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Transitioning to a State Teachers College


Scenic CSN

A new era at Clarion State Normal School began in 1902 with a change in administration and curriculum, and the rebuilding of a reputation. Principal Davis resigned in June of that year to be succeeded later in the summer by Dr. Samuel Weir. During the interim Ballentine served as acting principal. Weir, a Canadian by birth, was an experienced pedagogue with a doctorate from the University of Jena in Austria. His teaching experience ranged from the public schools to the university. When Weir took office he found the reputation of the school greatly tarnished. Both the scandal and a lengthened curriculum contributed to an enrollment decline. Because of the scandal, all the seniors went to Indiana State Normal School, thus eliminating the class of 1903. It wasn't until late in the Becht administration, (1904-1912) that enrollment reached its former peak.

Samuel Weir
Samuel Weir
Of significance during the Weir administration was the lengthening of the curriculum to a three year course. The revised course was adopted at a meeting of Normal School Principals held in Harrisburg on November 8, 1900. It became effective in 1902. This was the first step taken by the state teacher training institutions toward academic adulthood.

Admission requirements at the time were minimal. According to the Catalog of 1904 any young person of good character who had completed the courses in a good common school was eligible for admission. The three years of study above the eighth grade were designated as junior, middle, and senior. The State Board of Examiners evaluated the students for yearly advancement and graduation.

The short-lived Weir administration came to an end in 1904 at which time J. George Becht became principal. Principal Becht, born in Lycoming County (1865) served from August 1904 to January 1912. According to the Williamsport Daily Sun, Principal Becht was a former principal of the Lycoming County Normal School at Muncy, a former four term superintendent of county schools (Lycoming County), and at the time of his appointment, head of the Department of Education and Psychology at the West Chester State Normal School. Professor Becht held a Bachelor's and Master's degree from Lafayette College and while principal received honorary doctorates from his alma mater as well as Bucknell University.

During Becht's principalship the curriculum was further strengthened although the effects were not felt until after he left office. In 1910 the course of study was completely revised and changed to four years thus placing the normal schools on a par with the four year high school. The curriculum became operative in 1913. Students who had attended first or second class high schools were admitted with advanced standing. All other entrants took the four year course.

Enrollment increases under Becht

J. George Becht
George Becht

Enrollment increased almost as spectacularly during the Becht administration as it had during the tenure of A.J. Davis. In 1904-1905 registrations totaled 392. Enrollment rose to 650 in 1911-1912, an increase of about 65 per cent.

The increase can probably be attributed to several factors: first, free tuition, second, an increasing awareness of the need for trained teachers, and third, the high caliber of the school. A testimonial by William W. Champion, a Williamsport lawyer and visitor with the State Board of Examiners, reprinted in the Clarion Democrat dated Aug. 10, 1905, attests to the quality education available at Clarion.

"You have a beautiful location, in what may well be called an ideal country town," wrote Champion. "The buildings are substantial and well adapted for the uses intended; your faculty is strong, and of uniformly capable and pleasing people; the physical and laboratory equipment at Clarion is seemingly exceptional in a Normal School; the class room work is productive of results, and was eulogized by the members of the visiting Board of Examiners; your student-body appeared wide awake, hard-working and enthusiastic, and the relations between students and faculty of that friendly, helpful character that cannot be productive of any but the best results. I was keenly interested in and highly pleased with the Clarion plan of disciplining, and believe that you have inaugurated a wholesome idea that will spread to similar institutions to the lasting advantage of those in attendance."

Becht left Clarion to become Secretary of the State Board of Education in January 1912 and 11 years later became Superintendent of Public Instruction, a position held until his death in 1925. His educational prowess was well known. He was also eulogized for his humanness. According to the Pennsylvania School Journal of June 1925 " ...the chief qualities stressed by those who knew him best were his fineness of character and his genial, warmhearted love of his fellow man." In his honor, Navarre Hall was renamed Becht Hall.

Professor Harry M. Shaffer succeeded to the principalship on Jan. 1, 1912. A native of the midwest whose educational credentials included degrees from Eureka College and Harvard University, he had served as head of state normal schools in California, Washington, and Oregon and at the time of his appointment was on the staff at the University of Pittsburgh.

