Rod Library--Special Collections

UNI Student Government Leaders

Cyndi Hovden
President Cyndi Hovden addresses the Student Senate, c. 1968.


Brief Outline of the History of Student Government

Student government has existed since the earliest days of the Iowa State Normal School, now the University of Northern Iowa. However, for about the first forty years of the school's history, student government was considerably different from what it is now. In the early days, student government consisted of two kinds of organization. First, each class and, sometimes, each curricular track in each class, elected a president, a vice president, and several other officers, such as a secretary and a treasurer. These officers were responsible for organizing social functions and athletic competition for their class, and, often, for selecting a class gift. The other kind of student government consisted of officers of the literary societies. Nearly all students belonged to literary societies, whose purpose was to provide opportunities to learn parliamentary procedure and to participate in debate and oratory. The societies prepared students to become better teachers and more responsible citizens.

Not until the fall of 1916 did a broader form of student government emerge that has persisted to this day. The first name for this more inclusive form of government, which purported to represent all of the students of the school, was the Student Council. The Student Council "aimed to formulate student opinion and give it means of expression." This name persisted until 1945 when it was changed to the Student League Board. In 1965 the name became the Student Senate. In 1970 the name changed to University of Northern Iowa Student Association, or UNISA. In 1989 the group took on its current name, Northern Iowa Student Government. Name changes were typically accompanied by substantive constitutional changes.The form and strength of student government, as well as the issues which it took to be its purview, varied considerably over the years.

For many years, another form of student government, based on gender, existed simultaneously with the more general form of student government. By 1929, with the arrival of Sadie B. Campbell as the new Dean of Women, the Women's League was formed. In 1949 this women's governance group changed its name to Associated Women Students. This group persisted until 1972. By 1934 the men had organized themselves into a group called Men's Union. This group persisted until 1969. These groups tended to focus their efforts on matters that were perceived to be gender specific. In some cases, the men's and women's governance organizations had representatives in the more general student governance body.

At least one other form of student governance arose early, probably about 1915, and continues to function to this day: residence hall government. This form of student government has tended to focus its efforts on planning social activities, assisting in policy development and implementation, and in administering justice for minor infractions in residence halls. Records relating to this form of governance are sketchy.

The links below lead to rosters of officers of the major student government organizations at the University of Northern Iowa. There are occasional question marks in the rosters that reflect gaps or ambiguities in the historical record.


Based on research by Student Assistant Shanna Taylor; Web page developed by University Archivist Gerald L. Peterson, February-March 2007; last updated, April 2, 2012 (GP).


Rod Library Special Collections and University Archives
University of Northern Iowa
Cedar Falls, Iowa 50613-3675
Telephone: (319)-273-6307
Fax: (319)-273-2913
Email: Gerald.Peterson@uni.edu