Era 2: 1933-1939

Black Mountain College Era 2: 1933-1939

Founder John Andrew Rice served as the first Rector of Black Mountain College until his resignation in 1940. For the first semester of Black Mountain College, fall 1933, thirteen faculty members taught a total of twenty-six enrolled students. There was very little money. Mac Forbes, of the famous Forbes family and a former Rollins professor himself, provided the majority of funding for the initial start-up costs. Though Rice traveled extensively to raise funds before that first semester, a dependable operating budget remained a crucial issue, year to year, and the college annually mounted a campaign to raise even nominal amounts of money. Faculty were paid on the basis of individual need. When there were surplus funds, faculty received small salaries, as well as room and board. At times when funds did not exist to pay entire salaries, deficits were logged as a debt against the college at the end of the year.

The school's structure was its lack of structure. From the college’s beginning, Black Mountain posed tough questions about arbitrary, traditional rules governing education and teaching – questions about the self and various external fetters imposed upon it. Black Mountain College faculty, with liberal input from the students, ran the entire operation, proprietarily and administratively. There was no boards of regents, directors, or trustees. The College was not accredited. The College’s very first catalogue stated that it had been founded “to provide a place where free use might be made of tested and proven methods of education and new methods tried in a purely experimental spirit.”

Of the roughly 1,200 students who attended during its history, few (approximately 60) ever graduated, and those who did received hand-designed, homemade diplomas; however, its students, upon leaving Black Mountain, were coveted by the very best graduate schools in America and beyond. The pedagogical direction was whatever students and teachers agreed upon. No grades. Process claimed dominion over product. College enrollment documents from 1936 reveal more about the composition of the student body. Among 53 all-white students, 73.56% came from the Mid-Atlantic or New England. A total of 2 students were from North Carolina and only 3 hailed from the neighboring states of Georgia, Tennessee, and Virginia. Almost two-thirds of the students were male, which in part reflects the limited educational opportunities for females in the 1930s.

For those students that attended, the College curriculum and extracurricular activities demonstrated that the exchange of creature comfort for freedom was more than an equitable barter. Black Mountain invented itself and in so doing established a paradigm for educational communities to mimic.

John Andrew Rice

John Andrew Rice, 1933

New York Herald Tribune article, August 26, 1933

Article in the Herald Tribune about the establishment of Black Mountain College from August 26, 1933. Download full size (PNG)

Herald Tribune Article, AC 318: John Andrew Rice Papers, W. L. Eury Appalachian Collection, Appalachian State University, Boone, NC, USA