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Western Normal College

Shenandoah, Iowa



The histories of Page County, Iowa by W. L. Kershaw (1909) and the Iowa Writers’ Program (1942) both provide sketches of Western Normal College.  The Omaha Daily Bee and the Council Bluffs Daily Nonpareil are among the newspapers that provided news of and advertisements for the school.  The 1891 Sanborn Fire Insurance map showing the old campus is from the Library of Congress.

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Western Normal College came about when President I. E. Wilson transferred his school from Bushnell, IL to Shenandoah.  W.N.C. opened on November 14, 1882 with 47 students and a faculty of seven.  According to Kershaw, the school’s finances were “involved” at the end of the first year, so in 1884 William Croon purchased Wilson’s interests and became the sole owner of the school.  Over the next seven years W. N. C. prospered.  Programs included normal, scientific, classical, music, and business.  Enrollment reached “upward of 700” with 171 graduates in 1889.  Students had an orchestra and offered entertainments in music and elocution.  They also had an Olympic Literary Society.  The fire of December 9, 1891 ended this chapter of the school’s history.  


Croon opened a version of Western Normal College at Hawthorne, Nebraska in 1892, taking some teachers and students with him.  Other offshoots started up in Des Moines and Lincoln.  These ventures were not successful, and many of the students returned to Shenandoah by 1893.

Meanwhile, more than 150 citizens of Shenandoah stepped up to raise almost $50,000 to rebuild the campus following the fire.  Under the presidency of 29-year-old J. M. Hussey (photo above), this new version of Western Normal College opened in September 1893.  To meet the needs of the community, W.N.C. offered normal, letters and science, preparatory, business, shorthand, penmanship, elocution and oratory, and music programs, as well as a summer school.  W. N. C. once again prospered with an enrollment exceeding 800 and attracting students from more than 20 states. 


In 1902 the school was state inspected and accredited as a normal school.  But it soon became apparent that W. N. C. could not survive as a private institution.  After attempts to have the school converted to a state normal school for Southwestern Iowa failed, the citizens of Shenandoah voted to give the campus to the local school district.  It then served as a high school with added normal, business, and vocational components.  

In 1917 the campus once again burned.  When it was rebuilt, the collegiate element was dropped.

Bricks and Mortar

The first Western Normal College building was erected according to the specifications of President English.  It was a four-story brick structure measuring 100 by 50 feet with an extension measuring 40 feet.  This building housed all recitation rooms, offices, and the library.  As enrollment increased, a chapel building with seating for one thousand was added, as well as frame dormitory buildings for both male and female students.  (See the image upper right) The campus occupied the highest point in Shenandoah.   All campus buildings burned on December 2, 1891.


The second building, completed in 1893 at a cost of $50,000, was in the same southeast location between Center, Summit and University streets.  Also of brick, it was three stories tall, the central section containing a four-story tower.  The mismatching wings featured a mansard roof.  Once again frame dormitories were added.   After this structure burned in 1917, a new high school was built on the spot.

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The rebuilt Western Normal College.  Image courtesy of Merrily Tunnicliff (


Available sports history shows few games and little success.  College Football Data Warehouse shows a 70-0 loss to Tabor College in 1894.  In the spring of 1895 Western hosted a triangular track meet with Tarkio and Tabor, won by Tabor.  In 1900 the baseball team lost to Essex High School 13-8.


In 1902 newspapers show a 10-0 football victory and a scoreless draw with Riverton High School.  A year later Western suffered a 104-0 loss to Red Oak High School, in addition to a 16-0 loss to Sidney (NE) High School.


In 1911 W. N. C. fielded teams in men’s and women’s basketball and baseball.  The men’s team lost to Tarkio College 66-7, the women losing to Peru State 66-1.  The baseball team defeated Peru State in baseball 5-4 before falling 14-2.

Note: Images are used in accordance with their “terms of use” as I understand those terms.  Recopying or republishing these images may be restricted or forbidden.

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