My maternal grandmother always wanted to go to normal school, but she was never able to do so.
I thought of my grandma when I recently visited Danville, Indiana and spotted the historical marker for the Central Normal College on one of the main streets going into town.
Central Normal College opened in 1876 at Ladoga, Indiana. The school outgrew its original site, and founders J. W. Darst and W. F. Harper began looking for a new home for it.
Danville residents seized the opportunity to become the school's new home, raising $10,000 to purchase the then-closed Danville Academy site from the local Methodist Episcopal Church and presenting it to Harper for the normal school.
Residents opened their doors to the students, providing boarding houses or rented rooms and, in many cases, local businesses employed students who needed to earn money for tuition.
Founder Harper left the school shortly after the move, so Franklin P. Adams became the president and sole proprietor of Central Normal College.
Franklin was a hard-working and effective administrator and teacher. He recruited new faculty members and expanded the school's curriculums. Enrollments steadily increased and 300-400 full-time students attended the college annually by 1880.
Franklin may have worked too hard as he died on November 25, 1882 at the age of 30.
He left behind the second-largest private independent normal school in the state, as well as his wife Ora and three-year-old daughter Effie.
The school needed strong leadership and turned to someone familiar with the school and Franklin's vision for moving forward, Adams' young widow Ora.
Ora Adams became the sole proprietor and president of the school in 1883. Records seem to indicate that she was the only female to hold such a position in the history of Indiana's independent normal schools.
Professor John A. Steele, who served as Franklin's vice president, was Ora's vice president.
Ora faced another challenge when Steele died of tuberculosis in 1885, but the school continued to thrive under her leadership through the 1880s. There were 638 full-time students in 1889.
In 1889, Ora married James A. Joseph, a graduate of Central Normal College, and appointed then-vice president Professor Charles A. Hargrave as the school's new president. Ora remained the sole proprietor and active in management of the school. Joseph became president of Central Normal College in 1890.
The Josephs sold the school in 1900 to 80 local residents who formed a stock company for $12,000 to finance purchase.
An estimated total of 75,000 students attended the school, with enrollment peaking in 1921-1922 at 1,308.
Most graduates became teachers, but many went on to careers in other fields like law, medicine and business. One of the school's most famous alumni, Samuel Ralston, taught for several years before becoming a lawyer and eventually becoming Indiana's governor in 1912 and one of the state's U.S. Senators in 1922.
Enrollment declined after World War II. Central Normal College closed in 1946 before reopening the next year as Canterbury College under ownership of the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Indiana.
Canterbury College also specialized in training teachers, but financial difficulties forced it to close in 1951.
Most campus buildings are gone today, but Hargrave Hall currently houses early college classes through Danville Community High School and a number of Danville government offices.
It's interesting to see traces of the old normal college at the site. It's even more interesting to see how much evidence of Central Normal College's history and culture is easily available online.
The Danville Public Library, Hendricks County Historical Museum and the Hendricks County Government Center teamed up digitize about 20,000 items to make them available to researchers online with $20,000 grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services, administered by the Indiana State Library.
You can easily access items like Central Normal College and Canterbury College yearbooks, photos, student records and commencement announcements online.
I've got to admit I spent a good bit of time browsing the online collections myself and thinking of how much my grandmother would have enjoyed attending a normal college like Danville's.
Want to learn more about this history of Danville, Indiana? Check out Danville (Images of America) by Jeffrey K. Baldwin and the Hendricks County Historical Museum.
Thanks to the Hendricks County Convention and Visitors Bureau for sponsoring my visit to Hendricks County, providing lodging, meals and a tour of Hendricks County attractions for my review during my recent visit there, with no further compensation. I was free to express my own opinions about the stay and experiences, and the opinions expressed here are mine.
© Dominique King 2013 All rights reserved