Historic Memphis West Tennessee State Normal College

... and then there was West Tennessee State Teacher's College,
Memphis State College, Memphis State University,  and University of Memphis



Built on land once used as a cotton plantation by a Civil War veteran, the 80-acre West Tennessee State Normal School opened to great fanfare on September 10, 1912.  The normal school, which would eventually become the University of Memphis, started with just 200 students and 17 faculty members. The only cost for students during the school’s early days was a $2 registration fee.   Young men and women of good character were offered two years of high school education and two years of college.  Dr. Seymour A. Mynders served as the first president.  The earliest pupils chose  blue and gray as the school’s colors.  The story goes that the idea was to reunite Blue and Gray, two colors that had been separated during the Civil War. 



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Early students and Faculty

1913 Class

1914 Receipt

President's House 1917


West Tennessee State Normal School was born during a rare moment of educational reform and it's first mission was to train teachers for West Tennessee elementary and high schools.  Memphis obtained the school after strong competition with other regional cities of the state. Although the state-funded institution's potential for Memphis was obvious, its origins were quite humble: three red brick buildings on an eighty-acre campus just outside the city. The initial enrollment of 200 eventually reached three hundred students, many of whom required a high school diploma before obtaining their  teacher's certificate.

The school officially opened in 1912 at a cost of $450,000.  The first buildings on the 81-acre campus, nestled among grand old oak trees and open fields, were the Administration/Academic Building and Mynders Hall.  The Administration/Academic Building had more than 50 rooms dedicated to classrooms, offices, laboratories and an auditorium. Mynders Hall, which was the girls’ dormitory, had 110 bedrooms, a parlor, kitchen, dining room, infirmary and quarters for the matron. Male students lived off campus in Prescott Flats, a two-story apartment building near the school; male athletes were housed in rooms set aside in the Administration Building.   Prescott Flats burned to the ground in 1925.


       Administration Building 1912


Normal Station Marker Normal Station Under Construction 1913 Memorial 1912 Diploma

1913 Baseball Team     

1913 Football Team

1919 Coaches

       1920 Football Team


The law establishing the school provided that it would be open to white residents of Tennessee who were a minimum of 16 years of age and had completed at least the elementary school course prescribed for the public schools of the state. Applicants had to present a certificate of good moral character from a responsible person, and furnish evidence of being strong physically and free from chronic defects that would prevent satisfactory work as a student.

The school was tuition-free to all Tennessee students. The only monies collected were a $2 registration fee for each term and $1 for summer terms. Non-Tennessee residents were charged a tuition of $12 per term and the regular $2 registration fee.


1920 Orchestra             

1916 DeSoto Staff

1923 Campus

1920 Basketball Team


Early faculty and administrators, known as the "Schoolmen," took on the aspect of "Founding Fathers." Buildings bore their names, legends grew up about them, and former students looked back on their teaching careers with deep appreciation. The thirty or forty faculty members were dedicated to good teaching, service, and loyalty to the school. Few placed academic specialization before guiding students, who ate with faculty at the common dining hall, saw them gathered at regular chapel programs, and participated with them in extracurricular activities. Early traditions such as the school colors, the tiger mascot, and an atmosphere of "democratic" informality have endured.


First Faculty - 1912



In its first official publication, the purposes of the school were established in the following statement:  "...for the education and professional training of the teachers for the public schools of the state".  And three general principles were established  for the basic preparation of teachers for service in Tennessee schools:  Principle 1.  Thorough scholarship.  Principle 2.  The study of education as a science.  Principle 3.  Observation and teaching by students under expert supervision.  It's clear that the founders had in mind no other function for the State Normal School other than the training of teachers.  In fact, no one was admitted to the early classes who didn't sign a pledge to teach in the public or private schools of Tennessee within the next six years after leaving the Normal School.


1924 Baseball Team

1923 Dining Rm

1924 Basketball

1922 Season Ticket

1924 Home Ec



1914-15 Football Team

1914 Biology Lab

1914 Physics Lecture Hall

"Columns" Staff


1912  Summer Class

Campus 1920

President's House

1920 football-Russwood Park


<< In 1914, the first student publication "The Columns" is organized and will  continues publication through 1930.

