The history of Northwestern State University begins when a portion of property owned by Natchitoches founder Louis Juchereau de St. Denis was obtained by the Bullard family who in 1832 completed a mansion on a hill facing east towards Chaplin's Lake, then a principal channel of Red River. In 1850, a portion of the property was purchased by Bishop Auguste Martin who later sold the 45 acres and buildings to the superior of the Academy of the Sacred Heart in Natchitoches. When the sisters relocated their Academy to the site, they modified the Bullard mansion and constructed a large brick school. Enrollment at the Academy declined following the Civil War and the school closed in 1875.
The school and property remained vacant for nearly a decade until 1884 when a bill was introduced into the Louisiana legislature to establish a state normal school, dedicated exclusively to the training of teachers, a measure intended to upgrade the quality of Louisiana public schools. The institutions were based on a French model called the ecole normale, which related to the norms and standards applied in teaching. State Representative Capt. Leopold Caspari marshaled the support of local civic and business leaders to purchase the property of the Academy and offered it as the site for Louisiana State Normal School. The selection was made in
October 1884 and the school's first session began in March 1885.
Normal began granting bachelor's degrees in 1918 and in 1921 was renamed Louisiana State Normal College. The College continued to grow throughout the 20th century with expanded degree offerings and in 1944 became Northwestern State College of Louisiana. In recognition of its growth, public service and research endeavors, the school was renamed Northwestern State University of Louisiana in 1970.
Northwestern State has many traditions, from its resident ghost, Isabella, to its unique mascot, Vic the Demon, to its Lady of the Bracelet and a long history of excellence in athletics and academics.
In 1984, the university commemorated its centennial with year-long activities in the "Celebration of a Century" that included a Centennial Extravaganza, the unveiling of a Centennial plaque and the formal dedication of the Louisiana School for Math, Science and the Arts.
The Louisiana Scholar's College, the state's only designated honors college, was established at NSU in 1987. In the digital age, NSU blazed the trail in the field of distance learning. The school also houses the Louisiana Folklife Center and National Center for Preservation Technology and Training.
Northwestern State University has had a tremendous social and economic impact in Natchitoches and beyond. Since its inception, the school has provided resources for educational and cultural opportunities and continues in the 21st century with its mission of being a student-oriented institution that is committed to the creation, dissemination and acquisition of knowledge through teaching research and service.