Former Northern Illinois University first lady Barbara Cole Peters recently published the second volume of a four-part book series titled “Women at Northern, The First Fifty Years, Our Witnesses to History.”
It is now available at the University Bookstore inside the Holmes Student Center.
The series is the product of Peters’ research of student newspapers, annual yearbooks and books written about the history of Northern Illinois University from the archives held at NIU’s Regional History Center. Her books contain stories about early Northern women via their writings: articles, essays, letters and poems.
Like Volume I, Peters’ second book recounts stories of the institution’s earliest years, when NIU was a teacher’s college known as Northern Illinois State Normal School.
Volume II provides an introduction to many early faculty members including three very special original faculty members: Lida Brown McMurry, critic teacher for elementary grades; Ida Simonson, English and rhetoric instructor; and Anna Parmalee, mathematics instructor.
“These three women served at Northern for many years and were true pioneers whose dedication and talent helped shape Northern’s character and ideals,” Peters said.
Her book also introduces Northern graduates who went on to become social activists, writers, missionaries and teachers throughout the world.
Volume II contains nearly 200 pages of compelling stories and photos that provide a glimpse of what life was like during the university’s formative years through the eyes of the women there at the time. As the subtitle indicates, the subjects of the book are “witnesses to history.”
Peters said people often press her to name her favorite story. “Asking me to select my favorite story is tantamount to asking me who’s my favorite grandchild,” she said. “Each story is unique, and from my perspective, worth telling. I do have favorite women and favorite stories, but they are not necessarily one and the same.”
If she had to select just one story from Volume II, however, it would be the China Connection, which she describes as the most complex and one of the most interesting stories.
“The fact that Northern had a China connection during its early years surprised and impressed me,” she said.
This story is especially timely given NIU’s efforts to cultivate partnerships in Asia and the importance the university places on international affairs.
“Given their time and place, the educational backgrounds, chosen work, and exotic travels of early Northern women were unforeseen and unusual,” Peters said. “I believe the actions and experiences of these women warrant a rethink of held assumptions regarding women at state normal schools.”
Volume II of “Women at Northern: The First Fifty Years” is available at the HSC bookstore and retails for $15.95. It can be ordered online or by calling (815) 753-9894.
All proceeds from Volumes I and II are donated to the John G. and Barbara C. Peters Student Endowment for Public Service.