Principal Shaffer left the Normal School at the end of June 1913. Professor Ballentine served as acting principal until the following January since no suitable replacement could be found.

The next incumbent, Dr. Andrew T. Smith, served a brief six month term. Smith, who ushered in the "Mansfield Era," came to the Normal School at Clarion after almost 15 years as the principal of Mansfield State Normal School. Educated at West Chester State Normal School, Lafayette, and New York University, he had taught in the public schools and at West Chester State Normal School. His abrupt departure was promoted by acceptance, at a much higher salary, of the principalship of the Thomas Normal Training School of Detroit.

CSNS Class of 1915
Class of 1915
When Dr. Smith left Mansfield for Clarion his vice-principal, Amos P. Reese, became acting principal. When Dr. Smith departed from Clarion his former colleague became principal as he had at Mansfield.

Professor Reese brought a wealth of educational experience to Clarion. Educated at Mansfield, Lafayette, and Columbia he had served as a teacher in a district school, principal of the Harford Soldiers Orphans School and in the Mansfield Borough Schools, and Professor of Mathematics for twelve years and vice-principal of the Mansfield State Normal School. The Mansfield Advertiser commenting on his departure noted that "An able educator of many years of successful experience, a thorough scholar, and a tactful disciplinarian, he is completely equipped for the duties before him."

The "Mansfield Era" was characterized by the culmination of the movement toward outright state control and a substantial decline of enrollment. In spite of the dire circumstances associated with World War I and the limited funds available to the state, plans were pushed ahead to acquire full operational control of the normal schools. As early as 1868 State Superintendent Wickersham had advocated state control but no action was forthcoming. By the time Clarion became a normal school the state had the right to name six of the 18 trustees operating each such school. In 1907 the number raised to nine. Still there was concern about these institutions. The shares of stock for nearly all the normal schools had been purchased by a very small group of men who controlled the institutions even though the state contributed tens of thousands of dollars annually. Many of the stockholder trustees engaged in unscrupulous business management practices. Scandals at Clarion, Edinboro, Mansfield, Slippery Rock, and elsewhere heightened concern because of the vast amounts of state monies being channeled to the normal schools. In view of these conditions the 1911 session of the Legislature authorized the State to purchase them. Several years passed before the act was fully implemented, but the die had been cast. The first to be purchased was West Chester (1913).

State purchases Clarion

Old Founders Class
The purchase of Clarion was consummated December 1915 with the state assuming full control the following year. The state paid $20,000 to satisfy the stockholders and $49,653 to satisfy the indebtedness. At least five years were to pass before all claims were satisfied. It may be recalled that in 1881 Rev. John M. Edwards loaned Carrier Seminary $12,400. In the process of acquiring a majority of the stock in the Normal School Association James Pinks acquired half interest in the note. This encumbrance was not satisfied until 1921.

The four year curriculum referred to earlier became effective the fall of 1913 before Dr. Smith was called to Clarion. As was the case when the three year curriculum became operational a decade earlier enrollment fell off sharply. From a high of 650 in 1911-1912 it dwindled throughout the Reese Administration to 287 in 1917-1918. In addition to the new curriculum, a strong factor contributing to the decline was World War I. As the War increased in tempo in Europe the demand on American industry created many new jobs which seemed more promising and profitable to the normal school student than teaching. American entry into the War in April 1917 and the subsequent passage of the Selective Service Act in May contributed further to the decline.

In his last report to the Superintendent of Public Instruction (1918) Reese briefly described student endeavors to aid the war effort. "The student body has responded nobly to calls for money for the Red Cross and the Y.M.C.A.," wrote Reese. "The young women spent some time each afternoon in making surgical dressings and each boy leaving the institution for the service was presented with a splendidly equipped kit by the Faculty and his fellow students."

When Dr. Clyde C. Green assumed the helm in 1918 the enrollment had ebbed at 187, next to the lowest figure for a full year's operation in the Normal School's thirty year existence. Because of the enrollment decline the faculty decreased to eleven. Stevens Hall, the men's residence hall, was closed and a Board of Trustees' ruling that all unmarried teachers room and board at the school was enforced. This last measure was necessary to help the institution through the financial crisis caused by declining enrollment. Following the War, enrollment rebounded spectacularly reaching 913 by 1924-1925.

