Southeast Missouri State University is proud of its history and rich traditions but is focused on the future.


Southeast Missouri State University was founded in 1873 as a normal school. Normal schools served as training grounds for elementary and high school teachers and were eventually referred to as “teachers’ colleges.” Missouri already had two normal schools in other parts of the state, and so when a group of local businessmen and politicians founded our school in 1873, it was called the Third District Normal School. The school began with five faculty members and only 57 students! Since this brand-new Normal School lacked physical buildings, teachers conducted classes at the nearby Lorimier School as work started on the “Old Normal Building.” Workers completed construction of this building in 1875, and “Old Normal” was a hauntingly beautiful building. But it was not to last, burning to the ground in 1902. Soon, Academic Hall, the University’s landmark copper-domed building, was built in its place.

The state of Missouri appropriated $200,000 for the new building, which led to a parade erupting through Cape to celebrate the opportunity to rebuild. J. B. Legg, a well-known architect, was hired to design the building. Having already designed other buildings in Cape Girardeau and St. Louis, Legg spent time traveling through Illinois and Iowa studying other college buildings for inspiration.

Construction began in 1903, and this new hall was built in the classic style of architecture. After it was finished, it contained 27 classrooms, rooms for the student literary societies, two museums, two gymnasiums, an auditorium, and a formal library.  

The building would also be adorned with a copper dome (which students can still visit today and sign their names with chalk on the wooden support structure inside), and would benefit from Louis Houck's fixation with the World's Fair of 1904 held in St. Louis. Houck, then president of the Board of Regents, purchased many interior supplies for the new Academic Hall at the Fair, including light fixtures that are still in use in the building today.

As the stock market crashed and thousands of Americans lost everything, enrollment dropped as fewer families could afford to send their children to college. Southeast responded by trying to help their less fortunate students, offering scholarships to those who lost a father or mother because of their service to the United States military during World War I. Also during the 1930s, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal plan allowed for the construction of a new indoor swimming pool in the basement of Academic Hall and a new library on campus—later named Kent Library in honor of longtime librarian Sadie Kent. 

Southeast Missouri State grew rapidly in the 1950s and 1960s under the presidency of Dr. Mark Scully. But Scully was known as a stickler for the rules, strictly enforcing his campus-wide ban on kissing while patrolling the campus on horseback to break up offending couples.

Southeast continued to grow and change through the years, adding academic programs, increasing enrollment, and evolving how education is delivered, first with regional campuses in Missouri’s Bootheel, then followed by Southeast Online.

For a complete history of the University, visit Kent Library.