Worcester State University
A Tradition of Excellence since 1874
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.
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.
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 and rigorous curriculum, established under the leadership of its first principal, E. Harlow Russell (1874-1909). Widely recognized in the field of child psychology, his friendships included Henry David Thoreau and Child Study pioneer G. Stanley Hall.
Mr. Russell was a proponent of the Child Study Movement, which flourished in the early 20th century. As a result, Worcester Normal School students kept careful records of their observations of children. Another of his innovations was the practice of having Worcester Normal School students conduct practice teaching in public schools. Traditionally, aspiring teachers carried out their practicum in “model” schools that were established and controlled by the normal school. But Mr. Russell believed it was educationally superior for apprentices to practice their craft in classrooms of the Worcester city school system.
By 1876, the first apprentices were placed in public schools, first on Thomas Street and later in the Elizabeth Street School. The techniques developed at that time, although modified over time, would seem quite familiar to education students of today.
The school’s teaching methods received national recognition from the Federal Bureau of Education, which included a full chapter on the Worcester Normal School in its 1891 report. Guest speakers included kindergarten founder Elizabeth Peabody, educational reformer Julia Ward Howe, and transcendentalist Bronson Alcott.
Dr. Francis Ransom Lane (1909-1912) succeeded Mr. Russell as principal. During his short tenure, he initiated the kindergarten program at the Normal School and involved the school in another significant reform of the time, the playground movement. When he resigned to become principal of the Polytechnic Preparatory Institute in Brooklyn, New York, he was replaced by Dr. William B. Aspinwall (1912-1940).
A Harvard graduate who had earned a Ph.D. at the University of Paris in 1904, Dr. Aspinwall guided the institution from normal school to state teachers college. He was especially interested in improving rural education, which in the early part of the 20th century was hampered by a narrow curriculum, inadequate materials, poorly trained teachers, and insufficient funding.
In 1913 he convened the first of nine conferences aimed at improving rural education and succeeded in attracting the U.S. Commissioner of Education, the president of the National Education Association, and other prominent educators. The conferences helped Normal School students prepare for conditions they would face in rural communities and led to educational improvements for many small-town children.
Dr. Aspinwall also elevated the school’s status by introducing a Bachelor of Science in Education degree, which the school first awarded in 1921.
In 1932, all of the state’s normal schools were re-christened “teachers colleges” and Worcester Normal School became Worcester State Teachers College. That same year, the University moved from its original location on St. Ann’s Hill to its present campus on Chandler Street.
Clinton E. Carpenter (1940-1946) presided over the University during its nadir, when the student population plummeted as a result of the Great Depression and World War II. In a vain effort to counteract the diminishing enrollment, he set aside the girls-only policy in 1940, which had been enacted in 1915. He died in office and was succeeded in 1947 by Dr. Eugene A. Sullivan (1947-1970).
Dr. Sullivan presided over a period of unprecedented growth at Worcester State. 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.
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 change the school’s name to Worcester State College.
Dr. Sullivan, who for 23 years had successfully coped with an endless array of challenges brought about by unparalleled growth, a changed collegiate status, new higher education philosophies, and a much more complex bureaucratic structure, retired in the spring of 1970. He was replaced by Dr. Robert E. Leestamper (1970-1975).
A graduate of Harvard University, Dr. Leestamper took the helm at a time of great social change. Against the backdrop of the Vietnam War and the Feminist movement, course offerings expanded significantly. Once limited by law to teacher education, Worcester State added nursing, business administration, health services, and speech disorders to its curriculum. In 1974, the University established The Graduate School, which offered several new master’s degree programs.
Under Dr. Leestamper’s leadership, the University also opened its first residence hall, Chandler Village, in 1973.
Dr. Joseph J. Orze (1975-1982) presided over a period of continued growth. In 1980, Worcester State established the M.S. in Speech-Language Pathology and the Speech Language Hearing Clinic to serve the needs of the community.
Dr. Orze was succeeded by Dr. Philip D. Vairo (1982-1991), whose accomplishments included the establishment of the Occupational Therapy program in 1984, the first in the Massachusetts state college system. In 1990, the University added its second residence hall, Dowden Hall, named for Mrs. Vera M. (Dowden) Baldwin ’34, M.Ed. '53, the school’s first dean of students.
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. It also expanded and enhanced its science programs to keep pace with the rapidly changing world of science and technology.
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.
Dr. Janelle C. Ashley (2002-2011) took the helm in 2002. Under her leadership, extensive campus renovations were undertaken. In 2004, Worcester State opened its third residence hall, Wasylean Hall, named for philanthropist Phillip M. Wasylean II ’63. The campus transitioned to wireless connectivity in 2005, opened the first parking garage on a Massachusetts state university campus in 2007, and completed its first capital campaign to surpass $12 million 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, Dr. Ashley was succeeded by President Barry M. Maloney.
During his tenure as president at WSU, which began July 1, 2011, WSU has increased its full-time faculty, student enrollment and fundraising as well as expanded its student engagement, community-based learning and student-exchange and study abroad opportunities. He has also broadened university decision-making and increased information sharing with the campus and the greater community through the use of governance and open forums with faculty, staff, students and the greater community.
A native of Springfield, Mass., Maloney graduated from the University of Maine at Orono with a bachelor’s degree in political science and public management, and a master’s degree in public administration. Maloney is also a 2007 graduate of the Institute for Educational Management Harvard Graduate School of Education.
President Maloney serves on the board of directors for the Research Bureau and the board of directors for the Colleges of Worcester Consortium.
Maloney, his wife Laura, and their three children reside across the street from the university and are active in neighborhood, athletic and university events.