Southern Connecticut State University

August 28, 2020

For better or worse college students are currently returning to campus and preparing for a new and unprecedented school year. This week we’re going to trace the founding of Southern Connecticut State University.

In the late 1800’s the concept of larger scale organized public schooling was coming into its own. Pushed by quick advances in manufacturing and technology, coupled with booms in population growth fueled by mass immigration, public education was finally leaving the strict halls of the academy and coming to the masses. In 1870, a quarter of New Haven’s population was foreign-born, and those numbers increased through the 1910s.

Coinciding in 1887 with the opening of the New Haven Free Public Library, a portal of education and culture open to all residents, motions were made to establish the state’s third public teaching college. The first two state normal schools were located in in New Britain and Willimantic. These schools, the New Britain State Normal School and Willimantic State Normal School, (now known as Central Connecticut State University and Eastern Connecticut State University) were based on a state-sponsored model established in Massachusetts in 1839. A model of instruction that predominately trained young local women for lifelong careers as elementary school teachers. Just as education had previously been centered in private schools and academies, the instructors at these institutions were also traditionally men.

Local Connecticut politics in the 1890s were rather complicated and unequal in representation, resulting in the low population city of Willimantic being home to the second state normal school after New Britain. Local New Haven women were unable to pick up and move to the far-flung corner of the state for an education, and New Haven politicians and public education supporters found it a slight to the bustling Elm City not to have a state school for instructors as well.

New Haven did not go unchallenged in this pursuit. Bridgeport submitted a request simultaneously in 1892, resulting in a smear campaign of testimony against the Park City by New Haveners. New Haven citizens rallied and spoke out in Hartford for the state to consider New Haven over Bridgeport based on Bridgeport’s inferior public infrastructure, perceived cultural vacuum and overall youth as an independent community. Bridgeport had been incorporated in 1836, nearly 200 years after the New Haven Colony was established. Ultimately despite the nasty rivalry between the two growing cities, it was an economic recession and Bridgeport’s fiscal conservatism that opened the door for New Haven to establish a new state public teaching training school.

At 9:00 AM on September 11, 1893, the New Haven State Normal School began classes. The school was originally located on the corner of State and Sumner Streets. The school was very popular and well run and by 1896 expanded and moved to its new location at 2 Howe Street, in what was then a rising new middle class neighborhood.

In 1937, the school was rechristened the New Haven State Teachers College as its programming expanded to offer a 4 year college degree. In 1953, the college began to move operations to the present campus on Crescent Street. Leaving the dilapidated Howe Street building behind and in connection to the mass urban renewal programs underway in New Haven, the school modernized and expanded. By the fall of 1958, the brand new Crescent Street campus was known as Southern Connecticut State College. In 1983, Southern joined Central, Eastern, and Western, all originally normal schools, forming the Connecticut State University system.

Jason Bischoff-Wurstle
Director of Photo Archives, New Haven Museum

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