Founded in 1874 as a teacher-training school, Worcester State University has grown to become a traditional liberal arts and sciences university with programs spanning the biomedical sciences, business, humanities, behavioral sciences, the health professions, and, of course, education. We are woven in the fabric of the Worcester community through myriad partnerships, and have evolved to become a resource for lifelong learning throughout Worcester County—and beyond. The links below let you follow the important milestones that brought Worcester State to where we are today.
Worcester State University’s Early Years
Worcester State University was founded as the Worcester Normal School in 1874 as the fifth state-funded normal school in Massachusetts. We were among the dozens of teacher-training schools established during the 19th century. Our first campus was on St. Ann’s Hill in Worcester.
Worcester Normal School was established during an era of growing support for social reform. Our leaders and students embraced a vision of building a better world through the uplifting power of public education. Initially, students enrolled in two- and three-year programs of study.
Worcester Normal School was distinguished by a progressive curriculum, established under the leadership of our first principal, E. Harlow Russell (1874-1909), and first apprentice supervisor, Rebecca Jones (1874-1912). Russell and Jones, proponents of the Child Study Movement, implemented the innovative practice of placing apprentice teachers in public school classrooms.
Worcester’s need for skilled teachers rose dramatically during the Industrial Revolution. The city’s population more than tripled between 1866 and 1894—from 30,000 to 100,000—and the school population grew from 6,750 to 17,073 pupils. Worcester Normal School graduates were prepared to teach in the city of Worcester’s crowded and ethnically, culturally and linguistically diverse classrooms.
In 1921, we awarded our first Bachelor of Science in Education under the leadership of our third and last principal, Dr. William B. Aspinwall (1912-1940).
Becoming Worcester State Teachers College
In 1932, we became Worcester State Teachers College and moved to our present location, 486 Chandler Street, on the site of Willow Farm, which was owned by Worcester inventor and philanthropist George I. Rockwood. Our sole building, the Helen J. Shaughnessy Administration Building, housed all the classrooms, labs, faculty and administration offices, gymnasium, library and assembly hall.
In 1942, George Rockwood donated an additional 35 acres for campus expansion.
Our fifth president, Dr. Eugene A. Sullivan (1947-1970), presided over a period of unprecedented growth. From 1947 to 1970, enrollment grew from 150 Education students to nearly 2,800 students pursuing a variety of degrees. In 1952, we introduced our first graduate degree, a Master of Science in Education.
Campus expansion included construction of the former Gymnasium and Classroom Building in 1958, the Science Building in 1965 (rechristened the Sullivan Academic Building in 1980), and the Learning Resource Center in 1970. Dr. Sullivan also laid the groundwork for construction of Chandler Village, the first student residence hall on campus.
Transition to a Liberal Arts and Sciences College
By 1963, we had evolved into a liberal arts and sciences college, The Massachusetts Board of Education acknowledged this in 1963 when it voted to drop the word “teachers” and change our name to Worcester State College.
In 1974, our curriculum was expanded to include a B.S. in Business Administration and a B.S. in Nursing, the first Bachelor of Science program for registered nurses in New England and the first in the United States to be accredited by the National League of Nurses. We also established The Graduate School.
In 1978, during the presidency of Dr. Joseph J. Orze (1975-1982), the Student Center opened. This is the hub of commuter and resident student activities. It also houses several dining areas, the bookstore, meeting rooms, an auditorium, a banquet room and many student services offices.
During the 1980s, we expanded our programs to include the area’s first Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology and the first bachelor’s degree in Occupational Therapy in the state college system. In 1990, Dowden Hall opened.
During the presidency of Dr. Kalyan K. Ghosh (1992-2002), we invested in our technology to facilitate computer-based learning and create a campus-wide network. Campus expansion continued with the construction of a 110,000 square-foot science building, which opened in 2000 as the Ghosh Science and Technology Center. It added instructional laboratory facilities for 12 academic programs and a 196-seat multimedia lecture hall to campus.
Dr. Ghosh also launched the Worcester State Foundation as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization in 1994 to attract philanthropic support for our academic initiatives, student scholarships and capital improvement projects.
Under the leadership of Dr. Janelle C. Ashley (2002-2011), our first female president, the campus undertook major renovation and building projects: construction of Wasylean Hall, a 348-bed residence hall that opened its doors in 2004, renovation of the Library in 2010 and expansion of Dowden Hall in 2010.
Recognition as a State University
We became Worcester State University in 2010 when the Massachusetts Legislature voted to grant university status to all Massachusetts state colleges. This recognized the fact that we and our sister institutions qualified as universities according to the classification of institutions of higher education established by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
In 2011, Barry M. Maloney became our 11th president. With a strong background of leadership in student affairs, alumni and community relations, advancement, and budgeting at Westfield State University—where he served twice as interim president—he is guiding the planning and construction of a new residence hall, Sheehan Hall, and wellness center.
Maloney puts students at the forefront of our initiatives, which currently include increasing study away, service learning, internship and leadership opportunities for students.