History of DSU

History of the University

Dickinson State University's story began on June 24, 1918. The newly established Dickinson State Normal School had no buildings, so the first classes and the 104 students that attended were hosted at Dickinson High School. This was done under the direction of Dickinson School District Superintendent Peter S. Berg. It was the first official action of the Dickinson State Normal School.

The sessions were free of charge to the students, 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 in 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.

DSU Archive

Funny fashions, timeless memories – the DSU Archive is a treasure trove of nostalgia. To commemorate our Centennial Celebration in 2018, we began the project of digitizing our rich history. Explore our growing collection at www.dsuarchive.com, which includes the following:

  • Prairie Smoke Yearbooks
  • The Western Concept Newspapers
  • Theatre Posters and Programs
  • Maude Klinefelter Scrapbook
  • Commencement Programs
  • Impressions Publications
  • Historic Photographs

DSU Centennial

In celebrating the 100th anniversary of Dickinson State University, it is interesting to study this historic brochure. It provides the class schedule for the Dickinson State 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 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” and the “Savages.”

The name "Blue Hawks" is derived from the American kestrel, or sparrow hawk, which is indigenous to the 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. 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. It can be found from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego in South America. 

The name "Blue Hawks" is especially suited to DSU. The American kestrel is no larger than a robin, but 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 in North America. DSU 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

One hundred items from the DSU archives were selected to be scanned as part of the Digital Horizon project. This is an online treasure house of images, documents, video, and oral histories. The project depicts life on the Northern Plains from the late 1800s to today. It's an initiative of a group 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 to http://digitalhorizonsonline.org/, then type "Dickinson State University" into the search box.

First Commencement

Dickinson State Normal School held its first commencement exercises on Thursday, July 29, 1920. President Samuel T. May gave the commencement address. He admonished the class of 18 men and women to take a greater interest in US 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, noting 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. This 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. It 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. Following the evening dance, the attendees voted to make the “pow-wow” an annual event. Then-president May mounted a horse and led the morning parade through the 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. Following the meal, students and alumni danced until late in the evening accompanied by a five-piece orchestra. 

A Visit from JFK

On 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. This was done 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. She then 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.

The scrapbook was selected as one of 100 items from the DSU archives to be scanned as part of the Digital Horizon project.

Roger F. Huffman

Roger F. Huffman crossed the finish line to take the North Dakota College Athletic Conference championship in the 440-yard dash at a meet in Jamestown in 1949. A native of Killdeer, ND, Huffman was a stellar student-athlete in football, basketball, and track at Dickinson State College. He entered as a freshman in the late 1940s and graduated in 1955.

He returned to DSC in 1963 after a successful eight-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. He held these posts 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.

Signal Butte Slope State Normal School

“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.

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. This 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.