In 1867 the first normal school in Nebraska was established at Peru, but it was available only to a small number of potential teachers. In order to expand opportunities for normal training in northern and western Nebraska, the first six-week summer normal training session began in 1873 at St. Mary's Academy in O'Neill.
By 1890 most counties in the West had already begun to establish local teacher training programs called county institutes. These were held every summer in western county seats and taught basic instruction methods. In distant locations, where teachers did not have education available to them, a six-week course was available.
In 1891 Hemingford in Box Butte County began holding yearly institutes, and other counties did likewise. The state soon recommended that multiple counties combine their sessions into union normal institutes. As many as five counties could have joint normal sessions each summer.
The first union normal was held in 1890 for Johnson and Nemaha counties, and by 1902 union normals had been established throughout Nebraska. Union normal institutes were not state supported; they were funded by the sponsoring counties. The success of these schools set the stage for the later establishment of the state junior normal schools in western Nebraska.
On April 20, 1903, junior normals were officially established at Alliance, McCook, and Valentine. These schools in western Nebraska received state funds and admission was free. In 1905 the Nebraska State Board of Education increased funding to them, and in 1907 the Legislature increased the number of junior normal schools to eight, located at Alliance, McCook, North Platte, Valentine, Alma, Broken Bow, Geneva, and O'Neill.
The establishment of the junior normal schools was important for teacher education in western Nebraska. Teachers' wages went up in many counties, and the state of Nebraska raised certification standards throughout the state as normal training became more available to all teachers.