Lee University Turns 100 on January 1, 2018

In a little more than three weeks, while the world is relaxing and enjoying the first day of a new year, Lee University will officially turn 100 years old. It will be a quiet first marker in a year-long celebration of the Church of God’s premier educational institution.

On January 1, 1918, twelve students and one teacher gathered in an upstairs room of the newly-expanded Church of God Publishing House, which was located on Gaut Street in Cleveland, Tennessee. The room was also where the Elder’s Council, the governing body of ministers for the young movement, conducted their meetings. The teacher was Nora Chambers, a proofreader at the Publishing House, but who had also taught at Holmes Bible College and did pioneer work in evangelism in the mountains of Georgia and North Carolina. She was an obvious choice to lead those first students who enrolled at the school founded by the Church of God as a place, “for the training of young men and young women for efficient service on the field,” and where the Bible was to be, “the principal textbook.”

Nora Chambers, top right, is joined by first term students Bertha Hilbun, Nannie Hagewood, Lillie Mae Wilcox, Jesse Danehower, Earl Hamilton, and Avery Evans (click photo to enlarge)

That day Church of God Bible Training School (BTS) was established on a Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. Remarks were given by the first superintendent (president), A.J. Tomlinson, who was also the general overseer for the Church of God. Chambers then called the students from four states to order for their first class. Unfortunately only half of the twelve would remain to complete that inaugural three-month term, which concluded on April 5, 1918 with a service located at what is the current day North Cleveland Church of God.

That inauspicious first term gave way to increases in the coming years. BTS would grow and after 20 years in various locations in Cleveland, would relocate in 1938 to Sevierville, Tennessee to the former campus of Murphy Collegiate Institute (present-day Smoky Mountain Children’s Home). After just nine years, the opportunity to relocate back to Cleveland presented itself when Bob Jones College moved their campus to Greenville, S.C. In 1947, BTS was renamed Lee College and began the fall semester on a site that would remain their home to the present day. In 1997, Lee College became Lee University.

Lee University officials are planning several events to celebrate their centennial in 2018. Faith News will follow these events, as well as present a series of historical features throughout the year.
To learn more about Lee University, visit leeuniversity.edu.

(NOTE: Facts listed in this article came from Like A Mighty Army, by former Lee College president Charles W. Conn. Article compiled by Cameron Fisher, Church of God Communications)

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