The startled railroad surveyor dropped his notebook as his surveying instrument focused on a brick structure extending above the forest canopy.
Ladies Hall, Berea College’s first brick building, seemed totally out of place in the woodland setting. “Whoever put up that building in this wilderness must have had faith,” the surveyor observed.
The surveyor’s experience came some 20 years after the Rev. John G. Fee started a one-room school in 1855 that eventually would become Berea College. Fee, a native of Bracken County, KY., was a scholar of strong moral character, dedication, determination and great faith. He believed in a school that would be an advocate of equality and excellence in education for men and women of all races.
Fee’s uncompromising faith and courage in preaching against slavery attracted the attention of Cassius M. Clay, a well-to-do Kentucky landowner and prominent leader in the movement for gradual emancipation. Clay felt he had found in Fee an individual who would take a strong stand on slavery.
In 1853, Clay offered Fee a 10-acre homestead on the edge of the mountains if Fee would take up permanent residence there. Fee accepted and established an anti-slavery church with 13 members on a ridge they named “Berea” after the biblical town whose populace was open-minded and receptive to the gospel. (Acts 17:10).
Berea’s distinctive commitments and educational programs have brought the College national recognition. Above all, the excellence of Berea’s academic program earns acclaim.
U.S. News & World Report has repeatedly named Berea the No. 1 regional college in the South, The New York Times, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Times of London and the “Solutions” segment of ABC World News have focused national and international attention on many aspects of the contemporary Berea experience. Full-tuition scholarships provided to all students, the effectiveness of the work program and the students’ involvement in community service projects are among the features highlighted. Such reports are expected to continue as Berea alumni distinguish themselves in all walks of life and in many parts of the world.
Fee was the first president of Berea’s Board of Trustees, serving from 1858-92, and Rogers was the first principal, 1858-69. The first Berea College president was appointed in 1869. Since then there have been nine presidents.