John C. Campbell Folk School

The Birth of the Folk School

john c campbell folk school

Photo courtesy of John C. Campbell Folk School 

John C. Campbell Folk School was established in 1925 by Olive Dame Campbell in honor of her late husband John. Olive’s friend Marguerite Butler played an important role in the founding of the school.

John and Olive took a strong interest in the people of the southern highlands of Appalachia. The Campbells researched and examined mountain life from West Virginia to Georgia.

Here’s a short blurb about their endeavors from the Folk School website:

“While John interviewed farmers about their agricultural practices, Olive collected ancient Appalachian ballads and studied the handicrafts of the mountain people. Both were hopeful that the quality of life could be improved by education, and in turn, wanted to preserve and share with the rest of the world the wonderful crafts, techniques and tools that mountain people used in every day life.

The folkehojskole (folk school) had long been a force in the rural life of Denmark. These schools for life helped transform the Danish countryside into a vibrant, creative force. The Campbells talked of establishing such a school in the rural southern United States as an alternative to the higher-education facilities that drew young people away from the family farm.

After John died in 1919, Olive and her friend Marguerite Butler traveled to Europe and studied folk schools in Denmark, Sweden and other countries. They returned to the U.S. full of purposeful energy and a determination to start such a school in Appalachia. They realized, more than many reformers of the day, that they could not impose their ideas on the mountain people. They would need to develop a genuine collaboration.”

The Folk School is continuing the dream Olive Dame started so long ago. The school has its centennial celebration in sight with the 100 year anniversary arriving in a few short years.

Of course many things have changed since the Folk School first opened its doors in 1925.

In the beginning students were mostly local folks who wanted to learn how to use the craftsmanship and knowledge they already had to better provide for their families.

Today the majority of the student body is people who do not live in the local area.

In years gone by the school focused on agriculture, but today most classes are centered on craft.

Although many things have changed, there is one thing that has not changed at the Folk School: the great sense of community.

Olive’s greatest strength lay in the fact that she respected and admired the mountain people who were her neighbors. She never tried to change them, she only met them where they were and tried to better their lives.

The Folk School plays a huge role in the community of Brasstown. Weekly dances, concerts, and other events are open to the public. Economically, the school is responsible for bringing much needed money to both Clay and Cherokee Counties, as well as the neighboring counties in Georgia and Tennessee. Another economic factor the school provides is employment.

I’m very thankful for my position at the Folk School. Many days when I walk in to work I think of Mamaw Marie and Aunt Ina and wonder what they’d think about me working at the same place they did so many years ago.

Tipper

p.s. To read more about Olive Dame Campbell go here.

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13 Comments

  • Reply
    Dee
    September 18, 2019 at 8:39 am

    LOL, thanks Ed, I think you are correct about the train being in Bryson City. I should have looked at the map. Sometimes I am in a hurry and type too fast making spelling mistakes or the wrong city. I will say though, it is all beautiful scenery through all of the Smoky Mountains.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    September 17, 2019 at 6:11 pm

    Tipper,
    Olive Dame Campbell was 72 when she died, so was my daddy and mama. I was 6 years old when Olive died. I never heard of the Folk School until I was in High School and heard some of my fellow students talking, and I went home and told Mama and Daddy so they would know. Daddy said he had heard of the Folk School, all he knew was that it was in Brasstown. (I didn’t even know where that was.)

    Several years ago I did some Christmas Shopping in the town of Brasstown. I bought some pens as a wedding anniversary gift for my oldest daughter, Lauralea, and her husband, Steve. The pens were homeade ( beautiful. ) I think I gave about $90.00 for two, but I couldn’t hardly understand the old man or woman. They both smiled alot, so I thought they were OK. I don’t know their names. …Ken

  • Reply
    Dee
    September 17, 2019 at 11:00 am

    I have so much respect for people like the Campbells who genuinely cared about your area. I did go to the website and read all the history. My husband and I love history and have been to the Smokey Mountains quite a few times and driving past it on our way to my parents home in MS probably once every year for over 20 years. One year we decided to come back East by driving what we thought was the East side of the Smokey Mountains. We wanted to see the Sequoyah Museum and we came on up to Cherokee, Murphy and Brasstown. I think it was Brasstown that we took a train ride from which we really enjoyed but somehow we missed the information on the John C. Campbell Folk School. Maybe some day I will be able to get back as there is no doubt we would really enjoy it.

