Origins story: What’s in a name?


taken from a Facebook post by Freeman Academy

What’s in a name? Here’s a bit of clarifying history on the naming of our educational institution.

“College” was a general term when South Dakota Mennonite College was established. Requirements for teaching at the primary level were relatively lenient (by today’s standards); a high school education qualified initially.

It may seem strange that the founders chose South Dakota Mennonite College as the name of the school since it began with elementary-high school courses. In her book “For Half a Century,” Marie Waldner writes “the school was expected to provide training from the elementary to and including the college level.” In fact, the founders had envisioned that eventually, the school would become a four-year college; that’s likely the reason for the name.

The name was changed from South Dakota Mennonite College to Freeman College in 1910. However, the first actual “college” course wasn’t taught until 1918. The minutes of the April 23, 1923 faculty meeting reveal the faculty was pushing for another name change – Freeman Junior College and Normal School. Normal schools were institutions established to train teachers, one of the missions the founders of South Dakota Mennonite College had for the school. The name “normal” is a reference to the program that educated primary school teachers in the “norms” of pedagogy and curriculum. In the 19th century and early 20th century, that instruction was at the high school level before expanding to one or two-year college courses.

By 1926 the faculty recommendation had taken hold and the school was being called Freeman Junior College and gained provisional standing as a junior college following an accrediting visit in 1927. That same year the first college sophomore class graduated. (Interestingly, Freeman Junior College didn’t become the official name until 1939, when the corporation voted to approve the name change!)

The college continued as a two-year program until the end of the 1985-86 school year. Financial challenges prompted a corporation vote in 1985 (based on the board’s recommendation) to discontinue the college program and focus on Freeman Academy as a high school and expand to add a middle school program. The vote was 79% in favor of the change (two-thirds was required).

Thanks to Heritage Hall Museum & Archives, now you know.

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