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UMD History 1895 – 1955

On April 2, 1895, Minnesota Governor David. M. Clough signed legislation approving the creation of the State Normal School of Duluth. "The opening of Duluth Normal School was initially delayed by a lack of money and a severe fire that destroyed the school's first building while it was nearing completion. When the first students finally registered in September 1902, they found an elegant one-building campus with a spectacular view of Lake Superior.

Students of the era ranged from rural school teachers without high-school degrees to professional educators who had attended college. Seven women received the first diplomas granted by the Duluth Normal School in June 1903.

As the neighborhood grew up around the Normal School, students had the opportunity to practice their skills in a model school. Children came to school over unpaved streets in horse-drawn buses or by horseback. Occasionally a stray cow would be attracted to the new lawn, only to be rounded up and impounded behind Old Main.

With the addition of dormitories Torrance and Washburn Hall in 1906 and 1910, the Normal School became a residential college. Students kept busy with teas, picnics and theater productions. They often entertained in the dormitories, hosting Halloween parties and dressing up in costume for the May festival.
The Normal School became the Duluth State Teacher's College in 1921 and offered its first Bachelor of Education degree in 1923.

In 1927, the Laboratory School, which served as a hands-on working school for teachers, and a new heating plant were dedicated. That same year, the first bachelor’s degrees were awarded at the Duluth State Teachers College.

In 1947, an influential argument was presented to the legislature; hundreds of returning war veterans needed an affordable college experience in northern Minnesota. Governor Luther Youngdahl signed the bill on July 1, 1947, agreeing that the Duluth State Teachers College would become the “Duluth Branch” of the University of Minnesota, thus officially naming it the University of Minnesota Duluth.

Many years later, the operations of UMD’s medical school and the Natural Resources Research Institute (NRRI) were housed in the Laboratory School building. This building is still in use by the university as a research center and is now called the Research Lab Building.

UMD Comes to the Upper Campus

According to Neil Storch’s and Ken Moran’s book, UMD Comes of Age: The First 100 Years, in 1947 the city of Duluth planning commission reserved a vacant 160-acre diamond shaped property west of Woodland Avenue near the Chester Park school as a possible site for the proposed University of Minnesota branch. A former hayfield for the Zenith Dairy, this property became known as the “Nortondale Tract.” The land was purchased for UMD by Regent Richard L. Griggs and other prominent Duluthians in the late 1940s.

In 1951, northeastern Minnesota civic leaders viewed a scale model of the new UMD campus plan at Duluth’s Kitchi Gammi Club. This integrated plan, formed under the leadership of Provost John E. King, provided the campus with the blueprint it followed for the next two decades.

The science building, completed in 1949, was the only building on the upper campus until 1953 when the Health and Physical Education Building (later named Romano Gym) was opened. The library and student center initiative began in 1953 when the northern delegation to the state legislature fought for expanded facilities. Minnesota lawmakers, impressed by the enthusiasm of the northern delegation and its commitment to UMD, voted to appropriate $1.1 million.

In 1954, ground-breaking ceremonies were held for the UMD Library and the Kirby Student Center, both opening two years later. The adjoining buildings were designed to allow students and faculty to stay indoors during the long winter months through a connected series of covered walkways.

UMD’s Living Room: Kirby Student Center

“It’s your living room,” proclaimed a copy from a 1956 student brochure for the newly opened Kirby Student Center. Duluth businessman and UMD supporter Steve Kirby were instrumental in establishing the student center which was named in his honor. In the 1950s, Kirby’s Fine Arts Lounge was “the place to go if you are in the mood to listen to classical music or jazz, look at an art exhibit or listen to a poetry reading,” and the game room was the place for ping pong, billiards or chess.
The center was first remodeled in 1964 and then again from 1965-67 allowing an expanded food service, the Bull Pub, the Rafters and a Campus Club for faculty. In 1971, the administration moved its offices out of the Kirby Student Center, creating more room for student activities. From 1975 to 1976, an Information Desk and offices were added. In 1981, the cafeteria was remodeled, Kirby Terrace was updated, and a garden room on the north ballroom terrace was completed. Since then, bookstores, gift shops, banking facilities, and social and recreational areas continue to serve students and faculty.

