Hutchins Library
Special Collections & Archives
Guide to the Oneida Baptist Institute Records

Accession Number: 48
Oneida Baptist Institute Records, 1906-1983
Selected Records 1909-1983
Selected Photographs c. 1906-1915
3.12 linear feet
7 microfilm boxes and 5 boxes of prints
Online Catalog Record (BANC)

Series Description
Part A - Selected Records - Selected Documents
        Series I - Historical Sketches and Publications, 1912-1981
        Series II - Correspondence, 1922-83
        Series III - Operational and Vital Records, 1906-1978
                Subseries A: General, 1906-1978
                Subseries B: Financial Records, 1916-1973
        Series IV - Alumni Association Files, 1929-64 (Ledger #1 & #2)
        Series V- Student Records, 1909-82 - Restricted (Reel 1-8; Ledger #1- #3)
Part B - Selected Photographs, c. 1906- c.1915

Access and Use

Provenance: This collection was compiled by the Settlement Institutions of Appalachia / Berea College Research Resources Project, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. The project was developed in 1979 for the purpose of organizing and preserving the original records and photographs of the Settlement Institutions of Appalachia (SIA) and the copying of those having historical value to form a central research collection at Berea College. The records of the Oneida Baptist Institute were collected and organized in 1982-1983 by Project staff. Those records possessing administrative, legal or historical value were microfilmed at the Kentucky Department for Library and Archives. The resultant microfilm master negative is owned by Berea College.

The Oneida Baptist Institute was unable to participate in the photographic phase of the project. Instead, the Oneida photographs included in this collection were acquired from the University of Louisville Photographic Archives. Copy negatives of the selected photos, as well as one set of the copy prints, are owned by Berea College and are available in Hutchins Library's Department of Archives and Special Collections.

Access and Use: Permission has been granted by the University of Louisville for Berea College to reproduce all or part of the Oneida-related photographs and to use them in slide or film presentations, to display them or loan them for displays, and to allow their use by researchers for reproduction and publication. A use copy of the microfilmed documents is available in Hutchins Library's Department of Archives and Special Collections, but Berea College does not own the copyright to the manuscripts or printed documents included in this microfilm edition. Therefore it is the researcher's responsibility to secure permission to publish from Oneida Baptist Institute or its successors and assigns.

The student records included in Series V are confidential, so access is restricted. The other documents in this collection have no access restrictions other than copyright laws.

Preferred Citation: The proper credit line for all uses of the images in the collection shall be: Claude C. Matlack Collection, Berea College Special Collections & Archives, Berea, Ky. For documents cited the preferred citation is: Oneida Baptist Institute Records, Berea College Special Collections & Archives, Berea, Ky.

Related Archives


Part A - Selected Records

Seven boxes of the collection contain microfilm of Oneida's known, extant and non-current records dating from 1909 through the end of the administration of David Jackson in 1972. In addition, there are autobiographical and biographical materials concerning the early life of founder James A. Burns and the story of the founding of the school. The daily correspondence files of president Barkley Moore, 1972-83, brings the record up to 1983. With the inclusion of James A. Burns' account of his founding of the school, The Crucible, and Barkley Moore's correspondence, the entire history of the school is documented to some extent. Gaps in the record do exist, however. There are very few surviving papers from the files of the principal administrators prior to 1922; nor is the Chester Sparks administration (1948-1962) substantially documented. Although the files contain references to meetings of the Board of Trustees, no board meeting minutes have been found. Also there are no personnel files and there is little indication of an official personnel file ever having been established.

Archival materials providing the most extensive documentation of the history of the school are the school newspapers, autobiographical and biographical sketches, correspondence of the principal administrators, financial records and official student records. Minimal supplementary documentation is provided by the Alumni Association files, primarily in the newsletters compiled between 1958 and 1962.

Part B - Selected Photographs

The Oneida copy print collection consists of 401 images selected from the Claude Carson Matlack Photographic Collection in the University of Louisville Photographic Archives. The photographs document various aspects of local society during the formative years of the institution. According to Samuel W. Thomas, in his introduction to Dawn Comes to the Mountains, "Claude Matlack's camera captured a way of life in an isolated region of the Cumberland Plateau at the moment it was beginning to be influenced from the outside." The photos are numbered on the back with both the collection identification number and the ID number used by the U of L Archives, so the originals can be readily located.


