History of the English Department

The English Department was established on July 14, 1899.  It educates students in composition and liberal studies, and provides advanced instruction for undergraduate and graduate students in English areas of study. 

Northern’s first English teacher was Flora Hill, who taught until 1905.  The Department of Language and Literature was created in 1920 and James C. Bowman was appointed its chair. Under Bowman, the study of English at Northern expanded from its focus on teacher training. Bowman served as director of debate, drama, forensics and student publications.  Bowman resigned in 1939 and Dr. Russuall Thomas became the department head.

Mildred Magers became the first female professor at Northern to receive a Ph.D. (University of Michigan) in 1944.

The English Department oversees the university’s writing requirements, including English placement of incoming students and the required composition courses – EN 111 and EN 211 – for the formal communication portion of Northern’s liberal studies program.  It also manages the Writing Center, which began in 1971 as the Writing Workshop. 

Northern’s graduate studies program began in the mid-1970s and offered a master’s degree in literature. Today, the master’s degree has two additional tracks in pedagogy and writing.  In 2000, the English Department began offering NMU’s first terminal degree, a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. The current MFA has three tracks: fiction, non- fiction creative writing and poetry.

The Eta Phi chapter of Sigma Tau Delta, the international English honor society, was started at Northern in 1986.

The English Department has produced several publications featuring student or faculty writing: The Quill, 1914-18; Comment, 1961; Driftwood, 1964; Horizons, 1964; The Intruder, 1972; Mandala, 1971, 1972; The Golden Fern, 1981; The New Yooper, 1983; 1984; Limited Space, 1984; Engrams, 1985; Revisions, 195; AG-Student Writers and Artists, 1989, 1990; The Dark Tower, 1990-96; Thaw, 1996-99; and Hartley’s Review (not dated).

Since 1996, the English Department has been the home of Passages North, an annual literary magazine of national reputation that has been in publication since 1979.

The department has also provided a faculty adviser to The North Wind, Northern’s independent student newspaper, since 1972.  The paper is published weekly on Thursdays.

Department chairs or heads: Flora Hill, 1899-1920; James C. Bowman, 1920-39; Russell Thomas, 1939-62; Ellsworth Barnard, 1963; David Dickson, 1964-66; Arthur E. Pennell 1966-71; Robert Glenn, 1972-73; Daryl Davis, 1974-78; John Kuhn, 1978-85; Rowena R. Jones, 1985-87; Leonard G. Heldreth, 1987-91; Raymond Ventre, 1991-93; Leonard G. Heldreth, 1993-98; Teresa Kynell and Darryl Davis (co-interim heads), 1998-2000; James Schiffer, 2000-2008; Raymond Ventre, 2008-present.

Primary Source:  A Sense of Time: The Encyclopedia of Northern Michigan University, Dr. Russell Magnaghi.