Harris-Stowe State University traces its origin back to 1857 when it was founded by the St. Louis Public Schools as a normal school and thus became the first public teacher education institution west of the Mississippi River and the 12th such institution in the United States. The earliest predecessor of Harris-Stowe State University was a normal school established for white students only by the Public School System of the city of St. Louis. This school was later named Harris Teachers College in honor of William Torrey Harris who had been a Superintendent of Instruction in the St. Louis Public Schools and also a United States Commissioner of Education.
The College began offering in-service education for St. Louis white teachers as early as 1906. In 1920, Harris Teachers College became a four-year undergraduate institution authorized to grant a Bachelor of Arts in Education Degree. In 1924, the college received accreditation from the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. Accreditation from other agencies followed, including accreditation by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education and the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education.
A second predecessor institution was Stowe Teachers College, which began in 1890 as a normal school for future black teachers of elementary schools in the city of St. Louis. This normal school was also founded by the St. Louis Public School System and was an extension of Sumner High School. In 1924, the Sumner Normal School became a four-year institution with authority to grant the baccalaureate degree. In 1929, its name was changed to Stowe Teachers College, in honor of the abolitionist and novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe. These two teacher education institutions were merged by the Board of Education of the St. Louis Public Schools in 1954 as the first of several steps to integrate the public schools of St. Louis. The merged institution retained the name Harris Teachers College.
Later, in response to the many requests from alumni of Stowe Teachers College and members of the greater St. Louis community, the Board of Education agreed to restore to the College's name the word "Stowe" and to drop the word "Teachers." In 1979, the General Assembly of the State of Missouri enacted Senate Bill 703 under which Harris-Stowe College became the newest member of the State system of public higher education. The institution's name was again changed by the addition of the word "State" and became officially known as Harris-Stowe State College. In addition to the name change, the College's baccalaureate degree was changed to Bachelor of Science in Education. In compliance with the new state standards and teacher certification requirements, the College's Teacher Education curriculum was modified and three separate Teacher Education majors were approved: Early Childhood Education, Elementary School Education and Middle School/High School Education.
In 1981, the College received state approval for a new degree program — the Bachelor of Science in Urban Education. This program is the only one of its kind at the undergraduate level in the United States and is designed to prepare non-teaching urban education specialists who will be effective in solving the many urban-related problems facing today's urban schools. In 1993, the State Governor signed into law Senate Bill 153, which authorized the College to expand its mission in order to address unmet needs of metropolitan St. Louis in various applied professional disciplines. In response to that authority, Harris-Stowe developed two new baccalaureate degree programs:
Finally, on August 25, 2005, by mandate of the State of Missouri, Harris-Stowe State College obtained university status. Today the University hosts collaborative graduate degree programs with Maryville University, the University of Missouri-St. Louis and Webster University. The University continues to expand, adding new campuses and buildings as part of its 21st-century initiative to offer opportunities for both undergraduate and graduate students seeking a variety of degrees.
Thus, from its beginnings as two normal schools in the mid and late 19th century to its present status as a state institution of public higher education, Harris-Stowe State University and its predecessor institutions have always been in the forefront of teacher education. Now, with its mission expanded to include other professional disciplines, the University will provide greatly needed additional opportunities to metropolitan St. Louisians in other important fields of endeavor. The University will continue its quest for excellence in all of its offerings and strive even more to meet the complex and demanding challenge of preparing students for effective roles in this region's various professions.