Welcome to the Northern Almanac, the WNIJ living history project coinciding with NIU’s 125th anniversary. This week we’re going to look at how NIU continually took steps to distinguish itself as a comprehensive school offering a multitude of opportunities to its students.
Upon its opening in 1899, the Northern Illinois State Normal School offered a two-year teaching degree, which allowed its graduates to teach in elementary schools. To teach high school, students needed a four-year baccalaureate degree which, at the time, was only available in this state from the University of Illinois. But in 1907, the Illinois General Assembly gave state normal schools the power to confer four-year baccalaureate degrees.
Northern's president, John Cook, however, was not interested in an expansion. So it wasn't until 1921, under his successor, Jay Stanley Brown, that Northern became a four-year, bachelor's degree granting institution. With this new offering came the school's first name change to the Northern Illinois State Teacher's College.
The first master's degree, still in education, was authorized by the Teacher's College board in 1951. The graduate school was founded the following year. That same year, the school awarded 28 master's of science and education degrees. The State Teacher's College board approved the first non-teaching bachelor's degrees in 1955, which resulted in another name change to The Northern Illinois State College.
As the school expanded its liberal arts and sciences offerings, the Illinois General Assembly bestowed a third and final name change. On July 1, 1957, the former teacher's school became Northern Illinois University.