SMU Seal

1848 – Muscogee County approves a grant of $100 to establish a small county school and adjoining training facilities for teachers. The first head of instruction, the Rev. Henry Watkins, dubs the institution the “Muscogee Catholepistemiad,” named in honor of Augustus Woodward’s original (and unwieldy) Latin-Greek name for the University of Michigan.

1857 – The village of Hopewell incorporates, including the site of the Muscogee Catholepistemiad.

1884 – The Muscogee Catholepistemiad closes during the Panic of 1884, having grown to 200 students. The city fathers of Hopewell meet to decide what to do with its assets.

1884 – The Southern Michigan Normal School is founded as a teacher’s college in Hopewell, Michigan. It inherits the buildings, alumni, and budget of the previous institution on the site, the Muscogee Catholepistemiad. The first class is 271 students from 18 counties of Michigan.

1887 – Coeducational instruction begins. Construction of Watkins Hall (“Old Hall”) begins.

1890 – The first intramural sports teams are formed. Enrollment tops 1,000 for the first time.

1903 – The Southern Michigan Normal School board attempts to negotiate the sale of the university to the state of Michigan. Governor Aaron T. Bliss vetoes the measure, noting the number of other state-owned schools at the time. The legislature is unable to muster the votes to override his veto.

1912 – The Southern Michigan Normal School becomes Southern Michigan College following the passage of the Southern Michigan Educational Act 1912. The Act is passed over Governor Chase Osborn’s veto, and the school’s assets are purchased by the state for a nominal sum of $1.

1927 – The university becomes a Division I school; the Fighting Potawatomi football team and mascot Chief Kawgushkanic lead the school to a top ten finish. Enrollment now tops 5,000 students.

1955 – Southern Michigan College is renamed Southern Michigan University, partly as a response to the institution’s massive postwar growth and partly as a response the the name change of perennial rival Michigan State University earlier that year. The university now enrolls more than 10,000 students.

1966 – The SMU Fighting Potawatomi football team is defeated by the eventual national champions 33-32, ending the season as the second-ranked team in the conference and fourth in the nation. As of 2012, the team has never equaled this performance.

1967 – The SMU “Summers of Rage” begin. A small campus demonstration against the Vietnem War turns violent, leading to the cancellation of the homecoming festivities.

1968 – In keeping with the unrest in the rest of the world, clashes erupt between students and police throughout the summer and fall. Homecoming, all football games, and commencement are cancelled.

1969 – The Fighting Potawatomi play their home games at Rynearson Stadium on the Eastern Michigan University campus due to continuing unrest. Homecoming is canceled once more, though commencement proceeds as normal.

1970 – The last SMU “Summer of Rage.” The football season, homecoming, and commencement are canceled. The SMU Board of Trustees fires the president and calls in National Guard troops to restore order. Enrollment slips below 10,000, largely due to the continuing unrest.

1972 – Commencement is canceled due to a bomb threat. This marks the last unrest at SMU for nearly 30 years. Enrollment is once again north of 10,000.

1978 – A major campus expansion program begins as enrollment nears 15,000.

1987 – Despite support from the Potawatomi Nation and community leaders, protests from out-of-state activists lead the Fighting Potawatomi to be renamed the Fighting Grizzlies, with Chief Kawgushkanic replaced as mascot by Smitty the Grizzly. The decision is mocked by some as Grizzlies have not been native to Michigan since the Pleistocene epoch; some fans consider the name change led to “The Curse of the Chief” which is blamed for the poor athletic performance for the following decades.

1999 – Total enrollment tops 20,000 students. Southern Michigan University is now the third-largest university by enrollment after Michigan State and the University of Michigan.

2007 – Massive protests once more rock SMU, leading to hundreds of arrests and two deaths. A local radical group called “The Nothing” is blamed by some for instigating the violence, but others hold the action as a spontaneous outgrowth of national disaffection with a stagnant job market and the Iraq War.

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