If there is one person who has been associated with the college who best exemplifies the college’s spirit, look no further than Henry Talkington, who worked at the institution for 40 years.
Talkington came to Normal in 1899 from Eastern Oregon State Normal in Pendleton, Ore. He was hired as a teacher, but quickly took on several roles. He was appointed as the school’s first librarian in 1900, but because he was a full-time instructor, he instituted an honor system for checking out books. It was reported that the school never lost a book in its first seven years.
Because of his flair for teaching and engaging students, Talkington’s classes were the most popular on campus. One student wrote “He observes yet never condemns. He upholds all that is good, and true, yet never preaches. He has never grown narrow in his attitudes nor biased in his opinions. He understands this new generation and has faith in them as potential leaders. He gives to us a faith in ourselves.” His popularity and positive outlook had him quickly on several college committees including alumni, curriculum, registration, student control, student load and publicity.
Outside of campus, Talkington was known for his writings, both on history and for publicizing the college. He wrote history bulletins to assist teachers in Idaho. Those writings were described by one reviewer as “the first book on teaching history and civics which gives in complete detail all the elements of the story of human life that, when organized, become history.” He also wrote 10 books on Pacific Northwest topics such as history, civics and heroes.
His quest for and knowledge of area history continued to grow. Shortly after he arrived in Lewiston he began collecting history by clipping articles from newspapers, magazines and books. Eventually, he had one of the largest scrapbook collections of photographs and stories on the history of the Pacific Northwest and Idaho. When the Idaho State Historical Society was established in the early 1900s, he was named one of the first three trustees. By the time he retired in 1939, his Idaho collection was so expansive that the Idaho State Board of Education purchased the collection for $500.
Talkington also wrote a weekly newspaper column on Idaho history and stories about the school that were included in the Idaho Journal of Education. Newspapers regularly carried these stories about the school as well. His publicity for the college only strengthened the institution’s hold in the area.
Talkington was a great example of the college’s perseverance. In 1902, his mother passed away, and the following year, he lost both of his sons in a tragic accident. While they were swimming in the Snake River, his youngest son was dragged under a wake caused by a steamboat and drowned. The older son tried to save his brother, but he too drowned that day.
Also, in 1903, George Black replaced George Knepper as president of Lewiston State Normal and rumors quickly spread that Black was going to fire the entire faculty. Black did, albeit one individual, Talkington.
Talkington was well thought of in all circles. The Lewiston Chamber of Commerce awarded him its only lifetime honorary membership in recognition of all his work promoting the school. When the school built a new dormitory in 1924, the community and students successfully fought to have it named Talkington Hall, which still remains today.
He took the time to respond to teachers, whether a graduate of the college or not, with specific requested information on history or on teaching methods.
Talkington was easily the most popular person on campus for nearly four decades. His time at the college, however, came to an abrupt end when, at the age of 77, the State Board of Education forced him to retire, citing a recently-passed law that forced educators to retire at age 70.