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