Arizona University opened its doors in 1899 with 23 students, one professor,
and two copies of Webster's International Dictionary bound in sheepskin. The
first president scoured the countryside in horse and buggy seeking students to
fill the classrooms of the single school building (now known as Old Main).
those humble beginnings, the university has continued to grow, undergoing
several name changes in accordance with expansions, added degree programs, and achieving
The depression and WWII
The university was not immune to the effects of the Great
Depression. The only bank in town closed its doors in June 1932. However, the
President at the time, Grady Gammage,
recognized that higher education was a "depression industry," one
that fared well in hard times—and he was right.
Enrollment at the university rose during the Depression from 321 students during the 1929-1930 academic
year to 535 by 1940.
Many significant historical events also occurred during these hard
times: In 1937, graduate work at the university became possible with the
addition of the master of arts in education degree, and in 1939, Ida Mae Fredericks
became the first Hopi to receive a college degree.
The entry of
the United States into World War II precipitated a large drop in enrollment as
college-age men entered the armed services. By the 1944-1945 academic year,
just 161 students attended class on the Flagstaff campus, yet the university survived by making valuable contributions toward the war effort.
The university served as a site for the Navy's V-12 training
program, one of 150 schools selected from among 1,600 contenders. The Campus
Civilian Defense Program maintained an aircraft spotting post, one of only 84
such posts in the United States. The university even banned all gas-powered vehicles and those with rubber
tires from the Homecoming Parade in 1942, to demonstrate its dedication to rationing programs.
In the 1950s, the university entered a period of exceptional
growth. Students could now earn an education specialist degree as well as master’s degrees in the arts and sciences. Much of the expansion can be attributed to Dr. J.
Lawrence Walkup, who has the distinction of serving the longest term as President
(December 21, 1957 to June 30, 1979).
Building on this growth, the road to becoming a university began with the creation of
the forestry program in 1958 and increased research activities. Pleased with
the array of quality academic programs and ever-growing student body, the
Arizona Board of Regents recommended that the then Arizona State College become
Northern Arizona University (NAU), effective May 1, 1966.
Northern Arizona University today
More than 40 years later, NAU has a lot to be proud of, including its nationally
ranked programs, its high-research status, and its emergence as a leader in
sustainability, science, business, green building, and cultural arts.
Noted Flagstaff historian Dr. Platt Cline has characterized
NAU as an institution that has thrived throughout the years due to our strong
leadership, the devotion of former students and faculty, and community support
for the school's success.
Empowered by the Arizona Board of Regents to provide
educational opportunities statewide, the university now serves students at the Flagstaff campus, multiple statewide locations, and online—offering nearly 150 combined undergraduate and graduate degree programs, all distinguished by an ongoing commitment to close student-faculty relationships.