History of Bethel Women's College

*BETHEL COLLEGE, West 15th Street, 1953, Established by Bethel Baptist Association, Bethel Female High School was incorporated March 9, 1854. Main Building cornerstone laid April 7, 1855, completed March 6, 1857, Major N.B. Kelly, Architect, Contractors Samuel L. Salter and John Orr, cost $30,000. School opened in fall of 1856, name changed to Bethel Female College in 1858, renamed Bethel Woman's College June 4, 1917, became co-educational and name changed to Bethel College in 1951. School closed and final commencement March 31, 1964. Physical influence of this old landmark ended when the four stately Ionic columns were pulled down May 24, 1966. - Gateway From The Past Volume II - by permission of William T. Turner

There is located on the Illinois Central and Louisville and Nashville Railroads at Hopkinsville, Kentucky, one of the oldest colleges of women in America. This is Bethel Woman's College, founded in 1854. From its classical halls have gone hundred of the South's leading women.

The college is located in a pretty grove in one of the best residence sections of Hopkinsville. Its main building is one of the best specimens of colonial architecture in all Kentucky. One instantly senses that behind its massive columns there dwell old time culture and hospitality. The visitor would more than ever be convinced of this could he glance into the spacious parlors on the right and left as he enters, a few days after the opening of the College in September, and see the men and women and youth of Hopkinsville and vicinity greeting the teachers and students in the annual alumnae reception.

In addition to the usual college courses, Bethel maintains a strong music school, under the direction of a graduate of the Royal Conservatory, Leipsig, Germany. The faculty, quartet, glee club, and orchestra furnish many of the programs for the Kiwanis, Rotary, and Athenaeum Club, besides frequently broadcasting from WFIW, Hopkinsville's well known broadcasting station.

On the well kept grounds of Bethel the visitor sees attractive girls from many States and some foreign countries, engaged in various sports, such as swimming, tennis, archery, and basket ball. 

The movement to establish a Baptist college for young women was started in 1851, and a charter was secured. There had been a Baptist school taught, with W. C. Van Meter, Dr. Ring and Miss Leach as teachers, and Prof. J. W. Rust was teaching a school at LaFayette, Ky. Bethel Association, made up of the Baptist churches of several counties, fostered the undertaking, and in 1854 a lot was purchased and the building started. John P. Campbell, Thomas M.. Buck, John Buckner, Hiram A. Phelps, Dr. Augustine Webber, Joseph M. Cheaney, A. G. Slaughter, R. Dillard, and E. B. Richardson were the Board of Trustees at the start. The school was ,first called Bethel Baptist Institute. In 1858 it was rechartered as Bethel Female College, and in 1909 the name was changed to Bethel Woman's College.

In 1855 the corner-stone was laid, and in 1857 was completed the splendid four-story building which, with its massive columns, still remains one of the most beautiful examples of Grecian architecture to be found in the State.

The first principal of the institution was W. F. Hill, elected in 1856. He was followed in 1857 by J. W. Rust, who resigned in August, 1863, when the school was closed for several months. Rev. T. G. Keen re-opened the school in March, 1864, and continued as principal until 1866. It was then quite prosperous. M. G. Alexander succeeded Dr. Keen, and resigned in 1868, to be succeeded by Rev. J. F. Dagg. In 1874 Mr. Dagg was succeeded by J. W. Rust, who remained with the college until his death in 1890. For about a year the office of president was vacant, but in January, 1891, T.S. Mc Call, of Liberty College, was elected to the position and remained with the school until 1896, when he was succeeded by Dr. Edmund Harrison. After a very successful administration of thirteen years, Dr. Harrison resigned in 1909, and H.G. Brownell was elected to fill the vacancy. In 1914 W. S. Peterson was chosen to succeed President Brownell, who was elected to the presidency Of Bethel College, for men, at Russellville, Ky. In 1908 the college became a part of the system of the Baptist Education Society, and in 1916, under the administration of Mr. Peterson, it was decided to cease giving the A.B. degree, to make Bethel a standard junior college, and to omit the word "Female" from the name, substituting "Woman's". 

During all these years the policy of the Trustees had been to lease the building and grounds to the president, who conducted the institution as a private enterprise. For many reasons this was unsatisfactory; so in 1917, upon the resignation of President Peterson, a new policy was adopted. Under this policy the trustees elect all officers and teachers. They likewise become responsible for and control all expenditures.

Miss Clara Belle Thompson was chosen president and Mrs. B. F. Eager, vice-president. Under this administration the results were so satisfactory that the trustees decided to continue the new policy.

Upon Miss Thompson's resignation in the spring of 1919, Dr. J. W. Gaines was chosen president. During the first year of his administration the attendance increased threefold, and there has been an increase each succeeding year.

It is generally received opinion among educators that the best college work is not always done in the early courses of the large colleges, where the classes are very large and where the teachers are assistant professors or instructors instead of heads of departments. For good, consistent work, under efficient teachers, the small college should be selected rather than the large one. High school graduates, as well as those preparing for college, may, therefore, pursue their education in such at less expense and under more favorable conditions than in those schools whose students are numbered by the hundreds.

The object of the Christian men and women who established this school more than seventy-five years ago was to provide a place where the girls of the State could obtain an education in pleasant, homelike surroundings, under christian influences. Through all the succeeding years, under every administration, this has been the constant aim of both student and faculty. Today, when there are so many influences seeking to draw our daughters away from our old ideals of modesty, refinement and real Christianity, such an ideal if more than over important.

The stately old building is a beautiful sight, as it stands in the center of the large campus covered with bluegrass and shaded by magnificent trees.

In 1919 it was found necessary to increase the accommodations, and a new residence hall was erected, forming a west wing to the older building.. This building contains twenty-four bedrooms, equipped with stationary washstands, with hot and cold water. The ground floor contains a well equipped science laboratory and a large study hall.

In 1920 an east wing was added, which contains thirty bedrooms, a well-equipped infirmary, four large music studios, twelve practice rooms and a gymnasium. A swimming pool has also been added, and the interior of the old building remodeled and renovated, making it the most attractive portion of the college plant.

A building containing the dining room and auditorium was completed in 1924. Many visitors remark: "this is the prettiest college dining room I have ever seen." The auditorium with a seating capacity of 750, pleases all who see it. This addition gives Bethel a complete college plant, all under one roof. 

*A History of Christian County Kentucky from Oxcart to Airplane - by Charles Meacham 1930. 

Betty Sellers/Mt. Vernon, In.
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