    You are blessed to work at the school!

    • Reply
      Ed Ammons
      September 17, 2019 at 5:30 pm

      No disrespect intended but it is the Smoky Mountains without the e. I have a feeling that the train you rode was the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad and that it was Bryson City where you boarded it. I don’t think Brasstown has a train but I could be wrong. It doesn’t matter though you were in the best part of the Appalachian Mountains. Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson and Macon Counties in the Southwesternmost corner of North Carolina are filled with greatest scenery and the finest people in the world.

      • Reply
        Ed Ammons
        September 17, 2019 at 8:24 pm

        Oops! I left out Swain County. It is the very best! At least it was until I left. But I’m coming back! I might be in a box but I’m coming home soon!

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    September 17, 2019 at 10:45 am

    Tipper–The John C. Campbell Folk School is a sterling example of the manner in which visionaries with a dream, a sense of purpose, and belief in what they are doing, can make a difference. Any endeavor which protects, perpetuates, and preserves the vast richness of mountain culture is a worthy one. In this case, we also have a great and enduring story of success.
    Just think of the untold thousands of folks who have, over the generations, benefited from the Folk School and through it garnered a deeper, more meaningful appreciation of a truly special way of life.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    September 17, 2019 at 10:16 am

    Tipper,
    I like the way Miss Cindy stated about the campus being nestled here in the loving arms of the mountains. I never have been to the Folk School, at least until Tipper talked about it in her Blog. That was several years ago, I kinda wish I had been there in the beginning to help some.

    Our local radio station at Murphy, WKRK, talks the Folk School up real good too. There are so many sights and crafts to be seen, that’s why they have 2 days for your enjoyment. I personally like The Red Barn where Tipper and her bunch Sings and Plays. Chitter and Chatter and Paul sings mostly Gospel songs of our Mountains. …Ken

  • Reply
    Steve Cox
    September 17, 2019 at 9:19 am

    Tipper,
    There is one thing I would like to add. There are many of us who come to the folk school and decide that we want to be a bigger part of this community. Whether it is a full time or as in our case part time residence (can not take a grandparents away from the kids) it is the Brasstown community and the school that draws us back. Thanks to the people of Brasstown for sharing the magical place with the world

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    September 17, 2019 at 8:16 am

    As you know, the advent of Itsey, Ebay, etc as well as specialty channels on cable and YouTube have further empowered what might be called the ‘artisan movement’ by not only enabling sales but also the building of communities of interest. None of that would work though if there had not been champions that kept skills alive, like the JCCFS.

    I learned by experience long ago that it is an unwise thing to go to someone’s home country and criticise it. Natives are not blind to faults but they do not appreciate being told about them by ‘outlanders’. that holds true at multiple scales. Blessings on the memory of Olive Campbell for living that wisdom.

  • Reply
    Lex Gibson
    September 17, 2019 at 7:53 am

    Where is this school?

    • Reply
      Tipper
      September 17, 2019 at 7:55 am

      Lex-great question! I should have said 🙂 The Folk School is in Brasstown North Carolina. For more information visit their website here: folkschool.org

  • Reply
    Don Byers
    September 17, 2019 at 6:44 am

    Am sure that you love your job!!! Keep on keepin’ on!!!

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    September 17, 2019 at 5:46 am

    One hundred years, that is quite an accomplishment. I love that the purpose of the folk school from the very beginning was to help the local people learn. Olive Dame was pure of purpose. I drive by the folk school when I go to town. It is a beautiful campus nestled here in the loving arms of the mountains!
    I think, perhaps, they will have another hundred years!

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