February 13, 2004
On February 21, 1878 an act establishing a training school for teachers in the Madawaska territory was approved and signed by Maine Governor Selden Connor, officially beginning what 125 years later has survived and thrives as the University of Maine at Fort Kent.
UMFK will mark the occasion of the institution's birth as part of its year-long 125th anniversary celebration, during an open house and reception planned on the afternoon of the Can-Am Crown Sled Dog Races at Acadia House, the official residence of the university's president.
The public is invited to attend the event on Saturday, February 21, between 2:00 and 5:00 p.m. at the home of President and Mrs. Cost, 23 Pleasant Street in Fort Kent.
In addition to celebrating Can-Am weekend, attendees at the reception will be able to view a framed copy of the 1878 act passed by the Maine Legislature and signed by Governor Conner which established the Madawaska Training School
A section of the act reads the following: "...the Trustees of the Normal Schools are hereby authorized to establish and maintain, for a period of not less than six months in each year, two schools in Madawaska Territory, so-called, for the purpose of training persons to teach in the common schools of said territory. The towns in which said schools may be located shall furnish suitable buildings therefore, free of expense, and shall also furnish fuel for some schools. The choice of books and teachers for said schools, the course of study to be pursued therein, and the grade of scholarship for admission thereto, shall be under the control of said trustees."
Shortly after the act was signed Vetal Cyr was appointed principal of the institution. Cyr made plans to hold the first half year of classes in Fort Kent and the second term at Van Buren. The same teachers would be in charge of both schools.
On September 30, 1878, Cyr welcomed the Madawaska Training School's first class of 46 students.
At Fort Kent, the school was held in the village school building, and at Van Buren, in a partially finished building furnished with rough seats and study tables. Such were the humble beginnings of an institution the work and influence of which has exceeded the fondest hopes of those who were instrumental in its founding.
In 1887, the school was permanently located at Fort Kent, where a two-story school building and a two-story dormitory were erected. In 1927, the first year of Normal School Curriculum was added, followed by the second year of curriculum in 1934 and the third year of curriculum in 1948.
The name was changed to the Fort Kent State Teacher's college in 1961. A year later the fourth year of college work was added, and in 1963 the first bachelor's degree was awarded. In 1966 it was named the Fort Kent State College.
Again, in 1968, the name was changed to Fort Kent State College of the University of Maine during the merger of state colleges with the University of Maine. In 1970, when the institution became the University of Maine at Fort Kent, it earned accreditation and membership in the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.
The institution has undergone many name changes since its beginnings; however the commitment to quality education has always been at the forefront of faculty, staff and administrators at UMFK.