Northwestern History

Founded in 1941 as Northwestern College of Chiropractic, Northwestern Health Sciences University has grown in size and influence in the practice of natural health care in Minnesota and beyond. Northwestern was founded by Dr. John B. Wolfe, a civil engineer turned doctor of chiropractic, who started the college with the help of one colleague and three students.

Northwestern now offers diverse academic programs, fosters clinical research, promotes individualized instruction, provides faculty development, and establishes standards for clinical competence.

From the original three students to more than 900, from one clinical training opportunity to a network of more than 100, Northwestern has grown in size, scope, and influence. But it still holds to its founder’s vision: a high-quality, science-based education that prepares practitioners for the ever-growing field of natural health care.

The first campuses

university old location

Park Avenue campus in Minneapolis

Beginning in a second floor of a downtown Minneapolis building, Dr. Wolfe founded the college in response to the need for a school that offered a broad program in clinical, chiropractic and basic sciences. By 1949, a postwar influx of veterans raised the enrollment to 280. Northwestern prospered because of its rigorous academic program and the quality of the students and faculty. As Northwestern graduated more chiropractors, the profession grew, and more doctors of chiropractic referred still other students to the college.

At the same time, to affirm the legitimacy of chiropractic education, Northwestern became a nonprofit institution, unusual for chiropractic schools at the time. Its board included members of the Minnesota Chiropractic Association and the Minnesota Chiropractic Foundation. As the college grew, it moved to larger quarters on Park Avenue in Minneapolis, including a former carriage house that served as a clinic where students could treat patients.

In 1965, Northwestern entered a new period of growth. Creating the Giant Step Program, the school created a new clinic, pioneered a two-year pre-professional requirement for all incoming students, remodeled its main building including a library and all-purpose biology teaching laboratory, and adopted objectives to ensure the development of a quality education program designed for the needs of the profession.

On the move again

In 1974, the continuing growth of Northwestern led to the purchase of a campus in Saint Paul, located on Mississippi River Boulevard. From this location, Northwestern pioneered community-based clinical education, and the final trimester preceptorship for the training of chiropractic interns within clinics first across the United States and eventually in foreign countries.

More growth and another new campus

In the 1970s and ‘80s, Northwestern’s alumni were now referring more students to the college, which led to further growth of the profession. In addition, more patients were becoming aware of the existence and value of chiropractic care.

In 1983, the college moved to its current location, a 25-acre campus in Bloomington, Minnesota, just south of Minneapolis.  The new complex provided students with all the structure and amenities of a university, including laboratories, classrooms, library, and public clinics. The new location also gave rise to student organizations and support services.

Establishing a University

Growing interest among healthcare consumers in natural therapies including acupuncture and massage therapy prompted college leadership to actively explore adding other natural healthcare degree programs.

In 1999, the Minnesota Institute of Acupuncture and Herbal Studies, which had been founded by Minnesota acupuncture pioneer, the late Edith R. Davis, merged with Northwestern. The merger created the Minnesota College of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, which continued offering a master of acupuncture and master of Oriental medicine.

Also in 1999, Northwestern Health Sciences University was established to reflect its new identity as a leader in natural healthcare education, clinical services and research.

In 2000, Northwestern created the School of Massage Therapy and graduated its first class in the spring of 2002.

Expanding once again

To accommodate a growing research program, expand our library, and provide more robust support services to students and alumni, the University faced the need to expand once again.

In 2008, Northwestern built the Wolfe-Harris Center for Excellence, which houses the Wolfe-Harris Center for Clinical Studies, the Greenawalt Library, and the Northwestern Student, Alumni and Career Services Center. Renovations to the existing building included new classrooms, videoconferencing, and the Center for Diagnostic Imaging digital radiology lab for students.

Between the two buildings lies an exquisitely landscaped Healing Garden made possible by a generous donation from Standard Process® offering a relaxing, outdoor gathering space.

Creation of a new undergraduate college

To assist students with fulfilling prerequisites or completing a bachelor's or associate's degree, the College of Undergraduate Health Sciences was created in 2011 to offer pre-professional courses, including accelerated science courses and general education courses. The college also offers a Post-Baccalaureate Pre-Health/Pre-Med program for students interested in applying to medical school, dental school and other health professional schools.

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