1897 to 1921: San Diego State Normal School
San Diego State University began as a normal school due to an increasing population in the area and the need for a local college to train and certify teachers. The beginnings were not without controversies, which included politics, financing, and location. The Normal School of San Diego was authorized on March 13, 1897. The Board of Trustees selected University Heights for the location and construction began in August of 1898. Samuel Black was the first President and remained so until 1910.
Classes were taught at the University Heights location in fall 1899. Because the mission of a “normal” school was to prepare students to become elementary and middle school teachers, the early beginnings of our programs were predominantly female instructors and female students (over 90% were women).
Pioneering Women: Physical Education
The first courses required of all students at the Normal School included Physical Training courses that consisted of Swedish Body Building Exercises, Fancy Steps, and Light Apparatus work.
These courses were likely taught by Florence Derby, who was listed as a Music and Physical Training faculty member in school catalogs beginning in 1901-02, 1902-03, and 1903-04.
Jessie Rand Tanner was the first physical education specialist at the Normal School and was hired in 1904. She taught physical training courses in gymnastics. She went on to become an influential leader and was named the Department Head of Physical Education in 1914. She became the first Director of Physical Education for Women in 1922 and first director of the Women’s Athletic Association in 1923 when charter membership in the national association, Athletic Conference of American College Women, was achieved.
The rowing team was the dominant sport on campus during this time period, although its beginnings were focused on social connections more than competition. Later, (in the 1920’s) Ms. Tanner became frustrated with the elitism of the various rowing clubs so these clubs began to fade and merged with sororities. It was during this time that other physical activities were begun. These included hiking, swimming, basketball, volleyball, golf, and fencing, all of which were coordinated by the Women’s Athletic Association. All female students belonged to this organization and held only intramural competitions.
In 1910, Grace Worthen was hired, followed by Georgia Coy in 1912. The addition of these faculty allowed for an expansion of the curriculum, which included courses in “Systematic Class Training; Sex, Anatomy and Hygiene; Plays and Games; and Emergencies and “Health Indexes” of Children. Charles E Peterson was hired in 1916 but left after one year to serve in WWI. His contributions after the war will be discussed in a later section. Mary Bower was hired in 1917 as a Physical Education assistant.
Pioneering Women: Foods and Nutrition
Similar beginnings occurred in Foods and Nutrition. Mrs. Ada Hughes Coldwell was hired in June, 1907 as the first faculty specialist in “Household Arts”.
Courses offered at that time included Dietetics and Theory and Practice of Cooking. Additional courses in Sanitation and Household Management were developed in 1913-1915, when two additional faculty were hired, Jean Kruger and Reba Fletcher Doyle.
Household Economics was identified as a department in 1914-1915 and Mrs. Coldwell served as the first department chair. One year later, she was named Dean of Women, a very influential campus position, which she held simultaneously with her department chair status.
World War I
In April, 1917 the United States declared war on Germany and entered WWI. Considerable change occurred during this time including steep declines in enrollment. In 1916 there were 421 students enrolled on campus while in 1918 enrollment plummeted to 172 and in 1919 it further decreased to 147. Many faculty also left to serve in the War.
The campus contributed to the war effort in several ways. For example, the military was allowed to use the playing fields for recreational and conditioning activities. The home economics department taught “conservation of food” courses. The Normal School participated in bond drives, Red Cross salvage work, and collected clothes and food for soldiers serving overseas. Clubs were also organized to develop gardens. Curricular changes included special courses in “Food and War, “War Gardening”, and “Red Cross Home Service”. Curriculum and training in “Occupational Therapy” were added to assist returning soldiers.
The Versailles treaty was signed in June, 1919, which signaled the end of WWI. In 1920, enrollment rose to 203 students and by 1922 there were 471 students. The final academic year for San Diego State Normal school was 1920-21.
The second president of the Normal School was Edward Hardy, a very progressive educator who believed that teachers needed broad training to prepare for life. During his tenure, President Hardy increased the number of faculty and books in the library. He was also a strong supporter of student activities and very much interested in sports opportunities. Each graduation, plays were performed and the physical education department provided the dancers.
In 1919-1920 a New Vocational Home Economics program was offered to prepare teachers of Home Economics in elementary and high schools. It was a two-year program that included courses in “Foods and Dietetics”, “Nutrition”, “Institutional Cookery”, and “Science of Foods.”