Peru State College, originally incorporated as Mount Vernon Seminary, became Nebraska’s first state-supported college on June 20, 1867. Called the Nebraska State Normal School, Peru was one of the first of its kind west of the Missouri River. Its first classes as a state school were held on October 24, 1867, with thirty-two students enrolled in the normal department, which trained elementary school teachers. The campus then contained sixty acres of land and one building, Mount Vernon Hall.
In September of 1872 C. L. Brainard, Sr., entered the Nebraska State Normal School at the age of fifteen. As a part of his normal instruction, he found himself teaching grammar school classes composed of pupils from the town of Peru, some of whom were older than he was. Brainard recalled that he was “too poor to afford the price necessary to pay to belong to the class in vocal music and the music book required. But both my roommates belonged, . . . They used to rehearse in our study room and I studied with them and thus was able to learn at least the rudiments.”
Professor Henry Harrison Straight, a well-known educator who taught at Peru from 1871 to 1873, was said by Brainard to be “well named for he was so upright he nearly inclined backwards in his physical manner; and morally he was well up to his name.” Read more about Brainard at the Nebraska State Normal School and Professor Straight in Timeline columns on the Nebraska State Historical Society website. A Nebraska State Historical Marker has been erected on the campus of Peru State College. — Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor for Research and Publications