The chief executive officer of UMD is Chancellor Dr. Lendley C. Black. Black began his tenure on August 1, 2010. The previous chancellor, Kathryn A. Martin, served from 1995 to 2010.
Although the University of Minnesota Duluth didn’t officially make its appearance until 1947, plans for a college in the Duluth area were first made in the 1890s. The state legislature planned for a teaching school for women (then referred to as a normal school) and in 1895 they announced the formation of the Duluth Normal School. In 1896, the City of Duluth donated 6 acres (2.4 ha) of land to serve as a foundation for the Duluth Normal School, and the state legislature donated additional funds for the construction costs for the main building, which was built in 1900. In February 1901, a fire caused extensive damage to the school and the following year, the school was rebuilt.
In April 1901, Eugene W. Bohannon was appointed president of the Duluth Normal School. In 1902 the school first opened for enrollment. The first students, all women, came to the school to be trained for a degree in education. By 1903, the first seven women received their diplomas from Duluth Normal School. In 1906, the first dormitories were opened, costing the school around $35,000 to build. Room and board were offered at cost, between fourteen and fifteen dollars a month. Throughout the next few years, more dormitories, two new wings, and an auditorium were added to the school. Requirements, such as having a high school diploma, were instituted. Students who signed a pledge to teach after graduation attended for free; others were required to pay $30 per year.
The 1906 Bulletin of the State Normal School describes the school at that time:
The Duluth State Normal School Complex (the Main Building, Washburn Hall, and Torrance Hall) are listed with the National Register of Historic Places. Enrollment for 1903 was 127 and by 1906 it had increased to 202. A Model School with kindergarten through grade eight was maintained for "practice teaching". The 1906 bulletin reports, "At the opening of the school four years ago it was somewhat doubtful whether the number of children to attend would be sufficient to constitute a model school in any proper sense. Only three teachers were needed to take charge of the pupils at that time, while five are required now and the number of children seeking admission is greatly in excess of the limit fixed for the several grades.