Nebraska Normal College Collection
Catalog Title: Nebraska Normal College Collection
Shelved as: 03.01 N437
Collection: Office of the President
Series: Historical Files
Sub-Series: Nebraska Normal College
Persistent Link to Conn Library OPAC: http://library.nscs.edu/record=b1575311
James Madison Pile was born October 30, 1857, in Breckenridge County, Kentucky, the fifth of eight children. At the age of 17 he left his family’s tobacco plantation to visit some of his mother’s relatives in the North. The standard accounts of Pile’s life relate that it was during this visit that he met “Professor Pinkham” of Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana. This encounter inspired Pile to enter the field of Education.
The web site of Earlham College’s archives does list a William P. (Penn) Pinkham collection. There is a difficulty with Pile meeting Professor Pinkham while Pinkham was at Earlham, however, as Pinkham did not arrive there until 1879. This would be five years after Pile was 17 years old (in 1874). Chronologically it makes more sense that Pile met Pinkham while Pinkham was the head of Southern Indiana Normal School in Paoli (he was there from 1874 to 1879). Supporting this alternative meeting place is the fact that Paoli is the seat of Orange County and all biographical accounts of Pile state that his first teaching experience was at a school in Orange County, Indiana.
After teaching in Orange County Pile entered Northern Indiana University (now Valparaiso University) from which he graduated with honors in 1881. It was there that he also met his future wife, Ella Josephine Meek.
After graduation Pile taught at schools in Illinois and Michigan before coming to Fremont, Nebraska in 1889. At Fremont Normal he held the position of professor of mathematics.
For some time the people of Wayne had been interested in establishing a college in the town. Professor Pile was invited to come to Wayne to teach classes held in the public school in the summers of 1889, 1890, and 1891. According to the book Nebraska Normal College, “he was so impressed with the earnestness of the people in their desire for higher education, their willingness to co-operate, and the general possibilities for a successful institution of this kind in this section of the state that he began planning, in his own mind, how such a dream could be realized.”
A public meeting was held September 1, 1891 at the court house during which Professor Pile outlined his plans—plans that were acted on quickly. A committee was chosen to select a location. A corporation, the Nebraska Normal College Association, was formed on September 3. The association’s purpose was “the instituting and maintaining of a normal school known as The Nebraska Normal College of Wayne, Nebraska.”
The Nebraska Normal College held its first classes on November 11, 1891 in a store building in downtown Wayne pending the construction of a building at the college’s permanent location at the north end of town. Classes started in this new building in 1892.
Only seven students reported that first day of classes in 1891, but within two years President Pile could report that enrollment for all sessions of the 1892-1893 school year had totaled 670 (including 26 children in the kindergarten school). Students that year came from 93 counties of Nebraska and surrounding states.
The college continued to grow. Between 1892 and 1906 several new buildings were constructed: five dormitories (one with a kitchen and dining hall), a home for the president, a power plant, and a second classroom building that included a 500-seat auditorium.
Professor Pile put all his energy into the success of the college. He often began work at 7:00 (or earlier) in the morning. His day would not end before 10:00 at night. The hard work with little time for rest took a toll on Professor Pile’s health. As his health declined, Professor Pile grew concerned about the future of the college. He and his family decided that the best plan would be to offer to sell the college. There was strong support in Wayne for the state to purchase the college. Four prominent men of Wayne were leaders in this effort: Phil H. Kohl, Henry C. Ley, James Britton, and John T. Bressler. After a hard fought battle in the legislature, a bill authorizing the purchase of the Nebraska Normal College by the State of Nebraska passed and was signed into law on April 6, 1909 by Governor Shellenberger. Sadly, Professor Pile did not live to see the event; he had passed away just a month before on March 11, 1909.
The last class of the Nebraska Normal College graduated on August 10, 1910.
Scope and Content Note
Approximately 20 boxes of materials were transferred from the president’s office to the archives in the summer of 2006. Two of these boxes were labeled “Historical Files” and “Oversized Historical Files,” respectively. Also among the boxes were two boxes with folders labeled “Historical – [subject]”. In addition there were individual folders with similar labels scattered among several of the other boxes. The materials in this sub-series came from files pertaining to James Pile, the Pile Family, and the Nebraska Normal College found in theses boxes from the president’s office as well as from boxes of unorganized, relevant materials already in library storage.