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The Normal Christian Association

The Normal Christian Association had the longest history of all the Farmington State Normal School clubs or organizations, with records as far back as 1868. Its purpose, according to its Constitution, was that the “professed children of God should adopt such means as will enable them to advance in the Christian course and extend its blessings to those with whom they associate.” All students enrolled at the school were automatically members, but active participation was by choice. Non-members were also welcome to attend meetings.

Weekly meetings were held with “exercises deemed best calculated to advance the cause of Christ.” Many of the early meeting records indicated attendance was small, but those present were interested and shared in the exercises of devotion. Membership and attendance had increased by the late 1890s and the association’s limited funds continued to be used to purchase record books and to print “topics cards” for each term listing the schedule of meeting dates with the subject for each weekly meeting. The group also hosted “Every Thursday” prayer meetings, a practice which continued for decades.

Benevolent Causes and War Relief Efforts

In addition to its focus on Christian devotions, the association began fundraising to support worthy causes in the pre-World War I period. According to the Farmington Normal and the group’s financial records, the association sold handiwork, school banners, aprons, pillows and candy to raise money for a benevolent fund. They used the funds to purchase flowers for Normal students who were ill, supplies for the school’s medicine chests and magazines for a “Reading Table” for the Normal students. Occasionally funds were provided to Normal staff to travel to teachers conventions in other states.

C.A. Senior Cabinet, 1921
C.A. Senior Cabinet, 1921Mantor Library at UMF

For many years, the association paid to send delegates to the annual Y.W.C.A. conference at Silver Bay in Lake George, New York and travel expenses for members to go to association meetings at Colby and Bates colleges. In 1915, Farmington Normal Christian Association hosted a Silver Bay Banquet for the first time, inviting association members from Colby, Bates, and the Normal School in Gorham. The purpose of the banquet was to spark interest in attending the Silver Bay conference among the Normal School’s members.

During the First and Second World Wars, the group was very active in raising money for the Red Cross and other war relief efforts. It also purchased the school’s Service Flag in 1918, which was used in a ceremony to honor soldiers with ties to the Normal School who died in World War I. Many of the funds for these causes came from the weekly chocolate sales.

Sociables and Social Activities

The Christian Association also became the hub of the social activity on campus. Its school “Sociables” throughout the academic year provided Normal students the chance to meet and have fun. It also held an annual fair with entertainments and booths selling banners, pillows, aprons and candy. Other special events included a corn roast at the local slate quarry and holiday celebrations.

The association began providing a vespers service one Sunday a month at Purington Hall in 1916. In 1917, it voted to have the Miss Stone’s Camp Fires be in charge of the lunch room and to have a teacher assigned to each of the association's subcommittees on handicrafts, event planning and food sales.

C.A. Masquerade, 1917
C.A. Masquerade, 1917Mantor Library at UMF

A Travel Fund was created in 1919 which set aside $25 to go to the Alumni Association to help defray travel costs for girls who wanted to go home or those who were ill and needed a travel companion to see them safely home. Social activities for students took advantage of new entertainments, such as “moving picture shows.” The one of the first featured Little Women. New options for music began to appear in some association meetings, including “Victrola selections.”

By the 1920s, fundraising efforts expanded to include sales of sandwiches, popcorn and ice cream, although chocolate remained very popular. As part of its outreach efforts, Normal sophomores who were association members wrote letters to incoming first year students and, when possible, met new students at the train station to welcome them to the school. The group continued to host sociables and masquerades, including the popular Valentine and Halloween socials.

A Time of Change

In 1931, primary responsibility for organizing and hosting the school's dances, teas, bridge parties and annual holiday events shifted from the Christian Association to the Social Training Committee. The Committee, formed as part of the college’s new faculty-student cooperative government, also oversaw musical and other programs held in chapel.

The 1940s brought even more rapid changes for the association. The Christian Association was responsible for the school’s chapel exercises in 1942, but a new Vesper Choir replaced the Christian Association Choir in 1943 and daily chapel was reduced to three times a week by 1945. A Newman Club was established on campus in 1946 and a new Chapel Committee began selecting programs for chapel presentations in 1949, further eroding the sphere of the Associations duties. By 1955, daily chapel had been replaced with printed bulletins.

By the late 1950s, the association had taken some steps towards collaboration with the Newman club by jointly sponsoring a scavenger hunt for the college students, but struggled with its relationship with “denominational groups” on campus. Membership was also in decline, especially among male students, and membership drives on commission were instigated to little effect.

The limited scope of the association’s involvement in campus also seemed to sap some of its focus. Vespers services at local churches, occasional talks by guests, the association’s annual banquet and sending members to conferences in state and Massachusetts were the most consistent activities in this period. Charitable efforts were fewer too, although the group did partner with a local church to send a child to summer camp and sent funds to the American-Korean Foundation to aid in educating children in Korea and to the Children’s Relief Fund. They also contributed a small sum to the Home Economics Club to use for their Thanksgiving food baskets.

By 1964, the membership was so small the association did not even elect officers. Some members formed a “Campus Christian Movement”, which was not recognized or funded by the college, in spring of 1965 in an effort to understand the needs of the campus, students and faculty. There are no additional records to make clear what happened after the last meeting that year. The last year the association was still listed as a campus organization in the yearbook was 1965.

By 1967 there was a new Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship and a Student Social Corps (which was established to carry on exchange programs with other schools and organizations, “to study economic, radical and social problems” and to help with social and charitable projects). The Inter-Varsity became the UMF Christian Fellowship in 1974. Although the name has changed since the 1970s, there continues to be a student Christian club on campus to present day.

Sources: Records, Normal Christian Association, January 1, 1868 – March 30, 1870; Christian Association Records, Appropriated to the F.S.N.S. Christian Association by Fred L. Varney, 1898 – 1901; Farmington Normal Christian Association Records, 1911 – 1917; Records, Farmington Normal Christian Association, 1917-1920; Christian Association Account Record Book, 1910 – 1930; Farmington Normal, 1901-1921; Record book, Christian Association, Farmington State Teachers College, 1956 – 1966; Farmington State Normal School/Teachers College newspapers; Effesseness, Effesteco and UMF yearbooks, various dates; University of Maine at Farmington: A Study in Educational Change (1864 – 1974), Richard P. Mallett, © 1974.