The University of Maine at Farmington – providing excellence in public higher education for 150 years.
The University of Maine at Farmington’s history is firmly rooted in the early 19th century. Though generations of changes have come and gone, many of the ideals behind our founding are as fresh and important today as they were then, most notably that a solid foundation of Liberal Arts is essential to becoming a valuable and adaptable member of society.
How it all Began
In 1857, a convention of teachers from Franklin County resolved, “That the interests of our common schools, and the teachers having them in charge, not only require the fostering care of the State, but most imperatively demand the immediate establishment of that long neglected source of improvement, a State Normal School … and as teachers of Franklin County, we would respectfully, yet earnestly, request the early attention of our present Legislature to the endowment and establishment of such an institution.”
In March 1863, amidst much heated argument, a Normal School Act finally passed into law, and that fall, Farmington was chosen from a list of possible locations for the first normal school, making the University of Maine at Farmington (aka, UMF) the first public institution of higher education in the entire State of Maine.
From Humble Beginnings
On August 24, 1864, 31 students gathered in an attic above a downtown commercial building, called Beal’s Hall, where they met until they were able to move into their new building that winter. The new home of what was to be called the Farmington Normal School was described as “rough, crude, and plenty humble” by UMF historian Richard P. Mallett. Today, Merrill Hall, UMF’s original Main Street home and now the oldest public building on a Maine campus, is anything but rough, crude and humble.
When the first class graduated from the Western State Normal School on May 25, 1866, State Superintendent Rev. Dr. Ballard said, ‘The whole drew forth warm commendation from the literary gentlemen present, and all felt satisfied that the diploma given to each member of the graduating class was indeed a testimonial to good character, diligence in study, ample attainments, and a compliance with the rules of the school. The persons most interested in its work and care, saw on that day a rich compensation for the solicitude of the enterprise, which had thus far, at least, been regarded as an experiment…’ Ballard’s remarks show that success was not a foregone conclusion, and there was much room for satisfaction among those who had fought for Maine’s first teachers’ college.
A Novel Approach: A Teachers’ College That Emphasized Liberal Arts
The Western State Normal School stood out among teachers’ colleges for its commitment to integrating a strong liberal arts program into teacher training, for it was thought that only those with a strong background in the liberal arts could effectively teach the arts and sciences.
Obvious as this may seem, it was not the rule among teachers of the time. The classic emphasis on memorizing lessons may have grown from the danger of exposing unlettered teachers to inquisitive pupils.
Many early graduates attended the school for its liberal arts foundation alone. Among these were the Stanley brothers, famous for building the Stanley Steamer automobile; and John Stevens, engineer of the Panama Canal. Interest in the liberal arts continued unabated until the college offered its first degree programs in the arts and sciences in 1971. By the 1974-75 school year, nearly 300 students were enrolled in Farmington’s arts and sciences programs.
The University of Maine System is Born
The Western State Normal School passed through many incarnations in its first 106 years, finally merging into the University of Maine System in 1968 to become “the University of Maine at Farmington” in 1971.
Where We Are Today
The University of Maine at Farmington has maintained its fine tradition in teacher preparation while adding and enhancing other academic programs in the arts and sciences, health, and rehabilitation.
More than a century of changes have left several features constant, however UMF continues to live by the ideals which inspired the Normal School movement in the mid-nineteenth century: a democracy can survive only if its citizens have a sense of history, a working understanding of issues affecting the present, and a vision for the future.
History of UMF on the Maine Memory Network
UMF’s Mantor Library and the UMF History Department were awarded a grant by the Maine Historical Society to create an online exhibit on the Maine Memory Network.
The Maine Memory Network is a collaborative digital library and provides access to thousands of historical items belonging to over 200 organizations from across Maine, including the University of Maine at Farmington. Students in Professor of History Allison Hepler’s History of UMF course and History of Maine class did research and contributed to the text for the exhibits and accompanying images and documents from the UMF archives.