Georgetown College made history as the first Baptist college founded west of the Allegheny mountains. In 1829 Silas Noel, a Frankfort lawyer, jurist, and minister, led twenty-four Baptist leaders in persuading the Kentucky legislature to charter the Kentucky Baptist Education Society, which considered locating the college in several counties and on the Transylvania University campus in Lexington. Instead, the citizens of Georgetown convinced the Society’s trustees to establish the college in their community by offering to raise $20,000 and by donating the assets of the defunct Rittenhouse Academy, which included a fifty-two-acre campus and land in western Kentucky. Rev. Elijah Craig, a Baptist minister, founded the Academy, in 1798, a land grant school for the community, after his 1787 classical school had failed. The college traces its history to that early school.
Georgetown History – The First Decade
The first decade of Georgetown College’s history was precarious. The first president elected, William D. Staughton, died in Washington, D.C. while on his way to assume his duties. His successor, Rev. Joel Smith Bacon, stayed two years, leaving in frustration. The Christian Reform Movement, led by Alexander Campbell, was gaining in strength and injunctions tied up the Scott County and Pawling Funds, the primary support of the fledgling college. In fear of the Campbellites gaining control of Georgetown College, Noel and others attempted to wrest control of the Pawling Fund from the Society’s trustees for the support of a new seminary that they founded near Covington, Kentucky. The Pawling Fund was not released until 1836. After two years of fighting court cases, Bacon resigned in 1832.
Georgetown was nearly destroyed after Bacon’s resignation. George Eaton, professor of Ancient Languages, also resigned, and the college’s most popular teacher, Thornton F. Johnson, professor of Mathematics and Civil Engineering, was fired because of his collaboration with Rev. Barton W. Stone, a leader in a movement sympathetic to the Campbellites. The college had been leaderless for four years when Benjamin Franklin Farnsworth was elected president. Fewer than ten students received degrees from Georgetown College in 1832. In 1834 the trustees rehired Johnson, who increased the enrollment. Most were from families who belonged to the Reform Movement. The faculty also increased. But Johnson left again in 1837 when a vitriolic opponent to the Reformers was hired to the faculty. He started his own academy, which deprived Georgetown College of students and faculty.
Georgetown History – The Foundation
The foundation of Georgetown College was secured between 1839 and 1894. Rev. Rockwood Giddings, who became president in 1839, raised the first endowment, established an all-Baptist board of trustees, and started the first permanent college building. He brought with him from Maine the first permanent faculty: Danford Thomas and Jonathan Farnham. Rev. Howard Malcom, of Poughkeepsie, New York, was elected president to succeed the young Giddings, who died of exhaustion after a year in office. He recruited students from the length of the Mississippi Valley and established a modified classical curriculum. Malcolm also completed the first permanent building on the campus, known today as Giddings Hall, raised funds to eliminate the deficit, and bought a library and scientific equipment. During his tenure, he encouraged the establishment of Georgetown Female Academy and the organization of the college’s first literary societies. After Malcom’s opposition to slavery forced his resignation in 1849, his successor, Rev. Duncan Campbell, presided over the largest graduating class, in 1860, of the nineteenth century. Georgetown College closed briefly when the Civil War erupted. Large contingents of students were pro-southern. When the war ended, the small faculty struggled to rebuild. In 1877 President Basil Manly, Jr., led the college to accept an elective curriculum with less emphasis on the classics. After Manly joined the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, his successor, Rev. Richard M. Dudley, the first alumnus to lead the college, quickly hired new professors with doctorates and raised endowment to support them. During Dudley’s tenure, Professor James Jefferson Rucker led the effort to integrate women into Georgetown College’s student body, beginning in 1889 and ending in 1893, when the first women graduated with men. The first women’s dormitory, completed in 1895, was named in honor of his efforts. Rucker also supervised the construction of a building that housed the chapel, library, gymnasium, museum, and literary society meeting rooms.
Georgetown History – The Turn of the Century
At the turn of the century, four major buildings on campus served a student body of four hundred. Energy for entertainment was diverted from participation in literary societies to intercollegiate athletics, fraternities and sororities, and trips to Lexington on the new interurban railroad. In 1908, Dr. Arthur Yager became the third alumnus and the first lay president. Intense competition for students came from new teacher colleges and the University of Kentucky. Between 1918 and 1946, the college was in another period of extreme uncertainty. Two world wars, the Great Depression, and conflict with the General Association of Baptists in Kentucky (GABK) nearly closed Georgetown College. World War I reduced the number of male students. After the war, under the presidency of Maldon Browning Adams, the curriculum was enlarged to include business, religion, and teacher training. Greek letter organizations were temporarily banned.
