SUNY Brockport at 50 Years, 1948-1998

Well before SUNY, there was the Brockport Collegiate Institute, a private academy which in 1866 became a State "Normal" school.

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Although it struggled financially, the Collegiate Institute was a successful school academically; the little academies like this that dotted the landscape in the antebellum years were an innovative response to increasing educational needs. The academies offered modern language, science and technical courses not offered at the colleges of the day, and afforded an opportunity to women and minorities for higher education.

Picture of Mary Mortimer

Above is Mary Mortimer, who taught here in the 1840s and enjoyed a long and prominent career as a pioneer in women's higher education. A dorm on campus is named for her.

The 1860s were an early phase of private vs public tension in NY higher education. Malcolm MacVicar, principal of the Institute, was a forceful proponent of expanding the state's support for teacher education. Other than the Normal school at Albany, all teacher education was done in special classes at the various academies. MacVicar and others felt strongly that in a time of increasing demand for education better teacher training was needed, and in 1866 four additional Normal schools were established, one of which was Brockport.

Picture of Malcolm MacVicar

The Brockport Normal School, 1910

The picture above shows the Normal school ca1910, with the former Institute building in the center, and the wings added on as a state school. This building stood almost exactly where Hartwell Hall is today.

As a Normal school, the sole mission was to train teachers, specifically teachers for the elementary grades. Normal school graduates received not a bachelors degree, but a lifetime teaching license. Schools like ours offered opportunities to women, minorities and low income students during a time when such students would not have been generally welcome at private colleges. Below, students in the lounge ca1935.

Students relaxing in the lounge, 1935

Times changed and so did the state's educational needs. The length of the curriculum went from two to three years, and then in the 1930s to three years plus a summer school session, almost the full schedule of a bachelor degree granting teacher's college. Ernest Hartwell, (below, on left) principal from 1936-1944, was active in the campaign of the 1930's to win teachers college status for the state Normal schools. This battle was waged over several years, against the intense opposition of the private schools. The support of teacher's associations and local supporters won through and in 1942 all state Normal schools became Teachers Colleges. (With Hartwell is Donald Tower, president from 1944-64, who saw the school through the earlier years of expansion.)

Picture of Hartwell and Tower

Ernest Hartwell also won for Brockport a new building, today's Hartwell Hall. Seen from the air in the ca1945 photo below, one can see the compactness of the school. One main building on a six acre lot encompassed the whole school. This is the school as it would appear in 1945 just prior to the beginning of the SUNY era.

Aerial picture of campus, 1945

In 1948, SUNY was created. Prior to this there was a loose association of the state Teachers Colleges, but now, in response to new demands, a much more extensive and ambitious system was established. Seen below is a photo from the first meeting of SUNY presidents in 1948. Our president, Donald Tower, is second from the left, middle row.

First meeting of SUNY Presidents, 1948

Since the 1970s, SUNY Central Administration has been housed in the former Delaware and Hudson Railroad headquarters in downtown Albany. From here the work of coordinationg and supporting the work of the 64 different campuses is conducted.

SUNY headquarters building, Albany

Map of New York and the various SUNY campuses. Many of the SUNY schools have a history similar to Brockport; first a private academy, then Normal School, Teachers College, liberal arts college and then the comprehensive college of today.

Map of SUNY colleges

Late in the '40s the big post WWII expansion of colleges began. This was a major factor in the establishment of SUNY - the many minorities who were eligible for the GI bill but weren't accepted at the private schools, and then the privates simply didn't have room for the sheer numbers of entrants. In the photo below you can see the veteran's housing and temporary classroom buildings erected in the late '40s at the south end of Hartwell Hall. (All were torn down by the '60s.)

Aerial picture of campus, 1949

Below, the campus in the 1950s. During the 1950s the school expanded greatly, adding the dorms on Kenyon Street, Lathrop (then the student union) and Seymour, the first permanent building across Kenyon. When what we call Hartwell Hall was erected, Ernest Hartwell had argued for moving the school out to the western edge of the village to allow for future expansion, but for various political reasons it was kept on the present site. Thus when the expansion did come, it meant the acquiring of many village homes, of which some were demolished and other moved.

Aerial picture of campus, 1950s

In the 1950s as the school increased in size, many aspects of college life that before had either not been present, or present in only limited form, came into full being. Sports blossomed for example with the addition of a football team in 1947, and soccer became the big sport in the 1950s, as Coach Huntley Parker led the team to victory after victory.

Coach Parker and his soccer players, 1955

In the 1960s the expansion of the school acquired an almost frantic pace. The early '60s is when the school ceased to be a Teachers College, offering only degrees in either elementary education or physical education and health, and moved to become a liberal arts college offering degrees in a wide array of disciplines. Student, faculty and staff numbers all grew at an exponential rate, doubling several times during this period. Below, Professor Howard Kiefer's EDU101 class ca1960.

1960s Education Classroom

The man at the center of the tremendous expansion of the 1960s, President Albert Brown (1965-1981.)

President Albert Brown

A typical campus under construction scene of the 1960s and early 1970s; this is the 1967 addition to Seymour Union.

Campus construction at Seymour Union, 1967

The art department posing in the 1960s in front of their soon to be home, Tower Fine Arts. It was named after President Tower, who had written several drama books for high school use. The late '60s saw an unprecedented proliferation of departments and faculty at Brockport.

Construction at the Tower Fine Arts building

The "O'Brien House," in 1967. Taken in the last years of the era when students living off campus stayed in homes operated by a landlord or landlady, who lived in the home, oversaw the student's behavior and whose treatment of the students was in turn monitored by the college.

Picture of off-campus students living at the O'Brien house

Aerial photograph of SUNY Brockport, 1973

By 1973, when this picture was taken, the campus was closest to acquiring its present dimensions.

Last Updated 2/5/18

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