Welcome to the Northern Almanac, a WNIJ living history project coinciding with NIU’s 125th anniversary.
This week, we're going to cover a few topics, starting with Northern's marching band. Now nearly 200 members strong, the marching band started in 1899 with just 14 young men. They weren't really a marching band back then, but they provided the musical backdrop for football games, pep rallies, and socials. By the 1930s, the band began to resemble the modern-day ensemble, taking the field at halftime in parade formation.
Around that time they also welcomed women in their ranks. This was many years before other schools did so. The band reorganized in 1974 as the Huskie Show Band, and by the 1980s added the Silverettes and the Color Guard.
A lot of interesting people have visited NIU over the years, but the first visitor of national prominence was future U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt, who gave a campaign speech in 1900 near what is now the East Lagoon. Unfortunately, his words that day were not committed to history.
Also in 1900, Northern held its first commencement. On June 21st, the one-year-old institution bestowed degrees on 16 graduates, 13 women and 3 men. The first class entering the two-year institution included students who already had college credits, which is how they graduated after only one year. The degrees that day were awarded in alphabetical order, the first given to Jenny Bertram of Idaho Falls, ID. In those days, commencement was a week-long community celebration.