In the early 1850s a group of private citizens in Lancaster County decided to sponsor a three-month summer school program that would provide more education for local pupils than what was then available in public schools. The immediate success of that initial program prompted its sponsors to propose that a permanent academy be established. The decision eventually led to the founding of what is now Millersville University.

The academy began in 1854 with the construction of a three-story building containing a small auditorium, two classrooms and housing for 50 students, located on seven-and-one-half acres at the corner of West Frederick and George Streets in Millersville. In 1855, just as the building was nearing completion, the trustees saw an opportunity to promote the new school by offering its free use to J.P. Wickersham, a superintendent of Lancaster County Schools, who was searching for a place to hold a three-month teachersí institute.

Wickersham opened his Lancaster County Normal Institute on April 17, 1855, with 147 students each paying $34 for room, board and tuition for the three-month term. Before the term was over, both Wickersham and Academy trustees agreed that the school should become a permanent Normal School.

The Lancaster County Normal School, the first school of its kind in the state, opened at Millersville with approximately 100 students on November 5, 1855. The original academy building, soon to become known as "Old Main," was expanded and enlarged over the years and served the College in many capacities until it was razed in 1970. The Universityís 11-story library now stands on that site.

Two years after the schoolís opening, the Normal School Law of Pennsylvania was enacted. It divided the state into 12 normal school districts with Lancaster, York and Lebanon counties forming the second district. The law also established certain minimum requirements for facilities and curricula. The state legislature, however, enacted no funds for the development of the schools. The trustees at Millersville raised $20,000 from gifts and subscriptions of stock at $25 a share to finance the expansion necessary to meet the requirements of the law.

On December 2, 1859, Millersville was approved as the first state normal school. When the school passed completely under the control of the state in 1917, all shares were redeemed at the par value of $25 ending 62 years of private control.

In 1927, Millersville became a State Teacherís College and was empowered to grant the bachelor of science in education degree. In 1959, the Collegeís name was changed to Millersville State College and a masterís program in education was added. In 1962, the College was authorized to grant the bachelor of arts degree. In 1982, the Pennsylvania Legislature passed Senate Bill 506, creating the State System of Higher Education, effective July 1, 1983. On that date, Millersville State College became Millersville University of Pennsylvania.

In 1988, Millersville began offering courses at several sites in downtown Lancaster. Both credit courses and continuing education opportunities are provided to serve the educational needs of Lancaster city residents, area businesses, and nontraditional students. The Adult and Continuing Education (ACE) Program was established in 1995 to meet the needs of working adults by offering degree programs in the evening and on weekends.

Today Millersville is proud of its beautiful, well-maintained 250-acre campus abounding with reminders of a long history. The bell from Old Main has been carefully preserved and hung in a dramatic tower. The original library, a lovely brick building built around the turn of the century with turrets, stained glass windows, and extensive oak woodwork has been carefully restored and is now Biemesderfer Center, "the centerpiece of the campus," which overlooks a scenic pond with two resident swans.