Adonijah Strong Welch was the first Principal (President) of Michigan Normal School as well as the youngest, accepting the position at the age of 31. As an administrator, he stuck firmly to all rules and guidelines. Charles Fitz Roy Bellows, who served as acting principal for the School, observed that Welch was the most rigid disciplinarian in the school system he ever knew. Welch’s philosophy of learning was less constricted and he encouraged students to be open-minded, independent thinkers and to analyze rather than memorize. Welch believed the school had a very promising future ahead of him. His youthful energy and passion for teaching lead the Normal School through its formative years.
Welch arrived in the state of Michigan with his parents at the age of 18. In 1843, he enrolled at the University of Michigan and became the first principle of the Preparatory Department the following year. Welch completed his Bachelor’s degree in 1846 and his masters in 1852. Welch studied law in Detroit, and was admitted to the bar. He served as principal of Michigan State Normal School from 1851 until 1865 when Welch tendered his resignation to the State Board of Education siting poor health.
After leaving the Normal School Welch retired to Florida. He then was elected for a short term in the United States Senate in 1868. After his short political stint, Welch was offered the opportunity to be founding president once again, this time at the Iowa State Agricultural College (now Iowa State University). Welch accepted and took on the task of establishing yet another institution.
However, Welch’s strong personality and beliefs alienated the faculty and alumni in Iowa and in 1883 protesters demanded Welch be removed from his position, and the school’s Board obliged. After a year a European travel Welch accepted the chair of History of Civilization and Practical Psychology at Iowa. He served on the faculty until his death in 1889.
David Porter Mayhew, was born in New York and graduated from Union College. He has been described as someone who had no enemies, and was a friend to all. Mayhew, professor of Natural Science at the Michigan State Normal School, was appointed to the position of principal (at the age of 48) upon the resignation of A. S. Welch. Prior to accepting the position, the State Board of Education distributed much of the duties among the faculty, creating a less than desirable administrative position.
He served as principal until 1871 at which time he retired to Detroit. Mayhew was briefly appointed to the State Board of Education in 1874 and died in 1887. Per his request, students were selected as pallbearers.
Charles Fitz Roy Bellows already had a long history at Michigan State Normal School when he became principal. Bellows was one of the first students to attend Normal and was a member of its second graduating class in 1855. After gaining some administrative and teaching experience in Constantine, Michigan, Indiana, and Decatur, Michigan Bellows joined the staff at Michigan State Normal in 1867. Bellows was a professor of mathematics for 24 years until he became principal.
Bellows was a good teacher, and was talented at writing math textbooks. However, his one year stint as principal was not very significant. Bellows wanted to make some extreme changes to the curriculum at Michigan State Normal School upon becoming principle. He strongly believed that the curriculum should be devoted only to professional preparation, and not include any other academic subjects. Bellows' position on methodology affected the school for years. His refusal to adapt to anything outside his beliefs resulted in his termination by the State Board of Education as both principle and faculty member.
Bellows was ironically hired by the State of Michigan to work as surveyor and principal for the Mount Pleasant Improvement Company, which was designing a Normal school for the community. Bellows not only presided over the opening of Central State Normal School (now Central Michigan University), but became its first principle.
Bellows returned to Michigan State Normal School in 1902 as a professor of mathematics. Paralyzed by stroke in 1903, Bellows died in 1907.
Joseph Estabrook was born in New Hampshire and moved to Michigan at the age of 18. He attended college at the Techumseh branch of the University of Michigan, but graduated from Oberlin College. He served as the principal of the Union School in Ypsilanti in 1852, the superintendent of the Ypsilanti Public Schools from 1853-1866, superintendent of East Saginaw Schools from 1866-1871. In 1870, Estabrook was appointed to the Board of Regents at the University of Michigan, a position he served in for eight years.
Estabrook was appointed to the position of principal in 1871, and had to decide if he would continue on the the path set out by Charles Bellows to exclude all academic work and make Michigan State Normal School strictly professional. He served the School until 1880.