We Used To Be "Normal": A History of Farmington State Normal School

Research by students in History courses HTY 240 and HTY 277 and librarians at UMF
Images from University of Maine at Farmington Archives

The Western Maine State Normal School was established by the Maine Legislature on October 9, 1863. It was one of two normal schools to be established in the Maine at the time and its purpose was to train teachers to provide a quality education to children in Maine schools. The school officially opened on August 24, 1864 and from the beginning was referred to as Farmington State Normal School, although that did not become its official name until 1889.

The success of the school in its early years can be attributed to the vision and determination of three of its most notable principals: C.C. Rounds, George Purington, and Wilbert G. Mallett.

Rounds and The Model School

C.C. Rounds served as F.S.N.S.'s third principal from 1868 to 1883. He was instrumental in establishing the Model School as a key part of teacher training at the Normal School. The Model School provided the Normal students an opportunity to practice teaching under the supervision of experienced faculty. By the time of Rounds' death in 1901, the Model School was operating well enough to merit acceptance by the town and be considered a respectable option for schooling some of the town's children.

Purington: Progress and Improvements

Principal Purington

Principal Purington

Item Contributed by
Mantor Library at UMF

George Purington was the school's principal from 1883 to 1909. He was a strong advocate for education and worked hard to build a good relationship with the town. Purington believed civic engagement was an important part of being a good citizen and he led by example. He was very active in the local grange, fire department, Old South Church, church choir, the Knights Templars of Maine, and the Farmington Public Library Association. His ideals of good citizenship and moral character were further reinforced at the school through the long-standing practice of assigning daily mottoes to students to memorize.

During Purington's administration, great efforts were made to improve the school facilities. The main administration building, Merrill Hall, provided improved space for teaching and the Model School, an assembly room, and a gymnasium in the basement. An avid supporter of healthy living, Purington encouraged students to be involved in outdoor activities, Glee Club, and other school groups. Enriching students’ social lives through engagement in and out of the classroom was a key part of his efforts to build enrollment at the Normal School. This success eventually led to the construction of a new dormitory in 1914 named in his honor.

Purington also built a strong faculty who were equally dedicated to the task of educating future teachers. He often appointed F.S.N.S. graduates to teaching posts in the Normal School or to work in the Model School, including long-time faculty Lillian Lincoln and Carolyn Stone.

Miss Lincoln served as the Model School Principal for 30 years and contributed much to its development. She favored a practical and flexible approach to teaching that connected student’s education to the world around them through experiences outside the classroom and the use of problem-based learning.

Miss Stone taught physical education and health education for almost 40 years at F.S.N.S. and was also very involved in student activities. She coached the girls' basketball teams, supervised one of the school's Camp Fire groups, served as the unofficial school nurse for many years, and even offered social etiquette guidance to students while serving as Dean of Women.

Although not a graduate of F.S.N.S., Miss Virginia Porter contributed much to the school in her 32 years of service. She was a popular teacher and taught literature, composition, grammar and penmanship as well as geography. She also founded the Modern Authors Club, a student group which meet regularly to discuss poetry, plays and short stories.

Mallett and the Golden Years of F.S.N.S.

Purington's successor, Wilbert G. Mallett, served as principal from 1909 to 1940. His philosophy of education and personal values mirrored Purington's. He continued the Normal School traditions of daily chapel and mottoes. He advocated for civic engagement, healthy living, and teacher training through doing. During Mallett's administration, the Model School's reputation grew considerably along with its enrollment and Mallett championed the construction of a new town Training School. The town school, which opened in 1932, provided a new home for the well-established teacher training program built over the years in the Model School at F.S.N.S.

Principal Mallett

Principal Mallett

Item Contributed by
Mantor Library at UMF

Mallett saw the Normal School through the difficult years of the Great War, during which campus-wide war relief efforts by the Normal students and faculty were prominent and encouraged. In the post war years, he succeeded in increasing enrollment, necessitating the construction of a second dormitory and a new gymnasium, and making improvements in the Normal School's library.

The Home Economic program was established in 1911 to train teachers in the domestic arts and its first Cottage baby arrived in 1927.

The school was given authority from the State of Maine in 1927 to grant a bachelors degree to graduates of four year courses. Under Mallett's leadership in the 1920s and 1930s, the number of student organizations grew to include the school's first sorority and fraternity organizations, new sports teams for men and expanded intramural activities for women, the first student government, a regularly published campus newspaper, and an annual yearbook.

New Directions, Ideals Unchanged

The 1940s brought many changes to the Normal School. Enrollment declined as the men went off to war and teacher training was adapted to meet the new wartime needs. Normal School students participated in the State's cadet teaching program, going out to teach in the rural schools of Maine where there were teacher shortages.

Home Ec students attended a canning institute at University of Maine to prepare them to be directors of canning centers throughout Maine. The centers were part of a food conservation program and promoted sharing of food during wartime. Student organizations resumed war relief efforts through the Red Cross and fund raising initiatives to provide support overseas and in the local community.

In 1945, the school's name was changed to Farmington State Teachers College and Errol Dearborn became the school's president. With the new name came another period of post-war rebuilding and rejuvenation. By the 1950s, the old traditions of daily chapel, morning assembly, and motto books were at an end; the old Farmington State Normal School had moved in a new direction.

The school's name changed several more times before becoming the University of Maine at Farmington in 1971, but its mission to provide a quality liberal arts education and prepare teachers for service in Maine schools and beyond has remained the same.