Category Archives: Research Reflections

Ten Names Later: SUNY Geneseo

September 13th, 1871 marked the official opening of the Geneseo Normal and Training School, after years of negotiations and conflict on both the state and local levels (Fisher 2). The school was initially referred to as the Wadsworth Normal and Training School in Geneseo’s bid, approved by the state legislature in 1868 (Mahood 25). By the time the normal school commenced classes three years later, in September of 1871, the name of the institution had already changed, with “Geneseo” replacing “Wadsworth” to become “Geneseo Normal and Training School.” As Mahood notes, this becomes something of a tradition, so much so that his history of the college is organized around its numerous names (Mahood 30). The school was initially contained within one building, known as “Old Main” (Mau 6). The faculty of thirteen instructors was led by Principal William J. Milne, and three hundred and fifty-four students were enrolled in the school in its first year (Fisher 62). The school was divided into two main departments, Normal and Academic. The Normal Department was intended only to develop teachers for elementary grades and the Academic Department, comparable to high school(Mahood 37-39). Three programs were offered in the Normal Department in 1871, and these remained largely unchanged through 1905: the two-year Elementary English Course, the three-year Advanced English Course, and the four-year Classical Course. Classes included geography, astronomy, book-keeping, declamation, school economy, and moral philosophy (Mau 8). The conclusion of Geneseo’s first academic year saw ten students graduate, though how these students finished programs meant to be completed in multiple years is unclear (Mahood 42).

James V. Sturges was named the new Principal of the renamed State Normal School at Geneseo (or State Normal School, Geneseo; the names were seemingly used interchangeably) in 1905, and almost immediately dealt with curriculum reforms. Due to changes of high school curriculum at the state level, Geneseo was forced to do away with the Academic Department and form a separate public high school in the village (Mahood 62-63). Further state reforms led to the requirement of a four-year high school diploma for admission (Mau 12). Principal Sturges reorganized the Training Department and created the Kindergarten Program, resulting in a number of new hires. The following years saw further campus and building renovations (Mahood 63-64). In 1914, the first summer school session was held, a longtime pursuit of Sturges. The last major curriculum change under Sturges came in 1922, when the special education program, required by the state in 1920, was first taught (Mahood 69). The fiftieth anniversary of Geneseo was celebrated in 1921, and in 1922 Sturges’ era ended after an extended leave of absence amidst confusion—Mahood explains his departure as a regretful request from the board to resign (78), Fisher describes it as an “enforced retirement” (183), and Mau glosses over any possible conflict, writing that “poor health forced him to retire” (12).

Winfield Holcomb then took over as principal of Geneseo, facing the challenge of the extension of all academic programs to three years, beginning in 1922. The first-year coursework was generally the same for all students, and then specializations were chosen in the second year, with options including Kindergarten-Primary, Intermediate, and the new and much-acclaimed Teacher-Librarian program. The special education program also became noted for its success around this time (Mahood 93-94).

Holcomb retired in 1934, and his predecessor, James B. Welles, son of one of the first ten graduates of Geneseo, faced financial difficulties brought about by the Great Depression. Prior to Welles’ appointment, faculty salaries were cut and enrollment was diminishing, causing concerns about the school’s continuation (Mahood 106-7). Additionally, the campus was badly in need of refurbishments and new buildings altogether. Despite nearly non-existent state funding, Geneseo obtained the funds to begin the construction of what eventually became the Sturges building. Plans were also made to build the Milne Library, Wadsworth Auditorium, and Schrader Gymnasium, those these buildings were not completed until the 1950s and ‘60s, presumably due to World War II (Mahood 110-12). Further improvements were also made to the school’s curriculum. Admissions standards were raised in 1935, and in 1937 an extensive exam became a state requirement for graduation (Mahood 113-15). By 1938, all programs were extended from three to four years, with the first baccalaureate degrees being earned by members of the Class of 1940 (Mau 14). The school achieved full collegiate status in 1942, leading to yet another name change, this time to “Geneseo State Teachers College” (Mahood 120).

