By: Patrick Byrnes, Staff Member of the Passaic County Department of Cultural & Historic Affairs
On August 30th William Paterson University welcomed back students to start their Fall 2023 semester. For 72 years, Wayne has been the home of this institution, but the story of William Paterson does not start in Wayne- instead, it got its start in in Paterson.
The institution that became William Paterson University was founded in 1855 as the Paterson City Normal School. It was established to meet the rising demand for professional training for teachers in Paterson's newest free public schools. The city's superintendent of schools, Col. Andrew Derrom, advocated for a standard equivalent to those already in place in New England and New York. As a result, Paterson Normal School was founded as a school to offer professional training, initially for currently employed teachers and then, two decades later, for aspiring teachers as well. The school, which had been in several different locations, was relocated to the brand-new School No. 24 on 19th Avenue and East 22nd Street in Paterson in 1910.
Initially, only part-time students- teachers employed by the city of Paterson- were enrolled in the normal school. However, it soon expanded to include Saturday morning classes. The normal school functioned as an auxiliary to the city's public education system up until 1875, requiring teachers to complete a three-year sequence of courses in geography, philosophy, algebra, and pedagogy. In 1875, city officials converted the normal school from an in-service to a preliminary teacher-training program.
The school's curriculum expanded in 1891 from one year of full-time study to two years, and it became known as Paterson City Normal School. Local educators and individuals fought for the state to assume control of the normal school because by the 1920s, educators and government leaders agreed that teacher education should be a state responsibility. In 1923 the Paterson City Normal School changed its name to Paterson State Normal School. A three-year curriculum was another adjustment made for new students in 1929. The 1929–30 catalog later stated that its main objective was "to develop a well-trained teacher for service in the schools of the State." In 1937, a four-year curriculum and degree-granting program went into effect.
In April 1937, the name of the school changed to the New Jersey State Teacher's College at Paterson, and a degree-granting program was started. The following year saw the addition of an adult school, a nursing program, a business education curriculum, a kindergarten/primary curriculum, and a reading clinic.
Following the adoption of the G.I. Bill in 1944 enrollment at the college grew which caused the college to start looking for a new location. In his annual report from July 1945, President Clair S. Wightman requested the state to set aside funding for the purchase of a campus property and a building program to meet the college's expanding needs. In 1948 the state purchased the Wayne estate of Garret Hobart's family for $200,000. Garret Hobart served as William McKinley's vice president.
Built in 1877 by rich wool industry industrialist and Scottish immigrant John MacCullough, Hobart Manor was also known as Haledon Hall or Ailsa Farms. Jennie Tuttle Hobart, the widow of former vice president Garret Hobart, bought the property in 1902, and the family used it as a weekend getaway and summer home. A three-story brick wing designed by Paterson architects Fred Wesley Wentworth and Frederick Vreeland was constructed by their son Garret Hobart Jr. in 1915.
In 1951, the college moved to this location, which included 250 acres. Between 1954 and 1966, the college significantly increased its physical buildings, academic programs, student services, and administrative offices. In 1955, the first graduate program in education was established. The college changed its name to Paterson State College in April 1958 due to the State Board of Education deciding to remove the word "teachers" from each of the six state schools' names, however teacher preparation remained the primary goal of the college. In 1958 the Paterson State College received its first accreditation by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools. In 1962 the first student dormitories opened on campus. In 1966 the college first offered degree programs outside the study of Education.
In 1971, the Paterson State College changed its name to William Paterson College of New Jersey. President James Karge Olsen said the new name "reflects and respects the historical origins of the college." William Paterson College continued to develop and grow through the 1970s and 1980s. The College established the Distinguished Lecturer Series, a forum for nationally and internationally important speakers in 1980. As William Paterson College continued to grow and expanded its graduate programs the college applied for and was granted University status in 1997.
The journey of William Paterson University, from its humble beginnings as the Paterson City Normal School to its current status as a thriving institution of higher education, is a testament to its commitment to excellence. Over the course of its history, the university has evolved and expanded its mission, programs, and facilities, consistently responding to the changing needs of its students and the growing community of Wayne, New Jersey. From its early focus on teacher training to its transformation into a multi-purpose liberal arts institution, the university has consistently strived to provide outstanding educational opportunities and service to the community. As the institution prepares to welcome students for the Fall 2023 semester, it carries with it a rich legacy of growth, innovation, and dedication to shaping the futures of its students and the communities it serves.
Fetterman, Ruth. “New Name, New Goals.” The Herald News, June 30, 1970.
“History of William Paterson University.” History of William Paterson | William Paterson University. Accessed August 20, 2023. https://www.wpunj.edu/about-us/history/.
Nelson, William. Historical Sketch of Schools in Paterson, New Jersey : with notices of some schools in the vicinity. Paterson, NJ: Paterson Board of Education, 1877.
Parrillo, Vincent N. William Paterson University. Charleston, SC: Arcadia, 2005.
Paterson State College. The “Lore”, 1934. William Paterson University Archives.
Paterson State College. Pioneer, 1969. William Paterson University Archives.