History of the University

Dickinson State University began on June 24, 1918 where 104 students attended the first classes at the Dickinson Normal School. The newly established school had no buildings, so classes were held at Dickinson High School under the direction of Dickinson School District Superintendent Peter S. Berg. This was the first official action of the Dickinson Normal School.

The sessions were free of charge to the 104 students who attended, although they paid their own room and board. Subsequent classes were held at the historic Elks Building until May Hall was completed in 1924. The push to create a Normal School at Dickinson stemmed from the intense need in rural areas for qualified teachers. In the early 1900s, fewer than 25 percent of the teachers in the western half of North Dakota were certified to be teachers.

DSU Centennial

Historical Brochure

As we approach the 100thanniversary of Dickinson State University it is interesting to look at an historic brochure which provides the class schedule for the Dickinson Normal School inaugural year, 1918 – 1919.

The copy on the back of the brochure reads as follows:

  • There are plenty of conveniently located homes in Dickinson where room or rooms and board of excellent quality are obtainable at reasonable prices.
  • The Normal school occupies splendid quarters, with fine rooms for instructional and reading purposes:  and the auditorium is one of the most beautiful in North Dakota.
  • This being our first year and the present time being the very beginning of the year, there are many matters that have not been worked out and other things that it will take time to develop.  We have an elegant building , a good course of study, an efficient corps of teachers, a fine city in which to work and a great work to do.  We want students.  We want young people to come to the Dickinson State Normal School to prepare themselves to teach in our rural, consolidated and graded schools, to do the most important work that people are ever called upon to do - the work of teaching.

Dickinson State University Blue Hawks

On January 19, 1974, the “Blue Hawks” became the third official school mascot for Dickinson State University. Blue was chosen to represent the school’s colors and Hawk to represent a fierce fighting raptor.  Prior to this time, the mascot was known as the “Normal Lights” or the “Savages.”

The name Blue Hawks is derived from the American kestrel, or sparrow hawk, which is indigenous to this area. A beautiful, rust-colored falcon, the kestrel is about the size of a robin. The male falcon is distinguished by its blue-gray wings and unbarred tail, while the female sports a barred tail and lacks the blue-gray wings. Considered the most colorful raptor, the kestrel is the most common falcon in the world and can be found from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego in South America. 

The name Blue Hawks is especially suited to Dickinson State University. Although the American kestrel is no larger than a robin, it is a fierce fighting bird and an apt and able hunter. Additionally, the kestrel adapts readily to varying conditions, allowing it to remain one of the most abundant raptors of North America. Dickinson State University has weathered many storms, but continues to grow and adapt to the changing needs of society. This small, regional university continues to be a vital partner with the state, the region and the world.

Digital Horizons

100 items from the DSU archives were selected to be scanned as part of the Digital Horizon projects, an online treasure house of images, documents, video, and oral histories depicting life on the Northern Plains from the late 1800s to today. It is an initiative of a consortium that includes Concordia College Archives, NDSU Institute for Regional Studies & University Archives, the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and Prairie Public Broadcasting.

To see DSU's documents go tohttp://digitalhorizonsonline.org/ , then type Dickinson State University into the search box.

First Commencement


First CommencementDickinson State Normal School held its first commencement exercises on Thursday, July 29, 1920. President Samuel T. May gave the commencement address, admonishing the class of 18 men and women to take a greater interest in United States citizenship as a most important factor in the future welfare of the country. May cited several vital national problems that were on the horizon in 1920 and noted that they would have to be dealt with responsibly in the near future. He especially directed his comments about responsible citizenship to the women in the class, given their impending right to vote, which occurred with the passage of the 19th Amendment less than a month later. 

First Homecoming

The first Homecoming was held on campus Saturday, Oct. 13, 1928 and featured a parade, football game, barbecue, bonfire and dance. As reported by the Dickinson Reporter-Post, hundreds of Dickinson State Normal School students and alumni were present, and, following the evening dance, voted to make the “pow-wow” an annual event. Then-president Samuel T. May mounted a horse and led the morning parade through Dickinson streets in full Native American costume. After the 2 o’clock football game, the festivities continued with a huge bonfire on campus. Medora rancher J.W. Nuens roasted an ox and served hundreds in attendance while students in costume danced around the fire. Following the meal, students and alumni danced until late in the evening accompanied by a five-piece orchestra. 

First Homecoming

A Visit from JFK

JFK VisitOn April 18, 1958, John F. Kennedy and Dickinson State Teachers College’s fourth president Charles E. Scott watched the film of the address the Massachusetts Senator had given earlier that day.


