This diploma from the North Texas Normal College was bestowed on Nettie Williams in June 1897. It serves as a formal declaration that its bearer is “entitled to whatever consideration scholarship, industry, and moral worth are accustomed to receive.” The diploma highlights the bureaucratic functions of credentials. As proof of an accomplishment, this diploma is intended to open doors to opportunities normally closed to the undereducated or uncertified. As a physical document, it provides material evidence of accomplishment, which can be carried, displayed, and in this case, smelled. Whether or not this diploma opened professional opportunities for Williams is uncertain. What we do know is that soon after her graduation, she married the editor of the local newspaper, the Denton Record-Chronicle.
When Williams earned this diploma in 1897, North Texas Normal College was primarily a school for educating public school teachers—a normal school. But the school also offered “college” courses of study during its first decade in existence. This diploma was awarded to Williams for completion of the “English Course,” which was a three-year course of study focusing primarily on “modern subjects,” including math and science, modern languages, and literature. The English Course was designed as a middle option between the two-year professionally focused teacher training course (the Normal course) and the four-year academic Classical/Scientific courses. The English Course was supposed to prepare students for professional work beyond teaching by exposing them to a more rigorous education than normal school training afforded. It appears from enrollment rosters that Williams passed the teachers course in 1896 before enrolling in the English Course.
Williams’s graduation came at an interesting time in the history of North Texas Normal College. The school was first opened by Joshua C. Chilton in 1891 as a private venture, backed by a group of local businessmen called “the Syndicate.” Chilton resigned in 1893 after breaking down “both financially and physically” (“Letter from J.J. Crumley”). He was replaced by John J. Crumley, who worked with State Senator Emory C. Smith to secure the right for the college to “confer state teaching certificates.” This move marked the school as a “semi-state” school, although it remained financially independent. In subsequent years, the school changed hands again due to financial challenges. Menter B. Terrill, the school’s third president, signed Nettie Williams’ diploma not long after taking control of the institution in 1894.
Two years after Williams graduated from NTNC, the State of Texas declared North Texas Normal College a state institution, but the school remained in private control for two additional years because the Legislature did not initially provide any funding. In 1901, the state officially took control of the normal school and renamed it North Texas State Normal School. There is some suggestion that the college courses at North Texas Normal College were “not in all cases faithfully issued” (“Letter from Arthur Lefevre”). When Williams earned her diploma for completing the “English Course” in 1897, North Texas Normal College was still a private institution, but when the state of Texas took over control of NTNC, the college courses were discontinued and only teacher training credentials were offered. At the same time, the Texas Legislature established the Girls Industrial College (now Texas Woman’s University), located just a few miles away. North Texas State Normal School would not begin offering college level courses again until the 1910s.