Black History Month

Harris-Stowe University has storied past

By Alandrea Stewart

For more than 160 years, people of all backgrounds have benefited from the exceptional instruction that is the legacy of Harris-Stowe State University.

Harris-Stowe is a public, historically black college and university nestled in the city of St. Louis, at 3026 Laclede Ave. in Midtown. Like many Historically Black Colleges and Universities, the university has a storied past. 

Harris-Stowe State University traces its origin back to 1857 when the St. Louis Board of Education founded its first predecessor as a “normal” school – for the training of teachers – for the preparation of white elementary school teachers. The school was named after William Torrey Harris, U.S. Commissioner of Education and former superintendent of the St. Louis Public Schools. Thus, Harris Teachers College became the first public teacher education institution west of the Mississippi River and the 12th such institution in the United States. 

Its other predecessor institution was also a normal school founded by the same public schools in 1890 to prepare African-American elementary school teachers. The school was an extension of Sumner High School. In 1924, the Sumner Normal School became a four-year institution with the authority to grant the baccalaureate degree. It was named after Harriet Beecher Stowe, the famed slavery abolitionist and author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” 

To desegregate the city’s public schools, the St. Louis Board of Education merged the two in 1954, forming Harris Teachers College, and in 1977 it became Harris-Stowe College. In 1979, the college became a Missouri public college, with the name Harris-Stowe State College. It was designated as one of the nation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities under the U.S. Department of Education in 1987. In 2005, the college received university status and celebrated its name change to Harris-Stowe State University.

Many distinguished alumni have walked the hallowed halls of dear Harris-Stowe. One was Dr. Queen D. Fowler, a renowned educator who became the first black woman to serve as a superintendent of schools in Missouri. Norman Seay, a civil rights leader who led the charge to integrate lunch counters and organized the historic Jefferson Bank protests alongside the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., resulting in the bank’s hiring of black employees, is another example of distinguished Harris-Stowe alumni. Bobby Wilks, the first African-American Coast Guard aviator and first African-American to reach the rank of Coast Guard captain, adds to the ever-growing list of notable Harris-Stowe alumni.

Since its founding, Harris-Stowe has dedicated itself to providing quality education to underserved populations while developing the whole student and enhancing the economic capacity of underrepresented citizens in the state of Missouri. As evidenced by the makeup of our current student population, which is largely black, the University has not wavered from this priority.

Over the past decade, Harris-Stowe has drastically expanded its programs to offer degrees in more than 50 majors, minors, and certificate programs in education, business, and arts & sciences – including two fully online degree programs in criminal justice and health care management. Harris-Stowe is a vibrant and diverse campus with more than 37 percent of its full-time students residing on campus, more than 40 student clubs and organizations, and 10 athletic teams.

As we embark upon a new decade, Harris-Stowe continues to evolve in its educational offerings. Our university is a leader in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), and has successfully developed and launched 12 STEM majors and cooperative dual-degree programs since 2007. Our STEM programs include biology, math, health care management, sustainability & urban ecology, STEM education, biomedical science, engineering, nursing, occupational therapy, pre-pharmacy, and PharmD. Six of these programs are in partnership with several area universities. The university is one of the state’s largest producers of African American graduates in biological science and mathematics, and was recognized by HBCU Digest as having the Best STEM Program among all HBCUs in 2019.

Today, Harris-Stowe State University is a gateway for the future leaders of tomorrow and a landmark institution in St. Louis, proudly serving as the only HBCU in the region. We invite you to learn more about Harris-Stowe as we continue to honor our historical legacy while preparing the next generation of leaders.

Dr. Alandrea P. Stewart is the Executive Director of Communications and Marketing at Harris-Stowe State University.

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