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The construction of Old Main at Minot State Normal School in 1913.

2013 Centennial

Early History of Minot State University

The city of Minot first appeared on the landscape along the Manitoba rail line in 1886. It was selected as a railhead and storage site for the 1887 westward push to Billings in the Montana Territory. The site soon supported 5,000 plus boomers and the gritty population that followed them. Surviving the first year, Minot attracted a variety of business. By the turn of the century, it had become the largest community in the region. During the Second Dakota Boom, the stateís population soared. The surge of settlers in the sparsely occupied northwest region stressed the rural school systems, which were predominately one or two room schoolhouses. The two existing normal schools at Jamestown and Valley City could not keep up with the demand for teachers. Minotís leaders saw this as an opportunity to acquire a normal school. However, this was a problem. The stateís founders had established a limit of two normal schools in the state constitution. To build another school would involve changing the constitution. To do this, three consecutive legislative sessions and the electorate was required to approve. The political gauntlet was thrown down.

Despite the daunting political challenge, Minotís leaders launched the movement to change the state constitution and add a third normal school. Introduced and voted on in 1907, the first bill passed without difficulty. However, in 1909, Velva, Rugby, and Towner attempted to kill the second bill in committee and some legislators tried to obtain the school for their own communities. The bill passed only after Joseph M. Devine, ex-governor of North Dakota and a committee of leading Minot business and political leaders provided convincing testimony of the schoolís need and Minotís ability to sponsor it. The bill passed the third and final time in 1911. In 1912, the citizens of North Dakota voted overwhelmingly in favor of the project. Flush with their victory, Minot leaders began the debate on the institutionís location. This nearly led to its demise. In Minot, five different sites were considered for the schoolís location. The matter was finally resolved after the intervention of the State Board of Control and a straw poll of the community taken. The Eric Ramstad site on North Hill proved victorious.

While the location debate raged, the North Dakota State Attorney, Andrew Miller, filed an injunction to prevent the construction of the normal school at Minot and to stop the financing of it. He argued that the addition of a normal school required a constitutional convention and that legislators had violated the state constitution in proceeding as they had. The matter went to the North Dakota Supreme Court in late 1912. In a climatic reading, the court under Chief Justice Burleigh Spalding, ruled in favor of Minot and the Normal School. In the spring of 1913, construction finally started, but not before a late freeze ruined the first pour of concrete at the building site. Then as if nature itself conspired against the school, a tornado hit the new location and nearly destroyed the recently built power plant. True to the pioneer spirit of the community and the schoolís first leaders, a temporary campus in the newly constructed Armory in downtown Minot was established. Despite the setbacks, classes started on time for the fall 1913 semester. Until construction was completed, students roomed in the community, attended classes in the Armory, and walked over one mile to training school, which was adjacent to the campus grounds. Classes were not held on the campus until later in 1914 when the dormitory opened to students. Despite the odds, the State Normal School at Minot had become a reality.

During the years of the Great War (1917-1918), the normal school experienced declining enrollments, especially of male students. Many campus activities supported the war effort. These included rallies, parades, Liberty Loan drives, and Red Cross war work. Because, the institutionís first president, Arthur Crane entered active duty with the U.S. Army Sanitary Corps, the institutionís leadership was disrupted. In 1918, two of the normal schoolís students serving in the American Expeditionary Forces in France, Henry Finn and Otis Cooper were killed in action. The campus established a memorial of trees, flowers, and two small, white crosses to commemorate their sacrifice.

In 1924, the State Normal School at Minot achieved collegiate status and became Minot State Teacherís College. Despite the Great Depression and dropping attendance, campus leadership expanded campus facilities with the construction of a new training school (Model Hall) and a second womenís dormitory (Dakota Hall). Other construction projects followed with support from the depression era Works Projectís Administration (WPA). These included the first generation Student Union and the presidentís house. At the outbreak of World War II, across the nation, enrollment plummeted as the nation dedicated its resources to the war. The military designed and initiated several educational programs on campuses to prepare Americaís men for the coming war. Minot State Teachers College, adopted two such programs, the U.S. Navy V-5 and V-12 Programs. These programs fostered the rapid development of new courses, increased enrollments, and the appearance of uniformed Navy students, instructors, and administrators on campus. Navy personnel practiced their drills and ceremonies on the grassy ellipse in front of Old Main. An obstacle course was built adjacent to College Field for the physical training of Navy cadets. A large ďVĒ for victory, appeared over the front of Old Main and a Navy anchor materialized on Pioneer Hall. Over the next three years, the school and surrounding community produced a number of Navy aviators and officers. The momentum, generated by the war, also prepared the institution and its faculty for the growth that would follow in the post-war years, the arrival of the baby-boomers, and the transfiguration of the campus and programs that were to become Minot State University.

Excerpt from: Timbrook, Mark. Minot State University: Campus History Series. Chicago, IL, Arcadia Publishing, 2009.