110 Years of Carpe Diem

On Tuesday morning, September 15, 1908, the New Jersey State Normal School at Montclair opened for the first time. Its mission, set in law by the state legislature, was to educate and train students in the science of education. According to the official history, the future teachers, 187 in all, “came by trolley on the Valley Road line, by the Erie Railroad to the Montclair Heights Station, and on foot,” filing into classrooms in College Hall, the school’s singular building, its style designed like the Spanish missions Board Member Edward Russ had admired on a trip along the California coast.

Here on the East Coast, the State of New Jersey had a great demand for teachers, and the school’s first principal, Charles Sumner Chapin, in a speech at a formal opening ceremony, remarked, “We have been handed a schoolhouse to make a school. We accept the trust and pledge the best work we know how to do.”

As the University celebrates 110 years of Carpe Diem, Montclair magazine is featuring this timeline of significant events, thanks in large measure to the pages of Montclair State’s history, A Century of Triumph Over Circumstance, written by Joseph Thomas Moore, professor emeritus of History and Social Studies Education. From its early days and singular focus on teaching, the University has grown in ways no one in 1908 could have imagined.

It is bigger, stronger and more complex, offering 300 majors, minors and concentrations. Professors collaborate with other research universities to solve the mysteries of space. They are advancing autism research and treatment, and using drones to assess floodplains; they are examining racial bias and charting paths in STEM. Such research, scholarship, funding and partnerships now form the heart of University life.

The campus itself first grew from that single schoolhouse to add residential halls and a library. The modern-day campus transformation has created interactive spaces for teaching and learning in areas as diverse as communications, science, business, nursing and dance. Culture and sports have also had a huge impact on enhancing college life. The history of the nation has also shaped the history of Montclair State, from the returning WWII soldiers and their families living on campus in temporary Army surplus buildings to the student demonstrations of the 1970s and to the attacks on 9/11, where from the campus, the iconic New York City skyline is clearly in view. Today, diversity, inclusion and acceptance are an important part of the fabric of life on campus. 

Looking back at our years and our incarnations: from a normal school to a teacher’s college to a liberal arts college to a regional university and now to a national research university, it is easy to see how Montclair State was transformed by time and events. Still, the educational purpose remains the same. And 110 years later, we are still seizing the day. Carpe Diem!


New Jersey State Normal School Opens

Established by the state as a response to a growing demand for academically trained teachers.

Sepia photo of graduating class from 1908


Room & Board

$250 per year

The School's First Dormitory Opens

Funded by a legacy gift from Board Chairman Edward Russ of $115,000, Russ Hall includes a living room with a fireplace, a reading room, a dining room and a hospital room.


School During WWI

All women class in 1918
Russ Hall dining room
Russ Hall dining room

By the height of the war, the school had to close for several days in January because of a coal shortage. Because men were called to the war front, by the time the entering class graduated in 1919, it consisted of 120 women and no men.


Sports And Physical Education

Intercollegiate athletics comes of age in the 1930s, but starts with tennis and basketball in the mid-1920s.

First men's basketball team at Montclair State University, black and white photo


Montclair State Teachers College

Montclair State Teachers College shield

The Normal School becomes a teachers college, dedicated to the education of secondary teachers through a four-year baccalaureate degree program.


Montclair Called “Harvard Of Teachers College”

Music, Theater And Dance Clubs

Shot of performance in the 1930s at MSU, all-male cast

Students in the 1930s celebrated their youth with dances, festivals and performances sponsored by each class, and by student associations and clubs.


Tuition is $50 and doubles in 1933



After its completion, the Amphitheater became a popular gathering spot for students and remains so to this day.

The Amphitheater is one of two Works Projects Admin (WPA) jobs in N.J.

Students sitting at MSU ampitheater


A P.E. obstacle course prepares men for war


A Post War Campus

Taking the campus from war to peace after WWII, President Sprague creates programming for returning veterans and erects 19 temporary war surplus buildings for soldiers and their families to live on the north end of campus.

Aerial shot of post-war MSU


Montclair State's New Jersey School of Conservation Opens

Since 1949, generations of New Jerseyans and Montclair State students have learned about nature and conservation at Montclair State’s NJ School of Conservation.

