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National Normal University
Lebanon, Warren County, Ohio


Transcription contributed by Arne H Trelvik 15 June, 2003

The History of Warren County Ohio
Part IV, Township Histories
TurtleCreek Township
(Chicago, IL: W. H. Beers Co, 1882; reprint, Mt. Vernon, IN: Windmill Publications, 1992)
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National Normal University*

In the summer of 1855, about a dozen of the leading teachers of Southwestern Ohio called a convention for the purpose of establishing a normal school somewhere in the vicinity of Cincinnati. The convention called an institute of three weeks to be held in the buildings of the Miami University at Oxford, Ohio, at which it was proposed to effect a permanent organization of the normal school. In response to this call, about three hundred and fifty teachers assembled, among the most prominent of whom were John Hancock, Andrew J. Rickoff, Charles Rogers and E. C. Ellis. During this institute, an organization was completed and legally incorporated, called the Southwestern Normal School Association, the object of which was to establish and sustain a State normal school in Southwestern Ohio until State aid could be obtained. The first Trustees of the association were A. J. Rickoff, of Cincinnati; Charles Rogers, of Dayton; and E. C. Ellis, of Georgetown, Ohio.

These Trustees selected Lebanon as the most eligible site of the school. The Trustees of the Lebanon Academy transferred their building and lot to the normal school Trustees, and agreed to furnish eighty pupils for four years to aid in sustaining the school.

Alfred Holbrook, the Superintendent of the Public Schools of Salem, Ohio, was elected Principal, with a salary of $1,200 per annum, to come from the proceeds of the school.

The Southwestern Normal School began its first session November 24, 1855, with about ninety pupils from Lebanon and four or five from other localities. Three teachers besides the Principal were employed. Mrs. Melissa Holbrook, wife of the Principal, was teacher of the model school, salary $500. The attendance in this department was about thirty girls and boys from Lebanon.

First year, 1855-56 – During this year, the Principal and wife received $320, the finances being under the management of an agent. The school was then given into the hands of the Principal. Second year, 1856-57 – At the close of this year, the model school, although it was self-maintaining, was discontinued, it being in the opinion of the Principal, incorrect in theory and impracticable in results. Accommodations for students from a distance, the number of which was increasing, were obtained with difficulty, and only at high rates. This compelled the Principal to adopt a feature in his management which it has been found necessary to maintain ever since, namely, the provision and maintenance of dormitories under his own personal control. Unoccupied dwelling houses, of which there were at that time many in Lebanon, were rented, and rooms plainly furnished, provided for non-resident pupils at very moderate rates. These pupils at this time generally boarded themselves. The school numbered this year 256, Lebanon furnishing eighty, besides the thirty- six in the model school. Males, 150; females 107. Third year, 1857-58 – During this year, the Principal published, in the form of a quarterly periodical, his book, “Normal Methods.” It has since been published in a volume by

*The history of this institution has been prepared by a member of the faculty


A. S. Barnes & Co., of New York, and has had a very wide sale, perhaps as large as any other educational work published in America. It has been translated into Japanese for use in Japan. It has contributed much to the growth of the school by its use as a text-book in the training class, and by attracting pupils from all parts of the nation. Enrollment, 335 – 85 from Lebanon. Fourth year, 1858-59 – General exercises were from this time held in Washington Hall, which was furnished by Lebanon for the use of the school, instead of the assembly room of the academy. Enrollment, 360, pupils from Maine, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky being in attendance. Fifth year, 1859-60 – Vacations were abandoned, and the school sessions of the year divided into five terms, four of eleven weeks, and a “short session” or institute term, of five week. Tuition was raised from $8.33 per session of eleven week to $10. Enrollment, 375. Sixth year, 1860-61 – This being the first year of the war, many pupils went from the school into the army as volunteers. Enrollment, 272. Seventh year, 1861-62 – Many more students volunteered. Enrollment, 220. Eighth year, 1862-63 – Prof. W. D. Henkle, who had filled the chair of mathematics three years, resigned to accept the Principalship of the Lebanon Schools. Ninth year, 1863-64 – Full collegiate or classic course introduced, extending over only two years, but including the studies of the usual four years’ course of colleges; also, the scientific course, including higher mathematics, natural sciences, and three authors in Latin. Business department established. Pupils enrolled, 472. Tenth year, 1864-65 - Enrollment, 612. Eleventh year to fifteenth year, 1866-70 – Enrollment increased to 930. Thirteen States and one Territory being represented the name of the school was changed, 1870, by unanimous vote of the patrons, to National Normal School. A second work by the Principal, “School Management,” published. Sixteenth to twenty-sixth year, 1871-81 – Enrollment increased to 1,850. First exposition held in Washington Hall, 1872. Holbrook air pump patented 1876, and cheap pneumatic apparatus, utilizing for scientific purposes the Mason fruit jar and its caps, invented by R. H. Holbrook, and described in ”Simple Experiments,” a pamphlet publication. From these simple inventions, the popularizing of the sciences has been extended very widely by many pupils of the inventor. In 1879, “Outlines of United States History,” presenting new method of teaching history, was published. In 1881, “The New Method, of School Expositions,” by R. H. Holbrook, was published by J. E. Sherrill, Indianapolis, Ind.

