Hutchins Library
Special Collections & Archives
Guide to the John C. Campbell Folk School Records, History

Accession Number: 47
John C. Campbell Folk School Records
Selected Records, 1923-1983
Selected Photographs, c. 1925-1985
17 boxes
3.3 linear ft.
Online Catalog Record (BANC)

Series Description

Part A - Selected Documents

Series I - Board and Corporation Meetings, Minutes and Reports, 1925-69
Series II - Directors’ Office Files. 1923-1969
Series III - Scrapbooks and Publications, 1952-82

Part B - Selected Photographs, c. 1925-1985

Series I - Brochures and News Releases, c. 1970-83
Series II - General File, c. 1925-1983
Series III - Betty Denash Photograph Albums c. 1930-1950
Series IV - Larry Pontier Prints c.1980
Series V - Doris Ulmann Copy Prints and Copy Negatives c. 1922-1933

Access and Use

Provenance: The John C. Campbell Folk School collection was compiled by the Settlement Institutions of Appalachia / Berea College Research Resources Project (1979-1986), and funded by the Appalachian Fund and the National Endowment for the Humanities. The records of the John C. Campbell Folk School were collected and organized 1982-1983 by Project staff and then microfilmed at the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives.Selected John C. Campbell Folk School photographs were collected, organized, and reproduced by Project staff in 1986.

Access: The microfilm master negative is owned by Berea College. A use copy is available in Hutchins Library’s Archives and Special Collections Department. Because Berea College does not own the copyright for the manuscripts or printed documents included in this microfilm edition, it is the responsibility of the researcher to secure permission to publish from the John C. Campbell Folk School or its successors and assigns.

The copy negatives and a set of copy prints are owned by Berea College and are available in Hutchins Library’s Special Collections and Archives Department. Berea College has permission to reproduce all or part of the school’s photographs, use them in slide or film presentations, display them, or loan them for displays, and to allow their use by researchers for reproduction and publication.

Preferred Citation: Either "John C. Campbell Folk School Records, Berea College Special Collections & Archives, Berea, Ky," when documents are cited, or "John C Campbell Folk School Photographic Collection, Berea College Special Collections & Archives, Berea, Ky," when images are used.

Related Berea College Archives

Related References

  • Howard A. Kester papers, 1923-1972 Edited by Edward M. Wayland. Microfilm
  • Howard A. Kester papers, 1923-1972. Edited by Edward M. Wayland.
  • The Appalachian Photographs of Doris Ulmann

Other Related Archives

Southern Historical Collection, Manuscripts Department Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • John Charles and Olive Dame Campbell Papers (#3800).
  • John C. Campbell Folk School Records, 1928-1988 (#5040)


The School was founded at Brasstown, North Carolina in 1925 by Olive Dame Campbell to further the educational and social vision of her late husband, John C. Campbell. Starting with an old farmhouse and a log barn, it rapidly expanded to include a farm, dairy, forestry program, forge, and a crafts and recreation program. Based on the Danish approach of linking the culture of work with that of books, its purpose was to build and enrich rural life through adult education.

John C. Campbell was born in Laporte, Indiana, in 1867. He was raised in Wisconsin and graduated from Andover Academy in 1888, Williams College in 1892, and Andover Seminary in 1895. While in Seminary he became interested in the southern mountains and following graduation, 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. In 1907 Mr. Campbell married Olive Dame; the couple spent 1907-1908 in Scotland and Sicily. During his stay in Europe Campbell learned of the Russell Sage Foundation, and after his return he approached the organization with a proposal to study the function of church and privately supported schools in the southern mountains.

Campbell spent 1908-1912 traveling extensively throughout the mountain south 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 was 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 replaced her husband and continued as executive secretary until 1928. She also completed his unfinished book on Appalachian life and published it posthumously in 1921 as The Southern Highlander and His Homeland.

Olive Campbell shared her husband’s view that traditional education sent its best graduates out of the mountains and was therefore but another element of colonization. She was also committed to the idea that “There is a native culture in the mountains that has been too much ignored.”

With the assistance of Marguerite Butler, a Vassar graduate from Cincinnati who had taught at Kentucky’s Pine Mountain Settlement School, Mrs. Campbell set out in 1922 on a fifteen-month study of Denmark’s adult education programs that utilized folk schools and cooperatives.

Upon their return, Miss Butler and Mrs. Campbell commenced a five-state search for a community that would accept and nurture an innovative school. A Pine Mountain colleague of Marguerite Butler’s, Ruth Metcalf, suggested North Carolina’s Cherokee County as a possible site. Miss Butler traveled to Murphy, the county seat, and was soon visited by Fred and Luce Scroggs of Brasstown. They told Butler that they “wanted a school that would not just make teachers and preachers, but one that would help the country.”

The Scroggs gave thirty acres and soon an adjoining sixty-acre farm with a house was purchased. The townspeople, all 100 of them, drew up a legal pledge and donated firewood, building stone, shrubs, trees, telephone poles, over $800 in cash, and thousands of days of free labor.

Rather than giving grades and degrees, the school emphasized practical skills of home and farm management blended with reinforcing pride in local culture, especially its music and craft heritage. The school was also active in promoting cooperative community efforts such as Mountain Valley Creamery, Craft Guild, Men and Women's clubs, and a Credit Union for farm improvement.

In the 1950s and 1960s numerous new projects were undertaken, including a literacy program and the growing of experimental trellis tomatoes. More recent projects include a model campground, memorial gardens, stone houses with Danish influence, and student internship programs.

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, black-smithing, enameling, leatherworking, and pottery. Annual events include Folk-Dance Week, Little Folk School for children, and the Fall Arts, Crafts, and Music Festival.

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