north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program
 

 
 
 

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Essay:
     The John C. Campbell Folk School was incorporated by Olive Dame Campbell and Marguerite Butler on November 23, 1925. Located in Brasstown on the Clay/Cherokee County line, six miles southeast of Murphy, the school has twenty buildings and 366 acres of land. John C. Campbell (1867-1919) was born in Indiana but became one of Appalachia’s earliest and most energetic advocates. In 1907 he married Olive A. Dame of Medford, Massachusetts. Mr. Campbell was attracted to the folk school idea, but never lived to see it realized. Mrs. Campbell, after visits to Denmark in 1919 and 1920, chose the Danish model for the school she named after her late husband.

     Local craftsmen have been involved with the schools, as teachers and as students, since its beginnings. The first courses were offered in December 1927. A credit union cooperative backed by the school in 1926 benefited a few local people but did not prosper. An agricultural cooperative was more successful though it suffered during the Depression. The school itself began to thrive after it was marketed and promoted heavily by Mrs. Campbell, especially at the Southern Highland Handicrafts Guild, which she helped found in the late 1920s.

     In 1946 Mrs. Campbell retired as director; she died in 1954. Her replacement, D. F. Folger, sought to make the school a teacher training institute but was asked to leave by the board of directors. In 1951 George Bidstrup, himself a Dane, returned the institution to its original folk school concept. In order to survive financially over the years, the school’s leaders regularly have made changes in the curriculum while generally adhering to the Campbells’ ideals. The original core of agricultural and liberal arts courses have been replaced by offering in crafts, self-sufficiency skills, music, and dance.

     David Whisnant, in his study All That is Native and Fine, was critical of the school’s role in the history of Appalachia, seeing it as typical of “systematic cultural intervention” by outsiders. He did praise Mrs. Campbell for having chosen a non-ideological path for the school.


References:
John C. Campbell, The Southern Highlander and His Homeland (1921)
Olive D. Campbell, The Danish Folk School (1928)
David E. Whisnant, All That is Native and Fine: The Politics of Culture in an American Region (1983)
The First Forty Years: John C. Campbell Folk School (1966)
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, I, 316-319—sketches of John C. and Olive D. Campbell by David E. Whisnant
Howard E. Covington Jr. and Marion A. Ellis, eds., The North Carolina Century: Tar Heels Who Made a Difference, 1900-2000 (2002)
John C. Campbell Folk School website: http://www.folkschool.org
F. M. Terrell, “An Historical and Contemporary Study of the John C. Campbell Folk School” (M.A. thesis, University of Tennessee, 1969)Papers of John Charles and Olive Dame Campbell, Southern Historical Collection, UNC-Chapel Hill
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