The History of Truman State University
Truman State University’s rich history tells the story about a place where great ideas flow and where young people become adults. A place where intellectual pursuits produce high-achieving and knowledgeable leaders who pursue lives that make a difference in the world.
When founded in the 1860s, the school fulfilled Joseph Baldwin’s dream of providing a rigorous educational environment. An innovative educator who devoted his life to the professional education of teachers, Baldwin was a strong proponent of providing a broad education for students. After locating a suitable building in Kirksville, Mo., and recruiting the school’s first faculty, he opened the school on Sept. 2, 1867.
Originally founded as a teacher’s college, then a regional university, Truman State University has evolved into Missouri’s only public highly selective, liberal arts and sciences institution.
The presidents who have followed in Baldwin’s footsteps have continued the tradition of focusing on a high-quality education. Fast forward to today and Truman has transformed into a learning destination where intellectual students come to pursue a well-rounded education in a wide variety of academic areas.
The timeline shown below illustrates the evolution of Truman State University from a training ground for teachers during its early years to a nationally recognized liberal arts and sciences institution that prepares students for success in whatever profession they pursue.
Today, Truman attracts smart and curious students fueled by the desire to turn their intellectual and emotional connections into action, whether in a profession such as medicine or education, in an endeavor such as scientific research or business leadership, or through community and public service.
September 2, 1867
Joseph Baldwin opened the North Missouri Normal School and Commercial College in Kirksville, Missouri.
December 29, 1870
Missouri’s General Assembly made Joseph Baldwin’s private college the First District Normal School, the first Missouri supported institution of higher education established for the primary purpose of preparing teachers for public schools.
Basil Brewer wrote a school song which he named The Purple and the White, and the school adopted purple and white as the official colors.
E.M. Violette, professor of history, saw the usefulness of visual aids in teaching and began collecting materials and artifacts representative of early life in northeast Missouri. Some of the items he collected are displayed in the Ruth Towne Museum and Visitors Center which also houses Truman’s Office of Admission.
The Bulldog was adopted as the official school mascot.
The normal school became known as Northeast Missouri State Teachers College.
The old Baldwin Hall was destroyed by a fire. Before the fire, there was a lake where the Quad now sits. The lake was emptied to combat the fire, resulting in the Quad as we know it today.
The statue of Joseph Baldwin that stands near the south end of the Quad was erected in honor of our founder’s 100th birthday, October 31, 1927.
The Bell Wall was built and dedicated at the Centennial Celebration in 1967.The bells were donated by Joe Burdman, local businessman and University benefactor.
Programs other than teacher education were implemented and the Board of Regents acted to change the name of the college to Northeast Missouri State College.
The College’s name was changed to Northeast Missouri State University.
Gail Albright, retired assistant professor of speech, wrote the Truman fight song, “Hail to the Bulldogs!”
The University is awarded the prestigious G. Theodore Mitau Award for Innovation and Change in Higher Education by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.
On June 20, Gov. John Ashcroft, signed legislation that designated the University as Missouri’s only statewide public liberal arts and sciences university, expanding its mission from a regional to a statewide institution.
On June 15, coinciding with the 10th anniversary of the mission change to a statewide university, Gov. Mel Carnahan signed legislation that changed the University’s name from Northeast Missouri State University to Truman State University, giving the University a name that complements its statewide mission and honors Harry S. Truman, the only Missourian to serve as the President of the United States.
The new name, Truman State University, becomes official on July 1, 1996.
Commitment, uniqueness of purpose, and concentration on student learning have brought Truman to its present mission of providing an affordable, high quality liberal arts and sciences education to academically talented students from across the state of Missouri as well as from all parts of the world.
More Historical Information
To view more information about the former names of the University, a listing of our presidents, and building names and their origins, visit Pickler Memorial Library’s History and Trivia webpage.