Spring 1999- Vol. 3. No. 3

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A Living Legacy

Joseph Baldwin, founder of Truman State University, first opened the doors to his school in 1867, and his legacy continues to open doors for students 132 years later.

When he was a young boy during the 1800s, it was not unusual to see Joseph Baldwin plowing a field on his father's farm in Pennsylvania. However, if you watched his plowing technique, you would soon notice a unique twist. When he reached the end of each furrow, he would pick up a book, find where he last left off, read the next paragraph, put the book down, and proceed to plow the next row. Headed back across the field, he meditated on his newly learned bit of knowledge. As he matured, this unquenchable thirst for knowledge led Baldwin into a variety of careers. By the age of 39, he had already accumulated a lifetime's worth of experience as a well-respected teacher, a successful school administrator, a war veteran, a school-chalkboard salesman, and a minister. Yet his life-long goal - to have his own school - remained unfulfilled. This changed when Baldwin settled down in Kirksville, Mo. and opened the doors to his North Missouri Normal School and Commercial College. His legacy lives on today under the name of Truman State University.

Back to the beginning
Having devoted his life to education, Baldwin possessed strong views on what a perfect school should be, and in 1867, those plans were set in motion. At the time, Baldwin was president of the Logansport Seminary, a private institution dedicated to teacher education located in Logansport, Ind. Inspired by his dream to establish a perfect school, Baldwin made a decision that is still affecting the lives of students to this day; he packed up and moved his family from Indiana to Missouri to set up his own school.

You may wonder why Baldwin chose a town of approximately 6,000 citizens located in the center of the country as the site for his long-awaited school. Although not a Missouri native, Baldwin was familiar with the state having previously taught in Platte City and Savannah, Mo. He also had a nephew who lived in Kirksville. With a little prompting from some education leaders in Missouri who recognized the benefits of having a school in their state, Baldwin agreed to open his school in Kirksville.

Another factor that helped Baldwin decide on Kirksville was the availability of a ready-made structure - the Cumberland Academy Building - that fulfilled all the needs for the school. Built in 1860, the building, located on the corner of Mulanix and Hickory Streets, resembled a church, complete with a tall steeple. It was originally built to house a school known as the Cumberland Academy, hence its name. Baldwin leased the building for $100 per year, and it became the home of his school for a couple of years. Later, after the school had moved to a new location, Kirksville lost one of its historical monuments when the Cumberland Academy building burned to the ground. Today, a bronze tablet on a large boulder marks the location of the Cumberland Academy Building in the Veterans Memorial Park.

When Baldwin's North Missouri Normal School outgrew the Cumberland Academy building, a site was chosen for a new building. At the time, the new location selected for the school was a cornfield just outside the Kirksville city limits. To meet the state's demands that the school be located inside the city limits of a county seat, the Kirksville city limits had to be extended to include the property.

Elaborate plans were made for the cornerstone-laying ceremony held on Sept. 6, 1871. With about 8,000 attending the gala affair, an article in the North Missouri Register stated that it was the grandest day the residents of Kirksville had ever witnessed. "At an early hour in the day, our streets bore evidence that the people of Adair County were alive to the importance of the occasion; as they came from all quarters, in carriages, wagons, and on horseback."

Once the new building was finished, Baldwin eagerly moved his school to the handsome new structure. Although not named formally, the building became known as the Normal Building. An impressive tower in the center of the building rose 126 feet up toward the sky, creating a landmark that was visible for miles. Historical documents state that approximately 600-700 students could be accommodated in the building, which was divided into teachers' rooms, a library, a laboratory, a large assembly room, recitation rooms, as well as other various rooms. The large hall had a 35-foot high ceiling that featured beautiful open timber work similar to the ceiling that is in Pershing Arena today. The entire cost of the Normal Building was $101,400.

In the early days of the school, students gathered for exercise time in Old Baldwin Hall.

For 18 years, the Normal Building was the only building on the campus. In 1905, the building was officially named Baldwin Hall, and over time, more buildings were added to the campus. In 1924, disaster struck the school when a fire destroyed Baldwin Hall. "Old" Science Hall (later renamed Laughlin Hall) was an addition tied to Baldwin Hall with a connecting hallway and door. One story says that the fireman used dynamite to destroy the hallway between the two buildings to save the Laughlin Building. The first library on campus was also connected to Baldwin Hall. Unfortunately, it did not have a fire door between it and Baldwin Hall. Thus, the fire also destroyed the library. After the fire, the Kirk Building became the main building on campus. It was not until 14 years later, on a rainy day in May, that the cornerstone was laid for the "new" Baldwin Hall.

Some time around 3:00 p.m. on Jan. 28, 1924, President John R. Kirk discovered that "Old" Baldwin Hall was in flames. The fire spread quickly leaving the building in ruins. Today, the beautiful Sunken Gardens can be found on the site where Old Baldwin Hall once stood.


Today, the new Baldwin Hall is one of the buildings on campus that makes up the quadrangle complex. The location of "old" Baldwin Hall is now the site for the Sunken Gardens. When renovations and additions were made to Pickler Memorial Library which is located near the Kirk Memorial, blackened and charred bricks from "old" Baldwin Hall were uncovered on the construction site.