John F. Kennedy, U.S. Senator, Massachusetts, spoke at Dickinson State Teachers College in April 1958 as part of a year-long series of lectures delivered on campus by national leaders and leading humanities scholars to commemorate the 100th birthday of America’s 26th president, Theodore Roosevelt. The symposium focused on the theme of “Responsible Citizenship.” During his speech, “The Moral and Spiritual Imperatives of Free Government,” Sen. Kennedy implored his audience members to reflect on Theodore Roosevelt’s belief in a “better kind of government – a government with moral and spiritual foundations.” Kennedy said, “I would urge therefore that each of you – and particularly those students of Dickinson College who are here today – regardless of your chosen occupation, consider entering the field of politics at some stage in your career – that you offer to the political arena, and to the critical problems of our society which are decided therein, the benefit of the talents which society has helped to develop in you.”  

Maude Klinefelter’s Scrapbook

Maude Klinefelter was the university's secretary-treasurer from the time it opened its doors in 1918 until her retirement in 1954. During that time she collected pictures, newspaper articles, letters and other items and put them into a scrapbook that is now commonly referred to as the most complete historical record of the origins and progress of the college. This 79-page scrapbook is the sole source for numerous basic documents from the university's history prior to World War II.

Items in the scrapbook include early class schedules, course lists and catalogs. Hundreds of photographs illustrate faculty, buildings, classrooms and such campus activities as homecoming, sports, music and drama.

In addition, the scrapbook preserves many programs for graduations, plays, operettas, banquets, music recitals and homecoming events. The first student publication, Sakakawea, published in December 1919, is also in the scrapbook. Klinefelter worked on the scrapbook for some time after her retirement; she passed away Jan. 25, 1961.

This fall, the scrapbook was selected as one of 100 items from the DSU archives to be scanned as part of the Digital Horizon projects, an online treasure house of images, documents, video, and oral histories depicting life on the Northern Plains from the late 1800s to today. It is an initiative of a consortium that includes Concordia College Archives, NDSU Institute for Regional Studies & University Archives, the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and Prairie Public Broadcasting. 

Roger F. Huffman


Roger F HuffmanRoger F.Huffman crossed the finish line to take the North Dakota College Athletic Conference championship in the 440 yard dash at the meet in Jamestown in 1949. Huffman was a stellar student athlete in football, basketball and track at Dickinson State College from the time he entered as a freshman in the late 1940s until his graduation in 1955. He returned to DSC in 1963 after a successful 8-year stint as a coach at Dickinson High School. During his time at Dickinson State, his roles included assistant professor of physical education, head football and track coach and assistant basketball coach. In 1966, Huffman was named university athletics director and chair of the Physical Education Division, posts he held until 1984 when he was named registrar and director of admissions. On September 12, 1987, Dickinson State dedicated the track at Whitney Stadium in his honor, naming it Huffman Track. Huffman retired in 1991.On April 9, 2010, the new track at the Badlands Activities Center was rededicated to Huffman for his steadfast dedication to his alma mater.

The Huffman Track is named in honor of Roger F. Huffman. For more than six decades, Huffman has demonstrated dedicated service to his alma mater, Dickinson State University (DSU) and to the university’s athletic program. Huffman is a native of Killdeer, N.D., and has been influential at the university since he first arrived as a student in the late 1940s. He was an active and accomplished student-athlete in football, basketball and track prior to his graduation in 1955. He returned to DSU in 1963 and served in a variety of capacities until his retirement in 1991. His roles included assistant professor of physical education, head football and track coach and assistant basketball coach. In 1966, Huffman was named university athletics director and chair of the Physical Education Division, posts he held until 1984 when he was named registrar and director of admissions. 

Signal Butte Slope State Normal School

Signal Butte“The Signal Butte” was an early publication of the Dickinson State Normal School. Published quarterly, it gave prospective students a chance to see what classes were available and at what cost. “The Signal Butte” also offered updates on the newly established normal school’s progress. Dickinson State Normal School held its first classes in 1918. That first summer session, which was attended by 104 students, was held at Dickinson High School because the fledgling normal school had no buildings. Keep image: http://www.dickinsonstate.edu/divisions/office-of-the-president/dsu_centennial/Signal-Butte-Slope-State-Normal-School/index

Students Building a Wall

During the summer of 1941, students built the rock wall surrounding the campus mall. The students worked under the National Youth Administration (NYA) program which was a New Deal agency that operated from 1935-1943 to help alleviate the hard times created by the Great Depression. NYA students earned between $15 and $25 per month, a sum which helped many students stay in college. 

Building Wall