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Behind the big themes, celebrated figures, and dry dates of history are the interesting stories of life in the past and ordinary people. Southeast Missouri has a varied and rich history that you often don’t hear about in history classes. Join Bill Eddleman of the State Historical Society of Missouri to hear about these stories with “Tales of Days Gone By.” Listen in on the second and fourth Thursday of the month during Morning Edition (7:45 a.m.) and All Things Considered (4:44 p.m.)

The Third District Normal School Hits its Stride

 Southeast Missouri State University Leaders, 1876-1893. (L-R) Alfred Kirk (1876-77), C. H. Dutcher (1877-1880), Richard C. Norton (1880-1893).
Southeast Missouri State University Leaders, 1876-1893. (L-R) Alfred Kirk (1876-77), C. H. Dutcher (1877-1880), Richard C. Norton (1880-1893).

Following Principal Cheney's sudden death, Vice-Principal R. P. Rider functioned as temporary head of the Third District Normal School for two months until selection of a new Principal. The Executive Committee of the Board of Regents chose Alfred Kirk. Kirk was former superintendent of public schools in Chicago and had served in that role since 1868. Little is known of Kirk’s time as Principal because he resigned to return to the Chicago school system after less than 9 months.

The Board first offered the job of Principal to Richard C. Norton of the Normal School at Warrensburg, but he declined. They selected C. H. Dutcher of Kirksville, who accepted the job. Dutcher received a B. A. from the University of Kentucky in 1864 and in 1872 became superintendent of schools in Kirksville. Shortly thereafter he joined the Kirksville Normal School faculty to teach Latin and Science.

Optimism about the new Normal Schools at this time was high. As noted in the Doniphan Prospect, “The school is young, but manifests a determination to succeed. Some changes in the faculty have been made, and it is hoped that under the new administration, a still greater work for S. E. Mo. will be accomplished.”

Dutcher had major influence in molding the character of the Normal School. His administration was distinguished by its drive to encourage participation in district and state-level school matters. He placed high priority on recruiting well-qualified, dedicated personnel and enlarging courses of study. He also spent a great deal of effort on outreach, traveling throughout the third district to connect with educational leaders. In 1878, Dutcher introduced grading standards that required an 80 percent average for promotion from class to class.

Dutcher was the last person to hold the title principal. Following his term, principals became known as presidents. Dutcher resigned his position at Southeast in 1880 and returned to Warrensburg to enter the banking business. He became involved with banking by serving on a bank board while at the Normal School, although the reason for his changing careers is unclear.

After Dutcher’s resignation the Board again offered the Third District Normal School’s leadership position to Richard Chapman Norton of the Warrensburg Normal School. Norton trained under future President James Garfield at Hiram College in Ohio and had enlisted in the Civil War to serve under Garfield. Norton taught on the faculty at Warrensburg beginning in 1875. He proved to be the steady and stable leader the school needed after the short terms of the three Principals of the institution. Norton served as President from 1880 to 1893.

He was known for his traditional ideals, which made him popular with students and faculty. He treated the students and his subordinates with dignity and respect. Because of his genuine interest in being friends with the students, students and staff viewed Norton as someone who was wise and faithful, and as a result, students lovingly nicknamed him “Uncle Dick.” Commentators characterized Uncle Dick as upright and earnest. During his 13-year term, he set out to place the school on a "firm" and "solid" basis.

President Norton was well-respected by the community as well, as the Caruthersville Democrat-Argus newspaper stated in 1896, “Under him the school reached the zenith of its present prosperity, the attendance steadily increasing from about 200 to 300 and in the year 1890 reaching nearly 400 students.”

Norton was re-elected as President by the Regents until he left to chair the normal school at Kirksville in 1893.

Bill Eddleman was born in Cape Girardeau, and is an 8th-generation Cape Countian. His first Missouri ancestor came to the state in 1802. He attended SEMO for two years before transferring to the University of Missouri to study Fisheries and Wildlife Biology. He stayed at Mizzou to earn a master of science in Fisheries and Wildlife, and continued studies in Wildlife Ecology at Oklahoma State University.