Normal schools were created in the 1800s in North America to train high school graduates to be teachers, mainly at the primary level. The first Normal School in the U.S. was established in Concord, Va., in 1823. The popularity of Normal schools grew as settlers headed west and the need for schools and teachers in these new areas increased. As it turns out, Lewis-Clark State was the last public school in American to carry the title of Normal.
With a need for teachers in northern and north central Idaho, a bill was drafted to create the Lewiston State Normal School, which eventually passed the Idaho Legislature in January of 1893. The primary mission of the new school was to prepare teachers for many of the region’s one-room rural schools.
With steady growth over the years in both enrollment and the number of programs offered, the Idaho State Board of Education expanded the college’s role to a four-year institution in 1943. With the college now offering a Bachelor of Arts degree in education, the state legislature changed the institution’s name to Northern Idaho College of Education (NICE) in 1947.
While the name NICE was used for eight years, the college was only open for the first four. The college held its first commencement after summer school in 1951 and graduated 70 students. Four months later, then Idaho Gov. Len B. Jordan met with the State Board of Education and discussed necessary budget cuts to bring the state’s budget under control. Jordan asked the Board if they preferred money spread over four institutions or the two main institutions, Idaho State University and the University of Idaho. The Board voted for just two. Jordan announced the following month that he was cutting state budget requests by 25 percent, which meant the end of NICE and Southern Idaho College of Education in Albion. The Idaho Senate approved by a tie vote of 21-21, with Lieutenant Gov. Edson Deal breaking the tie, to eliminate funding to NICE. Suddenly, the college that had produced about 30 percent of Idaho’s elementary teachers since 1898 would have to close its doors after the spring semester in 1951.
By 1955, Idaho had a new governor and NICE had a new ally in Bob Smylie, who led a change in the political atmosphere at the statehouse. A bill was introduced in the 1955 legislature to reactivate the Lewiston school as a two-year branch of the University of Idaho and limited to training elementary teachers. Both the Idaho Senate and House approved the bill and Gov. Smylie signed the bill to give $200,000 to reactive the college under the name Lewis-Clark Normal.
The college operated this way for eight years and then in 1963, the legislature restored the college’s autonomy from the UI and gave the four-year undergraduate institution its own niche in the state’s higher education system. Idaho law defined the purposes of Lewis-Clark Normal School to be the "offering and giving of instruction in four-year courses in science, arts and literature, and such courses as are normally included in liberal arts colleges leading to the granting of the degree of bachelor."
In 1965, the State Board of Education approved a four-year curriculum in education and liberals arts and established the Normal school as one of its six postsecondary vocational schools. The college’s days as a Normal school came to end on March 2, 1971, when then Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus signed a bill to change the name to the current Lewis-Clark State College. As the Lewiston Tribune’s Bill Hall wrote in an editorial in 1971, “Who can defend the name ‘normal’ attached to any institution in the state of Idaho? One might as well call it Lewis-Clark ‘Backward School.’ The term is outdated.”