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THE subject of Christian education early engaged the attention of the believers in the advent message. At the time of the disappointment in 1844 and after, the children of Adventists were subjected to not a little petty persecution on the part of their schoolmates, who would call them "Millerites," ask them when they were "going up," and otherwise taunt them. Later the keeping of the Sabbath made a wall of separation between the children of Adventists and those of their neighbors, and caused the former to be regarded with unfriendly eyes.
But apart from these annoyances, the parents felt in their hearts that the spirit of the education given in the public schools did not harmonize with the spirit of the movement with which they were connected. That education was to prepare for the world; they wished their children prepared for heaven. Nevertheless, education of some kind was essential. Most Adventists sent their children to the public schools, but tried in various ways to counteract the evil influences to which they were subjected.
Some feeble attempts were made to provide denominational schools. In Battle Creek, which in those early days had one of
the strongest churches, a private school was started by Louise M. Morton, a woman of some education, who also wrote for the magazines. She conducted the school in the second church building, which had been erected in 1857, and charged a tuition fee of 25 cents a week for each pupil. The school was a fair success as long as it was carried on; but the teacher went away, and the school was closed. Somewhat later elementary instruction was given in a kitchen in the same neighborhood, with about a dozen pupils. Still later J. F. Byington conducted a school of some size in the church. But nothing enduring in the way of a denominational educational institution was provided until the matter was taken in hand by Prof. G. H. Bell. The arrival of this remarkable man in Battle Creek may be said to have marked the beginning of our educational work.
Professor Bell, like other leaders in the denominational work, was of New England ancestry, both his father and his mother being descended from Revolutionary stock. His people moved west, and settled near Watertown in northern New York, and there he was born in April, 1832, the eldest of a family of twelve children. Later the family moved to Oberlin, Ohio, where the son took some studies at the well-known college of that name. His work was reluctantly broken off when other removals took the family to Hillsdale and finally to Grand Rapids, Mich. In spite of poor school advantages, the young man by earnest, persistent application made good progress in his studies, and continued to cherish the hope of one day going to college; but the death of his father, leaving him to shoulder the chief burden in caring for the large family of brothers and sisters, made such a thing impossible. He continued to improve his time, however, and at the age of nineteen took charge of his first country school. The young man's ability as a teacher won early recognition, and it was not long before he was filling good positions in some of the best schools of the State.
He first went to Battle Creek in 1866, in the company of a friend who sought relief for some physical ailment at the recently founded Western Health Institute. The next year he went on a similar errand himself, his health having suffered from prolonged overwork and a lack of knowledge of physical laws. While staying in Battle Creek, he not unnaturally became interested in the doctrinal beliefs of Seventh-day Adventists. His earliest denominational affiliations had been with the Bantists. Later he had joined the Disciples, believing them to be possessed of advanced truth. For similar reasons, after thoroughly investigating every point of doctrine and comparing it
with the plain teaching of the Bible, he finally entered the Seventh-day Adventist communion, of which he continued a consistent member to the time of his death.
His school had a modest beginning. While engaged for the sake of his health in light outdoor labor on the sanitarium grounds, he was very companionable with the boys of the neighborhood, who occasionally consulted him about their lessons, and invariably found his suggestions extremely helpful. Presently the sons of Elder James White, Edson and Willie, told their
The old building where Professor Bell conducted his first school in Battle Creek, Mich.
parents that Mr. Bell's explanations of difficult problems in arithmetic or puzzling constructions in grammar were a great deal more convincing than those given by their teachers, and asked why they could not take lessons of him instead of going to the public school. Other people heard of Professor Bell's genius as a teacher, and he was encouraged to start a school, and did so, conducting it at first in a cottage on Washington Avenue near the sanitarium. As the attendance increased, the school was moved to a frame building that had served as the first printing office, the teacher using the lower story as a home for himself and his family, while he conducted his classes on the upper floor. The school was a pronounced success from the start. The instruction was at once sympathetic and thoroughgoing; the children made rapid progress, and enjoyed their work.
