The development of NIU: From teachers college to second largest univ. in Ill.

By Susie Snyder

NIU and its traditions have come a long way since its very beginnings in the late 1800s.

At its unofficial birth in 1903, Homecoming consisted of nothing more than an alumni meeting, banquet and varsity football game between the varsity football team and visiting alumni.

Not until 1922 did “Homecoming” become the official name of the activity-filled weekend. And in 1948, NIU had a queen reign over the festivities. A king first appeared next to the queen three years later.

In 1961, NIU’s Homecoming was five days long, and classes were cancelled Friday so students could work on floats and house decorations.

In much the same way as the traditions of Homecoming slowly have evolved, so has the university matured, changing from a small teachers institution into the second largest university in Illinois.

In the late 1800s, Gov. John Altgeld felt his state was falling behind other states in way of public teaching institutions. The Illinois General Assembly in 1885 voted on northern Illinois because of the industries Rockford and DeKalb offered.

Three DeKalb men probably swayed the ultimate decision—Isaac Elwood, Joseph Glidden and Jacob Haisch. These men were prominent businessmen in the DeKalb community, and all were involved with the invention of barbed wire. Each man donated money totaling $50,000, and Glidden donated 63 acres of his farmland.

On September 12, 1899, Northern Illinois State Normal School (NISNS) opened its doors to 139 students and 14 faculty members.

Tuition at NISNS was $6, books cost about $10 and room and board was estimated at $124. An entire academic year at the primitive NIU would cost around $140.

NISNS‘ only curriculum was training elementary level teaching instructors. However, by the following October, arrangements had been made for the creation of several organizations.

John Cook, NISNS’s first president who served from 1899-1919, designed and organized the structure of what the school was to become.

In 1919, J. Stanley Brown, as NISNS’s second president, saw that NISNS was losing students to state universities and private colleges that offered a bachelor of education degree. As a result, NISNS was changed to Northern Illinois State Teachers College (NISTC) and offered a bachelor’s degree.

In addition, Brown formed the president’s council, consisting of five senior faculty members and a committee on athletics to involve faculty in school’s relations.

In 1929, Karl Adams was inaugurated as NISTC’s third president and played an important role in the educational transformation of the state teachers college.

The administrative and academic programs continued to grow. Enrollment was soaring and land and buildings were being added to the campus. In 1955 the school was named the Northern Illinois State College (NISC), and offered bachelor of arts and bachelor of science degrees. In 1957, NISC became Northern Illinois University, offering a master’s and doctor’s degree in several areas.

Also in 1957, NIU’s Chick Evans Field House was constructed and named after coach George Evans, who coached 39 years for NIU.

The Holmes Student Center was constructed in a stage-by-stage process throughout the 1960s. In 1965 the Huskie Stadium, with a 15,500 spectator seating capacity, was added to the campus.

In 1968 Zulauf Hall was constructed in dedication to Romeo Zulauf, appointed dean of faculty in 1941. Also in 1968, Altgeld Hall was named in memory of Gov. Altgeld.