The brief facts and figures below will help set the tone for what follows concerning the academic program at Southern (first known as Southern Illinois Normal College -- SINC).
In the 1870s, tuition was $4-10/term and there were three terms each year. A two-year program was offered in teacher education. Room and board was $2.50-5.00/week. In 1904, a four-year program in teacher education was also available. By 1914, the tuition, room, and board figures were still approximately the same. The Bulletin for 1914 indicated that if students were careful, they could pay their tuition and living expenses for about $100 for the school year.
It is interesting to compare these figures with what it costs today! The first science building for the campus was authorized by the Legislature in 1895 and completed in 1896. The total cost for the building, which included a museum, was $40,000! The renovation completed in 2004 exceeded $10 million.
Given the charter of the institution, the original emphasis was on teacher training. The early curricula included a course in natural philosophy, involving some aspects of life sciences. As the following quote from the 1898 Bulletin illustrated, there was an emphasis on basic external and internal structure of organisms. "...each pupil upon entering the class will be assigned a seat and drawer at one of the laboratory tables. The notes and drawings are to be made in the room from the object studied and not from some book, and are to be kept in the drawer assigned, at the close of the work..."
By 1914, there was an expanded curriculum for biology. The zoology portion of that curriculum involved offerings in introductory biology, invertebrate zoology, vertebrate zoology, physiology, entomology, ornithology, apiculture, comparative embryology, a course for preparing teachers of elementary school students, and bacteriology. It is noteworthy that the foundation of the zoology curriculum today still involves fundamental courses in vertebrate and invertebrate zoology. In addition, several of the other offerings from 1914 continue today as part of the course offerings.
Cyrus Thomas was the first instructor in the area of life sciences -- he was appointed in 1874 as Professor of Natural History and Physiology and as Curator of the Museum. Thomas served until 1879, although he devoted little time to the school once he was also appointed Illinois State Entomologist in 1875. He was joined in 1877 by George Hazen French who soon was the only biologist on the faculty for the next three decades. Professor French succeeded Cyrus Thomas as the Professor of Natural History and Physiology and was responsible, as Curator of the Museum, for major additions to the collections.
As an aside, Zoology still has some of the herptile, bird, and mammal specimens that were part of that original museum collection -- they are used, even today, for teaching as well as research. The original campus building was destroyed by fire in 1883 and was replaced by a second Main Building in 1887. By 1896, there was also the new Science Building located immediately west of the Main Building. John P. Gilbert, an 1896 graduate of SINC, joined the faculty in 1910 to teach both biology and agriculture, the latter subject having been added to the curriculum in the early part of the century.
The first women to serve on the faculty in the life sciences were Isabel Clegg and Mary M. Steagall, who joined the Department in 1913. In that year, the life science program (which for three years had been called the Department of Biology and Agriculture) split into the Department of Biology and the Department of Agriculture. Dr. Steagall served as Head of the Department of Biology beginning in 1921 (it became the Department of Zoology in 1926 when the Botany and Health Education programs became independent); she continued as Head of the Department of Zoology until she retired in 1938.