During the next decade, The Desoto yearbook was created, the first library was opened in the Administration Building, the first dining hall was built and the first men's dorm was built.  Today that dorm, Scates Hall, houses the College of Arts and Sciences and the Dean's offices. >

Scates Hall

Columns - 1918

The first president and his successor ...

Seymour A. Mynders helped create the West Tennessee State Normal School. The Knoxville native graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1880 and dedicated his life to education.  He and his successor, John Willard Brister, traveled over the state from county to county -  by wagon and train - in pursuit of a school to better educate teachers.  They met with success in 1909 when the Tennessee General Assembly passed the Bill proposing a Normal School for each of the state’s three grand divisions.  Mynders negotiated the first construction contracts for the Normal School, recruited the faculty and developed the curriculum.  Sadly, the job had taken its toll and Mynders died in 1913 of a heart ailment that many attributed to the grueling work he did to launch the school. 

Seymour A. Mynders


John Willard Brister is inseparably associated with the history of education development in the state of Tennessee.  He had served as state superintendent of public instruction, was the state inspector of high schools, and did much to promote standards and enhance the efficiency in the methods of instruction.  Brister was a native of Virginia and served as President of the West Tennessee State Normal School from 1913 to 1918.  He became President again in 1924, serving until 1939.

John Willard Brister

The "Tiger" nickname ...

When the State Normal School  first formed a football team in the fall of 1912, a nickname for the team hadn't been selected.  Early references were to "the Blue and Gray Warriors".  They were later referred to as "the Teachers" or "the Tutors".  During an after-game parade in 1914 several students shouted, "We fight like Tigers!" The nickname was born. Afterwards, the nickname "Tigers" was frequently used in campus publications, but the Memphis press continued to use "the Blue and Gray" when referring to the school.  In 1922, under Coach Lester Barnard, the school's football team adopted a motto – "Every Man a Tiger" .  But it wasn't until 1939 that "Tiger" was adopted as the official nickname for the school.



The First Yearbook - the DeSoto - 1916

Click on the cover to see the entire first yearbook   = >

The DeSoto name for the yearbook is one thing that has not changed.  It has been the name for the yearbook since the first one in 1916 - except for two years (1918-1919), when it was named "Columns".  It reverted back to DeSoto and has been called DeSoto ever since.



Mynders Hall - one of the three original buildings ...

Constructed in 1912, Mynders Hall is a residence hall for female students.  In the early years, it also housed an infirmary and, until 1923, included a dining area.   Because of the unique architectural design of Mynders Hall, the building isn't air conditioned.   The location is in the center of  the campus making all other buildings very accessible.  In the early days female students living on campus were required to sign out of the dorm and had to explain to the “house mother” where they were going and exactly what time they would return. They couldn’t travel to town alone and weren’t allowed in automobiles on campus. But they did have their wild side, and occasionally climbed the water tower. 

During WWII Mynders Hall served as a dormitory for U.S. soldiers, and is the one building on campus that has a history of ghostly encounters.  The spirit is generally characterized as friendly and  provides a protective watch over the women who reside at Mynders.   The spirit is linked to Elizabeth Mynders, the daughter of the first President, who died shortly after her 21st birthday. 


Mynders Hall today

Mynders Hall - 1913

Elizabeth Mynders




Bulletins of the West Tennessee State Normal School ...

The three Bulletins below, will be of interest to the historian.  The first one is the 1912 Opening Bulletin.  The second is essentially a tour of the campus with photos.  The 1923 bulletin lists all courses and descriptions,  including the teacher and the text that is used for the course.  To see all pages of three bulletins, click on any cover below.


1912 The Opening Bulletin

1912 Tour of the Campus

1923 Class Descriptions




West Tennessee State Teachers College  1925


By 1925, the school changed its name to West Tennessee State Teachers College.  It dropped its high school classes and accepted only high school graduates and began offering four year bachelor's degrees.  As enrollment reached one thousand, the college set the tone for educational life throughout the mid-south area, producing excellent teachers and administrators for the rapidly expanding public school systems.  Several departments were added to the campus, including physical education, biology, chemistry, arts, penmanship, and geology. The Brister Library opened in 1931 - named after president John W. Brister.  In 1931 the students created a new campus newspaper, "The Tiger Rag" which will continue until 1972.  And in 1935 the school's agriculture department was discontinued.  As the new name of the school  implies, the emphasis at the college continues to be teacher-training.