Meanwhile the denomination, urged on by the representations of Elder and Mrs. White and other leaders, was gradually coming to realize the need of an educational institution of larger scope for the preparation of workers. An editorial note appeared on the last page of the Review, dated April 16, 1872, which plainly set forth the reasons why such an institution was necessary, and called for an expression of opinion on the part of the constituency. It also invited prospective students to write in, giving information concerning the extent of their acquirements, and indicating what subjects they wished to pursue. In the Review of May 7 a further article appeared, explaining more fully the nature of the proposed institution, and in the issue of June 4 G. I. Butler, then president of the General Conference, strongly commended the new enterprise to the consideration of all the members. He fully believed it to be in the order of God that a school should be started in Battle Creek in connection with the other institutions growing up there, and he expected to see "this comparatively small beginning [the school carried on by G. H. Bell, which had opened under General Conference auspices June 3] amount to something very important before the message shall close." He continued:
"We want a school to be controlled by our people, where influences of a moral character may be thrown around the pupils which will tend to preserve them from those influences which are so common and injurious in the majority of the schools of the present day; and in this school we want a department in which those who would labor in the ministry, or in other public positions of usefulness, may receive that instruction which will qualify them for the duties of those positions."— Review and Herald, June }. 1872, pp. 196, 197.
The subject was discussed at the camp-meetings that summer, as well as in the current numbers of the Review, and at the Ceneral Conference convening at Battle Creek, March 11, 1873, the following resolution was passed:
"Resolved, That while it becomes our duty to pray to the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers, we also regard it as our duty to establish a school, guarded by sound moral and religious influence, where those who give themselves to the work of the Lord may discipline their minds to study, and at least qualify themselves to read, speak, and write the English language correctly; where our people can send their sons and daughters with comparative safety; and where men and women may study those languages especially now spoken by the people of those nations from whom we hope to gather a harvest of souls to the Lord."— Review and Herald, March 11. 1873, p. 108.
It was further
Resolved, That the establishment of the school be placed in the hands of the General Conference Committee.”— Ibid.
During the summer and autumn the work of raising means for the necessary buildings went forward vigorously, able articles appearing in the Review from time to time, in order to keep the subject continually before the constituency.
At the next session of the General Conference, held Nov. 16, 1873, the committee that had the matter in charge was able to report pledges already in hand to the amount of $54,000. The conference thereupon appointed a committee of seven to organize an educational society and secure a site for the main building. The committee consisted of the following persons: George I. Butler, James White, S. N. Haskell, Harmon Lindsay, Ira Abbey, J. N. Andrews, and Uriah Smith.
A plot of twelve acres of land, the home of a wealthy Quaker, on Washington Avenue in the "West End" of Battle Creek, was purchased Dec. 31, 1873, as a site for the proposed institution. Seven acres were retained for the college campus, the remaining five being cut off in two strips on the south and west sides, to be used largely for the homes of members of the faculty. Legal organization was effected in March, 1874, the committee of seven incorporating as "The Educational Society of the Seventh-day Adventists," and in the course of the summer and fall a three-story brick building, in the form of a Greek cross, was erected on the spot from which the former residence had been removed.
In the meantime, while these preparations were under way to provide suitable accommodations for the new institution, the school itself was conducted in temporary quarters, with a steadily increasing interest and attendance.
On June 3, 1872, G. H. Bell, who had been engaged in private teaching for several years, opened a school under the auspices of the General Conference Committee. It met in the frame building already mentioned, which had been the first home of the publishing association. There were twelve pupils present on the opening day, and the number soon increased to twenty-five. Somewhat later an evening grammar class of fifty pupils was organized. When the fall term began, September 12, the attendance was so large that the school had to be moved to the church building, which it occupied for more than a year. With the opening of the fall term of 1873, the management of the school passed into the hands of Sidney Brownsberger, a graduate of the University of Michigan, and a successful teacher of ten years' experience.
At the opening of the winter term, Dec. 15, 1873, the school, having an enrolment of 110, was removed to the new third build