This monumental victory occurred on the brink of World War II, and a number of faculty and students enlisted, with around eleven lost in the war. Enrollment declined and a Prison of War camp was placed near campus (Mahood 128-130). Despite these struggles, in 1943 the state-appointed Post-War Planning Commission was already organizing a campus expansion that included the delayed library and auditorium (Fisher 196). Plans for on-campus residence halls, a first for Geneseo, were also made (Mahood 134).

Principal Welles retired in 1946, shortly after legislation to create a state university was first discussed. He was replaced by Dr. Herbert Espy, the college’s first president (Mau 13). The State University of New York (SUNY) was officially established in 1948, following a forceful push to improve higher education by Governor Thomas E. Dewey, in part to allow for the increased enrollment nation-wide following the end of World War II and the veterans pursuing college under the G.I. Bill (Mahood 146). It was initially unclear how Geneseo would benefit from the new institution of SUNY, as teachers colleges were somewhat neglected and in 1950, Geneseo was still waiting on the desperately needed buildings approved in the early 1940s. Despite these continuing complaints, Geneseo had academic victories: its first master’s degrees were awarded in 1951, enrollment increased, and a performing arts program was authorized (Mahood 148-149).

A transformation of the campus began in late 1950. November of 1950 saw the opening of the College Center and residence halls now known as Blake Hall, and in the following May the demolition of Old Main began (Mahood 158). Following Espy’s retirement, President Francis Moench was appointed, and during his presidency, three more residence halls and several other buildings, including the Milne Library and Wadsworth Auditorium, were opened (Mahood 163). The Geneseo faculty also grew, with distinguished members including Dr. Walter Harding and Dr. Martin Fausold (Mahood 165). Further transformation occurred in 1961, when Geneseo became a liberal arts college following a 1951 state mandate (with a ten year grace period), and its name became State University of New York College of Education at Geneseo. Changes to the curriculum, including the creation of master’s programs, had occurred with this in mind (Mahood 167).

Massive changes occurred on campus through the next decade, led by Moench’s successor, President Robert MacVittie, appointed in 1963. Dr. Samuel Gould, the new president of SUNY, appointed 1964, completely revised SUNY’s master plan, pushing for a strong liberal arts core at the newly-designated liberal arts schools, including Geneseo (Mahood 190-92).  MacVittie took these changes in stride, and a large number of esteemed new faculty were hired. The academic program began to resemble what it is today in 1962, with students permitted to major in fields including biology, English, and mathematics. MacVittie also reorganized the academic subjects into divisions including natural sciences, humanities, and fine arts (Mahood 192-93). As liberal arts began to strengthen at Geneseo, the college was renamed State University of Arts and Sciences at Geneseo (Mahood 196). MacVittie also oversaw the construction of ten dormitories, an expanded library, and several academic buildings, including two science buildings. Three buildings, including the College Union (now MacVittie College Union) were designed by Edgar Tafel, a student of Frank Lloyd Wright (Mahood 198-199).

Geneseo celebrated its centennial in 1971, and as MacVittie temporarily departed, Thomas Colahan, vice president of academic affairs, took over as acting president to complete the college’s liberal arts transformation (Mahood 217). There was a desire to de-emphasize the teaching program, and make Geneseo more obviously liberal arts-oriented. Colahan began this by reorganizing the teaching program, and promising a School of Education, complete with a separate building. The secondary education program was also significantly restructured, requiring an academic degree with teaching certification. The establishment of a humanities sequence of two four-hour courses in 1979 was another major accomplishment for Colahan. Additionally, Colahan built up the faculty, and many of his hires became Distinguished Teaching Professors (Mahood 218-220). Despite financial difficulties, lower enrollment, and subsequent faculty cuts throughout the seventies, MacVittie’s presidency, ending in 1979, is remembered as a success (Mahood 236). 

