In 1873, Southeast Missouri State University started as the Third District Normal School in southeast Missouri. The school opened in a temporary location as it prepped for a decade of change and growth, including the construction of a brand new location.

School Duel

Cape Girardeau County was in a bidding war with Iron County, who wanted the school in Arcadia. Before making a final decision, the Board of Regents of the new Normal School visited both locations. Cape Girardeau was busy with extensive railroad debt at the time, and board members were not confident in their ability to sell bonds for a new school. With the dedication and commitment of Cape Girardeau citizens Otto Buehrmann and Col. Robert Sturdivant, they quickly secured the necessary funds. The Southeast Missouri Normal School officially had its home: Cape Girardeau, Missouri.

Fort B was selected as the new location for the Normal School. The hill was owned and donated by a German immigrant and builder, Joseph Lansmon. The long-awaited construction finally began, with the project quickly gaining momentum thanks to the generous $39,000 bid from W.E. Gray of Alton, Illinois.

The time while the new structure was slowly rising from the ground was exciting, but there were tragedies in the first years of the school. In the summer of 1874, bricklayer Lemuel Randol was killed by lightning at the building site of the Third District Normal School. Just two years later, Professor L.H. Cheney was conducting field research in Tennessee in the summer of 1876. During the excavation of a mound, it collapsed, and he was tragically killed. Professor C.H. Dutcher then became the third principal of the Normal School.

The construction of the brand new building was completed in April 1875.

Charging forward

After the building was officially open, things went into full swing. The very first faculty and student organizations began forming. Two years after construction completed, the school held its first commencement ceremony for its four-year program. In 1878, long distance telephone service became operational in Cape Girardeau County. This ushered in a new era of communication, opening up possibilities for people to stay connected that were once unimaginable. Students were able to take classes in six departments, including Professional, Mathematics, English Language and Literature, Natural Sciences and Physics, Geography and History, and Art.

What was school like in the 1870s?

Toward the end of the decade, the Normal School required students to possess "good moral character." It demonstrated that the school was committed to maintaining a high level of academic integrity.


What's Happening 1873-1879?

  • 1873 – Blue jeans are invented.
  • 1874 – The Little Rock Express on the Iron Mountain Railroad was robbed by what was believed to be the work of the James Gang. It became Missouri’s first train robbery.
  • 1876-1914 – The Gilded Age marks a massive expansion in wealth, territory, population and industry in the United States.
  • 1877 – The Great Railroad Strike impacts the U.S.
  • 1877 – Thomas Edison invents the phonograph.
  • 1878 –The first commercial telephone exchange takes place in New Haven, Connecticut.
  • 1878 – The patent for the phonograph is issued.
  • 1879 – Thomas Edison tests his first lightbulb.

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