non-teaching bachelors degrees, the word “teachers” was removed from the name and the school was now known as Northern Illinois State College.


The school rapidly expanded its liberal arts and sciences offerings, and just two years later, Senator Collins garnered support from 16 fellow senators to co-sponsor a new bill. It sailed through the legislature, was signed by Illinois Governor William Stratton on May 23, 1957, and Northern Illinois University was born.