Swedish-Lutheran settlers worked with the Rev. Dr. Carl A. Swensson, Bethany’s founder, to establish Bethany Academy on October 15, 1881, in the sacristy of Bethany Lutheran Church in Lindsborg, Kan. Ten students attended the first class.
The college grew rapidly. Bethany evolved from Bethany Academy through 1885, to Bethany Normal Institute in 1886, to Bethany College and Normal Institute in 1887, to Bethany College in 1889. Bethany grew from an academy in a modest frame building, to a full college housed in the imposing brick building of “Old Main,” and now is a thriving institution occupying a newly-renovated campus.
Notable Bethany presidents in the 20th century include Rev. Dr. Ernst Frederick Wilhelm Pihlblad (1873-1943), who was a professor from 1895 to 1904, and president from 1905 to 1941. Under Pihlblad, Bethany was accredited and became a prestigious member of the National Association of Schools of Music. Presser Hall – which the well-known music magazine Etude described as “one of the finest music buildings in America” – was completed in 1929.
Under the watch of Emory K. Lindquist (1908-1992), who took the office of president in 1943, Bethany survived war troubles, grew in post-war America, and improved its reputation. Lindquist is the author of Bethany in Kansas: The History of a College (1975), a well-regarded study of the college.
Among its many esteemed artists, the Lindsborg community has continued to celebrate the legacy of renowned Swedish-American artist Birger Sandzén (1871-1954), a long-time professor at Bethany. The Birger Sandzén Memorial Gallery houses an extensive collection on campus.
Bethany is located in Lindsborg, Kan., a town of 3,400 people that actively preserves its Swedish heritage. Seasonal festivals such as Svensk Hyllningsfest and Midsummer’s Day attract thousands of visitors to the area. The architecture of Lindsborg’s downtown storefronts reflects a traditional Scandinavian style, and Wild Dala Horses – a symbol of Swedish folk craft – can be viewed around town and on campus.
Bethany athletics teams are known as the Swedes; the college’s Swedish heritage also plays vital roles in the academic life and physical space on campus. Since 1999, Bethany has annually hosted a Pearson Distinguished Professor of Swedish Studies. Prominent Swedish citizens serve as visiting professors, discovering ways in which present-day Swedish culture and experience can illuminate and strengthen life in the United States. Aspects of traditional and modern Swedish design will be featured in Bethany’s planned Pearson Chapel and Welcome Center, to be located in the heart of campus.
The Bethany Saga
During his first year at Bethany College, President Ed Leonard learned about the college and then put his thoughts into a saga. His interpretation of Bethany’s saga serves as a preface and foundation for what Bethany will be tomorrow. The full Bethany Saga is available online.