Northern Illinois University Your Future, Our Focus Northern Illinois University Your Future, Our Focus

History & Traditions

Classroom

Chartered in 1895, Northern Illinois University first opened its doors in 1899 as the Northern Illinois State Normal School solely to prepare college-educated teachers.

We have grown into a world-class university that attracts students from around the globe while still primarily serving Illinois.

Yet two traditions established Sept. 12, 1899, remain paramount today. We are deeply committed to preparing teachers and providing an excellent and affordable higher education to Illinois families, some of whom have never sent a child to college before.

Beginning

A demand for more – and better – public schools is what prompted then-Illinois Gov. John Peter Altgeld to expand the “normal school” system he always had championed.

For the 146 women and 27 men in the inaugural class, their first vision of Altgeld Hall must have seemed like a dream: A European-style castle built on the vast Midwestern plains for a cost of $230,000.

Over the next century, enrollment grew 145-fold as the campus spread to 755 acres and became home to nearly 60 major buildings and 25,000 students. World War II and the wars in Korea and Vietnam accelerated enrollment as returning veterans put their GI Bill benefits to work.

Growing

Northern became Northern Illinois State College on July 1, 1955, and Northern Illinois University on July 1, 1957.

The Illinois General Assembly granted NIU its own governing board in 1996. Regional education centers in Hoffman Estates, Naperville and Rockford were built to offer many of NIU’s programs at times and locations designed to accommodate the needs of its vital service region.