Southeast Missouri State University (SEMO), is a public, accredited university located in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, United States, near the banks of the Mississippi River. The institution, having started as a normal school, has a traditional strength in teacher education. The recent addition of the River Campus, housing the Holland School of Visual and Performing Arts, has increased the university’s commitment to education in the arts. The institution offers over 200 areas of study, including undergraduate degrees as well as master’s degrees and a cooperative Ed.D. program with the University of Missouri.

Southeast Missouri State University was founded in 1873 when a group of prominent businessmen and politicians successfully lobbied the State of Missouri to designate Cape Girardeau as the home of the Third District Normal School. Originally known as Southeast Missouri State Normal School, the first classes were taught at the nearby Lorimier School until April 1875 when the first normal school building was completed.

The Normal building was described by Mark Twain in “Life on the Mississippi“:

“There was another college higher up on an airy summit—a bright new edifice, picturesquely and peculiarly towered and pinnacled—a sort of gigantic casters, with the cruets all complete.”[7]

The original Normal School building burned down on April 8, 1902,[8] and was replaced in 1906 by Academic Hall, the school’s domed landmark building. It was designed by Jerome Bibb Legg, who also designed the St. Louis Exposition and Music Hall, and includes light fixtures from the 1904 World’s Fair.

Academic hall, ca. 1906

In the 1950s Southeast Missouri State College had an enrollment of approximately 1,600 students and steadily increased to more than 7,000 students in the 1970s due to low tuition costs, aggressive recruiting, and the construction of Interstate 55 between St. Louis and Cape Girardeau. The College also moved away from its focus on training teachers and began to offer courses of study in business, nursing, and the liberal arts. Due to the expansion of curriculum and student body population, the college became Southeast Missouri State University in 1972. The size of the campus also grew in this same period. In 1956, the institution had ten buildings on campus. By 1975, the number had increased to twenty-two buildings. In 1998, the university acquired the former St. Vincent’s Seminary on the Mississippi river. This property has been redeveloped as the Earl and Margie Holland School of Visual and Performing Arts, which opened in Fall 2007.

Missouri State Normal School—Third District President John Sephus McGhee established the University Schools on June 15, 1896. This allowed prospective teachers to gain real world teaching experience while earning their degrees. As the university expanded its curriculum and extra-curricular activities so did the University Schools. In 1903, as recent construction allowed for more space for university classes, the training school was able to expand its class sizes as well. The University Schools consisted of an elementary, junior high, and high school. The University Schools closed at the end of the 1986–1987 school year, due to increasing costs.

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