Dr. Green, holder of three degrees from Grove City College was Superintendent of Schools at Beaver Falls when elected to the principalship of Clarion. At the time of his election he professed a desire to return to public school administration duties in the near future. This Dr. Green did in May 1926 when he was appointed Superintendent of Schools in New Castle, Pennsylvania, but in the interim many things were accomplished.

Clarion becomes college-level institution in 1920

Clarion became a college-level institution in 1920. A student now needed 15 units of high school work to be considered for admission and after 1924 intelligence tests were used as a criteria for admission. The old Normal School was composed of students who were preparing for entrance to college of liberal arts, technical schools, professional schools, a business school or the teaching profession. Clarion was no longer a preparatory school, but rather, a technical school of junior college rank. In days of old a student could enter normal school from the eighth grade and receive his normal school certificate in four years or less. In the 1920s a strong high school background was necessary for admission, with the student graduating from normal school in two, three, or four years, depending on the chosen curriculum.

During the Green administration a modern training school staffed by 15 teachers was established. Faculty standards were raised to meet the requirements of a modern teacher training and student activities were widened in scope to include student government, musical and dramatic groups and a greater variety of publications. Physical improvements during this administration were a new athletic field and tennis courts, a remodeled library and new heating plant, and improvements on other existing buildings.

The culminating achievement of Dr. Green's administration before he resigned May 1, 1926, was accreditation by the American Association of Teachers Colleges.

While the trustees sought a qualified replacement, Professor J.W.F. Wilkinson, dean of instruction, served as acting principal. Dr. Robert M. Steele, a 1902 graduate, was chosen to succeed Green, effective June 7, 1926. Steele, who was the first Clarion graduate to assume the principal's office at his alma mater, had taught in both the public schools and the normal schools at Clarion and Slippery Rock. He had also served as superintendent of the Latrobe, Pennsylvania schools.

Dr. Robert M. Steele
Robert M. Steele
While A.J. Davis presided over the normal school at its birth and guided the institution through its infancy, Professor Steele presided over the institution as it approached the twilight of its normal school career. As Dr. Steele's first year in office was drawing to a close (1926-1927), the State Council of Education, pursuant to powers granted by the State Legislature, authorized the normal schools to retitle themselves State Teachers Colleges. At the same time permission was granted to develop a four-year college level curriculum and to confer degrees. Bloomsburg became the first State Teachers College in 1927. Clarion met the standards two years later.

When discussing changes in the State Teachers Colleges prior to 1927, Dr. Harvey Andress, in his dissertation, "The Development of Pennsylvania State Teachers Colleges as Institutions of Higher Education," noted that "Although many changes took place...(since 1902) they are all reflected in the crystallization of forces which caused the change in name from Normal School to College." Much of the development throughout the period can be attributed to the excellence and the devotion of the faculty. Outstanding teachers of the era and their years of service included: Lorena Givan, 26; J.W.F. Wilkinson, 35; John Ballentine, 33; W.Y. Welch, 27; and W.R. Egbert, 24.

Clarion, in Andress' words, entered the stage of "State Teachers College in name." A number of years were to pass before the performance of the college corresponded with the titular description. As a step in making this a fait accompli the state undertook a building program costing $2 million. Included in this appropriation was $132,000 for a new Thaddius Stevens Training School. Plans for the building were completed during the second and final year of Steele's tenure (1928) in conjunction with six other newly acclaimed State Teachers Colleges who also needed a model school, with the building completed the following year.

Dr. Steele resigned to assume the presidency of California State Teachers College, a position he held for some 25 years. His resignation in June 1928 was followed by two months of searching and seeking for a successor. In the interim, Professor Wilkinson again served as acting principal.

In August 1928 Dr. G.C.L. Riemer was named principal. He had the single distinction of being both the last principal of Clarion State Normal School and the first president of Clarion State Teachers College. The institutional name was officially changed on May 28, 1929. It now remained for Riemer and his successors to lead Clarion to the position where it would satisfy Andress' description of a State Teachers College "in fact."