The Normal School Museum and Lura Perrine

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Did you know that VCSU once housed a museum? Back in 1893, the 3rd Annual Catalog notes an infant museum which included “numerous collections of specimens sent out by the National Museum (Smithsonian).” About a decade later, the 1905 Annual Catalog describes a museum that includes a rich collection of zoological types, an herbarium, a private collection of conchological and geological specimens, and a private collection of eggs “that contains nearly a hundred species, some of which are very rare and valuable.” If you, like me, needed the dictionary for “conchological,” it refers to the study of mollusks’ shells, something its first curator studied and collected.The early museum was viewed as “a most valuable and indispensable adjunct to the work of instruction in our schools,” and natural science programs in both the Normal School department and the Model School department appear to have made frequent use of the artifacts to enhance student instruction. The museum was named in honor of Lura Perrine, who organized and developed the collection during her 1892-1919 tenure at Valley City Normal as a faculty member in the field of natural sciences. The museum was housed in three rooms on the main floor of McFarland Hall, along the corridor that connects the original building with the West addition, the area currently home to the Student Affairs offices. The collection included about 11,000 specimens. It was closed in the early Sixties, about the same time that the Model School was closed.The Perrine family genealogy (found online) indicates that Miss Perrine was the oldest of five daughters, all born in Michigan to parents who taught at Albion College, from which Lura graduated in 1880. After the death of her father in 1881, the family moved to Wano Township, LaMoure County, N.D.; according to President McFarland’s eulogy at her funeral, the Perrine women were the first family to settle in this township. Miss Perrine worked in the graded schools at LaMoure, Oakes, and Ellendale for a decade; then, when the new normal school in Valley City required an additional instructor, she accepted the appointment and began her work at Valley City Normal in January 1892. Her youngest sister attend Valley City Normal in 1894 and soon thereafter married Hugh McDonald, a Valley City resident.Miss Perrine was an early member of the North Dakota Academy of Science; she was also a dedicated member of the VCN faculty. McFarland indicates that she contributed widely to the “best” traditions of the school, and he attributes the “Normal Yell” to her efforts. She was an avid collector, particularly interested in marine species, and she traveled widely between school terms, bringing back geological or conchological specimens to enrich the museum. She appears to have been a highly intelligent, adventurous, dynamic woman, who drove a car in the 1900s when cars were new to the Midwest, who traveled alone and made friends at every destination, and who engaged students in exceptional learning experiences. Students remembered her reading Oliver Wendell Holmes’ poem, “The Chambered Nautilus,” and explaining it “with the beautiful shell in her hand, her soul exulting in the climax at the last verse” (McFarland’s eulogy). When she died in 1919, she was (at that time) the longest serving faculty member of the school. McFarland said that she had “the appreciation of thousands of young people to whom she has introduced the beauties and wonder of the solid earth, ‘the wonders of the heavens above them, as well as the soul within them.’”