Accession Number: 24
John C. Campbell Folk School Papers, 1909-1981
.4 linear ft.
Series I - John C. Campbell
Series II - Olive Dame Campbell
Series III - John C. Campbell Folk School
Access and Use:
Preferred Citation: John C. Campbell Folk School
Papers, Berea College Special Collections & Archives, Berea, Ky.
Overview of the Collection
These are correspondence, publications, photographs, and clippings
relating to the 1925 establishment of the John C. Campbell Folk
School in Brasstown, North Carolina, and its founders.
John C. Campbell was born in Laporte, Indiana, in 1867. He was
raised in Wisconsin and graduated from Andover Academy in 1888,
Williams College 1892, and Andover Seminary 1895. While in seminary
he became interested in the southern mountains and chose a teaching
position at Cullman Academy, Joppa, Alabama. He later taught a
year at Pleasant Hill Academy (Tennessee) and then served a seven-year
stint as president of Piedmont College, Demarest, Georgia. While
travelling in Europe in 1906, Mr. Campbell met Boston native Olive
Dame; the couple married the following year, and stayed in Scotland
and Sicily during 1907-08. Campbell learned of the Russell Sage
Foundation while he was in Europe, and after his return approached
the organization with a proposal to study the function of church-supported
and privately-supported schools in the mountains.
Campbell, accompanied by Olive, spent 1908-1912 traveling extensively
throughout the southern mountains as an investigator for the Sage
Foundation, visiting schools and contacting the organizations that
supported them. In 1913 the Southern Highland Division of the Russell
Sage Foundation opened in Asheville, N.C., with Mr. Campbell as
Secretary. Campbell’s efforts also led to the beginning that
year of the Southern Mountains Worker’s Conference (later
to become the Council of the Southern Mountains). This conference
brought together educational and religious workers to share concerns
and develop co-operative program efforts. Campbell continued as
the Conference’s executive secretary until his death in 1919.
Mrs. Campbell then replaced her husband and continued as executive
secretary until 1928.
Mrs. Campbell’s encounters with folk ballads as she travelled with her
husband led to the publication in 1917 of English Folk Songs from the Southern
Appalachians with English ballad collector Cecil Sharpe. She later spent
two years completing her husband’s unfinished book on Appalachian life;
it was published posthumously in 1921 as The Southern Highlander and His
She also determined to fulfill her husband’s dream of rural
education along the lines of the Danish Folk Schools. He had envisioned
the Danish approach as an effective means of educating young adults
to become productive citizens who would stay in the mountains instead
of moving away to urban areas. Accordingly she visited Denmark
in 1922 to study the folk school methods, and published a book, The
Danish Folk School, in 1928. The school she founded with Marguerite
Butler (later Bidstrup) in 1925 at Brasstown, North Carolina, was
based on Danish models and named in honor of her late husband.
Starting with an old farmhouse and a log barn, the school expanded
to include a farm, dairy, forestry program, forge, shop, crafts,
and recreation program. The Danish practice called for linking
the culture of work with that of books. Instead of grades and degrees,
the school emphasized practical skills of home and farm management
blended with reinforcing pride in local culture, especially music
and craft heritage. The school also acted in building up cooperative
community efforts such as the Mountain Valley Creamery, the Craft
Guild, Men’s and Women’s clubs, and a Credit Union
for farm improvement.
Mrs. Campbell retired from the directorship in 1946 and was followed
by D.F. Folger, George Bidstrup, John Ramsay, and Howard Kester
Today the Folk School continues as a center for education and
cultural enrichment. It is the site of weekly community dances
and lectures on subjects as varied as bee keeping and alternative
energy sources. Major year-round learning opportunities include
intensive two-week courses in weaving, woodworking, blacksmithing,
enameling, leatherworking, and pottery. Annual events include Folk-Dance
Week, Little Folk School for children, and the Fall Arts, Crafts,
and Music Festival.
1 Manuscript Box
||John C. Campbell
This series includes correspondence from or about John C. Campbell
(1910-1919) and articles written by or about Campbell (1917-1937).
- Correspondence, 1910-1919
- Articles by or about John C. Campbell, 1917-1937
- Chart recording fact-finding trips by John C. Campbell for
the Russell Sage Foundation
||Olive Dame Campbell
||Box 1, cont.
This series includes articles by or about Olive Campbell (1921-1948,
1954), as well as personal and business correspondence (1919-1952).
Of particular interest are letters from Denmark and correspondence
with Berea College presidents William G. Frost, William J. and
Francis S. Hutchins. One letter from William J. Hutchins, dated
1925, grants Mrs. Campbell the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters
from Berea College.
Box 1, continued
- Olive Dame Campbell correspondence, 1919-1952
- Articles written by or about Mrs. Campbell, 1921-1948, 1954
||John C. Campbell Folk School
||Box 1, cont.
This series includes correspondence from later School Directors,
school-related publications, newsletters, pamphlets, clippings,
and articles, photographs.
Box 1, continued
- Marguerite Butler Bidstrup correspondence, 1923 -1966
- School Directors’ correspondence, 1946 -1978
- Publications - pamphlets and newsletters about school activities,
- Publications, 1981 -
- Clippings and articles, 1926 -1979
- Filming proposal (n.d.)
- Photographs of Brownlee House (n.d.)
- Photographs of John C. Campbell Folk School
Home > Special
Collections & Archives > Southern