State Normal School at Cheney opens on October 13, 1890.

  • By Jim Kershner
  • Posted 8/13/2007
  • Essay 8246

On October 13, 1890, the State Normal School at Cheney opens its doors to its first pupils. Sixteen students are enrolled, all of whom meet the following requirements for admission: The student must be at least 16 years old, of good moral character, in good health, recommended by a county school superintendent; and able to pass a "fair exam" of subjects covered in grammar school.

Boosters Clamoring 

A State Normal School was a college for training teachers, named after the French "ecole normale" on which it was modeled. When Washington achieved statehood in 1889, it was granted the right to open three State Normal Schools.

"At this time, nearly ever city, town and village in the state was clamoring for a state institution," wrote former mayor D. F. Percival in the Cheney Free Press (Oliphant).

Bellingham and Ellensburg  were granted schools and Cheney won the prize for Eastern Washington because its boosters had fought hard for it after losing the county seat to nearby Spokane in 1886.

Cheney's Prize

Cheney's cause was helped by the fact that Cheney already had a school built and ready to use: The building and grounds of the Benjamin P. Cheney Academy, endowed by the Northern Pacific railroad director in 1881. The school had hit hard times and was available for instant conversion to a State Normal School.

By the end of the State Normal School's first year, enrollment jumped to 50. Over ensuing decades the school became the Eastern Washington College of Education in 1937, Eastern Washington State College in 1961, and Eastern Washington University in 1977. It now (2007) has an enrollment of more than 10,000 students.

Sources: J. Orin Oliphant, History of the State Normal School at Cheney, Washington (Spokane: Inland-American Printing Co., 1924); Cecil Dryden, Light for an Empire: The Story of Eastern Washington State College (Cheney: Eastern Washington State College, 1965).

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