NeMLA was officially recognized after growing out of a New York-Pennsylvania association of faculty organized by William A. Wehmeyer (St. Bonaventure University) at the 1967 Modern Language Association (MLA). He and other MLA members were interested in continuing scholarly discourse at annual conventions smaller than those hosted by the MLA. With F. M. Burelbach as the editor of the NeMLA Newsletter (later Modern Language Studies), Wehmeyer organized conferences in April 1968 and in April 1969 at St. Bonaventure, a Franciscan Catholic university in Allegany, Cattaraugus County, within the Diocese of Buffalo, New York. In 1969, the organization moved to wider regional membership, election of officers, formal affiliation with MLA, and adoption of its present name.
On April 3, 1970, the Inaugural NeMLA Annual Convention took place in Buffalo, NY.
In 2013, NeMLA came back to its original home when the SUNY University at Buffalo, College of Arts and Sciences signed a contract to serve as NeMLA’s administrative host institution.
In collaboration with the University at Buffalo, NeMLA inaugurated its very first Undergraduate Forum for its 50th Anniversary Convention in Washington DC (2019).
Every year, NeMLA and the University at Buffalo collaborate with another institution of higher learning in the local city in which the Convention takes place to organize the annual convention.