Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Salem College

The first college established by the Brethren was in Indiana, opening its doors nearly nine years before Ashland and Mt. Morris Colleges. Although short-lived, Salem College paved the way for the successful colleges which followed it.

A number of Hoosiers were among the most active Dunkards in their support of higher education. A meeting was held at the Antioch Church in Andrews, Indiana on February 10, 1870 to consider the idea of establishing a college in the state. A formal resolution was passed at this meeting calling for the establishment of a college and calling for support from Annual Meeting.

The resolution came before the Middle Indiana District meeting where it met stiff opposition. After intense debate, it was agreed to pass the resolution on to Standing Committee.

At Annual Meeting, delegates reaffirmed the action of 1858 which in effect neither supported nor hindered the effort. The position of Annual Meeting was that as long as schools were conducted as private commercial ventures and in accordance with gospel principles, there was no reason for opposition.

While this maneuvering was taking place, the Northern Indiana District took the process a step farther on May 28, 1870, when the district meeting accepted a proposal from the town of Bourbon which offered to donate grounds and buildings of a previous failed effort to the Dunkards if they would "establish a first class institution of learning and continue it in Bourbon."

Delegates to district meeting accepted the offer with very little disssent. The effort to establish the new school was quickly organized with a goal of establishing the first classes before the end of 1870. It was decided the name of the new school would be Salem College.

The organizers were keenly aware of the controversial nature of their actions. In an effort to head off some of the criticism they announced in the first school catalog that the intent of the college was to supply "the means of acquiring an advanced education under the influence and tuition of members of our own fraternity."

Salem College received considerable support from both Indiana and Ohio, and the organizers met their goal when eight students began classes on December 14, 1870. Twenty-two had enrolled by the end of the term. By the end of 1871 school year the number of students had increased to 125.

The establishment of Salem College only served to intensify the debate over higher education. Within months of its opening, a query was forwarded to Annual Meeting in 1871 asking whether or not Salem College was being operated under the authority of the church. Annual Meeting responded that it did not consider Salem College to be a church school, nor was it conducted by the general brotherhood. The statement acknowledged that the college was under the control of members of the church and was being supported by other members but the denomination itself was not financing it in any way.

The college continued to operate successfully in the 1871-72 school year, but the 1872-73 year was financially disastrous as student enrollment nosedived. The trustees were forced to close the college in 1873, just four years after it was founded.

Source: Planting the Faith in a New Land: Church of the Brethren in Indiana