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Collection Spotlight: Normal History Club

Early members of the Normal History Club, circa 1900.

Early members of the Normal History Club, circa 1900.

This week’s collection spotlight looks at a collection recently completed by our intern, Grace Sergeant. Sergeant, an Illinois State English major, has been learning how to process and preserve collections here at the University Archives. For her first collection, we gave her the records of a local club that has been active for 121 years—the Normal History Club.

The Normal History Club was founded in early 1894 by two local women, Auta Felmley and Ellen Gray. Felmley was the wife of then faculty member David Felmely who would himself become the University’s sixth president in 1900. Auta Felmley and Gray were looking for an academic outlet from their daily lives. The University was welcoming to women educators; by 1894 there were 10 women in the 21-member faculty. But local women, several of whom were married to faculty members at the University, also wanted to participate in academic endeavors. They began gathering at each other’s homes on Sunday afternoons to share and discuss research papers they had authored. The members focused their research interests mostly on literature and history. The group even selected club colors (lavender and yellow), a club flower (pansy), and adopted the University’s Chaucer-themed motto “And gladly wolde he lerne and glady teche” as their own club motto. Over the years, the membership has changed to include retired professors, but the academics and fellowship have remained the same. The Normal History Club recently participated in the Town of Normal’s 1-5-0 celebrations where its members showcased their history at the town’s History Fair and created a board for the History Board Program.

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Sergeant’s work helps preserve and make accessible the history of one of the oldest operating clubs in the Town of Normal. The Records of the Normal History Club includes the group’s constitution, early bylaws, member lists, anniversary memorabilia, photographs, and meeting minutes from the club’s first year. If you would like to research this or any other collection held at the University Archives, email us or call us at (309) 438-3546.

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