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In 1873 the Third District Normal School opened in the old Lorimier School building with five faculty members and 57 students. The principal, as presidents were called in those days, was Lucius H. Cheney.
The Executive Committee of the Board of Regents chose Cheney as the Normal School's first principal based on his experience and credentials. Cheney graduated from Albany State Normal School in Albany, N.Y., in 1852. Seven years later he served as a principal of a public school in Joliet, Ill. In 1860, Cheney returned to New York to become principal of Baldwinsville Academy.
Cheney's three-year term as principal saw the start of classes at the Normal School, construction of the first building, and the formulation of a curriculum for teacher education in a rural district.
Cheney was closely involved with students. He personally administered a written examination to each student to help determine his or her interests and talents in a variety of subjects. The test was not a "pass or fail" examination, but was used as a placement tool.
Cheney felt that each student should have a command for language so both Latin and German were requirements for every student. The school grew steadily under Cheney's administration, and by the final year of his administration, it had 229 students.
In 1876, while attending a summer field camp of Harvard University, Cheney died during an archaeological expedition in the Cumberland Mountains. He was part of a team excavating a large mound where skeletons of a child and an adult had been found when the mound caved in and crushed him. His wife, Frances, finished out the year as principal at Southeast.
Cheney's body is buried in the Lorimier Cemetery where his tombstone reads "a teacher."
This information is excerpted from the article "Past and Present Presidents" appearing in The Southeast Missourian on April 4, 1999.