Biographies of NMU Pioneers

Lydia M. Olson

Lydia M. Olson served as Northern's librarian for 33 years from 1909 until her retirement in 1941. Olson began her association with Northern as one of its first students. She was valedictorian of the first two-year class. Serving as secretary to Northern's first principal, Dwight B. Waldo, Olson later attended the University of Chicago, receiving her bachelor of philosophy in 1906. Making the library of greatest service to students and faculty was very important to her. In recognition of her service and contributions to the development of the library, the Lydia M. Olson Library was dedicated in 1951, and after Olson's death in 1962, the new library was again dedicated in her name in 1975.

James H. B. Kaye

At least once a semester, Kaye urged teachers to strive for "neatness, taste in dress, refinement in speech, respect for the profession of teaching, adaptablility to new conditions, and progressiveness in scholarship." They were also expected to be well behaved. At one school dance, Kaye reproached the men for holding the women too closely. "There will be no more of this indecent hugging," he said. Born in England in 1862, Kaye came to America with his father at age 21 and attended colleges in Michigan. In 1904, Kaye came to Northern as the school's second principal and became its first president in 1908; a position he held until 1923 when ill health forced his retirement. However, Kaye continued to teach education courses until 1931. He died one year later. Kaye's goal was to build the school so it measured up to other normal schools and had good standing with universities and colleges.

John D. Pierce

Born in New Hampshire in 1797 and followed by a "cheerless" childhood, Pierce educated himself and later graduated from Brown University and Princeton Theological Seminary . An ordained Congregational minister, Pierce accepted a position in 1831 as missionary in Michigan and settled in Marshall. Pierce was appointed as Michigan's first superintendent of education. He served from 1836 to 1841 and drafted plans for organization of primary schools and the state university. In 1847, Pierce was elected to the state legislature and in 1850 served on a committee to frame a new state constitution. Soon after, ill health necessitated his retirement to a farm near Ypsilanti. However, Pierce lived for quite some time thereafter until his death in 1882.

Peter White

Peter White led the battle for establishment of a state-supported school in Marquette for almost 25 years. In 1875, he introduced a bill for such a school while serving as state legislator. New York-born in 1839, by 1852 he was postmaster of Carp River (now Marquette), a position he held for 12 years. With no money to invest in mining lands, White opened a store for miners and became involved in banking and real estate. By the Civil War, Peter White was the town's leading citizen. In addition to dealing in lands, timber, iron ore, and insurance; he was active in civic and public affairs. Peter White provided funds for Marquette's public library and hospital and helped establish Presque Isle as a city park. During White's memorial service in 1908, it was said of him,"If you want to see his monument, look around you."

Harry D. Lee

Harry D. Lee played a central role in Northern's history serving as director of the Pierce Training School from 1922 to 1940. Lee wore several hats and also served as director of placement services and as dean of men. It was Harry Lee and Luther Grant who assumed combined leadership for the college in 1940 during President Pearce's illness and the subsequent hire of Henry A. Tape as president. The day after Tape was first introduced at an all-college assembly, Harry Lee collapsed in his office as he was preparing to go home for lunch. He had just put on his galoshes and literally died on the job with his boots on; leaving a large gap in the college's administration.

Ethel Carey

As Northern's first dean of women, Ethel Carey served in that capacity until her retirement in 1956. Women students outnumbered males during the school's first 40 years and Carey's job was a big one. It was Carey who provided the leadership for campus activities and social programs. She spent much time counseling students and strongly felt that they would be happier if they could live together in a dormitory. She worked to achieve that end from the time of her arrival in 1924. Carey also believed better student health services were needed. She encouraged students to form social groups and to entertain each other and the faculty. Faculty wives were invited to tea in her apartment and she helped them form the Faculty Wives Club (now known as Northern Michigan University Women) in 1926.

John M. Longyear

John M. Longyear was a pioneer Marquette entrepreneur and developer who donated part of the original twenty acres for the new Marquette normal school and also made a large contribution towards its furnishings. Longyear was born to an established Lansing family in 1850. Forced to abandon his schooling due to ill health, he became a surveyor of Upper Peninsula mineral lands and by 1873 had made his home in Marquette. There he invested heavily in lumber and mineral lands and became wealthy. Longyear was founder of the Huron Mountain Club and as a force behind founding of both Northern Michigan and Michigan Technological universities. Completed in 1892, Longyear's Marquette home was one of the finest in Michigan. However in 1903 the home was taken down and moved to Brookline, Mass. and reconstructed there. Longyear was to live until 1922 and died in Massachusetts.