The university was founded in March of 1863 when the Kansas Legislature passed the enabling act to establish the Kansas State Normal School. The school's first graduating class consisted of two women in 1867, the year the first permanent building was completed.
In February, 1923, the name of the school was changed to the Kansas State Teachers College. In July, 1974, the name was changed to Emporia Kansas State College. On April 21, 1977, the college became Emporia State University. The Kansas Board of Regents is the governing body for ESU.
Since 1863 more than 150,000 students have studied at ESU and have gone on to careers in business and industry, education, the professional fields and many other areas throughout the world.