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.

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