At the alumnal meeting of 1881, a letter from W. P. Rogers, 1868, was read, strongly urging the propriety of calling the National Normal a university instead of a school. There was a strong expression in the meeting that the suggestion be adopted. At the close of the commencement exercises, a motion, offered by Hon. James Scott, a former Trustee, that the institution be henceforth known as the National Normal University, was unanimously adopted, and the name of the institution was so changed.

During the first eleven years, the normal school was managed under a definite code of laws, adopted at the beginning of every session, by the voice of the students, who, in voting for them, pledged themselves to sustain them by their compliance and influence. As individuals were received, they were expected to pledge themselves to the same rules. The growing prosperity of the institution under these rules would have seemed to warrant their permanence; but the continued relaxation in the rigor of discipline appearing to give better results year by year, it was decided to drop all formal positive law, and to depend entirely on the good will of the students; in other words, upon the prevailing popular feeling of the students. The results have justified the plan. During the last ten years, there have been not more than three expulsions,


wheras, during the first eleven years, there were from one to three every year. This controlling popular sentiment is sustained by the instrumentality of the general exercises, by the interest always developed in the management of the classes in recitations and drills and by the free and genial intercourse of teachers and students in their meetings and greetings outside of class relations, showing that the chief reason in any school or college why the popular feeling is in favor of the violation, or at least in sympathy with the violator, of good order, is found in the unmanly and servile position in which students are placed by the administration of law and discipline, and by the useless exactions and penalties imposed, to secure diligent study.

From the first, no memorizing of definitions, rules, or any other matter contained in the text-book has been required. That kind of thoroughness which recognizes only the mastery of the precise words of the text-book, in preparation for recitations and examinations, we have ever held as abominable. It is incompatible with genuine love of study, and subversive of that general class interest which makes hard work exciting, fascinating, easy. We always depend mainly on this class interest in study for good order and decorum, both in school management and class management. We have ever discarded that kind of thoroughness, so prevalent in most schools and colleges, which makes the verbal knowledge of a text-book a test and a standard. Nor do we depend on examinations, quarterly or annual, as giving any desirable or healthy stimulus to vigorous effort. So much “skinning” and “coaching,” and so many other dishonest practices, spring up necessarily with the common system of examinations in special text-books, we consider the whole system vicious, and that it trains the students to shifts, expedients, deception and laziness, rather than to honest, earnest work, for the love of it, as a life habit.

From the first, then, we have managed our classes by inciting our students to the investigation of subjects, rather than by coercing or hiring them to the mastery of a text-book by memorizing it. Nor have we at any time, in the lest, had any sympathy with the method or oral instruction, independent of books. We believe this extreme more vicious, if possible, that the other – that of blind memorizing.

