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A History of Perseverance

Founded in 1893, Lewis-Clark State College's 125-year story is one of hardships and heroics, but a central theme throughout it all is an undying passion to succeed -- just like that of our students.

Reid Centennial Hall circa 1896
Reid Centennial Hall circa 1896

From the college’s humble beginning to what it instills in its students today, Lewis-Clark State College’s story is one of perseverance. The challenges have been daunting, but through meeting these challenges head-on and resilience, the college and its students grow stronger. Once written off as unwanted and unneeded, today, LCSC is thriving as the fastest growing public four-year institution in Idaho, having increased headcount by 20 percent in the past 10 years.

The college has been through four name changes, rebuilt after a devastating fire, and survived a brief closure in the 1950s on its way to becoming the flourishing four-year institution you see today. LCSC has evolved into a campus of nearly 4,000 students with the mission of preparing a diverse student body to make the most of their potential and contribute to the common good of society.

The school faced many hurdles in its infancy. In 1893, three years after Idaho became a state, the Idaho Legislature addressed the need for quality teachers to work in the region’s many one-room rural schools by creating Lewiston Normal School. However, this was in name only as the legislature failed to provide funding for the school. Eventually, the city of Lewiston jumped in and donated 10 acres on a barren, sandy hill that would come to be known as “Normal Hill.”

The college’s development was an arduous process. The legislature issued bonds in 1895 to complete the first campus building, but in the meantime, temporary space was set up on the second floor of a downtown Lewiston business. On Jan. 6, 1896, 46 students took part in the first class in that building. Six months later the community and school celebrated the completion of the first building on campus, the Administration Building (now known as Reid Centennial Hall, named after founding father James Reid).

In 1898, the school graduated 17 female teachers and its enrollment and importance to the region continued to grow. Two student dorms were constructed and by 1903, the school consisted of four buildings, a small library (managed by Henry Talkington), and had graduated 133 students.

The school remained focused on producing teachers, especially for rural areas. As late as 1920, 60 percent of Idaho’s secondary students attended one-room schools. Lewiston Normal graduates not only needed to know how to teach students at a variety of grade levels, but also how to serve as an administrator and develop curriculum and policies.

The challenges were constant. The Administration Building’s east wing was completely destroyed by fire in 1917, but residents again responded with donated books, supplies and classroom space. Despite limited finances, the campus continued to grow with the addition of more buildings, including a gymnasium. The legislature approved funding for a new Administration Building in 1921. Now almost a century old, the building still houses the office of the President, key administrators and the Silverthorne Theatre, which underwent a major $1.3 million remodel in 2014.

With the start of World War I, enrollment dropped by nearly 15 percent as 78 students and faculty served in the military. The college bounced back, but then the Great Depression hit and legislative appropriations went from $268,000 to $166,000. Still, the school moved forward. With help from the Civil Works Administration, the school hired dozens of students to work on campus in a variety of jobs, which helped them pay for college. The program was not unlike LCSC’s Work Scholars program today, which is the only one of its kind in Idaho. The college also built Warrior Gym in 1935 for its growing athletic teams and intramural programs, which helped provide some of the groundwork for the national success the Warriors would experience decades later.

The 1940s brought an expansion of the college’s curriculum, although the focus remained on producing teachers. After 50 years of existence, the school moved from a two-year to a four-year institution and began to offer Bachelor of Art degrees in Education. The school became the largest trainer of naval air cadets during World War II, and began the training and education of nurses. With the school’s role still expanding, the legislature changed the name to Northern Idaho College of Education in 1947.

With the outbreak of the Korean War, combined with concern over Idaho’s financial woes and southern Idaho resentment/jealousy of NICE, the legislature voted to close the school in 1951. The college reopened in 1955 as Lewis-Clark Normal, a two-year institution and branch campus of the University of Idaho. Eight years later, however, the school once again became an independent four-year college. The vision was to continue to produce teachers and nurses, but within two years the college recognized the needs of industry and added a vocational school.

By the late 1960s, of the approximate 1,000 students who attended LCSC, 13 percent were enrolled in Vo-Tech classes, 5 percent in nursing classes, and the remaining 82 percent in academic offerings, most of which were education majors. With such academic diversity, the school name again changed in 1971 to its present name, Lewis-Clark State College.

The campus continued to grow in the 1970s with the addition of the Sam Glenn Complex for Vo-Tech students, the Student Union Building, and Meriwether Lewis Hall for science classes. Spurred by the GI bill and the college’s ability to expertly meet the needs of both veterans and nontraditional students, the makeup of LCSC’s student body began to shift after WWII. By the end of the 1970s, the average age of an LCSC academic student was 28 and more than 90 percent lived off campus including an influx of Native American students.

The late 1970s and early ’80s saw the athletic department take off. In 1984, the LCSC baseball team won the first of its 19 NAIA World Series national titles. Women’s sports were added and it wasn’t long before the women’s basketball program was making annual trips to nationals. Today, LC has more than 200 student-athletes competing in 12 sports and more than half carry a 3.0 GPA or better.

Harris Field

The college’s role in the community continued to grow and in the 1990s LCSC was fully involved in personal enrichment and adult learning classes. LCSC also started the Center for Arts & History, located in downtown Lewiston. The Center is a hub for art exhibits, culture and history. The Library was constructed in 1991, and the college celebrated its Centennial anniversary a couple of years later.

Over the past dozen years, under the leadership of presidents Dene Thomas and J. Anthony Fernandez, more construction and renovation has the campus thriving. A new 3,800-seat Activity Center and fitness center opened in 2005, followed in 2006 by Clearwater Hall, a residence hall. Sacajawea Hall, a state-of-the-art nursing and health sciences facility, opened in 2009. Thomas Jefferson Hall was remodeled in 2014 and became the location of the Business Division, and Spaulding Hall, home of faculty offices, is currently undergoing renovation.

Sacajawea Hall

In the next year, LCSC will begin construction of a new $20 million Career-Technical Education Center, which will be the home of many of its vocational classes, and there are plans for a Living Learning Complex, which will feature student dorm rooms as well as class and office space on the main floor.

The additions will help LCSC accommodate its continued growth. LCSC currently offers more than 130 four-year, two-year and one-year degrees and certificates through seven academic divisions (Business, Teacher Education, Humanities, Movement & Sport Sciences, Natural Sciences & Mathematics, Nursing & Health Sciences, and Social Sciences) and two Career & Technical Education divisions (Business Technology & Service and Technical & Industrial). In 2016-17, the student body featured students from 25 states and 34 countries and LCSC graduated a record 817 students.

2017 Commencement Ceremony