Founders Week at Mars Hill College To Honor A History of Diversity
From the day its doors opened, Mars Hill College was co-educational, accepting both male and female faculty and students, a concept that was unbelievably progressive in the South in 1856.
African-Americans had a more complicated start at Mars Hill College, as illustrated through the story of Joseph Anderson. A young black man who “belonged” to founder J.W. Anderson, Joe spent a few days in an Asheville jail in 1859, serving as collateral for the debt on the original building of the college.
With a theme of “Diversity,” Mars Hill College prepares to celebrate the second week of October as Founders Week, and examines its long and remarkable relationship with both women and minorities. In 154 years, Mars Hill has evolved from a school which, regardless of intention, was founded at the cost of human bondage, to a campus which boasts the most diversity of any institution of higher learning in the region.
Today’s Mars Hill students come from many states and 18 different countries; 74 % are white; 16% are Black; 1% are Native American; 1% are Asian; and 3% are Hispanic. Over 50% of the Mars Hill College student body is made up of first generation college students.
College historian Richard Dillingham believes that Mars Hill’s history with diversity continues to affect the campus culture to the present day. He agrees with long-time professor of religion Bob Melvin, who once postulated that the nurturing environment long noted at Mars Hill is the result of having so many women in leadership positions throughout its history.
Dillingham said: “We are distinctly different in our ethos because so many of our leaders and faculty have been women. This differs from other Baptist schools where the leadership was overwhelmingly male.”
Dillingham also believes that, although all the original founders were white, the variety of professions among them made for a socially egalitarian culture. “If you look at the founding families, they represent at least fifteen different professions, from farmer to miller to preacher to legislator, so we’re celebrating that professional diversity as well.”
In 1932, Joseph Anderson’s grave was moved to a site overlooking the campus, on what would one day be known as “Dormitory Drive.” Then, in 1999, the Joseph Anderson family was recognized among the 23 Founding Families of Mars Hill College. Several descendants of Joseph Anderson and Jane Ray, the family matriarch, were present for both events.
Descendants of the family will again be present on Monday, October 11 when the road sign will be unveiled noting the change from “Dormitory Drive” to “Joseph Anderson Drive” in honor of the Anderson family. The ceremony will include unveiling a memorial to Jane Ray, near Joe’s grave.
Chapel on Tuesday will include recognitions of famous women in Mars Hill’s history, such as Ellen Keith Ramsey who cashed her $100 gold piece wedding dowry and paid a college debt in the 1870s; Helen McMasters, one of the first members of the faculty, who placed a strong emphasis on the arts, especially music; Edna Corpening Moore, dorm matron and bursar who built a strong business model for the college; and her daughter, Nona Moore Roberts, who taught French and music and composed the melody for the college Alma Mater.
Several of the notable African-Americans in Mars Hill’s history are, appropriately, descendants of Joe Anderson and Jane Ray. Some of these notable descendants to be featured at Tuesday’s chapel include: Oralene Graves Simmons, the first African-American student admitted to Mars Hill College in 1961; Doskie Anderson McDowell, who retired from the college after over 36 years of service to the school; and Charlene Ray, who became the first Appalachian Scholar at Mars Hill and who graduated with honors in 1981.
Other events of the week will include a centennial celebration of the iconic Marshbanks Hall on Sunday, the yearly tolling of the historic college bell 23 times in honor of the Founding Families, and a celebration at the Long Ridge Community Rosenwald School for black students on October 13. All events are free and open to the public.
Contact Richard Dillingham for more information at 828/689-1296, or at email@example.com.
Mars Hill College is a private, four-year liberal arts institution. Founded in 1856 by Baptist families of the region, the campus is located just 20 minutes north of Asheville in the mountains of Western North Carolina.www.mhc.edu 1-866-MHC-4-YOU.Read the full article