Jump to Footer

Our Historic First Century

Our Centennial brochure takes you through the first 10 decades of our historic first century and the key moments that have helped to define us. Read about our visionary leaders and see how much the present campus has grown since its first 34 acres were purchased in 1956.

Our History

Our Bold Beginning 1919

Begun as the Springfield Division of Northeastern College (University), known as Springfield-Northeastern, this new academic venture was established following WWI to offer part-time evening educational opportunities for working men and women through programs in law, business, and accounting. Springfield-Northeastern was one of five divisions in New England branching out from Northeastern, whose roots began in the Boston YMCA in 1896. Springfield-Northeastern held its first classes in the Springfield Central YMCA on Chestnut Street, four miles from its present campus.


Under the direction of Dr. John D. Churchill, who would later become Western New England’s founding president, the Springfield-Northeastern Division grew in the 1920s to include the Evening School of Engineering, which in 1925 became the Springfield Engineering Institute run by the YMCA. In 1922, the inaugural class of Springfield Northeastern graduated its first 13 students. The institution’s first Alumni Association was established in 1925. In 1927, the business program was extended to offer a B.B.A. and the M.B.A. was introduced. By the close of the 1920s enrollment reached 400 students.


During the Depression years, the Springfield Engineering Institute revamped its curriculum and was reabsorbed into Northeastern University in 1930, becoming the Applied Science Program in the School of Commerce and Finance and granting the degree of Bachelor of Commercial Science (B.C.S.), the only Northeastern entity to award that degree. That year the Educational Committee of the Springfield Division became the Board of Governors, under the close direction of Northeastern University. In 1931, the School of Commerce and Finance became the School of Business.


Nineteen-forty began with NEASC accrediting all of Northeastern’s undergraduate majors. In the forties, particularly in the lean enrollment years during World War II, Northeastern University separated itself from all divisions except Springfield. With the Springfield Armory playing a major role in the war efforts, Springfield-Northeastern stayed afloat offering defense-related programming. Between 1941-45 the Springfield Division participated in the Engineering Defense Training Program and in the Engineering, Science, and Management Defense Training Program. But by the end of 1942, the law program was phased out and closed entirely because the ABA would not accredit legal programs in more than one Northeastern location. Nineteen forty-five saw the influx of returning war veterans.


By mid-century, the institution faced a historic crossroads. In July 1950, Northeastern communicated to the YMCA that the Springfield Division was to be terminated as soon as possible, suggesting that if it wished to continue its programs it should be in touch with another Springfield institution of higher education. The Springfield Division Board of Governors met and voted to seek a termination contract that allowed current students to finish their programs and receive a Northeastern degree. After exploring options, the board members sought to create a distinct institution. In 1951, an autonomous charter was obtained to grant and confer the degrees of Bachelor of Business Administration and Bachelor of Laws. With just three full-time employees, the Springfield Division of Northeastern University was renamed Western New England College and Dr. John D. Churchill was elected president. Following the death of John Churchill, Beaumont Herman was elected president in 1955. In 1956 the College’s charter was amended to allow a B.S. in Engineering and an M.B.A. A Day Division in Engineering and the first programs were added in 1957. That same year, the original 34 acres for the present campus on Wilbraham Road was purchased. The first building (known as East Building) was erected in 1959 on the new campus.


Called “The Miracle on Wilbraham Road” by the local community, the land purchased by the College quickly took shape into a campus. Led by President Beaumont Herman, the 1960s saw a flurry of growth in academic programs, the physical campus, and the creation of a distinct learning community. In 1961, the Western New England College Alumni Association was formed. The School of Arts and Sciences was established in 1966. With a growing physical campus, classed were discontinued at the YMCA in 1962. Construction projects included the first administrative building, a library, second classroom building, a campus center, and the first dormitories forming the Quad, and later the first women’s dorm. The transition from a commuter campus to a residential one sparked the development of myriad student activities and support services along with personnel to oversee them, including the first athletic coach. In 1968, the now iconic Rock was delivered to campus as a senior class prank.