The chapel or general exercises occupy, ordinarily, about a half an hour every day, beginning at 8:30 A.M. This being the only time at which all the school assemble, all general and miscellaneous business is then transacted. It was customary, during the first years of the institution, while rules were in force, to dwell upon the necessity of law and order, to censure those (seldom personally) who were supposed to be guilty of any infraction. All pupils being pledged to regular attendance, the roll was called every morning; afterward, twice a week; then once a week; only a portion of the names being called on one morning. Now, the roll is never called, and the attendance of the students and teachers is secured by making those exercises necessary and attractive to every pupil and teacher. All reproof and animadversion is excluded. The necessary changes in daily classes are made known. The time and place of weekly exercises, as debating and composition, are here announced. Thus the entire character of the exercises, including regularity of attendance, is changed from the repression and correction of evil practices to the encouragement of good habits. Brief lectures on topics of general interest to all students form also an attractive feature. The attendance, under the voluntary system, is quite as regular and prompt as when the roll was called with the design of preventing such delinquencies; and the influence is immeasurably better for the guidance and encouragement of the students in their regular school duties.

Remarks by visitors are much enjoyed, especially when these visitors are returned Normalites.


W. H. Heighway

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The general exercises are also used for the appointment of committees for any special purposes, as visiting and caring for the sick; for class discussions, exchange of minerals and fossils, etc. The reports of such committees are expected with much eagerness and their brief discussion frequently awakens much interest.

Among the miscellaneous exercises may be mentioned special announcements, calls for books taken from the Library, advertising of books or other articles lost or found, other advertisements – always excluding itinerant agents of all kinds.

This great variety of exercises crowded into so brief a period seldom fails to produce some agreeable excitement. This ever-varying interest is relied on to secure regularity and promptitude in attendance.

From the opening of the school, all religious exercises have been entirely voluntary. The general religious exercises have consisted of brief Scripture readings, accompanied with explanatory or hortatory remarks; also of singing two pieces of music by the school choir and prayer. These exercises occupy, ordinarily about fifteen minutes. A daily students’ prayer meeting has been sustained about fifteen years. It occupies a half-hour – from 1 to 1:30 P.M. every year, many pupils date the beginning of a new life in these prayer meetings. They are a continuous revival. Special committees are sustained in these prayer meetings, for looking after the sick. These committees receive information of any causes of sickness, report them to the faculty, and strive to provide nurses and watchers, as far as practicable. Committees are also appointed occasionally for a variety of other benevolent work in the school.

Re-unions are held semi-monthly. The object of these semi-monthly gatherings is to give the students an opportunity to cultivate mutual acquaintance, as well as to secure improvement in social usages and personal bearing. Their influence is marked; in fact, they have become indispensable.

Most schools and colleges practice constant watchfulness, with penal restrictions, to keep the sexes apart. We, on the other hand, from the first have used every wholesome means to promote the healthful intermingling of the sexes. Believing that their reciprocal influence is essential to good morals and earnest effort in any desirable direction, it has ever been a study, “How can we best utilize this most effective element, the social element, in our school work?”
The answer, coming from long experience from various tentative arrangements , is:

1. We give the young people our confidence, and believe that school associations freed from suspicion and police regulations tend toward purity, rather than impurity; toward a noble restraint and a just self-respect, rather than toward effeminacy and depravity.

2. We find that rough and immodest deportment can be successfully excluded in no other way than by mutual influence of the sexes. We believe that five females will humanize at least a hundred males; and vice versa.
It is customary in most higher schools to leave debating almost entirely to the students. They generally form societies, which are not only very expensive, but too large for any real advantage to the more reserved and modest pupils.

In order to give every pupil full opportunity in debating, we have divided the different departments of the institution into debating sections of about twelve members each, who meet weekly for the exercise. Every department has its own debating teacher, who superintends the several sections, meets them in common for general instruction and drill in parliamentary usage and in methods of conducting their debates. He suggest questions, directs the debaters to proper sources for information, receives reports of the progress and


success of every section, besides using a great variety of other means, suggested by his own ingenuity, for guidance and stimulus of each member in each debating section. No student is required to attend a debating section in any department; and yet the cases are very rare in which the speedily developed interest of any pupil is not sufficient to hold him to regularity and diligence in the line of improvement.