In 2004, Kirby completed another major renovation project. The inclusion of the Multicultural Center brought diverse groups under one roof, and was a major step for social justice at UMD. At the same time, the bookstore was enlarged, a food court model was incorporated, the DTA bus hub and coffee shop were added.

Considered the heart of the campus, the majority of students and staff still traverse through the Kirby Center every day.

The Three Homes of the UMD Library

UMD’s first library was originally housed in the 1902 Old Main building on the lower campus until a new library was built on the upper campus in 1954-55. With increasing enrollment, additions were completed in 1964-65 and in 1966-67, providing room for 800 readers and shelving for 200,000 volumes.

In 2000, a new UMD library was completed. It features a warm red brick exterior with stone trim, great expanses of windows in the reading rooms for natural light, and a two-story rotunda with panoramic views. The UMD Library was designed to be the most technologically-advanced library in Minnesota, modeled after the 1994 Grainger Engineering Library at the University of Illinois, which has been acknowledged as one of the most advanced high-tech libraries in the nation.

The 167,000 square-foot library provides space for nearly 1,400 users and offers thirty group-study areas with network connections and online computer connections. The study areas support lap-top or desktop computers with network access, including study tables, individual and group study rooms and study carrels. Students can also connect to the library from home via computer 24 hours a day.

Living on Campus: Student Residences

The upper campus design of the 1950s included student housing on campus, making UMD a residential campus. UMD’s first residences for students were built directly above the Kirby Student Center and the UMD Library on a hillside facing Lake Superior. Vermilion Hall, named after a northern Minnesota lake, was the first dormitory on the upper campus completed in 1956. Burntside Hall, also named after a northern Minnesota lake, was completed in 1959 as part of the building boom on the upper campus. The buildings designed in a single-story were connected cottage style to encourage congenial student interaction. They were intended to house women students on one side and male students on the other end.

In 2007, the University offers housing to more than 3000 students in traditional residence halls, suites, or apartments.

Strong Local Support for Medical School Concept

The impetus for a School of Medicine in Duluth began in 1966 when Samuel H. Boyer, a Duluth cardiologist, and then Assistant Provost Robert L. Heller discussed the need for a medical school through a chance meeting on a plane to Minneapolis from Duluth.

The idea for a medical school was developed through the efforts of a small group of local physicians, UMD administrators, and faculty. Dr. Boyer assembled a group of leaders from the Duluth business and medical community to form the Northern Minnesota Council on Medical Education to lobby for the school and raise funds. Over a half-million dollars in local contributions were raised in support of the venture.

Eventually, the two-year Duluth medical school was approved in the face of competing proposals from St. Paul and Rochester. In 1969, the Minnesota Legislature appropriated $340,000 for planning. In 1972 UMD’s School of Medicine opened with twenty-four students taking classes in a building on the “lower campus” in the former Laboratory School building. Dr. Robert Carter was the first dean. That first year every medical student received a key to the school building, a tradition that continues today.

Two unique aspects of the medical school’s curriculum have been the emphasis on the behavioral sciences and early exposure to patient care. A cornerstone of the school’s training is the preceptorship program where a student lives with and shadows a rural family doctor several times a year. In 1990, the School received the prestigious National Rural Health Association’s Outstanding Rural Health Program Award as a result of this program.

The School of Medicine moved to new facilities on the upper campus in 1979 near the science department area. The new building provided much needed expanded research facilities, which were designed with faculty input. In 1997, the School of Medicine building was expanded with a four-level addition which incorporated more student teaching space, a learning resource center and research facilities.

The Organization of UMD

In 1974, campus academic units were reorganized. Six autonomous collegiate units, each headed by a dean reporting to the vice provost for academic administration, were established: College of Education; College of Letters and Science; School of Business and Economics; School of Fine Arts; School of Medicine, Duluth; and School of Social Development. The Natural Resources Research Institute (NRRI) was established and made its first home in the Lab School on the lower campus.

