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Berea College

Known for its unique approach to service learning, Berea College provides an education to those traditionally denied access because of race or poverty. Founded in 1855, the college was fully incorporated on April 5, 1866, with the first bachelor's degrees granted in 1873. Berea began as a one-room school in Berea, Kentucky, under the direction of the abolitionist Reverend John G. Fee. Edward H. Fairchild was the first Berea president (1869–1889), followed by William B. Stewart (1890–1892) and William G. Frost (1892–1920). Reverend Fee was never an official president, but served as the president of the board of trustees from 1858–1892. Articles of incorporation for the college were adopted in 1859 in the midst of increasing hostility to abolitionists.

Fee advocated an education built on Christian character, excellence, and equality for all, including African Americans. Teachers for Berea were recruited from Oberlin, an Ohio institution known for its antislavery stance. Following the Civil War, Berea began to enroll African-American and white students. The admission of African-American students was not without controversy and influenced policy from 1875 through 1890; the debate continued through the tenure of William Frost. Frost sought to strengthen the financial endowment of Berea, and gained support from notables such as Theodore Roosevelt, Julia Ward Howe, Charles Eliot, and Woodrow Wilson.

Concern for the education of African Americans in the era of Jim Crow was undermined when the Kentucky legislature passed the Day Law in 1904, which forbade the education of African Americans and whites together. In 1901 Berea was the only interracial institution in the South. Although Berea officials challenged the law, the Kentucky Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court upheld segregation. The enforced segregation led Berea to establish the Lincoln Institute near Louisville, Kentucky, for the education of African-American students.

The effects of the Day Law and the influence of Frost led Berea to stress the education of the white mountain people of Appalachia, whom Frost believed were of pure Anglo-Saxon stock. Part of the new mission was to train teachers to teach in the remote areas of Appalachia. Frost also advocated a form of manual training that integrated intellectual and vocational labor as a form of social and economic support. This emphasis on labor was continued during the term of President William James Hutchins, who served Berea from 1920 to 1939. Building on its commitment to the region, Berea committed itself to remedial education through an nongraded high school, continuing to serve students needing financial assistance. Guided by Berea's motto, "To Promote the Cause of Christ," Hutchins sought to prepare mountain leaders for Christian citizenship and service to others. Following the end of World War II and the repeal of the Day Law in 1950, Berea once again slowly began to educate African Americans. During the 1960s changes were made in the curriculum to place more emphasis on student freedom, flexibility, and responsibility. This resulted in strengthening the liberals arts and the professional programs, and included a growing interest in African-American studies and civil rights.

In the early twenty-first century, Berea's mission emphasizes a commitment to equality of opportunity for students from Appalachia, including all people of color. This commitment is grounded in a strong focus on the Christian ethic through study of the liberal arts; an understanding and appreciation of labor; a sense of democratic community; and an obligation of service to Appalachia. Students are admitted to Berea on need and pay no tuition except through their labor.


FROST, WILLIAM G. 1937. For the Mountains: An Autobiography by William Goodell Frost. New York: Fleming Revell.

PECK, ELISABETH S. 1982. Berea's First 125 Years, 1855–1980. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press.

WOOD, GERALD E. 1998. "Organizational Culture and Leadership at Berea College." Ph.D diss., West Virginia University, Morgantown.


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