Joseph Baldwin's philosophy
When Baldwin established his Normal School, his basic philosophy was to provide a place where teachers could be trained in the art of teaching. However, many students that entered the college were preparing for the ministry, the legal profession, the medical profession, or for careers on the farm, as well as in industry or commerce. At the close of the 1869-70 school year, the Normal School conducted its very first commencement program. Graduation day was a proud moment for Baldwin who presided over the ceremony. He watched on as the 15 men who made up the first graduation class from his school received their diplomas.

During the same year, Baldwin had another event to celebrate. He succeeded in efforts to get the state of Missouri to adopt his institution as a state school. The school became the first in the state's new normal school system, dedicated to the education of teachers for public schools. As a result, Baldwin's private Normal School became known as the Missouri State Normal School of the First District.

At his school, Baldwin placed great importance on the relationship between the faculty and the students, a tradition that carries on today. Surprisingly, Baldwin was not a disciple of the iron-clad discipline that predominated the colleges of his day. On the contrary, he did not believe in a long list of rules by which the students were to be disciplined. Instead, he followed one simple rule that covered everything: "Do right."

Although he was known to look for the best in everyone, the history books indicate that Baldwin held extremely strong convictions when it came to dancing, drinking, and card playing. No leniency was allowed if a student violated one of these three offenses; the guilty parties were dismissed from school immediately.

The founder of Truman placed excellence in student learning and service at the top of his agenda for his school. As Truman State University has transitioned from a normal school to a state teachers college to a state college and finally a comprehensive state university, the tradition Baldwin started has continued for more than 130 years. Today, as students pass by a statue of Joseph Baldwin that stands on the quad, they are reminded that his spirit is still alive on campus.

Editors Note: Some of the information for this article was taken from Centennial History of the Northeast Missouri State Teachers College, by Dr. Walter H. Ryle.

The Return of the Baldwins
"It's taken me 30 years to get here," said Betty (Baldwin) Miner of Redmond, Wash. speaking about her visit to Truman State University last fall. Ever since discovering that her great-grandfather, Joseph Baldwin, was the founder of Truman State University, Miner had a strong interest in finding out more about the University. Her opportunity finally presented itself when she and her granddaughter, Keely Royston, from Seaside, Ore., planned a trip to tour the Truman campus.

The visit to Truman carried a special meaning for Miner. In celebration of Royston's graduation from high school, Miner had promised to take her granddaughter on a senior trip. The choices for the trip were narrowed down to a couple of destinations, one of which included a trip to Kirksville, Mo. to visit the institution established by their well-esteemed ancestor.

Miner was not aware of her family's connection to the University until after her grandmother, Florence Baldwin, wife of Joseph Rolla Baldwin, died. At the time, an aunt had sent Miner some memorabilia which happened to include a book titled Contributions of Joseph Baldwin to Public Education, by James Carl Matthews. The book piqued Miner's curiosity, and she began to explore the subject. Soon, she discovered that her great-grandfather was the founder of Truman State University, a school located in Missouri. Inspired by Joseph Baldwin, Miner dreamed of visiting the campus for more than 30 years, and her dream finally came true with the help of her granddaughter, Keely Royston, great-great-great granddaughter of Joseph Baldwin.

Getting acquainted
Although Miner had never met the great Joseph Baldwin in person, through her visit, she was able to get to know what he had been like. Both Miner and Royston toured the campus and conducted research from a wealth of information they discovered in Special Collections in Pickler Memorial Library. Their research unveiled a gold mine - in addition to the original book Miner had received from her aunt, she discovered that there were at least four books that Joseph Baldwin himself had written.

From her own research, as well as stories related to her by historians, Miner was able to get a glimpse of the personalities of Joseph and his wife, Ellen Sophronia Fluhart Baldwin. Much to Miner's delight, the couple seemed to be ahead of their times. Miner's great-grandmother, Ellen, was depicted as a political activist who supported many women's issues. Joseph, on the other hand, was known to display a sensitive nature and was active in the caregiving of his children, not a common occurrence back in the late 1800s.

The inborn interest in education did not end with Joseph Baldwin. Miner's grandfather and the son of Truman's founder was a medical doctor, who went on to become a professor at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. Her own father also taught before moving on to attend law school. Despite Miner's own personal desire to teach, her father dissuaded her from pursuing the education field. However, with her link to Truman State University re-established, Miner's interest in teaching has been rekindled. Like her great-grandfather, Miner has always felt that writing and education were important aspects of her life, and the prospect of writing a book about her great-grandfather is also in her future. Miner has 25 grandchildren and has high hopes that one day some of them will be making their way to class at the school founded by their great ancestor more than 130 years ago.

During a trip to Kirksville to visit the school founded by their great ancestor, Keely Royston (left) and Betty (Baldwin) Miner (right) discovered the statue of Joseph Baldwin. The statue of Truman State University's founder stands in front of Kirk Memorial.

 

 

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