John C. Campbell Folk School Based on Danish Model

School founders, Olive Dame Campbell and Marguerite Butler. Image from John C.
Campbell Folk School.

On November 23, 1925, Olive Dame Campbell and Marguerite Butler incorporated the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown. They named it after Mrs. Campbell’s late husband.

An educator, social worker and early chronicler of Appalachian life, John C. Campbell became interested in western North Carolina as a youth working for his father’s railroad company. When a charitable organization funded his desire to study social and economic conditions in the mountains, he and his new bride settled in Asheville in 1913. Both believed efforts to improve mountaineers’ lives should be tied to education and the preservation of the region’s traditional folk heritage.

The idea of establishing a folk school intrigued Campbell, but he died in 1919 before seeing it realized. Mrs. Campbell later visited folk schools in Demark and decided to model her husband’s namesake school after them, offering non-competitive adult classes in traditional music and dance, crafts, agriculture and nature studies.

Area residents donated the needed land, labor and building materials, and classes began in December 1927 with Mrs. Campbell serving as the school’s first director. She died in 1954, but the school —now listed on the National Register of Historic Places—remains a destination for artists and tours alike.

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