Act No. 74 of the Philippine Commission provided for a formal Philippine Educational system and the establishment of the Philippine Normal School in Manila. Act No. 372 authorized provincial governments to set up secondary schools to be funded from their own coffers.
School Superintendent Dr. Najeeb Saleeby opened the secondary school in Zamboanga with 26 students under the Principalship of Mr. Charles Cameron, a Thomasite from Le Roy, New York.
The School was formally referred to as the Provincial Secondary School in the then Moro Province.
General Howard Tasker Bliss, then military governor of Mindanao, took over the Principalship and military supervision of the school.
General John ‘Blackjack’ Pershing took over the military supervision of the school. By then, the school became a tributary normal school to the Philippine Normal College in Manila.
The school finally became the Provincial Normal School with a civilian Principal – Mr. Raymond Stephens. Its enrollment increased to 990 students.
Construction of the Normal Hall costing US$ 200,000 began under the supervision of Architect Juan Arellano. Most of the fixtures of the building were imported from the United States.
The Normal Hall in Baliwasan was ready for full occupation.
The School closed its doors with the start of World War II. The Normal Hall became the First Field Hospital of the American Military Forces.
Following the liberation, the Normal School reopened its gates and the first batch of graduates of the General Normal Curriculum was awarded their Elementary Teacher’s Certificate.

By virtue of Republic Act No. 3272, the school was elevated to the Zamboanga Normal College. Mr. Fabian Abitona, the last of the Normal School Principals, became the new college’s Officer-in-Charge.
Mrs. Ignacia B. Olaso became the Officer-in-Charge of the school following the death of Mr. Abitona in 1968. Dr. Domingo G. Soriano, a native of Nueva Ecija and husband of then Director of Public Schools, Dr. Liceria Soriano, became President and served from 1968 to 1971.
Philippine Congress passed Republic Act No. 5492 converting the Zamboanga Normal College into the Zamboanga State College.
Mrs. Ignacia B. Olaso was appointed President and served until 1977. She was the first woman President of a State College in the country and the college’s first alumna to become President. The University Bill was filed in the pre-martial law Congress, and the Graduate School was organized.
Dr. Juanito A. Bruno sat as Officer-in-Charge of the college and oversaw its transition to a university. Presidential Decree No. 1427 was signed on June 10, 1978 transforming the ZSC into the Western Mindanao State University. Dr. Bruno became Acting President of the new university.
Dr. Bruno was appointed Regional Director of the then Department of Education, Culture and Sports (DECS) and Dr. Bernabela L. Ko became the First University President and served until 1991.
Dr. Erdulfo D. Fernando was appointed Second President of the university. A Zamboangueño and an alumnus of the Zamboanga Normal School, he served in the position until his retirement in 1997.
Dr. Eldigario D. Gonzales assumed as 3rd University President. He ushered in a new and progressive culture in the university focusing on a 15-point Agenda for Development. He pursued an agressive faculty development program that made it the strongest academic force in the region.
WMSU became the 6th top university in the country per CHED survey and is considered one of the lead higher education institutions in Mindanao.
Dr. Eldigario D. Gonzales resigned from the Presidency. On September 2007, Dr. Grace J. Rebollos, the first summa cum laude graduate of the university became its 4th President and the second woman to hold the position.