President Edward Jakubauskus faced continued budgetary troubles. Further faculty positions were terminated, and the entire School of Library Science was eliminated. In explanation, Jakubauskus asserted that Geneseo’s mission was to provide undergraduates with a liberal arts education (Mahood 244-45). The core liberal arts curriculum envisioned by Colahan was taking shape, courses in critical reasoning, the fine arts, social sciences, natural sciences, and of course the humanities courses required. In 1988, an honors program was established, led by professors Bill and Stacey Edgar (Mahood 249-50). Beginning in the mid-1980s, Geneseo began to climb through the college rankings and garner national attention (Mahood 253). Jakubauskus left in 1988, with MacVittie returning as interim president for two years. In 1989, Dr. Carol Harter became the first woman to be appointed president at Geneseo (Mahood 261). President Harter faced further budget cuts, and frequently fought SUNY administrators and the state government for increased funding (Mahood 267). Despite problems at the SUNY level, Geneseo’s reputation continued to grow.

President Harter left Geneseo in 1995, and then-Provost Christopher Dahl was appointed as interim president, and eventually full-time president (Mahood 276). SUNY created a core curriculum that included natural science, American history, and foreign language, causing Geneseo, where curricular upgrades were frequent, to incorporate these changes. The final outcome was forty-forty-seven hour general education requirement that still stands (Mahood 279). Construction continued, with additional residence halls and the townhouses, meant to simulate off-campus housing, being built, as well the Integrated Science Center, completed in 2007 (Mahood 282). In 2004, a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa was established at Geneseo, and further academic success ensued, despite the ever-present threat (and reality) of decreased funding from SUNY (Mahood 287).

The most recent decade of Geneseo’s history is not as comprehensively recorded as the many previous, as Mahood’s recent history ends in 2007. President Dahl retired in 2014, and current President Denise Battle was inaugurated the following year. While the core curriculum has been a constant since the late 1990s, the departments of visual art and computer sciences have been cut do to ever-present budget cuts. Geneseo currently offers forty undergraduate degree programs and two graduate programs, in accounting and education. New academic (primarily for social sciences) and administrative buildings have been constructed, opening in 2014. Geneseo’s commitment to the liberal arts remains strong, and is a particular point of pride for the institution.

I have found it quite fascinating that most of the major changes Geneseo has made have not necessarily been by choice, but rather by state mandate, particularly the transition to liberal arts, which is now so firmly part of Geneseo’s identity.

Works Cited

Fisher, Rosalind. The Stone Strength of the Past: Centennial History of the State University College of Arts and Sciences at Geneseo, New York. Wm J Keller Inc., 1971.

Mahood, Wayne with Frederick Bright, Judith Bushnell, Paul Hepler, and James McNally. SUNY Geneseo: From Normal School to Public Ivy, 1871-2007. The Donning Company Publishers, 2008.

Mau, Clayton C. Brief History of the State University Teachers College: Geneseo, New York. 1956.

