Category Archives: NMU history

Historical Spotlight: Evolution and Name Updates of NMU

I worked this summer sorting through old undigitized historical photographic negatives about the University.  I came across this photo and loved the simple story and message:

In the beginning, we weren’t a university- we were Northern State Normal in 1899. In 1927, we became Northern State Teachers College. We then turned to Northern Michigan College of Education in 1942. Second-to-lastly, some of our alumni might have gone to our school and known it by this name: Northern Michigan College, or NMC. In the late 1950s, construction of the Mackinac Bridge was completed.

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In March 1963, NMC became NMU. This blog poster (me) believes that the bridge uniting the two peninsulas of Michigan lead to an increase of people living in the lower peninsula taking interest in and attending the College. Thus, the size of the college got big enough to permit another name change. Which brings us to the name currently held: Northern Michigan University.

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Also! A bit on an interesting recent campus events: This past Friday (September 8th) was the  Sonderegger Symposium Friday, which annually highlights the Upper Peninsula’s history! It is free of charge. This years’ Symposium included scholarly presentations about the UP’s life and culture, where lunch and refreshments were provided throughout the day. We hope all who attended enjoyed! We apologize for the slight delay in the publishing of the blog post, the next one will be on schedule this upcoming Friday September 15th.

(This post was written by Lydia Henning)


Hearing From Students Directly

When trying to get a feel for how students feel about certain local issues or to see what they’re thinking about being a student at Northern, The North Wind has traditionally done “man on the street” interviews. The “Opinion Poll” and “Sound Off” show pictures of students and their answers to a particular question.

I like reading through them when I’m going through old newspapers. I’ve collected a couple that I thought were funny or interesting.

This one from 1990 asks, “What do you think the sports dome should be named?” Some of the answers are “The Yooper Dome” and “The Queen City Coliseum.” Predictably some people use the opportunity to be funny. Someone suggested “Gordon” as the name for the Dome.

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In the 90s, Northern administrators considered whether winter break should be three or four weeks long. Accompanying an article in the newspaper, students were asked what they thought about the debate.

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There are plenty of questions that aren’t based on Northern but on the lives of these students. In 1993, The North Wind asked, “Do you have any plans to volunteer this holiday season?”

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Written by Lucy Hough

Snow culture at NMU

One of the first things prospective students ask about upon visiting or searching NMU is, how do you handle the winter? And even though it’s certainly intimidating, winter weather becomes part of the culture here at NMU. In my opinion, it’s one of the most unifying aspects of Northern and integral to what makes Northern so great.

Inevitably, this love and presence of winter shows up in Northern’s student newspapers over time.

There are articles in which students wonder what the weather will be like, like this one in 1990 that cites the Old Farmer’s Almanac and local meteorologists.


But, keeping in mind how much snow makes life what it is here, I love looking at all of the pictures of winter weather in the past. Here are some of those pictures:

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With winter weather also comes winter sports. This article ran in 1968 and shows how many skiing opportunities exist in the Upper Peninsula. Certainly, some of it’s outdated, but I think this illustrates the importance and range of opportunities in the U.P. To read the whole article and see the specific places of note, click on the photo.


Though we’re getting less snow than we have in years past, it hasn’t stopped today’s student newspaper from commenting on the weather, like about the snow day policy or crosswalk safety over icy roads. Both of these articles ran in last week’s North Wind.

Written by Lucy Hough

Free U at NMU

freeuOne of the rewarding aspects of a college education, especially from four-year universities like Northern, is the opportunity to learn outside of the classroom. At Northern, students have the opportunity to participate in Skillbuilders! put on by the Center for Student Enrichment and Student Leader Fellowship Program. There’s also the Northern Center for Lifelong Learning which offers classes on topics like woodworking and local history. And, particularly with the NCLL, these classes are available not just to students but to the community as a whole so that everyone is able to share their knowledge and learn together.

These programs aren’t a new idea. A collection of classes and workshops, Free University started in the fall of 1976 with funds from the Student Activity Fee. When it began, there were seven classes and 85 people participated. By the early 80s, Free U included 50 classes and over 1,000 participants per semester.

The program was unique because it was run entirely by students. Similar programs at other schools typically had a paid staff, but Northern’s Free U was organized by students but included professors and Marquette residents to run the classes.

Workshop and class topics during Free U’s tenure ranged from “Investing for Pleasure and Gain” to “Appalachian Clog Dancing.”

In the early 80s, NMU students paid $1 to participate and non-students paid $3. In the classes, students made up 52 percent of the classes, and Marquette residents the rest.

Interest in Free U waned in the late 80s and the program was terminated. A similar program was revived in the fall of 1998, which focused on wellness programs like bass fishing and massage therapy. These classes were under the purview of the Student Activities and Leadership Programs, similar today. But Discovery Daze is also similar to the group fitness classes that are currently held at the PEIF. All of the programs today – fitness classes at the PEIF, NCLL and Skillbuilders! – are all organized by a full-time staff, losing what made Free U so unique.

