Hutchins Library
Special Collections & Archives
Guide to the John C. Campbell Folk School Papers

Accession Number: 24
John C. Campbell Folk School Papers, 1909-1981
.4 linear ft.
Online Catalog Record (BANC)

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.

Related Archives:


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 Homeland.

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 consecutively.

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

Series I John C. Campbell Box 1

This series includes correspondence from or about John C. Campbell (1910-1919) and articles written by or about Campbell (1917-1937).

Box 1

  1. Correspondence, 1910-1919
  2. Articles by or about John C. Campbell, 1917-1937
  3. Chart recording fact-finding trips by John C. Campbell for the Russell Sage Foundation
Series II 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

  1. Olive Dame Campbell correspondence, 1919-1952
  2. Articles written by or about Mrs. Campbell, 1921-1948, 1954
Series III 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

  1. Marguerite Butler Bidstrup correspondence, 1923 -1966
  2. School Directors’ correspondence, 1946 -1978
  3. Publications - pamphlets and newsletters about school activities, 1927 -1980
  4. Publications, 1981 -
  5. Clippings and articles, 1926 -1979
  6. Filming proposal (n.d.)
  7. Photographs of Brownlee House (n.d.)
  8. Photographs of John C. Campbell Folk School

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