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The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

Northwestern State Normal School
(21330, Oklahoma Historical Society Photograph Collection, OHS).


Oklahoma's first territorial legislature convened at Guthrie, Oklahoma Territory, on August 29, 1890. After spirited competition among numerous cities, the solons decided on the location of various state institutions. Among the first were three higher education facilities: a state university for classical studies (now the University of Oklahoma) at Norman, an agricultural and mechanical college for practical studies (now Oklahoma State University) at Stillwater, and a state normal college for teacher training (now the University of Central Oklahoma) at Edmond.

The latter institution was created in response to the citizens' demands that their children receive a quality education, whether in the few urban grammar and high schools or in the rural schools that predominated in the territory. Teacher training schools, like Central State Normal in Edmond, were thus named because such institutions followed a "model," "standard," or "normal" pattern regarding academic subject areas and pedagogical training. Furthermore, the normals always had a "model" or "normal" primary school composed of eight "graded" classes attached to the institution. College students could observe and practice teaching the children, under the supervision of academically and pedagogically trained instructors.

As the population increased in western Oklahoma Territory, two more normal colleges were created. Northwestern Territorial Normal School (now Northwestern Oklahoma State University) was organized at Alva in 1897 and Southwestern Territorial Normal School (now Southwestern Oklahoma State University) was created at Weatherford in 1901. Additionally, in 1897 the Colored Agricultural and Normal College (now Langston University) was established in Langston to serve African Americans. That institution had a three-fold responsibility to serve as a liberal arts college, an agricultural and mechanical college, and a normal college. After 1907 statehood three additional normals were created in the eastern part of the state: East Central (now East Central University) at Ada, Northeastern State Normal (now Northeastern State University) at Tahlequah, and Southeastern State Normal School (now Southeastern Oklahoma State University) at Durant. After some early experimentation, the six institutions serving strictly as normals soon followed a uniform organizational pattern. They provided six years of instruction consisting of four years of high school courses and two years of college work. The college-level courses were strong in pedagogic subject areas and teacher training, and graduates received a life teaching diploma or "certificate." To possess such a document was a great accomplishment because it was honored by most states.

As intended, these six institutions trained and graduated thousands of teachers for the state's public schools. Almost as importantly, these schools also offered classes that served the higher educational needs of those who wanted to be better educated for occupations other than teaching. Thus, as one author has written, in their dual capacity the normals "really brought higher education to the people."

In 1919 all six normals were designated state teachers' colleges. Adding two more years of instruction, the new colleges could confer bachelor's degrees in education. In 1939 their purpose was again changed when they became state colleges whereby they granted degrees in fields other than education. Finally, by the early 1970s all six became comprehensive regional state universities. At the turn of the twenty-first century a basic goal of these institutions remained to educate future teachers.

L. David Norris


Seth K. Corden and William B. Richards, comps., The Oklahoma Red Book, Vol. 2 (Oklahoma City: N.p., 1912).

Leroy H. Fischer, ed., Oklahoma's Governors, 1890–1907: The Territorial Years (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Historical Society, 1975).

John D. Pulliam and James J. Van Patten, History of Education in America (Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Merrill, 1999).

Donald Warren, ed., American Teachers: Histories of a Profession at Work (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1989).

Joseph Watras, The Foundations of Educational Curriculum and Diversity: 1565 to the Present (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2002).

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The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
L. David Norris, “Colleges and Universities, Normal,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=CO027.

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