Kean History: Newark Normal School
By Leanne Manna | Published Oct. 21, 2017
Michael Crichton said “If you don’t know history, then you don’t know anything.”
While a bit extreme, he is right. In order to understand the present, the past must first be examined. Kean University itself has a vast and interesting history that most of its students and even faculty do not know.
The University was founded as Newark Normal School in 1855 in Newark, New jersey. At this point in time Newark’s population was growing and the city was home to 40% of the state’s school aged children. The need for teachers was great, so the public school district decided to set up a teacher’s College so graduates would teach in Newark.
Stephen Congar was the first Superintendent of the Newark Public School System and was the one who pushed for the opening of the school. The Normal School met in the high school building every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and tuition was free. The program lasted two years and students would receive a diploma in general education, kindergarten-primary, or manual training, which was a male only program.
For those who are wondering, the university has almost always had a majority of females within the student population. The first graduating class in 1859 had seven men and ten women. At the time, this was the most men to ever graduate from a Normal School. The photo of the class of 1900 (shown here) is another great example of that. There are only two men in the picture, and one of them is the custodian.
In 1913 the school was moved to a new building located on Broadway and 4th in Newark which is now Technology High school. The new building had the school’s motto engraved above the doorway, “He who dares to teach must never cease to learn.” At this time the school moved from being under the control of the City of Newark to the state.
By 1937 the school was now known as New Jersey State Teachers College at Newark or more commonly Newark State Teachers College. Student’s now earned degrees instead of diplomas and the coursework and number of credits increased. The curriculum was extended too and now consisted of General Education, Kindergarten-Primary, Industrial Arts, and fine arts.
Ernest Townsend was the last principal of the school and the first president of the College. He was the one who oversaw the transition from a Normal School to a College and believed in attending to student’s emotional as well as educational needs.
During World War I the College had twenty-six students and faculty members leave to serve in the war.
According to the War Bulletin put out by the College in 1920, those who stayed at home also contributed and “collected thousands of dollars, made thousands of useful articles, and gave thousands of hours in various war activities with unhesitating cheerfulness, loyal determination and generous devotion.”
Some of the female students became farmerettes and spent their summer months on a farm in Summit helping to produce food for the people in Europe and the men in the service.
The College’s arguably biggest trials were still to come though with the Great Depression, World War II and the moving of the campus to Union.
Thank you to the Kean University Archives and Special Collections for the Images and information.