Celebrating UCM's Milestones

Every 50 Years Marks Progress, Potential

Old Main Plot Early

To celebrate its first 50 years in 1921, the university held its first homecoming parade. In honor of the centennial in 1971, a commemorative book was published, and students made a time capsule, which they buried in a cement vault, to be opened May 23, 2071.

This year the university has published a sesquicentennial book and hosted a variety of historical events and exhibits. Learn more in the following pages about what was happening around each of UCM’s 50-year milestones.


1871 on Campus

The same year the Great Chicago Fire destroyed about 2,000 acres of the city, displacing more than 100,000 residents, State Normal School No. 2 was just beginning to build its campus on 20 acres of land donated by Civil War veteran Capt. Melville U. Foster.

The cornerstone was laid August 16, 1871, for the first campus building, to be known as Old Main. Although the bottom floor was ready for use the next fall, with four classrooms and an unfinished assembly area, it took until 1882 to complete the four-story building. Old Main would serve as the hub of Normal until the campus suffered its own devastating fire, which only Dockery and the Industrial Arts Building survived.

Early UCM Students


As the United States reunited after the Civil War, a period of industrialization and exploration began. Railroad track mileage tripled between 1860 and 1880, with Warrensburg — and a side trip to Pertle Springs Resort — being a central stop for travelers and those migrating west. The first Transcontinental Railroad had opened two years earlier, expanding the West to ranching and coal mining, as well as geological surveys of areas like Yellowstone National Park, which opened in 1872.

The 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1870, prohibited states and the federal government from denying a citizen the right to vote based on “race, color or previous condition of servitude.”


1921 On Campus

After the university was renamed Central Missouri State Teachers College in 1919, the name “Normals” no longer seemed appropriate for a school mascot. A naming contest was held in February 1922, and the mule won over other nominations, including the hippo, skunk and bobcat.

Academics was progressing beyond teacher preparation, with bachelor’s degrees becoming available in science and art in 1920. The following year, Noel B. Grinstead, a 1921 alumnus and eponym of the Grinstead Building, became head of the Industrial Arts Department.

A parade was held to celebrate 50 years of the university. Although the parade would not become an annual event until 1935, the 1921 celebration is considered UCM’s first homecoming.

Agriculture Float 1921

Historical Snapshot

The beginning of the 20th century’s second decade was a tumultuous time. World War I had ended in November 1918, but the world was in its second wave of the Spanish flu pandemic, which would take a final death toll of about 675,000 nationally and 50 million worldwide. The U.S. saw its largest labor uprising in history in the 1921 Battle of Blair Mountain, when union coal miners in West Virginia fought against mine operators, law enforcement and ultimately the U.S. Army.

Prohibition started in January 1920, affecting businesses across the country. Racial violence continued as African Americans were establishing themselves out West, including in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where an entire district of Black-owned businesses and more than 1,000 homes were burned to the ground in 1921.

The long-fought national women’s suffrage movement finally succeeded in 1920 when the 19th Amendment filled in the criteria the 15th Amendment had omitted by stating that “the right of citizens in the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” The League of Women Voters and the American Civil Liberties Union were both founded in 1920.

Suffrage by Sara Sundberg

Photo by Professor Emerita Sara Brooks Sundberg


1971 on Campus

The early 1970s marked another time of change and expansion for the nation and the university. There were now 44 buildings on campus, compared with 12 when President Warren C. Lovinger took office. The venue that would later be named Highlander Theatre opened its doors in 1971, built between the newly erected Martin Building and the structure formerly called Martin-Wood. In addition, the university was growing its Aviation program and aircraft fleet at Max B. Swisher Skyhaven Airport, west of Warrensburg on Highway 50, and the Missouri Safety Center, south of the main campus.

The faculty had also increased, from 84 in 1956 to approximately 550. The Army ROTC program graduated its first class in 1971, and the Central Missouri Police Academy was established. Mules Baseball won the MIAA Championship under Coach Robert Tompkins, and Mules Football, coached by Howard Mahanes, played in the first NCAA-sanctioned Playoff Bowl Game, the Pecan Bowl, in Arlington, Texas.

The Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women was founded in 1971, the same year Coach Millie Barnes took the helm of the fledgling women’s basketball team. In 1972, Title IX was enacted, prohibiting gender discrimination in public schools.

Also in 1972, the institution changed its name from Central Missouri State College to Central Missouri State University, and “The Normal Student” newspaper became “The Muleskinner.”

Name Change 1972

Historical Snapshot 

After Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated and the Fair Housing Act became law in 1968, the fight for civil rights continued. In 1971, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously upheld busing as a means of achieving racial desegregation.

The 26th Amendment was ratified in 1971, empowering a significant portion of the student body at CMSU including young men who, until then, could be drafted into the Vietnam War at 18 but couldn’t vote until they turned 21.

Both NPR and PBS made their debut in 1971, and technological advances were paving the way for household computers. Space exploration was booming, with the U.S. Mariner 9 becoming the first satellite to orbit Mars and two crewed Apollo missions landing on the moon.


2021 — UCM at 150

One hundred years after the Spanish flu ended, another pandemic threatened the University of Central Missouri. Students, staff and faculty left for spring break March 13, 2020, and did not return to in-person classes the rest of the semester due to concerns over the spread of COVID-19.

Courses moved online, prompting innovative methods of teaching, virtual travel and technologyaided collaborations. The university’s PBS station, KMOS-TV, broadcast standards-based lessons designed and delivered by College of Education student teachers for K-5 students who were separated from their schools and from reliable broadband.

The university community demonstrated strength and resilience in the face of adversity, returning to in-person classes in fall 2020. On Founders Day, April 27, 2021, UCM celebrated its sesquicentennial with a picnic on the quad, complete with birthday cake and performances by the Marching Mules, Mulekickers and UCM Cheerleaders. It was literally a breath of fresh air and a great way to end the academic year.

Birthday Bash Cheerleaders

The McClure Archives and University Museum published a commemorative book, hosted a historical campus tour and put on display in the Paul R. Utt Building the prized Essig collection of more than 300 rare and unusual musical instruments. The collection was left to the university in 1944 by UCM Bands founder Don Essig.

To celebrate Missouri’s bicentennial in 2021, students and faculty in UCM’s History program created “Historic Missouri,” a free app providing interpretive and curated tours. UCM also hosted two traveling exhibits: the Bicentennial Quilt in the University Museum and “Struggle for Statehood” at the Missouri Innovation Campus in Lee’s Summit, which celebrated its 10-year milestone in 2021.

This year also marked the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Even students who were not yet born in 2001 were able to empathize, having been through a generational trauma of their own with the pandemic. They started the school year “Mule Strong” and ready for whatever the future brings.

9-11 ceremony Megan White

Photo by UCM undergraduate student Megan White


Source of historical photos: The McClure Archives and University Museum (ucmo.edu/offices/archives)



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