Written by Lucy Hough

Students Organize For Increased Wages

student workersEvery now and then, students come together on something that they feel needs to be changed on campus. The fall of 1968 saw the organization of students over the issue of student worker pay rates. What seems like a penance now was the cause for contention: students felt that the hourly rate of $1.25 was too low.

Over 300 students organized into the Student Workers Organization which threatened to protest if its “demands” were not met. Initially, those demands weren’t clear. Even the group’s chosen spokesperson admitted that they needed more time to figure out what those demands were.

But that’s not to say that their ideas were far-fetched. The newspaper The Northern News found that Northern’s student wage rates were significantly lower than other schools and, what’s more, lacked policy and procedure for increase over time or for more skilled labor.

President Jamrich was empathetic to their requests. He went so far as to say that he “would never take punitive action against a group of students who are trying to bring attention to a problem area like this in the University,” the Northern News said. Jamrich encouraged the group to go through the appropriate university avenues to make their voices heard – rather than threatening protests or other dramatic responses.

As a result, the group met with the school’s vice president for business and finance, Leo Van Tassel. The initial frustration was brought to the administration’s attention in the beginning of November 1968, and by Dec. 6, not only had the group and Tassel come to an agreement but the Board of Control had also approved the terms to take effect immediately and retroactively since Nov. 3.

The new graduated system made $1.45 the minimum wage for students and allowed for a $.10 increase every 150 hours of work. Additionally, student supervisors were allowed higher wages.

Another problem that students brought to the attention of administration was also reconsidered. That was the across-the-board policy that anyone with beards, mustaches or long hair would not even be considered for a job – regardless of the job description. In the policy that the Board of Control approved, the supervisor could make decisions about appearance.

This is a really positive experience about how students and administration worked together to affect change. It hasn’t always been so positive in the past, but it’s refreshing to see how students came together and were reasonable but persistent about their requests.

Written by Lucy Hough

Residence Hall Rumors: Hatchet Man


When looking at Northern’s past, some things that can get lost are the little nuances, inside jokes or funny oddities that make students’ experiences at Northern unique and special. Every now and then, those things show up in the student newspaper.

A funny one that I came across is a rumor that spread in the dorms in the late 1960s: The Hatchet Man. The Hatchet Man was a man in women’s clothing that had allegedly killed 40 women in the Midwest area.

In fact, even Michigan State University’s student newspaper, The State News, reported that women in the dorms didn’t feel that the residence halls were safe enough to protect them from the supposed murderer. Maybe that’s because two men at MSU impersonated the Hatchet Man to scare women by, indeed, dressing as women and wielding a hatchet.

At Northern, this fear demonstrated itself in women locking their doors at night and requiring “elaborate password and counter-password systems” for visitors at the door. Apparently many women were awakened throughout the night from anonymous phone calls, and some received threatening notes from “Hatch.”

A simple Google search suggests that maybe this myth was the combination of a couple of ominous fictions. In Spring Valley, Illinois, there was a mausoleum that was supposedly guarded by the ghost of a “hatchet man.” Or etymologically speaking, it could relate to 1880s California slang for a hired Chinese assassin.

At its core, however, this fear is seemingly from nothing. Even the Northern News article admits, “The fact that no one has been mutilated, much less hatcheted to death, has not diminished the chaos in the women’s residence halls.”

Written by Lucy Hough

Northern’s newspapers

Over Northern’s winter break, my plan is to work on creating a Northern history fact sheet, for a one-stop-shop of crucial Northern information, such as list of presidents and their dates, list of buildings and their dates, and even, the changing names of the university.

Northern went through a number of radical changes which reflect how the purpose of the university changed, from a teachers college to the university it is today.

1899 – 1927, Northern State Normal
1927 – 1942, Northern State Teachers College
1942 – 1955, Northern Michigan College of Education
1955 – 1963, Northern Michigan College
1963 – present, Northern Michigan University

In my history posts on this blog, I often reference the student newspapers, but the name of the student newspaper has changed over the years, due primarily to the changing name of the university. That is, until 1972, when the newspaper changed to become independent.

I wanted to show how Northern’s newspaper has changed over the years, from its name to even how it looks.

Northern newspapers:

newspaper11919 – 1927, Northern Normal NewsThis was the first student newspaper on campus. Served Northern State Normal.

northern college news

1927 – 1955, Northern College News – Published bi-weekly, except during August and September. Had a large off-campus circulation and therefore served to advertise the college. Was the student newspaper during Northern State Teachers College and Northern Michigan College of Education.


1955 – 1972, The Northern News – Student newspaper while Northern was Northern Michigan College and Northern Michigan University. There is some suggestion that Jamrich had a large editorial hand in the newspaper, which led to the creation of an independent student newspaper.


1972 – present, The North Wind – Northern’s independent newspaper, which publishes every Thursday, with a 5,000 paper circulation. This newspaper is funded partially by advertising and partially by the Student Activity Fee, which full-time students are required to pay, which gives money each year to The North Wind; Radio X, the student radio station; ASNMU, the student government; and the Student Finance Committee, the organization which funds events on campus.

Written by Lucy Hough