Walking across the campus today, it’s hard to envision the undeveloped vista encountered by Illinois State University’s founders. Even more sobering is the scope of their task as they created the first state university in Illinois, shaping not just a curriculum but physical structures where it would be taught.

When the University opened its doors in October of 1857 to 43 students, the founders must have known they were providing more than tangible books and classrooms. They were building a community where teaching and learning would become a way of life.

Illinois State’s landscape is radically altered from 150 years ago. Academic programs have expanded as well, and the University’s mission has evolved beyond teaching to include research and public service.

The story of how these changes occurred is filled with intrigue and inspiration, as this list of 150 firsts in the University’s history reveals. While far from a complete chronology, each fact documents a stage in Illinois State’s evolution.

Take a moment to catch a glimpse of the events and individuals integral to the University’s establishment as a prestigious teacher’s college, as well as Illinois State’s transformation throughout each decade. Your Redbird pride will grow with your knowledge of how your university purposefully became a leader in undergraduate education.


  • The first telephone installed on campus was placed in the reception room of Old Main at a cost of $55 in 1880.
  • The first student campaign was held in 1880. The purpose was to convince the University’s Board of Trustees to provide a library and half-time librarian. The effort was not successful. Eight years later the students raised the issue again.
  • Football got its start at Illinois State in 1887. One of the earliest cheers was the University yell: Rah-nee! Kah-roo! Kah-zee! Kah-zoo! Rip-rah-hah! ISNU!
  • The first issue of the Vidette, Illinois State’s student newspaper, was published in February of 1888. It began as a monthly publication and did not become a daily until August of 1976, at which time it was printed Monday through Friday.


  • The University’s first librarian, Angeline Milner, was hired in 1890 at a salary of $500 a year. That same year the first secretary joined the staff. Flora Pennell Dodge was hired for $7 a week because of her typing skills and ability to use “multiplying pads.”
  • Electric lights were first installed on campus in 1891. A total of 106 were added to Old Main, eliminating the need to fill lanterns and light candles.
  • The first volume of the yearbook, The Index, was produced in 1892.
  • The first student demonstration was in 1895. The threatened closing of University High School caused the unrest.
  • University High School graduate Rachel Crothers left Bloomington in 1895 and headed for New York, where she became one of the greatest playwrights the nation has known. The winner of a Pulitzer Prize, Crothers wrote 37 plays. Twenty made it to a Broadway stage.
  • Field Day was introduced on June 8, 1895. Students vied for prizes valued at $65. The games included potato sack races, foot races, pole vault, discus throw, kicking, jumping, tennis, and bike races.
  • Frank “Pop” Dillon served as the first coach of the ISNU women’s basketball team in 1896. His salary was $25 a month.
  • The first use of red and white by an athletic team was in 1896. One of the female intramural teams was known for wearing red and white ribbons when competing.
  • The “castle” was built as the University’s first gymnasium in 1897, which was 33 years after President Edwards requested funding to construct a gym.
  • The first ISNU graduate to become president at his alma mater was John Cook. He graduated in 1865 and served as president from 1890 to 1899. Cook Hall is named in his honor.
  • Student musical groups were established on campus in 1899, which was the year men’s and women’s Glee Clubs came into existence.


  • The University’s first men’s basketball team was formed in 1900.
  • Regular coursework for all students was offered during the summer beginning in 1900. Prior to that date, only special short courses designed specifically for teachers were available.
  • Squirrels captured a headline in 1903. It was then that President David Felmley ordered the planting of nut-bearing trees on campus to encourage a preserve for squirrels and birds.
  • Roy Williams was the first African-American athlete to play for the University. He was a starting lineman on the 1904 football team.
  • The first alumni club outside of Illinois was established when 24 graduates met in New York City in 1905. George Riley from the class of 1892 served as the group’s first president. The only other alumni club at the time was one in Chicago, which formed in the late 1880s.
  • The first bachelor’s degrees were conferred in 1908 to Alma Mary Hamilton and Lillie R. Palsley.
  • Special campus recognition of the University’s anniversary began with the first Founders Day, which was celebrated in 1909.
  • Billy Darnbrough is known for more than serving as baseball captain in 1888. In 1906 he became famous internationally as the alumnus who broke the bank at Monte Carlo. He beat the roulette wheel to pocket $550,000.