From a “normal school” for teachers to A Maryland University of National Distinction, Salisbury University has served as a resource for the Eastern Shore and beyond since 1925.
The Making of a ‘Normal School’
The Salisbury University story began with a state in need. In 1921, a study showed Maryland’s existing higher education infrastructure was not adequately meeting the demand for teachers in the state’s rural areas. The next year, the Maryland Legislature sought to remedy this by founding a new “normal school” (a two-year college for elementary school teachers) in one of the state’s most rural areas: the Eastern Shore.
A commission selected a site near Salisbury, breaking ground in 1923. Under the supervision of its first president, former Salisbury High School principal Dr. William J. Holloway, the new State Normal School opened its doors on September 7, 1925, with 105 students. They learned, slept and dined in a single building (now Holloway Hall) and even taught young students there in an early “demonstration school.”
More Than Just Teachers
Within a decade, the phrase “normal school” had become outdated and the campus was rechristened Maryland State Teachers College in 1934. By then, students and faculty had branched out beyond general classroom activities, having established an athletic association, school orchestra and the Sophanes theatre club. In 1931, the two-year teaching curricula became a three-year plan, and in 1935, President Jefferson Blackwell received approval of a new four-year curriculum with an emphasis on liberal arts, offering the Bachelor of Science for the first time.
Additional academic expansion took place in 1947 and 1960, as more four-year programs were offered in the arts and sciences. In 1962, the Maryland Board of Trustees approved the offering of master’s programs. During this era, the campus also expanded physically, with the addition of the first men’s dormitory, Wicomico Hall, in 1951; a stand-alone demonstration school (later Caruthers Hall) in 1955; Blackwell Library (now Blackwell Hall) in 1957; and the college’s first gymnasium in 1961.
Rise of the Sea Gulls
With its academic program having expanded beyond teacher education, the campus was renamed again in 1963, becoming Salisbury State College (SSC). In 1948, students had selected the “Golden Gulls” (often abbreviated as just “Gulls”) as the school’s mascot in a Student Government Association Contest. With the campus’ new name, the mascot also received an upgrade, borrowing the last letter in “SSC” to become the “Sea Gulls.” In 1966, it was personified by a caricature of a muscular seagull. By the 1970s, that character would go by the name Sammy Sea Gull.
That decade became a golden era for the campus, during which many programs and amenities still enjoyed today were established. These include several varsity athletics teams, the campus radio station, The Flyer student newspaper and the SSC (now SU) Foundation, Inc. The college also continued its physical growth in the ’60s and ’70s, with additions including a new science building, Devilbiss Hall, in 1967; its first co-ed residence hall, Choptank Hall, in 1972; East Campus athletic fields in 1976; and Maggs Physical Activities Center in 1977.
Endowing a Legacy on the Eastern Shore
The 1980s saw an emphasis on academics with a growing Honors Program and new collaborative partnerships with nearby University of Maryland Eastern Shore. A groundswell of philanthropic support bolstered those initiatives and more with the establishment of the Franklin P. Perdue School of Business in 1986, Richard A. Henson School of Science and Technology in 1988, and Charles R. and Martha N. Fulton School of Liberal Arts in 1989. The Samuel W. and Marilyn C. Seidel School of Education and Professional Studies followed in 1997.
With these new schools, SSC became more than just a college, and the name was changed once again to Salisbury State University in 1988. The field hockey team earned the campus’ first NCAA Division III team championship in 1986, paving the way for over 20 more in field hockey and men’s and women’s lacrosse through the next three decades and beyond. The 1980s and ’90s brought other opportunities to the university, as well, with the establishment of its Student Research Conference (SU also has twice hosted the National Conference on Undergraduate Research), Student Entrepreneurship Competitions, Sea Gull Century bicycle ride, Edward H. Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture, and Delmarva Public Radio; new buildings including the University Center (now Guerrieri Student Union) in 1988 and Fulton Hall in 1992; and affiliations with organizations such as the Salisbury Symphony Orchestra and Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art.
Looking Toward the Future
In 2001, the campus officially became known as Salisbury University. A proud member of the University System of Maryland since 1988, SU has continued to expand its academic offerings, as well as its physical footprint. This century, new buildings such as Henson Science Hall, Conway Hall, Perdue Hall, Sea Gull Square, Sea Gull Stadium and the Patricia R. Guerrieri Academic Commons have changed Salisbury’s skyline. At the same time, new initiatives have helped make SU a national leader in sustainability and public engagement, while a focus on areas such as diversity, study abroad and student life has opened doors for many.
In 2012, SU began its first doctoral program, the Doctor of Nursing Practice, followed by a doctorate in education in 2014. The SU Honors College was founded in 2016 and renamed the Glenda Chatham and Robert G. Clarke Honors College in 2020 in honor of its endowing benefactors. The College of Health and Human Services was created in 2018 in response to workforce needs. Today, over 8,700 students from more than 30 states and 60 foreign countries study over 40 undergraduate and nearly 20 graduate degree programs on a campus with over 90 buildings and more than 200 acres. SU consistently is ranked among the top universities in the nation by U.S. News & World Report, The Princeton Review and others.
Since those first 105 students attended their first class in the campus’ lone building in 1925, SU has grown vastly in size, stature and reputation. Just as it has throughout its history, however, the university continues to adapt to meet the emerging needs of its students, the community, and the state and nation as a whole.
Salisbury University's Designations
- Maryland State Publications Depository
- U.S. Government Selective Document Depository
- American Association of Botanical Gardens and Arboreta