Students who take their seats in classrooms at The University of Southern Mississippi on Thursday, Sept. 20 will be part of a milestone moment in the institution’s storied history.
On that day Southern Miss will mark 100 years since classes first began at what was then known as Mississippi Normal College. Though the college’s legislative founding was established in 1910, regular classes did not commence on the Hattiesburg campus until Sept. 20, 1912.
“September 20, 2012, is a significant historic moment in our history,” said Southern Miss Interim President Aubrey K. Lucas, who served as the University’s full-time president from 1975-1996. “It marks the completion of our first century of teaching and learning and the beginning of our second century. It is truly an honor to serve Southern Miss during this time of transition and celebration.”
The Mississippi Normal College Class of 1912 featured 227 students and 17 faculty members. Dr. Joseph Anderson Cook served as the college’s first president and continued in that capacity until 1928. All classes were held in College Hall, one of the five original buildings still standing today.
In his book “Treasured Past, Golden Future,” Southern Miss historian Chester “Bo” Morgan notes a comment about the student body by history Professor Willard F. Bond, who called the students “the most sober-faced, homesick group of people I have ever seen.”
Mississippi Normal College was conceived and established for the sole purpose of training teachers for the public schools. In compliance with the enabling legislation, the college offered two courses of instruction: a two-year certificate program that qualified the graduate for a teaching license good for five years and a four-year diploma program leading to a lifetime professional license.
Today, Southern Miss Southern Miss has a diverse student body of more than 17,000 students from all 50 states and 70 foreign countries. The University offers undergraduate and graduate degree programs in six degree-granting colleges with more than 180 degree programs. A dual-campus university, Southern Miss serves students on campuses in Hattiesburg and Long Beach, in addition to six teaching and research sites in Mississippi.
Morgan points out that since the first day of classes a century ago, the University has exceeded its commitment to make life better for the people of Mississippi.
“Most people don’t realize that this institution was not created to offer college degrees but certificates and diplomas; that its constituents were not high school graduates but teachers already in the field, many of them with only an eighth-grade education,” said Morgan. “It is hard to believe that this great multi-purpose university, with almost 200 degree programs, many of them at the master’s and doctoral level, is rooted in such humble beginnings.”