In 1893, the world’s biggest stage was the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Larger and more spectacular than any previous world’s fair, the 1893 Exposition demonstrated the power and progress of Gilded Age America and attracted more than 27 million visitors its exhibits and attractions. 

The Michigan State Normal School (today Eastern Michigan University) presented its accomplishments on that stage. MSNS exhibited a collection of photographs, architectural drawings, and statistical charts illustrating the school, accompanied by a 136 page pamphlet, The State Normal School of Michigan: Its Plan and Purpose and an Outline of Its Work. The exhibit and pamphlet made the case that MSNS was the United States’ leading institution for the preparation of future teachers, and that it “occupie[d] the ground of higher education.” In fact, between 1890 and 1894 MSNS did become the first American normal school to offer a true four-year college degree. As one international observer in Chicago noted, MSNS had “raised their standard far above others.”

Fortunately, most of the Michigan State Normal School exhibit has been preserved in the Eastern Michigan University Archives. This website reconstructs this exhibit to provide a window into a time of extraordinary ambition, progress, and pride in the history of our university.

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Explore an online reconstruction of the Michigan State Normal School exhibit at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.

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Consider differing interpretations of topics raised by the Exhibit.


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Old Main

The Founding of the Normal School

Discover how the founders of the Michigan State Normal School raised the bar for what a normal school could be.

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The Transformational Sill Era

Learn how Principal John M. B. Sill transformed MSNS into an institution of higher education

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World's Columbian Exposition Ticketbook

The Columbian Exposition 

Find out why normalites thronged to Chicago for the 1893 Fair

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Old Main front elevation

The MSNS Exhibit

Experience the photos, drawings, charts, and text that the Normal School displayed in Chicago.


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Pokagon's Wigwam

The Pokagon Wigwam

Reflect on the Normal School’s relationship with the Great Lakes tribes


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The Old Main Building

See how the Normal’s original building grew with the School. 


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