A Look Back at The Colby Outing Club

The Colby Outing Club would like you to wear your seatbelt. Or at least they did in the 1980s. Tucked away in Miller Library’s Special Collections room at the College are a handful of Outing Club logs, ranging mostly from the 1970s-1990s. The logs reveal the recent history of one of the College’s oldest, most prominent, and wide-reaching organizations. 

Back in the day, the Outing Club once held a more intense manifestation holding  under its belt the Colby Ski Club, Woodsmen Team, Colby Outdoor Orientation Trips (COOT), and the traditional Outing Club.

The logs reflect the same tongue-in-cheek, slightly exaggerated tone still used in the Outing Club email newsletter and other outing-based student traditions, like the yearly COOT summaries taped to the doors of freshmen during orientation. 

“By the way, you reading this, are you wearing yours?” asks the unnamed writer of a van log circa ‘86. “NO?! Why not? What do you mean why? Because your chances are 25x greater of getting hurt in an accident if you’re unbelted.” On the next page is its slightly mocking visual addition: a tally-marked chart of the drivers the van had passed who were wearing seatbelts and on the other side, those who were not.

The Outing Club was first founded in 1914, although the definition of “founded” would fluctuate, given that today the Outing Club’s blog claims “Been Outdoors Since 1949” as their date of origin. Given that the club’s beginning occurred more than 100 years ago, the club’s functioning and activities were not the only things that have changed since, along with the method for creating a student organization.

The club was proposed and officially endorsed by alumni trustees of the College, most prominently Robbie G. Frye 1882 and William C. Crawford 1888. Frye, in addition to being a college trustee, was a respected alumni secretary for many years—he lived to the age of 98—and was a member of the Appalachian Mountain Club. His proposal was to fill a gap in the student experience, where a few organized sports had been the extent of outdoor activities available. Frye wanted to be remembered for this contribution. His correspondence on the project has also been archived in the College’s Special Collections.

Current students may be surprised by this heavy involvement of alumni and trustees in the daily activities of students in a time where faculty and staff have very little involvement in creating or interacting with clubs. But in 1914, students did not have the same level of influence on the College’s campus, and although this has changed now to the benefit of the College, things seem to have worked out well for the Outing Club for the long run.

Documentation suggests that student interest fluctuated in the years after its foundation. There is no mention in Special Collections of club activities from 1915-1917. The club reappears from 1918-1920, but continued to struggle for another two decades or so.

In 1922, the president of the club, Charles E. Treworgy ’1923, was one of four students who died in the Lambda Chi fraternity fire. He died trying to rescue the other students and is remembered as the namesake of the current Treworgy dormitory on Roberts row. 

The Outing Club suspended its activities after Treworgy’s death and continued to experience setbacks. In 1924, the club sent a team to the Winter Carnival in Auburn, which was sponsored by Bates College. They were defeated amid rumors that Bates took advantage of a poorly marked course to win their home-field event, which did nothing good for the club’s membership and enthusiasm. 

There was a women’s division which organized their own Outing Club in 1924, although whether they did so because of a desire to be separate or because they were not allowed to join the club at that time is not clear. 

The Outing Club lost members and was not revived again until about 1935. At that point, the club reformed. In 1936, the Outing Club took hold of one of the original farmhouses on the College’s new Mayflower Hill campus and used it as their winter lodge.

Questions continued to arise about gender. The Outing Club has a blemished history of exclusion in a variety of areas. The Outing Club photo in the 1937 Oracle Yearbook shows the group as all male, but the following year, a mixed group of men and women. The club was documented as one of the first student groups on campus to be co-educational. 

Unfortunately, other exclusionary practices were present for many years, even in the logs; one particularly racially charged joke about how “orientals” name their children in the log seemed, luckily, a far cry from what Outing Club members would deem appropriate today.

With regards to the quiet debate over the Outing Club’s founding date, the logs seem to explain that the “Been Outdoors Since 1949” date of origin on the current Outing Club’s blog refers not necessarily to the original foundation but to the official opening of the Ski Lodge, which granted year round access to outdoor facilities.

At this moment in Outing Club history, members are looking towards the future. In a message to the Echo, Molly Gardner ‘22 said, “I hope that anyone who wants to get outside feels comfortable coming into the office and asking for the gear that they might need to get outside,” when asked how the club is planning to increase accessibility. 

“I want to see the Outing Club take on a more active role in getting people outside on smaller trips and experiences throughout the week…it’s a wonderful place to destress. I want to emphasize more peer mentorship and leadership in the outdoors, and it would also be incredible to start an outdoor education program with local kids,” added Jackie Florman ‘22.

At the end of the day, the Special Collections logs describe aspects of the Outing Club that seem unlikely to change for many years to come: forgetting tents, building snowmen, going to McDonalds, accidentally letting breakfast eggs freeze in cold weather, general mishaps, and a lot of walking. But for the students who participate in the Outing Club, it does seem to be worth it.

As one early Outing Club documenter once wrote, “A great bunch of people makes an apathetic, pessimistic, old senior feel good about a school that so often makes him feel like a member of a zombie society.”

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