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Campus of Moody’s School for Poor Girls Resurrected as Christian College
Hobby Lobby retail chain donates defunct Massachusetts campus to proposed C. S. Lewis College.
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A few days after Christmas I caught up with some news stories about the sale of the boarding schools evangelist Dwight L. Moody founded for poor children in 1879 (the Northfield Seminary for Young Ladies) and 1881 (the Mount Hermon School for Boys). Hat tip to Philadelphia journalist W. G. Shuster for the links.
The basic facts according to news reports:
- The Massachusetts schools had gone co-ed in 1971, consolidated on one campus in 2005, and needed to find an appropriate owner for the unused and deteriorating Northfield Campus.
- Hobby Lobby, a privately held retail chain with a Christian vision, purchased the property for a nominal $100,000 and a commitment to preserve the historic campus and building. They are planning to spend about $5 million in operations and capital improvement projects over the next few years.
- Hobby Lobby then donated the property to the C. S. Lewis Foundation, which since its founding in 1986 has been looking for a way to start a great books college based on a Christian educational vision.
- The C. S. Lewis Foundation (which earlier purchased and refurbished Lewis's Oxford home known as "The Kilns" and holds periodic seminars there) plans to launch C. S. Lewis College on the Northfield campus in 2012 with an initial entering class of 400, a faculty of 40, and a staff of 45.
So what is the story behind the schools Dwight L. Moody founded and the campus that will soon take the name of C. S. Lewis?
As someone with only a rudimentary education, Moody quickly learned the value of practical learning. He was not interested in educational theory or systems. He was interested in equipping people who did not ordinarily have access to education—women, the poor, ethnic minorities. And with his passion for evangelism, he saw that with a little education, they could reach others with the gospel that the seminary-trained preachers never could.
In Moody's day, there was a lot of progressive educational theory in the air. The ideas of the American John Dewey and the Europeans Herbart, Pestalozzi, and Froebel permeated the air, wrote Virginia Lieson Brereton in Issue 25 of Christian History. Although he was not interested in ideas, Moody no doubt picked up the eagerness for experimentation and the passion to connect education to real life, to motivate students, and gear the content of learning to student understanding.
Rather than studying theory, Brereton reports, Moody studied the experiements of others in England and Europe: the deaconess institute at Mildmay, Charles Spurgeon's London college for poor and ill-educated Baptist pastors, George Müller's orphanage-school at Bristol, and H. Grattan Guinness's East London Institute for Home and Foreign Missions.
After reading the news accounts of the purchase of the Northfield campus, I called Moody Bible Institute historical theologian Gregg Quiggle for some perspective. I met Professor Quiggle in October, when he read a précis of his dissertation-in-process to a group of visiting scholars. His dissertation examines Dwight Moody's social vision and contradicts David Moberg's claim in The Great Reversal that Moody bears a major responsibility for evangelicalism's abandonment of its 19th-century commitment to social justice.
I asked Professor Quiggle what the significance of the Northfield Mount Hermon School was in the ministry and legacy of Dwight Moody. Without a moment's hesitation, he fired off these six bullet points:
- The Northfield Seminary for Young Ladies was Moody's initial foray into education. It is significant that Moody's first school was for women. It shows his commitment to the role that lay women could play in Christian ministry.
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