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Eleutherian College

Tours of renovated college
available at Fall Festival

Building is the site of Indiana’s first integrated classes

LANCASTER, Ind. – In 1851, the state of Indiana passed a state constitution that included an article explicitly banning African Americans from entering or settling in the state. The article threatened a fine of up to $500 to any resident found to have employed or encouraged African Americans to enter or even remain in the state. 

Fall Festival at Eleutherian College

•  Saturday, Sept. 16.
•  Featuring speakers, tours of the renovated building and optional lunch at a small fee.
• Information: Jan Vetrhus at (812) 599-3447 or Dave Harden at (812) 866-7129.

Two years later, the Eleutherian Institute began construction of the first integrated college in Indiana, enrolling students of all races in open violation of the new state constitution.
Eleutherian College, named after the Greek word for freedom, quickly became a regional destination for students of all races seeking higher education. Students came from as far away as Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi to attend the school, located at 6927 W. State Rd. 250 in Lancaster, Ind.
By 1856, the school taught 109 students, 10 of whom had been born slaves. The school succeeded despite the arrest and prosecution of the principal, steward and trustee of the college on charges of violating the so-called “Negro Exclusion Law” of the state constitution.
On Sept. 16, the Historic Eleutherian College Inc. will play host to its annual Fall Festival to celebrate the college’s history. Due to renovations in the past few years, the annual event had been curtailed in previous years. This year, however, the festival returns to a full event including tours, archaeology demonstrations, presentations and a dramatic reading of a play.
Programming will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and is free and open to the public. At noon, lunch will be available for a nominal fee.
The presentations will include a discussion by Phyllis McLaughlin on DNA research currently being done to confirm the identity of an Eleutherian alumna who may have been related to Thomas Jefferson. This cutting-edge research was funded in part by the Jefferson County Genealogical Society. Another presentation by Hope Westmoreland will focus on genealogical research into students in the class of 1858. 

Photo courtesy of Nick Ellis

Eleutherian College has been undergoing a renovation and will be open for tours at the September event.

The archaeological demonstration will be led by Hanover College professor Sean O’Neill. As part of his work at Hanover, O’Neill has brought students out to do archaeological digs at Eleutherian College.
The play was written by Jan Vetrhus, the president of the board of directors of Historic Eleutherian Inc. The title, “Such a Life is No Failure,” comes from the obituary of one of the original trustees of Eleutherian College, John Carter. The play came out of Vetrhus’s research into local historic figures for Madison’s bicentennial in 2000.
“My passion is that I want kids today to be proud of their hometown and see that other kids from here grew up to accomplish amazing things,” she said in a phone interview in August. The play focuses on the challenges faced by John Carter and the school’s administration as they fought the intolerance and racism of their day.
The work at Eleutherian College is sponsored in part by the Community Foundation of Jefferson County, the Jefferson County Fund for Historic Preservation, and the Jeffris Family Foundation. 

• For more information, visit www.eleutheriancollege.org or on their Facebook page.

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