1937 Commencement


        1928 Aerial View

1925 Administration


1925 4-H Club


1925 Campus

<   Campus Beauties - 1926    >

1925 Dining Room



1929 DeSoto

1925 Cheerleaders

1926 Rooms

1940 Aerial View

1926 Glee Club

First Yearbook ... First Bulletin ... First Commencement ...

The three covers below, will be of interest to the historian.  The first one is the 1926 DeSoto Yearbook - the first one under the name West Tennessee State Teachers College.  The second is the first Bulletin issued for the 1925-26 Fall Quarter.  The third one is for the 14th Commencement - the first from the West Tennessee State Teacher's College.  To see all pages of  any of the three publications, click on any cover below.


First Yearbook - 1926

First Bulletin - 1925-26

First Commencement




      Memphis State College  1941


Enrollment had climbed to about 1,000 students by 1941, and during the same year the college changed names again becoming Memphis State College.  In 1946, J. Millard "Jack" Smith became president - the first alumnus to hold the position. In 1950 graduate studies were initiated, and in 1954 the school switched from a quarter to a semester system.


Memphis State College Admin Building 1950s MSC Student Center 1951

Basketball 1952 Beauty 1947


Grades 1953 Festival 1954

Miss America '48



1941 1953 Tiger Rag 1952

1955-Wink Martindale


Training School    

MSC Collector's Plate MSC Freshman's Beanie 1951 1950



The First Yearbook under the Memphis State College name - 1941

The DeSoto name was retained for Memphis State College

Click on the cover to see the entire yearbook   = >




Memphis State University  1957


By 1957, enrollment had doubled to about 2,000 students, when a proposal to make the school a branch of the University of Tennessee was shot down. Instead, then-governor Frank Clement endorsed a bill to grant the college “university” status. It was renamed once again, becoming Memphis State University (MSU). The institution admitted its first black students in 1959. Doctoral programs were offered beginning in 1966.

President Cecil C. Humphreys oversaw an expansion across the  campus, during the 1960s and ’70s, including the building of the University Center and a 12-story library. MSU’s entire curriculum was accredited in 1983 — the first public university in Tennessee to gain that distinction.

In 1972, the new Student Newspaper "Daily Helmsman" will debut.


Memphis State University Logo Sweat Shirt Semester Costs

Marker for "The Eight" 1959 - The MSU Eight 1959 - MSU Eight "Hair" - 1970

Aerial View of Campus      Jersey 1973 Logo 1966 Matchbook University Status

1968 Fold out           1968 Foldout 1960 Pass MSU Gnome 1970 Stickets Air Force ROTC patch

1975-76 1974 1980 Fan 1967 Basketball

1968 Residence Brochure


1966 Football Pass

    1979 MSU Football 1980 Football Schedule

The First Yearbook under the Memphis State University name - 1958

The DeSoto name was retained for Memphis State University

Click on the cover to see the entire yearbook   = >




University of Memphis   1994


The last name change came in 1994: the University of Memphis. The Ned R. McWherter Library opened the same year. Two distinguished brands lent their names to major educational centers at the beginning of the twenty-first century: the Kemmons Wilson School of Hospitality and the FedEx Institute of Technology.

Today, the university now stretches over 1,600 acres and has 237 buildings on eight sites and is one of six universities in the Tennessee system. It has an annual budget of $439 million and a local economic impact estimated at $1.43 billion. Total enrollment for the Fall 2011 semester was 22,725. 

The University of Memphis is one of Tennessee's three comprehensive doctoral-extensive institutions of higher learning and is the flagship of the Tennessee system.  It awards more than 3,000 degrees annually, has 24 Chairs of Excellence (more than any other Tennessee University), and five state-approved Centers of Excellence.



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The First Yearbook under the University of Memphis name - 1995

The DeSoto name was retained for University of Memphis

Click on the cover to see the entire yearbook   = >





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