Try, Try, and Try Again

The history of the University of North Carolina at Asheville is a long and varied one.  Our story starts in 1927, with the Buncombe County Junior College.  Though technically not UNCA, the long history of this institution would evolve into what we now know as our school.  This Junior College started with less than one hundred students, and free tuition (oh, how things have changed).  Less than two years into its life, the Great Depression hit, causing the College to start charging tuition.  However, tuition could be paid in a variety of ways, such as vegetables, eggs, or other produce.  The 30’s would mark the first in a long series of relocations for the college, as the school system withdrew funding for the college, forcing them to move to what is now David Millard Junior High School.  The administration of the college was also moved to now use a board of trustees.  The college is renamed to the Asheville-Biltmore College and accredited by the US Department of Education.  Another six years after the college first moved, it moved again, to the area which is now the Memorial Hospital, just outside of downtown.  Just in case things were getting too comfortable, two years after that the administration decided to move the college onto Merrimon Avenue, which runs adjacent to the current campus, to give it a little more independence.  Believe it or not, because of increased enrollment, the college moved seven years later to Seely’s Castle.  Yes, you read that correctly.  For a brief period of time, college was held in an actual castle on Sunset Mountain.  In 1958, increased enrollment once again forces the college to relocate.  This time, they move to what is now the current university campus, right beside an old Civil War battlefield.  In 63, it became a baccalaureate institution, moving away from their traditional two-year degrees.  Because of this, there were no graduating students in 64.  1969 marked the beginning of the college officially being UNCA, as it joined the University of North Carolina system.  The following year marked the first time enrollment had surpassed one thousand students.  Nine years later, it exceeded two thousand.  Nearly every building constructed or to be constructed in the following years on the UNCA campus had been or would be named after either notable students, alumni, or members of the community.  The next thirty years mostly saw additions to the campus in the form of new buildings, along with a steady increase of new students and faculty.  The liberal arts aspect of the college grew, and the more artistic aspects of the city influenced the direction of much of the campus and students.  Last year, UNCA received just over a thousand new students.  Thirty-five years ago, the campus had roughly that many students total.  It’s growth since moving to the current campus and joining the UNC system has been astronomical, and provided much-needed security for the future of the institution.  The history of UNCA has been one of many setbacks and speed bumps, but despite all, the campus has endured and prospered despite many relocations and renamings.  UNCA is truly an artistic beacon in the “land of the sky”.

“UNCA Timeline.” Accessed September 9, 2016. 

Seely’s Castle. 1920. Asheville. In WNC Magazine. March 2014. Accessed September 9, 2016.

In Search of Prestige: the Geneseo Story


SUNY Geneseo was founded in a time of crisis. The formerly reputable “Geneseo Academy,” also known as the “Temple Hill Academy”—a high school specializing in the training of teachers—was failing due to its “strict denominational control and the narrow religious sectarianism of the period” (Mau 2). In 1866, the year of Geneseo’s inception, the village of Geneseo was “recovering from two disastrous fires that wiped out over 250 feet” of Main Street, and taxpayers faced the burden of constructing a twelve-mile water line from Conesus lake in an attempt to prevent similar fires (Bright 2). If these setbacks were not problematic enough, the Town of Geneseo owed a 40,000 dollar debt for a “foolish expenditure” on the construction of two iron bridges crossing the Genesee River (Bright 3). And the aftermath of the Civil War loomed over the nation. Nevertheless, advocates for the creation of a “normal school” (aka, a teacher’s college) in Geneseo took the risk, and procured 45,000 dollars for the construction of a normal school—only to have the state legislature fail “to approve the school, giving authorization, instead, to the village of Brockport.” Only after the Wadsworth family pledged 10,000 dollars to the founding of the school, did the state legislature approve of the “Geneseo Normal and Training School” (Bright 3, 4).

The Geneseo Normal and Training School opened in 1871, with a mission to “furnish competent teachers for the public schools of the state” (Mau 6). In an attempt to reassert the prestige of Geneseo education formerly garnered by the Geneseo Academy, the new normal school assessed applicants based on age, the “[possession] of good health,” moral character, and aptitude in topics such as “reading, spelling, geography, and arithmetic (Mau 6). The Geneseo Normal and Training School at first consisted of one building, “Old Main,” which principal William Milne lamented could hold no more than 120 students. When William Milne’s brother, John, took over as principal, he oversaw the creation of four new buildings: a gymnasium, library, science hall, and swimming pool jold-main(Mau 6, Bright 6). During this time, the college offered three courses of study: “the two year Elementary English Course, the three year Advanced English Course, and the four year Classical Course.” In addition, students enrolled at the college had to take ”29 semester hours of methodology and 20 of observation and practice teaching” (Mau 8). Notably, from the opening of the school in 1871, the institution reimbursed students for travel expenses accompanying their attendance at Geneseo; however, this practice ended in 1889 due to an increase in enrollment that made the practice financially impractical.

