Mayor Erin Stewart today joined Connecticut State Colleges and Universities (CSCU) President Mark Ojakian, Central Connecticut State University (CCSU) President Zulma Toro, students, musicians, and community leaders to unveil a historic walking tour marker celebrating New Britain as the birthplace of public higher education in Connecticut. In 1849, New Britain was selected to host the Connecticut State Normal School, now CCSU, because of residents’ overwhelming support for the school; it was the state’s first coeducational college, either public or private.
“Today we mark the 170th anniversary of the founding of the Connecticut State Normal School – the oldest public institution of higher learning in Connecticut – and by extension the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system,” said President Ojakian. “Much has changed over the past 170 years, but many of the principles upon which this institution were founded – equity, opportunity, and access – continue to drive our mission to this day. The marker we unveil today is recognition of the many years of history shared between the city of New Britain and our state’s system of public higher education.”
The monument specifically pays tribute to Ebenezer Bassett, the first African American individual to graduate from a public college in Connecticut and the first African-American to serve as a United States ambassador.
“There is great diversity in New Britain and the retelling of Mr. Bassett’s story provides an opportunity to share his ideals with a wider audience. Mr. Bassett devoted his life to spreading a love of learning and rose above significant challenges in order to reach his goals,” said Mayor Stewart. “We are proud as a City to add this marker signifying the location of the State Normal School to our downtown and historic walking tour, so that his story can never be forgotten by future generations.”
“New Britain’s Normal school set precedents that still distinguish our state universities,” said President Toro. “It elevated the nation’s standards of teacher preparation, and, from its inception, broke barriers to education. It was the state’s first coeducational college, and it was the first in the state to welcome and educate a student of color, Mr. Ebenezer Bassett, who graduated from the Normal School in 1853.”
“The marker we are unveiling today represents much more than the former location of a building: it also celebrates the people of New Britain who funded and supported the construction of a Normal School; the educators at the Normal School who made education equity a priority; and the thriving partnership, past and present, between the City of New Britain and Central Connecticut State University,” President Toro concluded.
“Sometimes our life’s journey takes us places we have no idea how those places will impact our future,” said Elizabeth Nkonoki-Ward, chair of the State Normal School Historical Marker Unveiling Committee. “Examples from my life, have been Central Junior High School, (where the State Normal School was located) where I entertained, as a New Britain High School student; Central Connecticut State University, where I taught, knowing nothing of the connection, between CJH and CCSU, at the time; being asked to Chair the State Normal School/Ebenezer D. Bassett Historical Marker Unveiling Subcommittee and having the opportunity, as a former Western Connecticut State University Music Department graduate, to invite musicians from the first, public Connecticut State University, Central Connecticut State University Music Department to perform for this, our special day of recognition for the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities. I am grateful and humbled. Many thanks to Mayor Erin Stewart, President Ojakian, President Toro, and all who made this program, possible.”
The full text of the marker is as follows:
New Britain: Birthplace of Public Higher Education in Connecticut
State Normal School, 1849
Diversity and Inclusion in Connecticut’s First Public College
Connecticut’s first public institution of higher education, the State Normal School, was founded at this site in 1849. Several towns competed to host the school, and New Britain was selected because of its strong show of public support and funding from local residents.
The Normal School was a teacher-training institutive, whose principal, Henry Barnard, developed an innovated program of study that became the basis for modern teacher education. Barnard later served as the first U.S. Commissioner of Education.
The New Britain Normal School was the state’s first coeducational college (public or private), and supported diversity in the student population. Mr. Ebenezer Bassett, who enrolled here in 1852, was the first African American to attend and graduate from a Connecticut public college. Mr. Bassett taught for several years in prestigious schools, and in 1869, was appointed as a United States minister resident (ambassador), the first African American to hold this title.
The Normal School moved to Hillside Place in 1883 and to its current location on Stanley Street in 1922, where in 1933 it was renamed Teacher’s College of Connecticut. In 1959, the school name was changed to Central Connecticut State College, and modified in 1983 to its present name, Central Connecticut State University.
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