Maskrafters, the oldest continuous college drama group in Kentucky, was formed in 1924. The Alumni Gymnasium was completed in 1926, with the building, which housed the old gymnasium, chapel, and library, burning in 1930. Dean Robert T. Hinton struggled to keep the college open during the Great Depression. The academic program was revised to include required courses in the fine arts, literature, modern foreign languages, natural sciences, physical education, social sciences, and world history. The dispute with GABK over the election of Dr. Henry Noble Sherwood as president in 1934 caused the Association to withhold its contribution to the college until 1942. A professional educator, Sherwood was Georgetown’s second lay president. During World War II the college reached a low point before Rev. Samuel Hill arrived as president. Conditions improved after the war as veterans flocked to school under the G.I. Bill. The newly built John L. Hill Chapel dominated the campus, and it was soon followed by Cooke Memorial Library and Nunnelley Music Building. Under President Leo Eddlemen, enrollment passed 1,400 and an attempt to move the college to Louisville, Kentucky failed by a close vote of the trustees, with Senator John Sherman Cooper making a special trip to cast the deciding vote.
Under Dr. Robert Mills, the college’s third lay president, the area on Jackson Street, across from John L. Hill Chapel, was developed in the 1960s and 1970s, with eleven small units housing six hundred students. Accommodations were made for independents, fraternities, and sororities. Development of the south campus involved the 1971 demolition of Rucker Hall, a venerable place for women and college functions. In the early 1960s, Knight Hall, on College Street, was also built for women and a new president’s home was purchased. Dancing was officially sanctioned as an on-campus activity. The basketball team, under Coach Bob Davis, went to the finals of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics tournament in 1961; the football team was undefeated in 1965 under the leadership of Lester Craft. A major gift was the Cralle Student Center, the George Matt Asher Science Center was dedicated at homecoming in 1968, and Giddings Hall was renovated with the help of the Brown Foundation of Louisville, Kentucky. The renovation of Giddings eliminated Lewis auditorium, where the Maskrafters held their productions, and a laboratory theatre was built the same year. In the late 1970s costs increased sharply, partially offset by new federal and state student aid programs. Hundreds of public school teachers came back to earn master’s degrees for certification purposes. President Ben M. Elrod presided over the Decade of Progress Campaign, which raised the endowment and refurbished the gymnasium. Under President Morgan Patterson in the late 1980s, both Highbaugh Hall and the student center were renovated; the baseball team played in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) world series for the first time.
Georgetown History – The 1990s
The 1990s began with a new president. Since the beginning of Dr. William H. Crouch, Jr.’s tenure, a new, state of the art, neo-classical library has been built as well as a fine arts building, a recreation center for students, and the east campus conference and athletic complex, which includes football, baseball, and soccer fields, tennis courts, apartments, and meeting facilities. The east campus development marked the end of Hinton Field as the college’s site, for 103 years, for intercollegiate football, baseball, and track and field competition. The Cincinnati Bengals, a professional football team, also chose the complex as the home of its summer training camp. Athletic teams for football, basketball, and volleyball competed successfully on the national level. Coach Bill Cronin led football teams to national NAIA championships in 1991, 2000, and 2001 while Coach Happy Osborne won the national basketball championship in 1998. Osborne also had seven National Final Four appearances. Women’s volleyball teams, coached by Donna Hawkins, won fourteen straight Mid-South Conference championships. Academically, an interdisciplinary business major, known as Commerce, Language, and Culture, was formed, which recognized the global dimension of business. An education abroad program, which had been started by Dr. David E. Fogle in the early 1900s as part of his teaching classical and modern languages, was revived. A partnership with Regent’s Park College, University of Oxford, England, was formed, allowing Georgetown College students to study in the renowned tutorial system.
In 2005, Georgetown College and the Kentucky Baptist Convention redefined their formal relationship. With the approval of the new agreement by the Convention, the College reverted to its original arrangement with Kentucky Baptists. From 1829 to 1942, the College had an independent, self-perpetuating board of trustees and was designated as the senior, liberal arts college for Kentucky Baptists until the 1960s, when Campbellsville College and Cumberland College became senior colleges. Under a 1942 agreement, the Convention chose the College’s trustees. The College’s board submitted candidates to the Convention’s Committee on Nominations and delegates to the annual meeting of the Convention elected them. Georgetown College also received an annual contribution from the Convention for all of the Twentieth Century. Under the new agreement, the Convention’s annual contribution will be phased out, the trustee board will elect its members, and at least 75 percent of the board’s membership will be Kentucky Baptists. As part of the initiative to maintain its Baptist identity, Georgetown College, under President Crouch’s leadership, has established relationships with four African-American Baptist conventions in which Georgetown and the conventions will work together in ministry and members of cooperating churches will be encouraged to attend Georgetown. The College will continue to work cooperatively in ministry with the Convention, which will be coordinated through the Campus Minister, a Convention funded position. The College also has a partnership with Regent’s Park College, a Baptist institution of the University of Oxford, has joined the Baptist World Alliance, and has an agreement with the International Baptist Convention, which allows Georgetown students to work as interns in European Baptist churches. By: Dr. J. Robert Snyder and Dr. Glen Edward Taul Source: Adapted from the article appearing in The Kentucky Encyclopedia, Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1992.