FARMINGTON — When the charter for the Farmington State Normal School was signed in October of 1863, education in Maine was being challenged.

“Parents complained that teachers were not being prepared,” Sarah Maline, associate professor of art at the University of Maine at Farmington told new students and faculty Tuesday during this year’s academic convocation address.

As the university prepares to celebrate its 150th anniversary next month, Maline led the gathering, including about 520 freshmen, through changes in the community and culture during the university’s history. In the address titled, “A Sense of Place,” she focused on providing photos and stories about the school and community where the class of 2017 has come to start their journeys to find their place.

“Sense of place is more than a physical location. It’s about imagination, expectations and memories,” she told students and faculty members.

While deciding what to emphasize during UMF’s yearlong celebration, three themes stood out, she said. The first is women, because they have been the greatest population over the years, she said.

The second is place. “This is a rural place, an academic and complex place,” she said.

The third theme centers on UMF in the world.  The school “has changed so much and in its relationship to the world,” she said.

Stories and photos from the school’s beginning, the great fire of 1886, the wild, crazy, escapades of the students of the 1920s and the students who became cadet teachers at UMF during World War II were shared.

The biggest change for UMF came during the 1960s and 1970s, she said. During the days of Vietnam, marijuana and a focus on cleaning up the environment, the school became a part of the University of Maine system, she said.

It started as a Normal School, a European practice, a school that established norms and standards for teachers, Maline said. The closest normal schools were in Massachusetts at that time.

Farmington’s leaders appealed to Augusta for the town to become the site of the Western State Normal School. Their appeal was based on easy access for students with the railroad arriving from Boston and Portland. They neglected to point out the train arrived in West Farmington, she said.

Farmington provided an old-fashioned but home-like place for the then mostly female students, she said. The students held to strict and Christian traditions.

The town’s Great Fire in 1886 prompted student bucket brigades that helped save Merrill Hall. Their attempts couldn’t save the Baptist church across the street, she said.

With the roaring ’20s, student records and yearbooks reveal a wild, crazy group that biked to Industry to swim in Clearwater Lake, ate picnics in area woods and enjoyed their few years here, she said.

In the 1940s, life in Farmington and for the students changed with World War II. Nearly 70 percent of the teaching fraternity went off to war, leaving a depleted educational staff.  Students at UMF became cadet teachers and were thrown into schools before they received full training, she said.

The 1960s brought social and political upheaval across the country with a focus on Vietnam, civil rights and the environment.

UMF’s student population rose by a third in the late 1960s and early 1970s, she said. The school continued to prepare students as teachers. They also began teaching other fields, particularly science with the federal focus on cleaning up the environment, she said.

After the convocation, the students joined small discussion groups. Maline encouraged them to think about “ways we take place with us.”

UMF President Kathryn A. Foster encouraged the students to seize September and create a fresh start, embracing every opportunity they encounter.

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