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The University of Massachusetts Lowell College of Education began as the State Normal School, Lowell, established by an Act of Legislature and approved on June 6, 1894. It was the tenth and last State Normal School in Massachusetts.
The term "normal" is derived from the French. Napoleon called France's schools for the preparation of secondary school teachers L'Ecole Normale Superieure. Charles Brooks, an American education visionary who had visited Europe to study teacher preparatory programs, heard the term applied to Prussia's teacher preparatory schools. Brooks is credited with having introduced the term to America. The name implies a "model" to be copied and an "ideal" toward which to aim.
In Lowell, the school was built at the corner of Broadway and Wilder Street, a site selected by the State Board of Education and purchased by the City. The school opened to pupils on October 4, 1897, while the building was still in the hands of the contractors. Classes met in four rooms on the Wilder Street side of the unfinished structure. Dedication Exercises took place on June 15, 1898, slightly over eight months after opening. Frank F. Coburn, a strong advocate for the location of the school in Lowell and the then current principal of Lowell High School, was appointed by the State Board of Education to be the school's first principal. He remained in that post until 1908.
During that time academic foundations were laid, public relations established, and a genuine affection for and loyalty to the school and its mission were engendered in students, faculty, and the community.
As expressed by the state, the sole purpose of the school was the preparation of elementary school teachers for public schools in Massachusetts. The standard course of study was two years in length, but in so far as the facilities would permit, an elective third or fourth year was available. So too were special courses for experienced teachers and college graduates. There was a special program for students who elected the kindergarten course. In 1910, a three-year course in music was initiated.
Conforming to state requirements, Lowell established a training school where the aspiring teachers might observe and practice their newly acquired teaching skills. The Bartlett School, one of Lowell's newest and finest, made twenty-seven rooms available. The principal of the school, Cyrus A. Durgin, later became the Normal School's second principal (1908 - 1915). Before 1910, additional training schools began operation in Lawrence and at a rural school in North Tewksbury.
While the Normal School bore that name, two other principals presided: John T. Mahoney (1916 - 1922) and Clarence M. Weed (1923 - 1931). In 1932, the school's name was changed to State Teachers College at Lowell. Unofficially, the school was referred to as Lowell Teachers College.
During the Weed administration a three-year course in elementary education became standard. Later, this was extended to four years. In 1932, the baccalaureate degree of Bachelor of Science in Education was conferred on 18 graduates.
Dr. James Dugan, the fifth president (1935-1950), faced the possible closing of the institution, but rallied strong local support to help keep it open. A delegation of prominent individuals representing Lowell's powerful pressure groups traveled to Boston and convinced State officials of the importance of the college. The result was that the school not only survived but continued to grow and expand.
In 1950, Dr. Daniel H. O'Leary assumed the presidency and initiated an ambitious building program. The physical plant increased from a single building to a multi-building complex close to the old Normal School, forming an area now called the South Campus of UMass Lowell. The dedication of buildings named for six presidents was held on June 9, 1974.
Dr. O'Leary strove for and attained full accreditation for the college, making a tremendous academic advance. In 1959, the school was empowered to offer curriculum in Secondary Education. (By 1964, programs in specialized disciplines leading to degrees in that field were in place.) State Teachers College was renamed Massachusetts State College in 1960. The next year a Liberal Arts degree program was offered for the first time. Beginning in 1967, the school was authorized to confer two more degrees: Master of Education and Master of Music Education.
Lowell State College and Lowell Technological Institute merged in 1975 to become the University of Lowell, a multipurpose institution. The roots of the former Lowell Tech stretch back to the founding of a school for textile studies in 1895. The College of Education was relocated to a new campus, the West Campus, after the University acquired a tract of land in North Chelmsford. The property was the site of the old Middlesex County Training School. The College of Education now resides in O'Leary Library.
The baccalaureate degree program was phased out in the early 1980s, and the College was approved to confer the Doctoral degree in 1985. In 1991, the University was reorganized as one of the five components of the University of Massachusetts, and the College of Education was renamed the Graduate School of Education in 1998.
Text and photo taken from the brochure "Perspectives and Visions: One Hundred Years of Lowell's College of Education"