Information and photos provided by Sharyn Mitchell FD ’65, BC ’69, Rachel Vagts and Harry Rice, Berea Hutchins Library Special Collections & Archives.
In 2016, Temvelo Matsebula ’18, a student archives associate with the Special Collections & Archives was conducting research for Women’s History Month. Finding little information on the spouses of Berea’s presidents, she began a quest for more information on these First Ladies of Berea. Their stories reside in Archives and are told through their diaries, church histories and committee minutes. They are mentioned as “one-liners” in the College archives and sometimes in paragraphs in inauguration reviews. Despite the scant coverage, Berea’s First Ladies made an impact on the continuing success of Berea College.
“All of them made significant contributions,” said Sharyn Mitchell, Special Collections & Archives research specialist. “It is probable many made significant sacrifices as well.”
Matilda Hamilton Fee
Matilda Fee didn’t know how much her life would change when she married John G. Fee in 1844. She witnessed the horrors of slavery, which motivated her to join him in supporting the establishment of antislavery churches. Her childhood home, in Bracken County, Ky., near the Ohio River, was a final stop along the Underground Railroad, where her mother once served a slave owner tea while an escaped enslaved African hid in the basement. Read more
Maria Ball Babbit Fairchild, First Lady: 1869-1888
Maria Ball Babbit’s life was promising from the beginning. She met her future husband, Edward Henry Fairchild, at age 13 when they gathered for a prayer meeting. He would later become the first president of Berea College. She served on the Council of the Dean of Women from 1869 until the day she died. Read more.
Not pictured: Augusta A. Kilborn Stewart, First Lady: 1888-1892 // Augusta Kilborn married William Stewart, Berea’s second president, in 1860 and the two had four daughters. Regrettably, our archives do not include any additional information on Augusta Stewart.
Eleanor Marsh Frost, First Lady: 1892-1920
Eleanor’s love story with William Goodell Frost is as unconventional as they come. Eleanor was the caregiver for William’s wife, Louise Rainey, and their three children. After Louise’s death, Eleanor and William were married and had their own children. Sadly, they lost their son, Cleveland, during World War I. Read more
Anna Laura Murch Hutchins, First Lady: 1920-1939
Despite being naturally shy, Anna Laura Murch Hutchins accomplished great things during her life. The wife of Berea’s fourth president, Dr. William J. Hutchins, she was known for caring deeply about people. Read more
Louise Gilman Hutchins, M.D., First Lady: 1939-1967
Louise Gilman was born to be a helper. Born in China to missionary parents, she dedicated her life to the well-being of others. During her life, she moved back and forth between her two homes, the United States and China. She graduated from Wellesley College in 1932 and married Francis S. Hutchins the following year. Read more
Anne Cobb Smith Weatherford, First Lady: 1967-1984
One could say Anne Cobb Smith was an exemplary teacher and Christian. She earned her bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Swarthmore College, where she met her husband, Willis D. Weatherford Jr., who was to become the sixth president of Berea College. While serving as first lady, her passion for teaching became more evident as she taught basic math to first-year students. Read more
Jane Baucom Stephenson, First Lady: 1984-1994
Jane Baucom had a dream. A native of the Appalachian region, she grew up in a rather isolated mountainous region within rural North Carolina. From the early years of her childhood, she learned the social expectations and cultural restrictions that society placed on girls. In a world without social media or other technological advancements, she learned about the outside world through her father, business manager at the Lees-McRae College in Banner Elk, N.C. Read more
Nancy Lee Albright Shinn, First Lady: 1994-2012
Whenever you saw Nancy Lee Albright, she was teaching children. A fast learner, she took just three years to earn her bachelor’s degree in education from Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, Ohio. Albright then married her high school sweetheart and future eighth president of Berea College, Larry Shinn. Read more
Lauren Mulder Roelofs, First Lady: 2012-present
Imagine walking along the trails of Alumni fields and finding a path leading to what looks like a beautiful garden. As you approach the garden, you begin to see grassy pathways, all sorts of flowers and finally, butterflies. Butterflies of all colors fluttering above and around you. You come closer to smell one of the flowers and see the bright colors of a monarch butterfly pass by. This place exists thanks to the efforts of Berea College First Lady Laurie Roelofs. Read more