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University History

- Worcester’s First African-American School Teachers

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A Tradition of Excellence since 1874

 Lithograph - Normal School Building

Worcester Normal School


Worcester State University was founded as the Worcester Normal School in 1874, the fifth state-funded normal school in Massachusetts and one of dozens of teacher-training schools established during the 19th century.


As support for free universal education increased, well-trained teachers were needed to staff the rising number of public schools. Normal schools developed professional norms for teacher training – hence the term “normal school.”


Established during an era of growing support for social reform, Worcester Normal School leaders and students embraced a vision of building a better world through the uplifting power of public education.


First Graduating Class

Worcester’s need for skilled teachers rose dramatically during the second half of the 19th century, when the city emerged as an industrial leader. Its population more than tripled between 1866 and 1894 – from 30,000 to 100,000 - and the school population grew from 6,750 to 17,073 pupils.


Worcester Normal School graduates faced the challenges of crowded classrooms and ethnic, cultural, and linguistic diversity.

From the beginning, Worcester Normal School was distinguished by its progressive curriculum, established under the leadership of its first principal, E. Harlow Russell (1874 – 1909), and first apprentice supervisor, Rebecca Jones (1874-1912). Proponents of the Child Study Movement, Russell and Jones implemented the innovative practice of placing apprentice teachers in public school classrooms.

 Apprentice Teacher in Classroom

Initially offering two- and three-year programs of study, Worcester Normal School’s curriculum evolved to meet the changing demands of the teaching profession. In 1921, the school awarded its first Bachelor of Science in education, under the leadership of its third and last principal, Dr. William B. Aspinwall (1912-1939).



Worcester State Teachers College


In 1932, all of the state’s normal schools were re-christened “teachers colleges” and the old Normal School became Worcester State Teachers College. That same year, the University moved to its present location on Chandler Street.


The large, colonial-style building now known as the Helen G. Shaughnessy Administration Building was constructed on the site of Willow Farm, owned by Worcester inventor and philanthropist George I. Rockwood. In 1942, Rockwood donated an additional thirty-five acres, paving the way for campus expansion.


The University’s fifth president, Dr. Eugene A. Sullivan (1947-1970),

Female Students

presided over a period of unprecedented growth. From 1947 to 1970, enrollment grew from 150 students (all pursuing education degrees) to nearly 2,800 students pursuing a variety of degrees. In 1952, the University introduced its first graduate degree, a master of science in education.


Campus expansion included construction of the Gymnasium and Classroom Building in 1958, the Science Building in 1965 (rechristened the Dr. Eugene A. Sullivan Building in 1980), and the Learning Resource Center in 1970. Dr. Sullivan also laid the groundwork for construction of Chandler Village, the first student residence hall on campus.


Worcester State College


By 1963, the former teachers college had evolved into a liberal arts and sciences college, a transition acknowledged by the Board of Education in 1963 when it voted to drop the word “teachers” and change the name to Worcester State College. 


In 1974, the curriculum was expanded to include a B.S. in business administration and a B.S. in nursing, the first Bachelor of Science

Science Lab

program for registered nurses in New England and the first to be accredited by the National League of Nurses.


That same year, the University established The Graduate School, which offered several new master’s degree programs. During the 1980s, the University expanded its programs to include the area’s first Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology and the first bachelor’s degree in Occupational Therapy in the state college system.


During the presidency of Dr. Kalyan K. Ghosh (1992-2002), the University incorporated the widespread use of technology, from computer-based learning to a campus-wide network. Dr. Ghosh also founded the Worcester State Foundation.


Students in Science Lab

In 2000, the University opened the 110,000-square-foot Kalyan K. Ghosh Center for Science and Technology, with instructional laboratory facilities for twelve academic programs and a 196-seat multimedia lecture hall.


The University welcomed its first female president, Dr. Janelle C. Ashley, in 2002. Under her leadership the campus undertook major renovation and building projects, including construction of Wasylean Hall, a 348-bed residence hall that opened its doors in 2004, bringing to 1,000 the number of students living on campus. That number increased to nearly 1,200 with the expansion of Dowden Hall in 2010. 


In 2010, the Massachusetts Legislature voted to grant university status to Massachusetts state colleges, recognition of the fact that the schools qualified as universities according to the classification of institutions of higher education established by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The old Worcester Normal School had officially evolved into Worcester State University.


In 2011, Barry M. Maloney became the University’s 11th president. With a strong background of leadership in student affairs, alumni and community relations, advancement, and budgeting at Westfield State University—where he served twice as interim president—he is guiding the planning and construction of a new residence hall and wellness center.

He has placed greater emphasis on International Programs to prepare students for the increasingly interconnected world. He notes: “It is important to always remember that students come first in everything we do.”

Each year, more than 5,600 undergraduate and graduate students enroll in classes at Worcester State University. Despite many changes over its long history, the University’s mission remains the same as it was in 1874: to enrich the lives of its students and strengthen communities through the benefits of accessible, quality higher education.




Related Links

  Policy on Nondiscrimination
  University Officers & Trustees
  Campus Map & Directions
  City of Worcester
  Conference and Event Services
  Campus Expansion & Renewal
  West Side Resource Guide
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Phone: 508-929-8000