Oneida Baptist Institute in Clay County, Kentucky was founded by James Anderson Burns, a participant in the deadly feuding activity that plagued Clay County in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In his 1928 autobiography, The Crucible, Burns tells of how his participation ended when he was left for dead after a gun battle. He escaped to a mountain-top where he stayed for three days and underwent a transformation, finding that his ".urge for vengeance was gone."

With the help of a West Virginia Baptist group, Burns entered Dennison University in Ohio, where he began to think about how to stop the violence. His solution was "to teach the children of the hostile clans to love each other. This done, the feuds will stop automatically." Burns eventually returned to Clay County, where he brought contending factions together and convinced them to send their children to a school he proposed to build at Oneida. Despite their limited education, he viewed area residents as ". . .[possessing] a high degree of intelligence - [being] intensely religious and patriotic...[and] having in tradition what the world had in books." His confidence in the people's innate intelligence and the transforming effect of Christian love were the essence of Burns' philosophy.

With the donations of small sums of money and large amounts of labor from the community, the first schoolhouse was finished in the winter of 1899. On the first day of school, January 1, 1900, four teachers met 125 students, several of whom were considerably beyond normal school age.

By 1917 there was a larger classroom building and a girl's dormitory. The boys were being housed in town at that time because their dormitory had burned in 1913. In addition to educational basics there were courses in domestic science and manual arts. By 1916 the Institute had begun operating extension schools in nearby communities, and Oneida teachers were teaching in "Moonlight Schools" conducted at night for working adults.

T.L. Adams, a mid-westerner with a background in teaching manual arts, became the Associate President in 1917. While Mr. Adams' papers were not among the extant Oneida records, how he viewed his role at Oneida and his attitudes about area people are well conveyed in articles he wrote for the Oneida Mountaineer. He believed it was the Institute's task to teach not only young people, but the whole community, which he described as being composed of the "purest Anglo-Saxon stock." He felt that the Institute should begin teaching better farm methods, convert its industrial operations—sawmill, grist mill, cane and cider mills—into small community industries, build a cannery to preserve local garden products, and expand flour and pork production for local consumption and sale outside the area. Some of Mr. Adams' programs were implemented during a relatively brief tenure that extended only to about January, 1922.

James Burns' 1921 retirement saw the Institute in serious financial difficulty. However, Associate President, Sylvia Russell, who assumed the directorship in 1922, soon achieved financial and administrative stability for the school and restored the confidence of the community and its donors. By the time she left in 1928, the school's $32,000 debt was repaid in full and there was a full staff and all the students that could be accommodated. The March, 1930, Mountaineer reported that in 1928-1929 the Institute had the highest enrollment in Clay County--98 percent of whom were "true-born mountaineers" --as well as the highest percentage of over-age students, highest number of pupils from large families, and the highest percentage of girls.

Mrs. Russell was followed by a number of other dedicated administrators, of whom all but Eri Shumaker (1946-48), were native Kentuckians, and several of whom were OBI graduates. J.H. Walker, who felt indebted to James Burns for persuading his father to send him to college, returned to the school as Vice-President from 1928-30. Saul Hounchell became vice-president c. 1931-34 and again 1941-46; Charles Goins, c. 1934-41; Chester Sparks, 1948-62; David Jackson, 1962-72; and Barkley Moore, 1972-1994. Of these, only David Jackson was not an OBI graduate.The curent president is W.F. Underwood.

There appear to have been few major changes in the school philosophy or in the basic components of the program between 1930 and 1950. The school remained dedicated to providing as complete an education as possible through an emphasis on academics, manual labor, and religious instruction. The economic woes of the Depression and WWII years hit the school particularly hard. By February 1931 financial giving had dropped 60 percent. Later in the 1930s, austerity measures included teachers working without salaries for long periods, laying off office staff, and shutting off the electricity. For a time during the 1940s the school asked students to contribute food from home gardens. The program continued to succeed, however, for in 1945 Saul Hounchell reported the largest high school enrollment in the school's history, and in 1953, Chester Sparks noted that the school had received more applications than it could accept.

During the 1960s the school began to describe its program as one which was geared toward students with "special needs" and started admitting more students from outside the immediate community, including some from urban areas and a small number of foreign students. Despite the change in student body makeup, the educational program remained similar and the majority of the students came from Appalachia.