During the first eleven years, students were required to write compositions of some kind every fortnight. These were read before the composition class, then duly criticized, and returned to the pupil for examination. During the twelfth year, this requisition was laid aside and other measures adopted, which were much more effective in securing earnest effort from all pupils in composition writing. These measures are somewhat complicated – so much so that it will not be possible, within proper limits, to describe them satisfactorily. The leading features can only be given:

1. Each department has a regular teacher of composition. 2. Themes are assigned, on which students are expected to write. 3. A preliminary drill is given, in which the class are made practically acquainted with the method of developing the theme. R. The student hands his letter, composition, discussion or classification to the teacher, for examination or criticism. 5. At an appointed time, a section of fifteen of about the same advancement, meet to read essays, previously criticized (but not corrected) by the teacher. 6. When the essays are read, the plan by which each student will be able to correct his own essay is explained by the teacher. 7. The class meets on the next day to report the correction of their own errors, and to receive further instruction for the handling of other themes.

This method, somewhat obscure in description, is full of vivacity and interest in its workings, and decidedly successful in its continued results. We have no thought of resorting to coercive measures in composition writing now, any more than in any other line of work. Besides, voluntary effort is immeasurably more telling in its effects than any form of forced work can possibly be.

The Principal, in his history of the school, published in the annual catalogue, from which most of the above is taken, concludes as follows:

“In the continued service of over forty years, chiefly devoted to helping the young to manage themselves and to establish these good habits fro life, names, (1) of cheerful, earnest industry for the love of it; (2) of careful, persistent investigation for the love of it; (3) of systematic, determined work for the love of it; (4) of useful, benevolent activity for the love of it, the writer has ever had an interesting work, a positive and ever-increasing enjoyment. It would be ungrateful, indeed, not to acknowledge the guidance and aid of a good Providence, ever giving measurable success in wished-for attainments, and new inspiration for further advances in bringing the spirit and power of the New Testament into the school room.

“It has been my earnest and prayerful desire to exclude the paralyzing effects of tyranny and rote from the school room by introducing the spirit of liberty and enterprise, thus converting the dead formality of active antagonism of tyrannical rote into the enthusiastic and immeasurably more profitable work of liberty, enterprise, and enthusiasm. Very many of the improvements which originated in my different schools are now and have been for years public property, having been carried by thousands of my pupils and by published writings into tens of thousands of schools in all parts of the country. My only regret is that the spirit and power of these innovations could not have reached an revolutionized every school and college in the nation.

“With no hostility to other schools or educators, I have a determined hostility, always and everywhere avowed, to all those usages which turn the sympathy

of the students against good order, and which tend to make labor a burden and life a failure.
“A few of these usages I will here enumerate:
“1. Separating the sexes in a course of education.
“2. Enforcing positive rules by rigorous measures and police regulations, in order to secure diligence and good order. This general practice must so obviously defeat itself, to a large extent, in the very nature of things, more and more as light dawns on the true relation of teacher and pupil, that it is now altogether inexcusable.
“3. Relying on examinations for securing thoroughness in study, thus yielding to the assumption that study and school work cannot be made sufficiently exciting and controlling to accomplish vastly better results, both in acquisition and development, than any form of exaction or coercion.
“4. Offering prizes in any direction, where all interested cannot win proportionately to success.
“5. Degrading the standing of a pupil in scholarship for indecorum, in class or elsewhere.
“6. Exacting a rigorous verbal mastery of one text-book, thus making true thoroughness in a subject next to impossible.
“7. Censuring and punishing disorderly pupils personally and openly, for the sake of ‘making an example;’ thus turning the sympathy of the great majority of the students against the faculty and in favor of the ‘martyrs,’ ‘heroes,’ ’bricks.’

“It has been my earnest endeavor to exclude these and various other usages from the institutions which have been under my charge. This has not been accomplished at once, but by gradual advances by successive tentative processes; each being initiated and sustained by light and encouragement from the life and teachings of the Great Teacher.

“Some of the advances made in this institution during twenty years in its professional work and management have been briefly described here.

“These points of improvement have been selected from many. Every year – nay, every term – has witnessed a decided onward movement in the management of every class, under the eager desire of every teacher engaged (with but few exceptions) to improve upon himself or herself in working up with and for his or her pupils to a higher position of liberty, energy and mutual confidence in the daily school work.”

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This page created 15 June, 2003 and last updated 1 February, 2009
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