The seventies welcomed a surge of students from the Baby Boom Generation with undergraduate enrollments exceeding 1,700. As a stipulation for accreditation as a general-purpose institution, the College was required to establish a School of Business with a day division. Interest in business and engineering programs fueled the construction of a third academic building (Sleith Hall). In 1970, a group of engineering students petitioned to be called the Golden Bears. The College received accreditation by NEASC as a general purpose institution in 1972. The University’s first gym was constructed and the football program and ROTC were brought to campus. During the tenure of President Richard Gottier, the School of Law initiated a full-time day J.D. program at a leased site, was accredited by the ABA in 1978, and later moved to the Blake Law Center in 1979. Off-Campus Programs were established at Hanscom Air Force Base to serve military personnel.


By the 1980s, under the direction of President Beverly White Miller, Western New England College was thriving with five schools (Arts and Sciences, Business, Continuing Education, Engineering, and Law), 14 varsity sports, and an enrollment of 5,398. Major construction and renovation projects and land and property acquisitions enhanced and expanded the campus, including the construction of the D’Amour Library. This decade saw the development of continuous ongoing strategic planning for the institution, growing pains as the Miller administration and expanding faculty juggled countervailing points of view on its direction, and the recognition of the need to support the diverse student experience through the creation of the Diversity Task Force and Office of Diversity Programs and Services. The expansion of the Data General computing system and addition of computing-related majors during this decade foreshadowed the growth of technology. In 1984, the acclaimed SOAR (Summer Orientation and Registration) program was started. 1986 saw the installation of a five-ton bronze statue of “Spirit,” the beloved Golden Bear school mascot thanks to the “Bring the Bear Home” campaign.


It was a proud moment for Golden Bears when alumnus Rodney Smith ’89/G’03 won the Bronze medal in Greco-Roman Wrestling at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona. The following year, thanks to generous support from graduates who stepped up to the “Buy a Brick” campaign, the Alumni Healthful Living Center was built. The Off-Campus Programs expanded to 19 sites. Following his installation as president in 1997, Dr. Anthony S. Caprio commissioned self-studies to help inform strategic planning, including an assessment of the impact of the growing Athletics Program. The results of this research led to the development of reports and strategic and facilities master plans, which provided a roadmap for developing new academic, athletic, diversity, and support programs; enhanced campus facilities; initiatives for faculty development; improved processes through technology; increased international recruitment and travel opportunities; and enhanced alumni engagement and giving. In 1999 recognition of the value of athletic contributions to the growth of the College saw the first class inducted into the Downes Athletic Hall of Fame.


In the first decade of the new millennium, Western New England began to fully realize the impact and the potential of the Digital Revolution on how it recruited, supported, and taught students. After an intensive multiyear effort, the School of Business earned AACSB International accreditation. Modernization and expansion of campus facilities continued at a record pace. The College website became a prominent vehicle for recruitment while online learning developed into a staple of graduate study. Western New England was named to U.S. News and World Report’s list of America’s Best Colleges. Golden Bear Stadium, opened in 2002, ushered in a new era of sports excellence. Due to new state mandates on faculty credentials, the Off-Campus Programs were discontinued. Thanks to generous donors, Transformations: The Campaign for Western New England College raised $20 million to support multiple institutional priorities. The decade concluded with the establishment of the School of Pharmacy, the unveiling of the Center for the Sciences and Pharmacy, as well as the establishment of the first doctoral program—Behavior Analysis—paving the way for a transition to university status.


On July 1, 2011, Western New England College officially became Western New England University! It was one month to the day that an EFT3 tornado devastated nearby neighborhoods, but left the campus virtually unscathed. The change to university status better reflected the institution’s growth, diversity, entrepreneurial culture, and expansion of graduate and doctoral offerings. Along with the change in name of the University, four of the Schools: Arts and Sciences, Business, Engineering, and Pharmacy became “Colleges,” while the School of Law retained its name. The University’s tenth decade saw the institution continue to grow its physical plant to remain vibrant. Despite national and institutional financial challenges, population shifts, and greater competition for students, the University powered on. With the introduction of the Doctor of Occupational Therapy program and anticipated future growth, the University’s fourth college was renamed the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.

Our Next Century

At the dawn of our second century, Western New England University can look back with pride on all that it has accomplished and forward to a bright future. Today’s University offers more than 90 bachelor, master’s, and doctoral programs while serving more than 3,790 students from the U.S. and 30 countries worldwide. Thanks to the strong leadership of visionary men and women who sought to create an institution built on accessible higher education that creates professional opportunities for its students, Western New England University has evolved into a unique community that has launched the careers of more than 47,300 people. Join us in celebrating this proud moment in our history.