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ISU has a record of resilience throughout its history

April 20, 2020

Dan Clark, an Associate Professor of History, is writing a two-volume history of Indiana State University. The first volume is scheduled to be published in 2021. He talked about four challenges ISU faced in its history, two of which involved public health.

1888 Fire

On April 9, 1888, fire destroyed the Indiana State Normal School’s only building. 

Even before then, it was a “dubious proposition” whether the school would survive, Clark said. Higher education had a tenuous footing with Hoosier politicians who were ready to cut funding. President William Parsons acted immediately to quash any notion that the school wouldn’t survive. He sent telegrams to news organizations that the school was still open for business. He lined up space for classes to continue.

“Even while the building was still burning,” Clark said, “he gathered several faculty members and dispersed them to the train station to catch students and basically make them stay.”

Class went on the very next day. At chapel that morning, Parsons told students and faculty, “Our building is in ashes, our library, laboratory and apparatus are gone, but the school and all essential to it are here this morning. This is a splendid opportunity to teach the world the school is not in its library and buildings. The Normal School is in existence this morning and we are ready to go to work.”

Small Pox Epidemic, 1902

The Normal School closed for two weeks because of a Small Pox epidemic, and administrators feared the bad publicity.

“A lot of river towns in the U.S. had periodic epidemics, yellow fever, so you wouldn’t go to Terre Haute for a while,” Clark said. “Terre Haute had several of these scares. The biggest concern was trying to reassure parents that the epidemic was over and you can come back.”

Spanish Flu Pandemic, 1918

The Board of Health in Terre Haute ordered all schools and entertainment canceled in early October 1918. The Normal School shut down for almost a month.

Enrollment was already down because men were fighting in World War I. Clark said he didn’t find evidence that any students had died, although several people in Terre Haute died. The war ended in November of that year. 

“The reopening of the campus just didn’t merit much news,” Clark said. “I didn’t find much about it. They had to scrap that semester and begin the winter term. The school revived pretty quickly after World War I and Spanish Influenza. It didn’t skip a beat.”

World War II, 1941-45

The Teachers College survived the Great Depression because of belt-tightening, including a faculty pay cut, and the New Deal.

“World War II threatened the Teachers College more than the Depression,” Clark said. “Not only did men leave to join the military, a lot of women left to work.”

Even before the U.S. entered the war in 1941, students were leaving as the nation rebuilt its military and Indiana factories were filling federal defense orders.

“That hits enrollment by 1942,” Clark said. “The war hits and enrollment plummets. From an income and enrollment standpoint, it’s bleaker than the Depression.”

The Teachers College lived on in part because the federal government paid to have Navy officers trained on campus.  

“The Navy wanted quasi-engineering curriculum,” Clark said. “Indiana State really had to change itself. We also started training nurses during that time. We made a deal with Union Hospital. That’s the beginning of the nursing program. Indiana State, whether a normal school or a teachers college, always trained more than teachers. But it was during the war years they got a sense they could do more in undergraduate education.”

Story Highlights

Dan Clark, an Associate Professor of History, is writing a two-volume history of Indiana State University. The first volume is scheduled to be published in 2021. He talked about four challenges ISU faced in its history, two of which involved public health

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