SFSU Public Affairs Press Release
Published by the Public Affairs Office at San Francisco State University, Diag Center.
SAN FRANCISCO, CA-- Scholars met at San Francisco State University to investigate the institution’s founding date during a talk about the early history of SFSU. In the course of their discussion, participants debated the true age of San Jose State University and attempted to clarify the tangled history of the two sister institutions.
Humanities Professor Arthur Chandler, discussed the research that led to his 1986 book "The Biography of San Francisco State University" and traced the rise and fall of several precursors to the University. In 1855 frontier schoolmaster John Swett pioneered Saturday morning training classes for San Francisco’s schoolteachers. Following Swett’s efforts, the San Francisco Board of Education created the San Francisco Weekly Normal School as a more formal institution for teacher training. In 1862, the State of California transformed the San Francisco Weekly Normal School into the California State Normal School, the first institution of higher learning established by the state.
Nine years later, however, the State Normal School was relocated to, as one observer described, "the cow pastures of San Jose." Most of the students and faculty opposed the move but machinations by railroad and real estate interests, the City of San Jose, and the State Superintendent of Education (who described having the Normal School in San Francisco as "a drop of literature [in] an ocean of Mammon") led to the move in 1871. Since then the school that became San Jose State University has referred to its founding year as 1857 and observed its centennial in 1957 with the slogan "Pioneers for One Hundred Years."
It was this supposition by SJSU that Prof. Chandler disputed. After the state had transformed the city’s Weekly Normal School into the State Normal School in 1862, San Francisco again attempted to launch its own teacher training class in the city’s Girls High School in 1867. This lasted until 1895 when the class was separated from the high school and renamed San Francisco Normal School. This school did not last long, however, and closed its doors only three years later. Finally, after much lobbying of the state legislature by school supporters, the state created the San Francisco State Normal School in 1899. Frederic Lister Burk became its first president and immediately raised entrance standards by requiring all entering students to have a high school diploma--thereby making San Francisco State one of the first normal schools in the nation to do so.
Prof. Chandler argued that while San Jose State may be able to claim the 1862 date as their foundation, SJSU is usurping San Francisco’s history by maintaining that they began in 1857. The Weekly Normal School was created by San Franciscans for San Franciscans and the city’s attempt at reestablishing the school after it was moved to San Jose demonstrated the commitment of the community to the education of its children.
San Francisco State University is a highly diverse community of 27,000 students and 3,500 faculty and staff. It is one of the largest campuses of the nationally recognized 23-campus California State University system. Founded in 1899, the University has begun its 100th year of service to San Francisco, the Bay Area, California and beyond.
This release was co-written by student writer, Edward Wilkinson.
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