School of Conservation at swampland


The Birth Of Educational TV

The nation’s first educational television programs are broadcast from the Montclair State campus from a studio converted from a bowling alley, with transmitters sending signals to classrooms in New Jersey and parts of New York, Pennsylvania and Connecticut.

Old banner that says Educational Television Moves Forward


Montclair State College

Old sign that says Welcome to Montclair, Home of Montclair State College, founded 1908

The name changes in 1958 and that same year, the college merges with Panzer College of Physical Education and Hygiene, the last private single purpose school for physical education in the United States.


Harry A. Sprague Library Opens

Named for the principal and later president Harry Sprague, who ran the college from 1924 to 1951, overseeing its change to a four-year teachers college and elevating its reputation.

Harry A. Sprague Library upon opening in 1963


2nd undefeated football season in 5 years


University Adds Liberal Arts

The NJ Legislature made Montclair State a multipurpose institution and it admits its first liberal arts students in 1966.

Aerial shot of students/faculty holding up signs of different departments at MSU


Student Strike

Students strike in classroom at MSU

In May 1970, two days after four students were killed at Kent State in Ohio, the Montclair State student government called for a student strike. Faculty voted to support the students and the strike lasted through the end of the semester, but students held protest classes of their own.

The College Has 7,500 Full-Time Undergraduates


First African American President

David W.D. Dickson

David W.D. Dickson becomes the first African American to head a New Jersey state college or university.


Wrestling Mania

Two wrestlers at MSU in 1970

The Wrestling team wins the national NCAA Division III championship in both 1976 and 1986.


Women's Basketball

MSU women's basketball in 1978

Women’s Basketball makes it to the national AIAW Final Four tournament.


Honors Program Opens

The honors program opens for academically gifted freshmen; by 1989, 100 students were enrolled.

Students in first Honors program class at MSU


The MSU Indians Become The Red Hawks


University Status

Under President Irvin Dexter Reid, Montclair State College is renamed Montclair State University in April of 1994.

Entrance of Montclair State University.


First Female President

Photo of President Susan A. Cole

Under the leadership of its first female president, Susan A. Cole, Montclair State becomes the second-largest and fastest growing university in New Jersey. She ushers in an era of building and transformation.

Floyd Hall And Yogi Berra Stadium

A gift from Floyd Hall and a public-private partnership results in a first-of-its-kind venture for a university in New Jersey.

Aerial shot of Floyd Hall and Yogi Berra Stadium


Baseball Team Becomes National Champs

Coach Norm Schoenig leads the Red Hawks to the their third Division III national championship.

MSU's 2000 baseball championship team form a pile


Alexander Kasser Theater Opens

A $4 million gift from Kasser’s family in his memory made the theater possible. The stunning facility seats 500 and stages avant garde productions often praised by The New York Times.

Front of Alexander Kasser Theater


New School and Buildings

University Hall and the John J. Cali School of Music are established, the latter with a $5 million gift from the Cali family.


Building For Our Future Bonds

Montclair State receives $94 million from state bonds for $121 million in construction projects that include the School of Business building and the Center for Environmental and Life Sciences.

CELS students in a lab
Feliciano School of Business


In fall 2014, the University grows to 20k


Largest Gift Ever

An anonymous donor gives the University $20 million to support programming in the Feliciano School of Business.


A Research University

Carnegie Classification designates Montclair State as a Research Doctoral Institution, followed by the State of New Jersey recognizing the University as a public research university.

Student in Water Testing Lab

School Of Nursing Opens

Responding to a national shortage in nursing, the University opens a School of Nursing and offers a RN to BSN degree and adds a BSN degree in fall 2017.

Hispanic Serving

U.S. Department of Education designates Montclair State as a Hispanic-Serving Institution and for more than 15 years has been on the Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education Magazine’s list of “Top 100 Colleges for Hispanics.”

Speaker at Hispanic Student College Institute in Montclair State University.


SCM Building Opens

A high-tech, high-def, $55 million School of Communication and Media building opens with a partnership with Sony Electronics’ Professional Solutions Americas providing students with the most advanced broadcast facilities on a campus in the country.

Students in SCM studio.