Horace Mann believed that the American public school system needed serious attention in order to function well. One of the biggest problems Mann observed with the public schools was that the teachers were often no more educated than their pupils. And so the Salem Normal School was born, a place to teach young women how to teach. The school opened in 1854. Demand for teachers increased nationwide and demand for admission to the Salem Normal School increased as a result. The campus, in addition to the student body, began to expand.
In 1898, the school became coeducational, but it wasn’t until the creation of a commercial program in 1908 that male enrollment started to spike. By 1921 the school had switched from a two year college to a four year college, and just eleven years later the name was changed from the Salem Normal School to Salem Teachers College.
New programs were added, new buildings were constructed, and finally it became a residential school, with the first residence halls opening in 1966. It was renamed again in 1968, this time to Salem State College. As nursing and business administration programs were added, new property was purchased, and the college expanded to include four campuses. In 2010 the school was renamed once more, earning the title of Salem State University.