SJSU History


San Jose State University is the oldest public institution of higher education in the western states. San Jose State began as Minns' Evening Normal School in San Francisco in 1857. It provided continuing education for grade school teachers in the city. The school became a state school - the California State Normal School, created by the California legislature in 1862 (legislation passed May 2).  In the late 1860's, the school wanted to move to a different location. As Principal William Thomas Lucky noted in a December 1869 report, a new building was needed and "the best interests of the school and the pupils attending will be promoted by locating where there is more quiet and fewer temptations."  Several cities attempted to get the School and offered a variety of enticements. San Jose invited the students and teachers (about 190 people) to San Jose in December 1869 to look at possible locations for the school. They provided train passes to the teachers and students. The state legislature selected San Jose as the new home for the California State Normal School. The cornerstone of the new school building at the Washington Square site donated by the City of San Jose was laid on October 20, 1870. That building was completed in 1871 and the students and faculty moved from San Francisco to San Jose.  This wooden building was destroyed in a fire in 1880 and a replacement building of brick was built at the site and completed in 1881. It was used until deemed unsafe following the 1906 earthquake. Some of the rubble of the 1881 building is included in the foundation of the replacement building - Tower Hall.

For more information about the events related to the laying of the cornerstone in 1870 and to view historic documents and photos, as well as other information about SJSU and its fascinating history, please see the links below.

1857 versus Today: Things have indeed changed. In 1857, the Normal School's purpose was to train teachers. Today, training of K-12 teachers remains a significant part of the University's activities, but, in addition, San Jose State is a university offering over 130 undergraduate and graduate degree programs. In 1870, the population of the City of San Jose was about 9,000 people. Today, the City has a population exceeding 900,000 and San Jose State University itself has about 34,000 students.

Additional Information :

Historical Sketch of the State Normal School at San Jose, California (1889) - from Google books



This page last revised on March 20, 2023.                                                            Contact Annette Nellen

Any views and opinions expressed on this page are strictly those of Professor Annette Nellen. The contents of this page have not been reviewed or approved by San Jose State University.

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Last Modified: Mar 20, 2023