A Message from the Past

I’d like to discover the one place in the United States where a dollar does more net good than anywhere else.”     -Bruce Barton

In 1925, Bruce Barton penned the letter below to 24 affluent individuals requesting their financial support on behalf of Berea College. A former Berea student himself, Bruce Barton went on to become a publicist, magazine editor, and co-founder of a global advertising agency. Barton’s message was successful, raising more than $25,000 to support student tuition. We current Bereans are still inspired by his impassioned appeal, and our hope is that sharing it will inspire you to help us make a real difference in the lives of students.

Women at Lincoln Hall
Building a chair
Weaving loom

At Berea, Barton saw that students could be shaped and molded for the betterment of their communities and the Appalachian region as a whole. Of course, there are striking differences between Barton’s Berea and the Berea of today some 90 years later. One key change is that with the end of the segregation era in the 1950’s Berea College has been able to reintegrate its student body, making good once again on our inclusive scriptural motto, “God has made of one blood all peoples of the Earth.” Another difference is that 90 years of inflation have increased what it costs to educate a Berea student. (Barton’s $1,000 in 1925 would be the equivalent of $13,509 in 2015.) Our costs to educate students have increased, too, although by a lesser factor, and so too must our efforts be increased to continue offering all enrolled students a full Tuition Promise Scholarship.

With his compelling letter, Barton raised $25,000—enough to support 10 students. Today, providing the tuition for 10 Berea students would cost $250,000. Today’s costs are different, but you can touch generations of young minds, ensuring your investment lives on long after you have gone.

Dear Mr. Blank,

For the past three or four years things have been going pretty well at our house. We pay our bills, afford such luxuries as having the children’s tonsils out, and still have something in the bank at the end of the year. So far as business is concerned, therefore, I have felt fairly well content.

…..

A couple of years ago I said: “I’d like to discover the one place in the United States where a dollar does more net good than anywhere else.” It was a rather thrilling idea, and I went at it in the same spirit in which our advertising agency conducts a market investigation for a manufacturer. Without bothering you with a long story, I believe I have found the place.

Bruce Barton

This letter is being mailed to 23 men besides yourself, twenty-five of us altogether. I honestly believe that it offers an opportunity to get a maximum amount of satisfaction for a minimum sum.

Let me give you the background.

…..

Now, away back in the Civil War days, a little college was started in the Kentucky mountains. It started with faith, hope, and sacrifice, and those three virtues are the only endowment it has ever had. Yet today it has accumulated, by little gifts picked up by passing the hat, a plant that takes care of 3000 students a year. It’s the most wonderful manufacturing proposition you ever heard of. They raise their own food, can it in their own cannery; milk their own cows; make brooms and weave rugs that are sold all over the country; do their own carpentry, painting, printing, horseshoeing, and everything, teaching every boy and girl a trade while he and she is studying. And so efficiently is the job done that –

  • a room rents for 60 cents a week (including heat and light)
  • meals are 11 cents apiece (yet all the students gain weight on the faire; every student gets a quart of milk a day)
  • the whole cost to a boy or girl for a year’s study – room, board, books, etc., – is $146. More than half of this the student earns by work; many students earn all.
Two men farming

…..Seventy-five percent of the graduates go back to the mountains, and their touch is on the mountain counties of five states; better homes, better food, better child health, better churches, better schools; no more feuds; lower death rates.

Now we come to the hook. It costs this college, which is named Berea, $100 a year per student to carry on. She could, of course, turn away 1500 students each year and break even on the other 1500. Or she could charge $100 tuition. But then she would be just one more college for the well-to-do. Either plan would be a moral crime. The boys and girls in those one-room and two-room cabins deserve a chance. They are of the same stuff as Lincoln and Daniel Boone and Henry Clay; they are the very best raw material that can be found in the United States.

Women looking at produce

I have agreed to take ten boys and pay the deficit on their education each year, $1,000. I have agreed to do this if I can get twenty-four other men who will each take ten. The president, Dr. William J. Hutchins (Yale 1892), who ought to be giving every minute of his time to running the college, is out passing the hat and riding the rails from town to town. He can manage to get $50,000 or $70,000 a year. I want to lift part of his load by turning in $25,000.

…..

Most of the activities to which we give in our lives stop when we stop. But our families go on; and young life goes on and matures and gives birth to other lives. For a thousand dollars a year you can put ten boys or girls back into the mountains who will be a leavening influence in ten towns or counties, and their children will bear the imprint of your influence. Honestly, can you think of any other investment that would keep your life working in the world so long a time after you are gone?

This is a long letter, and I could be writing a piece for the magazines and collecting for it in the time it has taken me to turn it out. So, remember that this is different from any other appeal that ever came to you. Most appeals are made by people who profit from a favorable response, but this appeal is hurting me a lot more than it can possibly hurt you. What will you have, ten boys or ten girls?

Cordially yours,

Bruce Barton