The Cambium Club was a student organization for Biology majors and minors at Northern. The name cambium “refers to the vital tissue in the stems of trees and shrubs which makes possible continued growth and development over a period of years” and was supposed to symbolize the students, who were the “cambium of the biological future”.
It was formed in December of 1938 at a meeting at the house of Dr. Luther West (the namesake of the West Science building). A 1960s pamphlet described the activities of the club:
“They socialize–you know, eat cookies, drink Hawaiian Punch and talk semi-intelligently with one another. Sometimes they climb Hogsback Mountain, and sometimes they have camp parties with lots of food, horseshoes, and Pepsi Cola. Sometimes they get serious and listen to speakers who know something about careers in teaching, in medicine, in pharmaceuticals, in microbiology, in fish and wildlife, in forestry. They watch good movies about biology. They pick up litter or plant trees or just make themselves useful in other ways. In other words, the Cambium Club is sort of a coed Biological Boy Scouts. The Cambium Club doesn’t give merit badges, but coed Boy Scouts can be fun, anyhow.”
Members attended talks given by Northern professors and guests on topics such as “Some of my Worst Experiences in Biology”, “The Fishing Habits of the Huron Mountain Club”, “Insects Affecting Farm Animals”, “How Not to Get Lost”, and “The One-Celled Animals of Michigan”. One presentation by Dr. Hunt, “Magic in Chemistry”, “consisted of interesting chemical experiments that were enjoyed by all”. They also watched movies such as “How to Construct a Sanitary Pit Privy” and “The Budding of Yeast”.
The Cambium Club went on collecting trips to Little Presque, Seney, and Saint Ignace and planned environmental teach-ins. They were also responsible for creating and maintaining trails in Longyear Forest and for running an annual science fair and science newsletter for UP high school and NMU students. The Cambium Club also ran an exhibit every year. Over the years, their exhibits included a Foucault pendulum showing the rotation of the Earth and a vivisected turtle whose heart was subjected to salts while students watched.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the Cambium Club was their strange initiation ritual. Prospective members had to write an essay on a topic assigned to them by Cambium members. Topics included “Theories of Causes of Monsters and Anomolies”, “Recent Developments in Hydroponics”, and the “Histogenesis of Leukocytes”. If the paper was approved, students were admitted into the club. During the initiation ritual, Cambium members played the roles of various tree parts, such as “Worthy Cork Cambium”, “Worthy Chloroplast”, “Faithful Keeper of the Annual Rings”, “Epidermal Stoma”, “Medulary Ray”, and the “Principal Storage Cell”. Then, a quartet consisting of a Song Sparrow, Tree Toad, Snowy Tree Cricket, and a Katydid (played by Dr. West) sang a song entitled “The Sad Fate of a Youthful Sponge”. The new members became “undifferentiated parenchyma” who could progress to more specialized roles in the club as time went on.
Sadly, interest in the Cambium Club and its bizarre rituals waned over time, and the club ceased to exist in 1970.
The Cambium Club records include financial records, meeting minutes, publicity and events materials, and photographs. For more information about this collection, check out our finding aid!
Written by Annika Peterson