Bethany College: 168 Years
Note: On March 2, Bethany College turns 168 years of age. The
College celebrates Founder’s Day on March 6. A full schedule
is posted on the College’s website (www.bethanywv.edu)
* * *
It’s been 168 years since Alexander Campbell founded the 1,300-acre
mountaintop campus known as Bethany College, the oldest independent
college in West Virginia. Campbell, a leader in the Christian Church
(Disciples of Christ) with which this non-sectarian institution is
still affiliated, provided both the land and the funding and went
on to serve as Bethany’s first president.
In 1840, President Martin Van Buren was in office, it would be nearly
ten more years before Samuel J. Morse patented the telegraph and Abraham
Lincoln was still an obscure state legislator in Illinois. There was
no electricity, no telephone and no radio. In 1840, at the dawn of
the Industrial Age, our nation was overwhelmingly rural. Only a handful
of Americans, almost all upper-class Caucasian males, went on to higher
education at all. For most of the population, even high school was
a distant dream.
Since West Virginia did not yet exist as a separate political entity
on the College’s founding in 1840, the institution was actually
recognized twice—originally, in its charter from the Commonwealth
of Virginia, and in 1863, by the newly organized state of West Virginia.
President Campbell took an active hand in the design of Old Main,
designated a National Historic Landmark, and in the recruiting of
the original six faculty—all male—who taught classical
subjects including Hebrew, Greek, astronomy, rhetoric, mathematics,
chemistry, ancient and modern languages. Today, six of Bethany’s
historic buildings are on the National Register, including my new
home, the noteworthy Pendleton Heights president’s residence,
continuously occupied for the last 150 years.
A sepia tint photograph of the Class of ’99 (that’s 1899)
assembled on the steps of Commencement Hall, a great Gothic structure,
shows a dozen men and women—the former sporting dapper bow ties,
walking sticks and straw “boaters”, the latter demure
in shirtwaists and expansive flowered “picture” hats.
One early Bethany student-athlete wears a college baseball uniform
Although fashions have changed dramatically over the years, the College’s
essential character—emphasizing intellectual freedom, diversity,
personal growth, leadership and a close academic community—has
continued to flourish.
Against the odds, our founder pursued a vision that has led to a
“small college of national distinction.” More than 22,000
alumni have gone forth to become national and international leaders.
They include a World Court justice, Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist,
senior vice president of a major international ad agency, director
of the National Cancer Institutes and director of a world-famous Fortune
500 electronics company – to name just a few.
Our founder envisioned a liberal arts college that would prepare
young scholars for positions of leadership and influence. And so we
Bethanians do today. Last week we welcomed 65 student leaders from
throughout the region who have distinguished themselves by community
service and academic merit; next fall we will enroll 15 of them as
Kalon Scholars. For the next three summers, Bethany will host the
prestigious West Virginia Governor’s Honors Academy involving
students from each of the state’s 55 counties and, following
an intensive, three-week-long experience on our historic and scenic
campus, we hope many of them will also select Bethany as their college
Of the more than 660 small liberal arts colleges founded in the “golden
age” for American higher education from 1830-1860, fewer than
20 percent, including Bethany, have survived the tumult of wars, economic
depression and changing demographics. Moreover, describing several
precipitous eras of struggle and subsequent renewal, one biographer
writes that the college at times has survived on “soul and grit.”
Our founder deliberately selected this secluded and memorable place
of haunting beauty where students could study in solitude.
Today, although 35 United States and 18 Bethany College presidents
have come and gone and some academic disciplines of the 19th century
have given way to modern pre-professional programs in dentistry, engineering,
law, medicine, ministry, physical therapy, veterinary medicine and
new endorsements for a state approved program for teaching reading
and as the first state approved program for teaching autism, the spectacular
five-mile vistas remain much as they did in 1840, a metaphor for the
vision that led to the founding of this small college of national
distinction that continues, 168 years later, to produce world-class
Scott D. Miller, Ph.D.
President of the College
To see Dr. Miller's biography:
If you wish to be removed from this mailing list please