Dakota Datebook

Mayville State University’s Beginning

Thursday, December 4, 2008

    It was this week in 1890 that Mayville State University first began classes as the Mayville Normal School with seventeen students and four teachers on the second floor of the city’s firehouse.
Although Mayville State University first opened its doors in December of 1890, its history is intertwined with the State’s founding a year earlier. In the summer of 1889, as leaders from the various territorial counties met to discuss a new state constitution, arguments arose between the delegates over the location of choice state institutions. Many delegates conditioned their support for the new constitution on the granting of at least one of the institutional gems to their community. The delegates from Bismarck insisted on their city being the state capital, Grand Forks sought the location of the State University, and Fargo the Agricultural College. Mayville implied that their support for the constitution rested upon the creation of a teachers’ school in their city. In October, the people of North Dakota approved the new Constitution, which included the creation of ten new state institutions of higher learning … the pride and joy of their respective communities.

However, the state government simply did not have enough money to fully fund them. Mayville was no exception to the state budget crisis of the early 1890s. To make up for a lack of funds, the school looked to its local citizenry for assistance. Mayville’s population rallied to the cause and donated furniture and equipment; the local government provided space on the second floor of the Fire Station/City Hall for the first classes, and the school’s first principal even donated his time to help with classes until more teachers could be hired. The school began advertising in October of 1890, attracting three teachers and seventeen students for classes beginning in December.

Although Mayville Normal School began life as a bargaining chip for the ratification of a state constitution, it has evolved into a full University and is known for its nationally recognized teachers’ education division. Additionally, the University boasts nearly seventy academic programs, is the nations first “tablet PC campus,” and is proud of the personal attention given to each student. Mayville State University, a shining gem in North Dakota’s educational system, first got off the ground in a Fire Station this week in 1890.

Written by Lane Sunwall.

Sources
The School of Personal Service: A History of Mayville State College.
By James Warren Neilson 

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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