One of twenty-eight liberal arts colleges of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), Newberry College was chartered in December 1856 by the South Carolina Lutheran Synod. Under the leadership of the Reverend John Bachman as chairman of the board of trustees, a building was erected in the town of Newberry, a president and several faculty secured, and classes begun in 1859. Almost immediately came the devastating impact of the Civil War, which resulted in the closing of the college. Its buildings were utilized in 1865 as a Confederate hospital and then occupied by federal troops, who inflicted much damage.
The college was removed to Walhalla in 1868 but returned to Newberry in 1877, using rented quarters at first. By its fiftieth anniversary in 1906 four buildings were in use, with two more soon under construction, and enrollment stood at 211 students. The modern campus consists of sixty acres with twenty-four buildings and athletic facilities. Originally an all-male school, in 1930 Newberry merged with Summerland College, a “Lutheran Female College” near Leesville. The merger introduced women resident students to Newberry as well as several women faculty.
The college maintains close relations with the Lutheran Church, relating to four synods of the ELCA: South Carolina, Southeastern, Florida-Bahamas, and Caribbean. Its mission statement asserts, “As a Lutheran college, Newberry College recognizes the value of academic freedom, intellectual dialogue, and diversity of viewpoint. The Lutheran tradition also celebrates the concept of vocation, leading students to prepare for meaningful life experiences, occupations, and service to the world as well as to the church.” Accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools occurred in 1936. Enrollment grew to 403 students in 1941, but World War II created severe problems with a loss in enrollment and serious financial difficulties. The college gradually overcame these challenges after the war. Under President A. D. G. Wiles, the 1960s saw significant campus development and enrollment grew to more than eight hundred. Though consistent in their financial support of the college, the four supporting synods have contributed a decreasing percentage of the college’s annual budget, and like other church colleges, Newberry has been compelled to depend on its own development efforts that reach well beyond its Lutheran constituency.
The college confers four degrees (bachelor of arts, bachelor of music, bachelor of music education, and bachelor of science) and offers thirty-six majors and thirty-one minors. Several programs are conducted in cooperation with Clemson University, Medical University of South Carolina, Duke University, and Palmetto Baptist Medical Center. Other academic features include independent study, an honors program, internships, and the Center for Service Learning and Community Action, which promotes the value of community service as part of a liberal education.
Bedenbaugh, J. Benjamin. A Centennial History of Newberry College: 1856–1956. Newberry, S.C., 1956.
Lutheran Church in America, South Carolina Synod. A History of the Lutheran Church in South Carolina. Columbia, S.C.: R. L. Bryan Company, 1971.