Bethany College

BETHANY COLLEGE. Among the denominational colleges of Kansas Bethany College at Lindsborg occupies in many ways a distinctive position. It was founded to give the advantages of higher education to the young people of the Swedish colonies in Central Kansas. It has always been maintained under the auspieces[sic] of the Swedish Lutheran Conference though its privileges have not been restricted to young people of any creed or nationality. Many people who knew of Kansas in no other way are familiar with Bethany College and Lindsborg as a center of cultural influences. It is especially appropriate therefore that a brief sketch of the history of the college should be published in these pages.

The Swedish colonies had scarcely been founded in the Smoky Hill River valley in Central Kansas when the members considered the possibilities of a school of higher learning. This possibility was indulged as a hopeful prospect but was not realized until 1879. In December of that year Bethany Church at its annual meeting decided to plat and sell as city lots a portion of the land which had been donated to the church by the Union Pacific Railroad Company for church and school purposes. One-half the proceeds of the sale it was decided should constitute the nucleus of an endowment fund for an institution of higher learning. This little seed was allowed to germinate for two years. Dr. Carl Aaron Swensson, who had been elected pastor of Bethany Church in 1878, considered the time ripe for the founding of a school in Lindsborg. Accordingly Bethany College was founded by him in the fall of 1881. One teacher was employed, and the recitations during the first year were held in a small room of Bethany Church. In the summer of 1882 the Smoky Hill District of the Kansas Conference of the Augustana Synod had taken charge of the school and a board of directors was elected. In September of that year the institution received its first charter, in which it was called Bethany Academy. A one-story public school building had been purchased and fitted up as a recitation hall, and the students enrolled the second year reached the number of ninety-two.

The real period of expansion began in 1883. A commodious building was erected in the summer of that year, and almost from the beginning this has been used as the ladies hall. In March, 1884, the Conference took charge of the institution and has since had full control. The need of developing and training teachers for the parochial and public schools was now fully appreciated and arrangements to satisfy this want were immediately undertaken and completed. The name of the institution was accordingly changed in 1885 to Bethany Normal Institute. In the meantime the school had outgrown its quarters and a new building was required. Early in 1886 the board of directors was given power to purchase some land adjoining the school campus and to proceed with the erection of the present main building. This building was completed in May, 1887, and was dedicated in the first part of the following June.

The institution had constantly grown in both the number of students in attendance and the number of teachers employed. This fact gave indications toward the necessity of expanding the institution to a complete college. In December, 1886, the name was changed to Bethany College and Normal Institute, the charter was amended for the purpose and the school given the power to confer academic degrees. From this time there was a steady growth, and the first class was graduated from the college in 1891, the degree of Bachelor of Arts being conferred for the first time. April 7, 1899, the college was fully accredited by the State Board of Education and on presentation of the Bethany College diploma the State Board of Education will issue to the student a free state teachers' certificate. This certificate is changed to a life diploma if the candidate has taught successfully during two of the three years.

Lindsborg, the home of Bethany College, is a city of 2,000 inhabitants, located on two railway lines, the Union Pacific and the Missouri Pacific main line. The social and religious atmosphere of the community is an educating influence that can hardly be overestimated. While Lindsborg is free from many of the temptations of large cities, it affords nearly all the social, literary and educational advantages.

Bethany College has become particularly well known through its Messiah Festival. The first chorus, composed of fifty voices, was organized in 1881 by the founder of Bethany College, Dr. Carl Swensson. Upon the direction of Mrs. Carl Swensson it made its appearance in the spring of 1882. How it has grown may be judged by the following press notices:

"The most musical town in America. It is Lindsborg, Kansas, a country town of only 2,000 inhabitants. Lindsborg has a big band, a symphony orchestra of sixty pieces, which plays the same class of music as the Boston Symphony and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, a male chorus and children's chorus with several hundred members, a Musical Art Society, which specializes in operatic works; but Lindsborg's greatest glory is its Oratorio Society of nearly six hundred, to which whole families belong and which gives annually a remarkably fine rendition of Handel's 'Messiah.'" - Editorial from Woman's Home Companion, September, 1916.


A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans, written & compiled by William E. Connelley, 1918, transcribed by students from USD 508, Baxter Springs Middle School, Baxter Springs, Kansas, March 19, 1999.

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