Calling a school “normal” may sound strange to our ears today. But in the 19th century, when the quality of most schools was very low, it referred to a movement to raise educational standards by setting a “norm,” or a standard, for all schools to follow. Originating in France, normal schools trained teachers to introduce higher standards in order to raise the quality of education in their local schools. The normal school movement soon spread to America, where many were created in the late 19th century. Western Carolina University traces its roots to a normal school led by Robert Lee Madison in the 1890s. His goal, to train more and better teachers, increased educational opportunities for the children living in North Carolina’s mountain region.
Digital Heritage Moments are produced at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee. To learn more, visit digitalheritage.org. You may also hear Digital Heritage Moments each weekday on radio stations WKSF-FM, WWCU-FM, WMXF-AM, WPEK-AM and WWNC-AM.