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A Tradition of Excellence

Salem State University was born of the humanitarian endeavors of Horace Mann, a former Massachusetts state legislator and Secretary of Education. Mann was a pioneer in the practice of bringing education to all children no matter their socio-economic status, seeing education as an equalizer.

Since its founding in 1854, Salem State University has been committed to making higher education a reality for students who might otherwise have lacked the opportunity. Today, the university strives to ensure that cost is not a barrier for anyone seeking to gain a high quality post-secondary education.

Salem State University was originally known as the Salem Normal School, welcoming its first class of “young ladies who wish to prepare themselves for teaching” on September 14, 1854. Only the fourth such institution in Massachusetts and the 10th in America, the school was welcomed by the city of Salem, which generously endowed its first site at One Broad Street. The city and school quickly developed a mutually beneficial partnership that continues to thrive.

Salem Normal School alumnae took community service well beyond Massachusetts’ borders. Charlotte Forten, the school’s first African American student and a graduate of the class of 1856, was the first northern African-American school teacher to journey south to teach freed slaves. Other graduates would disburse to teach in elementary and high schools as far afield as Africa, the Middle East and Asia. As the demand for teachers increased nationwide, Salem Normal School prospered.

In 1898, the student body became co-educational, although male enrollment remained small until the introduction of a commercial program in 1908, which combined professional business practice with pedagogical instruction. In 1921, the state authorized the normal schools to offer four-year degree programs.

The Salem Normal School became Salem Teachers College in 1932 and a few decades later, was authorized to grant master’s degrees (MEd) in 1955. The first degrees were awarded in 1957. Following World War II and the passage of the GI Bill, enrollment increased significantly, particularly among male students, and new programs were added to accommodate this growth.

Salem State was founded in 1854

  • DIFF Broad Street image depicts "State Normal School"

    Salem State was founded as the Salem Normal School on Broad Street in Salem

    For “young ladies who wish to prepare themselves for teaching”
  • Pencil rendering of Broad Street

    Salem State remained on Broad Street until 1896

    The building was renovated in 1871 to better meet enrollment demands
  • Sullivan Building (image c.1932)

    In 1896, Salem State moved to an expanded campus in South Salem

    A model training school was housed in the Sullivan Building (image c.1932)

History of Salem State from 1968-present

In 1960, Salem Teachers College became Salem State College, authorizing the institution to offer bachelor of arts degrees in a variety of liberal arts majors and a bachelor of science degree in business, in addition to the education degrees in which the institution had long specialized.

The first residence halls opened in 1966, and Salem State continued to add to its academic programming throughout the years. Its first master’s program, launched in 1957, was in education, and graduate education expanded greatly in the 1980s with the addition of master of business administration, master of social work, and master of science in nursing programs. Today, the institution is home to 32 undergraduate programs and graduate programs that offer degrees in 24 fields.

On July 28, 2010, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick approved legislation that elevated Salem State College and eight other public institutions of higher education in the Commonwealth to universities. Salem State College officially became Salem State University on October 26, 2010.

Today, Salem State University is one of the largest state universities in the Commonwealth, enrolling over 9,000 undergraduate and graduate students. The university was named a Top Producer of U.S. Fulbright Scholars in 2011 and 2017, and it continues to emphasize academic rigor, experiential learning and engagement with communities surrounding campus and across the globe.

Throughout its 163-year history, Salem State has remained true to the values of its founders, while growing its mission to meet the needs of those it serves on the North Shore, in the Commonwealth and beyond.

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