In 1905, The Geneseo Normal and Training School metamorphosed significantly; not least of these changes were the welcoming of Principal James Sturges, and the institution’s new identity: the Geneseo Normal School. This branch of Geneseo’s evolution reflected a new educational aesthetic that focused on a “growing professional consciousness, a concern for promoting upward mobility among normal school students, [and] the growth and influence of the social sciences, particularly educational psychology” (Bright 7). Accordingly, the new Geneseo Normal School saw curricular changes and new tracks of study: the Professional, or Normal, in 1905, Kindergarten in 1906, Primary-Kindergarten in 1908, Teacher-Librarian in 1910, and the “Special Class” in 1921; the special class trained for the education of “mentally handicapped children” (Mau 12-13). Notably, during this time, Geneseo increased the rigor of admissions by requiring students to have a four-year high school degree or an “equivalent approved by the Commissioner of Education” (Mau 12).

The institution received yet another name in 1921: the “State Normal School, Geneseo, New York.” Between 1921 and 1941, enrollment at the school doubled—only to lose almost all men at the start of the war— and three-year programs became the popular mode of earning a diploma (Bright 9). Additionally, this period saw the beginning of the standardized student-teaching program and the department of special education.
Apparently unhappy with their nomenclature work in the 20’s, the New York State Legislature renamed the college “Geneseo State Teacher’s College” in 1942 (Mahood 104). Immediately, administrators at the college became concerned with how they would accommodate the influx of students returning from the war—especially now that the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 guaranteed that fifteen and a half million veterans could now receive up to “four years’ tuition, fees, books, and living expenses (Mahood 132). The administrators began planning “major capital construction outlays” which included what is now Wadsworth Auditorium, Frasier Library (now the only building open 24/7), and Erwin Hall (Mahood 133).

The GI Bill not only presented a logistic and spatial conflict with how the college would accommodate so many students, but it also forced the newly named Geneseo State Teacher’s College into a position of competition: in order to maintain the dwindling prestige and increase allure for a Geneseo education, Geneseo needed to stand out amongst other colleges in Western New York—especially state schools like Brockport and SUNY Buffalo. As Wayne Mahood notes, “should Brockport [have received] dorms first, it would have a draw that Geneseo wouldn’t” (134). In turn, Geneseo petitioned the state to receive funds to finance a new 150-student residence hall. By the end of the petition, Geneseo had worked out funding for four new residence halls; with the resources to house students, administrators turned their concerns not only to the influx of veterans, but to the recruitment of standout high school students by sending out pamphlets to 4,500 high school students (Mahood 135). Additionally, administrators added a “Speech Correction” degree and “its first graduate program, the Master of Science in Education for elementary school teachers” in an attempt to oblige the growing body of students at the institution (Bright 12).

Partially in response to the GI Bill—and in an attempt to ensure veterans a quality education—New York Governor Thomas Dewey suggested the creation of a state university: the State University of New York, or SUNY (Bright 13). For Geneseo, this meant many changes: new buildings—academic, dining, and residence halls, the addition of foreign languages to the curriculum, a school physician, more athletic programs, and the expansion of physical education courses. Additionally, the university created the secondary education programs that it is so well known for today. In this time, the college opened the department of physics and started its own radio station—WGSU FM (Bright 16).


Argentieri, Lisa. “Exhibit on College History Continues through September.”OldVersion Milne Library News and Events. N.p., 29 Nov. 2011. Web. 19 Sept. 2016.

Bright, Frederick, and Wayne Mahood. SUNY Geneseo: 125 Years of Excellence. Geneseo: Clarion Publications, 1996. Print.

Mahood, Wayne, and Frederick Bright. SUNY Geneseo: From Normal School to Public Ivy, 1871-2007. Virginia Beach, VA: Donning, 2008. Print.

Mau, Clayton C. Brief History of the State University Teachers College: Geneseo, New York. 1956.