Harris-Stowe’s journey to the university it is today began in 1857, when the St. Louis Public Schools founded a teacher-training institution for white students only – the first such teacher education institution west of the Mississippi River.
It later became known as Harris Teachers College, which in 1920 grew into a four-year undergraduate institution, offering a bachelor’s degree.
Meanwhile, a similar college to train black students as teachers in the city schools had been founded in 1890; in 1929, its name was changed from Sumner Normal School to Stowe Teachers College, to honor the abolitionist author Harriet Beecher Stowe.
In 1954, in the wake of the desegregation ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Brown vs. Board of Education case, the two teacher training institutions in St. Louis merged under the name Harris Teachers College. But Stowe supporters and alumni wanted that name restored, and eventually it was.
In 1979, Harris-Stowe College joined the Missouri system of public higher education, adding the word “state” to its name. At first, it offered only a bachelor’s degree in education, but it soon added three additional education majors, with more to follow. In 1987, it received the designation of being one of the nation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities from the U.S. Department of Education.
The school’s mission was expanded further in 1993, when programs in business and a wider range of education offerings were added. In 2005, it reached its current status and became Harris-Stowe State University.
Guiding much of the school’s growth was Henry Givens Jr., who became president when Harris-Stowe joined the state system in 1979 and retired after 32 years in 2011. The school’s main administrative building is named in his honor.
Givens was succeeded by Albert Walker, whose tenure lasted just two years. In August, as the school was about to start, the university released a statement saying that Walker was retiring and being replaced on an interim basis by Constance Gully. The announcement of his departure contained only this brief reference to him, from Thelma Cook, chair of the board of regents: “We are very grateful for Dr. Walker’s leadership and service at Harris-Stowe.”
That announcement went on to recount Gully’s 15 years of service at the school, first as comptroller, then as vice president for business and financial affairs.