In 1984, significant changes were made. The College of Letters and Sciences was restructured into the College of Liberal Arts and the College of Science and Engineering, and the School of Social Development was restructured within the College of Education and Human Service Professions.

Center of American Indian and Minority Health

In 1987, the Center of American Indian and Minority Health was established to coordinate the various Indian programs administered throughout the school. Gerald Hill, M.D., former president of the Association of American Indian Physicians, became the Center’s director in 1990. The School has always held a strong commitment to the recruitment and training of American Indian students as part of its mission to encourage and educate practitioners of rural medicine.

Darland Administration Building

Dr. Raymond W. Darland served as the provost of the University of Minnesota Duluth from 1953 to 1976. Known for his gregarious personality, Darland was UMD personified to the Duluth community. His productive tenure was highlighted by the pursuit of ambitious building goals for campus expansion. During his twenty-three years as provost, enrollment increased to 6,000, several endowments were established, and over twenty-seven buildings were built including a new administration building in 1970-71. This building was renamed in his honor in 1982 and now houses UMD’s main administrative offices, including the Office of the Chancellor.

Brought to You Live: Weber Music Hall

According to world-famous architect Cesar Pelli, his Weber Music Hall is a “jewel” on the UMD campus, offering the intimacy of a small concert hall under a dome and skylights. The lobby grand staircase boasts a custom light fixture, concept-designed by Pelli.

Weber Music Hall is designed and “tuned” to be acoustically excellent. It provides learning, rehearsal, and performance space for UMD students as well as performances by internationally recognized artists for the entire Duluth community.

The hall, which opened in 2002, was named for alumni Mary Ann and Ron Weber who provided generous gifts toward the design and completion of the building. Weber Music Hall completes the “arts triangle” in the UMD Ordean Court along with the Tweed Museum of Art and the Marshall Performing Arts Center.

Athlete Central: Sports and Health Center Addition

UMD’s facility, the largest and most comprehensive athletic and recreational sports center in Northern Minnesota, opened in fall 2006, funded partially by student fees. A two-story fitness center features all types of cardio machines, a climbing wall, group exercise rooms, and a recreational gymnasium.

The UMD Department of Athletics uses part of the addition for team training. It joins an existing complex, which includes Romano Gymnasium, an Olympic-size ice rink, a swimming pool, sports medicine facilities, classrooms, Ward Wells Field House, and Malosky/Griggs Stadium.

Financial Innovation: Labovitz School of Business and Economics

The Labovitz School of Business and Economics was the first LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified structure on the UMD campus, providing another way for UMD to express its commitment to sustainability. It offers the latest in advanced technology including computer labs, facilities for distance learning and conferencing, and multipurpose classrooms. The Financial Markets Lab, located just inside the front entrance, provides students the opportunity to participate in the industry.

The school is named for the Labovitz family: Duluth native, Joel Labovitz, a 1949 graduate of UMD; his wife, Sharon; and their three children. The family provided part of the funding for the building’s construction. It opened in September 2008.

Improving Structures: James I. Swenson Civil Engineering Building

This LEED certified building was designed to showcase the Bachelor of Science degree program in Civil Engineering, which began admitting freshman students in fall 2008. It contains classrooms, administrative offices, and six sophisticated, specialized teaching and research laboratories.

The Swenson Family Foundation made a generous gift toward the construction of the building, which was completed in 2010.

Bagley Classroom

The Bagley Classroom, which opened in 2010, is in the Bagley Nature Area, 50 acres on the UMD campus containing a variety of forests, a pond, a trout stream, and walking and skiing trails. The classroom, designed by Duluth architect, David Salmela, is a multi-purpose space for outdoor classes. The Bagley Classroom is a zero energy and near-zero waste building and received LEED status. It features a vegetative roof, passive solar and photovoltaic technology, and waste composting.