Research Reflection: The Beginnings of Keene Normal School

In the late nineteenth century, the high quality of southern New Hampshire public grammar schools lead to a need for accomplished and well-rounded educators (Smart 3). There was a bold discrepancy between teachers in different parts of New Hampshire, therefore Keene Normal School was designed in 1845 to elevate the standards of teacher education (5). At this time, there were only three normal schools in the country (6).

The crisis of teacher incompetence nationwide lead to a race between the municipalities of Plymouth and Keene, New Hampshire at the end of the 1800s, ending with Plymouth creating the first normal school in New England in 1871 (Smart 7).

The creators of Keene Normal School still worked towards forming their institution. The City of Keene was able to raise $19,000 to support the construction of the facility on Main Street (Smart 30). Keene Normal School officially opened in 1909 and began educating young women in the area in education, pedagogy, and the liberal arts and sciences. The students were also able to practice teaching in and around Keene, which lowered the taxpayers’ contribution to public education for children.

The earliest students created the first motto: Service (Smart 41) . It was liberal icon Margaret Sanger who inspired Enter to Learn, Go Forth to Serve while giving a speech at the school (Smart 50).

Though Keene Normal School was flourishing in its first decade, World War I called women away from teaching and towards nursing (Smart 70). This created enrollment problems that continued even post-Armistice. The educational revolt in the 1920s implemented governmental policies which insisted on limiting the liberal arts and focusing instead on trades (78).

The following years worsened the prognosis of the school, with a hurricane, an economic collapse, and typhoid fever striking Keene (Smart 131). From 1930 to 1939, the student body and employees of the school were diminished by fifty percent (112).

The struggles with the first part of the twentieth century lead Keene Normal School to consider a rebirth. The school was a burgeoning college already, with its developed liberal arts program. It officially transitioned to Keene Teachers’ College in 1939 (Smart 135).

The very formative years of the institution now known as Keene State College developed a precedent of constant change. This continued into the twentieth century and still is in existence today, as the college enters its second century.

Work Cited

Smart, James G. Striving: Keene State College, 1909-1984: The History of a Small Public Institution. Canaan, NH: Phoenix Pub., 1984. Print.

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