In 1868, in an effort to provide Detroit with competent teachers for the city’s growing public school system, Detroit Superintendent of Schools Duane Doty inaugurated an experimental teacher training class for select female seniors in Detroit’s high school. The state’s only institution for preparation of teachers, the Michigan State Normal School (located in the then-distant town of Ypsilanti) produced too few teachers to meet Detroit’s needs, let alone those of the entire state. However, Doty’s attempt, and those of others, to establish a normal school were stalled by the prevailing tradition and preference of selecting teachers from among (untrained) public school graduates who were granted temporary teaching certificates after passing a certification exam.
For the next 13 years, supporters of a normal school in Detroit worked tirelessly to bring about a consensus that such a school was needed. Finally, on July 28, 1881, as part of a national movement for teacher training beyond the high school level, the Detroit Board of Education approved a plan developed by then-superintendent John Sill to establish a normal training class for teachers.
Thus, in September of 1881 the Detroit Normal Training School for Teachers opened its doors to an inaugural class of 15 female high school graduates, called “teacher cadets.” Miss Amanda Parker Funnelle of the Oswego Normal Training School in New York, a renowned educator who had established normal schools elsewhere in the Midwest, was appointed by the Board of Education to be the first principal (instructor) of the training school at a salary of $180 per school month. The program consisted of one year of instruction for the future teachers: one semester of theory of the arts and pedagogy, and one of practice. Classes were held in the city’s only high school, located in the Old State Capitol Building, and the teacher cadets undertook practice teaching in the Washington School. By the turn of the century 135 teacher cadets were enrolled.
Within a decade, the Normal School was offering a two-year course of instruction. In 1918, the first male students were admitted; in 1920, after several re-locations to larger quarters, the school became the Detroit Teachers College. Tuition was assessed for the first time in 1922, at the rate of $15 per year. The College expanded its programs and became a four-year, degree-granting institution in 1923, and the first degree was awarded in 1924.
By the 1930s the College, housed in the former Central High School (now called Old Main and still used as a WSU classroom building today) began to offer master’s courses, and in 1933 the Detroit Teachers College was re-named the College of Education. By 1945 the College had developed a doctoral degree program.
For 31 years Old Main remained the home of the College of Education until 1961, when the College dedicated its present building, designed by the world-famous architect Minoru Yamasaki. Yamasaki also designed the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and WSU’s McGregor Memorial Conference Center.
The College of Education was one of the founding colleges of what became Wayne State University. Administered by the Detroit Board of Education, the university was formed in 1934 by combining other city colleges, including the College of Education. As Detroit grew from a moderate-size Midwestern city to a major metropolitan area, it became a melting pot for a diverse population of people. This diversity continues to be a strong focus of the university and College of Education today. Indeed, the College’s theme—The Effective Urban Educator: Reflective, Innovative and Committed to Diversity—reflects the strong connection between the College and the community.
In 1931 the College of Education celebrated its Golden (50th) Anniversary. In 1956 its Diamond Anniversary was commemorated--the same year Wayne University became a state institution and officially designated Wayne State University. In 1981 the College of Education marked its centennial (100th) anniversary, and in 2006 the remarkable milestone of the College’s Quasquicentennial (125th) anniversary was observed.
Written June, 2010. Some excerpts obtained from “The College of Education at Wayne State University: A Very Brief History” by Dr. William P. Sosnowsky, Professor Emeritus, Wayne State University College of Education, 1991, and from the Michigan Tradesman, December, 1957