When Barkley Moore assumed the presidency in 1972, the school was in another period of serious crisis. Enrollment was down, staff morale was low, and the school was not doing well financially. At a time when the status and the future of church-affiliated boarding schools in Appalachia were highly uncertain, Moore implemented a wide-ranging program, which began to attract increased interest and support. The strong emphasis on religious instruction, guidance, and practice was continued and a successful effort was made to upgrade academics, including an increase in library holdings, added computer instruction, and stronger emphasis on Art, Science, Foreign Language, Vocational and Physical Education. As a result, enrollment steadily increased in the 1970s, and by 1982 there were 90 staff members serving 470 students in grades 7-12. This growth required physical plant expansion, but the school was able to continue relying heavily on its own farm products for food.

Oneida Baptist Institute is still dependent upon individual contributions for a substantial part of its income, even though it receives funds from Baptist organizations and its own endowment. Much effort goes into keeping in touch with alumni and former staff and including them in major school events.

Series Description
12 Boxes

Part A - Selected Records

Series I Historical Sketches and Publications, 1912-1981 (Reels 9-12) Reels 9-12

Extant copies of the Oneida Mountaineer, a newspaper published for many years by Oneida staff, founder James Burns' autobiography, The Crucible, and biographical sketches and magazines about Burns and the work at Oneida comprise the major part of this series. A bibliography of published materials pertaining to the life and work of James Burns (c. 1958) and a reprint of a speech made by Burns in 1926 supplement these materials. The remainder of the papers in this series are somewhat miscellaneous and fragmentary.

Series II Correspondence, 1922-83 (Reels 13-42) Reels 13-42

In general, the correspondence files are a very informative part of the school's records. Since they cover the daily events of many years and are so extensive, they are a consistent source of information on such aspects of school operation as opening and closing dates, enrollments, dropouts, and inquiries from prospective students or parents. Letters documenting contributions of money or used clothing arrived at the school almost daily, and clearly show that the school has always been supported mainly by contributions -- nearly always small ones -- from supporters.

Series III Operational and Vital Records, 1906-1978 Reels 42-45

Series III is divided into two subseries.

Subseries A: General, 1906-1978

This is a small subseries, with a total volume of less than one cubic foot. It is a fragmentary file consisting primarily of unrelated legal and administrative documents. Those dated prior to the 1970s are from the files of the presidents, while most of the papers generated in the 1970s originated in the files of the guidance counselor. The majority of the materials previous to the 1960s concern such property transactions as deeds, leases, surveys, and construction contracts. Other informative files from those years are the enrollment records (1930-57), and a file on the Magoffin Baptist Institute, a defunct neighboring school whose properties were transferred to the Institute in 1963.

Subseries B: Financial Records, 1916-73

This subseries consists of financial statements, reports and audits (1922-73, with some undocumented years); miscellaneous files, securities ledgers, student loan and emergency funds (1916-71); and receipts and disbursements ledgers (1919-23, 1926-46). Lastly is the payroll ledger from the David Jackson administration, which is the only surviving personnel record from those years (1961-72).

Series IV Alumni Association Files, 1929-64 (Ledger #1 & #2) Reel 2

The Alumni Association file is quite small (approximately .5 cubic feet.) It is made up of the minutes of the yearly Alumni Association meetings for 1929-31 and minutes of the meetings of the rejuvenated association and its Board of Directors 1958-62. In addition, there are some files regarding annual homecoming celebrations and documentation of some funds established by the Alumni Association in the 1950s.

Series V Student Records, 1909-82 (Reel 1-8; Ledger #1- #3) Reels 1-8


The student records of the Oneida Baptist Institute consist of ledgers dating from 1909-54, and card files for the years 1938-82. While it is not clear that the ledgers are a complete or an official record, they are the only known extant student records up to 1938. With the exception of Ledger #1, which has an alphabetical index at the front but is not otherwise in alphabetical order, the ledgers are an alphabetical listing of students enrolled for those years. The Ledgers contain such basic identifying information as the name and home address of the student and the name of parents or guardians. In addition, Ledger #3 contains information regarding the occupations of parents or guardians. Student birth dates do not begin to appear until Ledger #3 (1934-54), All three Ledgers list entrance and graduation (or withdrawal) dates, and grades.

Part B Selected Photographs, c. 1906 - c.1915 Boxes 8-12

The Oneida copy print collection consists of 401 images selected from the Matlack collection. The photographs document various aspects of local society during the formative years of the institution. Copy prints are identified with both University of Louisville and SIA control numbers. As a result, the researcher is quickly able to coordinate the location of originals within the Matlack collection. The boxlist below is organized by primary subject; however, the in-house index also makes it possible to search for prints in this collection by secondary subject or by approximate date.