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History (Part I)

Westmar Alumni and Friends Association

Westmar Seal

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Seal of Westmar College
The Early Years(1887-1891)

  Throughout the last quarter of the nineteenth century a number of more education-minded citizens hoped for the establishment of an institution of higher learning in Plymouth County.  While county superintendent of schools, Professor Wernli felt that a large percentage of teachers were deficient in their training.  He accordingly began to envision a normal school in the county.  With the aid of associates he made several attempts to have a bill passed by the Iowa Legislature for a state normal school at Le Mars.  However, sectional jealousy consistently brought defeat.  So strongly was Professor Wernli convinced of the need, that he declined re-election as county superintendent and in the Spring of 1887 established the Northwestern Normal School and Business College.
  The school had as ostentatious beginning, for its enrollment of ten at first attended classes in an old German Methodist Church located south of Le Mars.  Before long the institution moved to the old public school house in Le Mars.  By the end of the first year, however, the normal school had grown substantially in attendance and favor.  The instructors, Wernli and Hirsch, were assisted free of charge by Reverend D. W. Fahs and G. W. Foster, a medical doctor.  By the winter of 1888 the school was so well patronized that larger accommodations had to be found.  Professor Wernli's hopes soared and he purchased a large building on Main Street, The Richards House, which had formerly been a hotel.
The basement of the Richards House was converted into a kitchen and dining room.  Class rooms and an office were located on the first floor.  Second floor, exclusively the girls dormain, was presided over by Professor Wernli's son, William, and his family, who occupied two rooms there.  The boys were all quartered on the third floor, and it was the responsibility of William's brother, C.A. Wernli, to keep order there.  The enrollment reached 150 students by 1889.
  The college at this time consisted of five departments; Normal, Business, Music, Elocution, and Military Drill.  The school year was divided into four terms of ten weeks each.  The entrance requirements were quite low by standards of the 1960's.  Any person of good character over fourteen years of age was admitted without examination.  Tuition was $10 a term with board and room $2 a week.  A student could therefore attend the entire forty weeks for the sum of $120.
  Despite the promising beginning of Northwestern Normal and Business College, the expenditure for upkeep and staff went beyond the income.  Professor Wernli's hopes of securing recognition of the state for his college were not realized.  This disappointment, plus the financial strain, compelled him to withdraw from the college at the close of the year 1891.  Upon Professor Wernli's repeated solicitations, arrangements were made for his former partner, Professor Hirsch, and Professor A.W. Rich to rent the building and continue the school.





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