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Humboldt State University: A Brief History


Humboldt Normal School cerca 1914

On June 16, 1913, California Gov. Hiram Johnson signed the law establishing “Humboldt State Normal School, for the training and education of teachers and others in the art of instructing and governing the public schools of this state.”

The first classes at Humboldt State Normal School began on April 6, 1914, with 62 students in a small building near the rural bottoms of Arcata. By May of 1915, the school would celebrate its first graduating class of 15 women. The school was established to meet the demand for qualified teachers, which were needed following a state-wide education statute. Accordingly, the school offered four teacher-preparation programs all based on the student’s own experience levels.

In the run-up to those first classes, three Humboldt County towns, Arcata, Eureka, and Fortuna, vied to become the school’s location. A donation of 55-acres of land by Arcata’s William Preston and the Union Water Company ensured Arcata would be the school’s home. Within a decade, the school built the administration building. Today, it is known as Founders Hall and is the campus’s oldest and most recognized building.

In the 1920s, the school changed its name to Humboldt State Teachers College and Junior College and the curriculum broadened to include foreign languages, physical education, natural sciences, mathematics, philosophy, English and the social sciences.

Not long after, the school would be known as Humboldt State College and the curriculum would further expand to include a Bachelor of Science degree in education and liberal arts degrees in economics and business. Speech and home economics were soon to follow.

In 1924, the school came into its own, establishing Associated Students and the alumni organization. The year also included the first homecoming celebration and saw the first edition of the school newspaper, the Foghorn.

World War II had a major impact on campus and enrollment had dropped to 159 by 1945. With the end of the war came a revitalization as enrollment boomed and the campus began offering programs in forestry and agriculture.

Expansion continued in the 1950s. New dormitories and academic buildings popped up across campus and in 1959 Lucky Logger was adopted as the school’s mascot.

Student life experienced a big change in the 1960s and a major student demonstration was held in protest against the U.S. military incursion in Cambodia in 1970. That event ignited a spark of student activism that continues to this day.

After a 10-year absence, the Marching Lumberjacks reformed in 1968 as a scatter band, modeled after the school bands of Ivy League universities.

In 1974 the school had its final name change to Humboldt State University.

By the mid-1980s, HSU’s enrollment hit 6,200 and Business was the most popular major on campus.

In the 1990s, the campus organized into three constituent colleges: The College of Natural Resources, the College of Professional Studies and the College of Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences. Today HSU offers 47 majors and 82 minors. Toward the end of the decade, HSU would expand campus to Eureka, with the establishment of the First Street Gallery in Old Town in 1998. The campus garnered national media attention in 1998, when the Schatz Energy Research Center debuted the country’s first hydrogen powered person vehicle, dubbed the Neighborhood Electric Vehicle.

In 2012, enrollment reached 8,116. Recent campus additions to campus include the state-of-the-art Kinesiology and Athletics building, the College Creek housing complex and the Behavioral and Social Sciences building, which is the one of the most environmentally sustainable buildings in the 23-campus Cal State system.


Read more about HSU’s history in A View from the Hill, available as a PDF.

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See More of Our History

Special thanks to the HSU Library for making these documents from our history available for viewing online.

Here is a scanned copy of the Jubilee Program, available as a PDF, from Humboldt States 50th year.

Here is a copy of the Lumberjack Log, available as a PDF, which is the Freshmen guide for new students.

Here is a program honoring Cornelius Siemens for 20 years of service to HSU. Cornelius Siemens 20 Year Reception Program is available to download as a PDF.


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What's Planned

A slew of Centennial activities and events are in the works. Here are just a few:

  • Kick-off party to start the school year
  • Centennial-themed Homecoming & Family Weekend
  • Centennial Lecture Series
  • Special musical compositions
  • A play about Von Humboldt’s life
  • Website, logo, calendar of events, and other publicity
  • Off-campus alumni events
  • New ceremonial mace
  • Video project
  • Various historical displays
  • Exhibit at Clarke Museum in Eureka
  • Memorabilia and merchandise in Bookstore
  • April 2014 event marking 100 years since formal opening