Reporting on Johnson University’s Origins
Reporting on Johnson University’s Origins

Johnson University is hosting its 125th Anniversary Celebration today through Saturday at its Knoxville, Tenn., campus.

We congratulate and extend best wishes to Johnson University, and pray for their continued success. In that spirit, we thought it would be fun to look back on the first few mentions of the school in the pages of Christian Standard . . . from way back in the 1890s.

But before we do that, we should provide a few historical facts not contained in our reporting.

Johnson University was founded as the School of the Evangelists on May 12, 1893, by Ashley and Emma Johnson. “Kimberlin Heights,” mentioned several times below, refers to the farm the Johnsons purchased that had belonged to Ashley’s great-grandfather Jacob Kimberlin.

The name of the institution was changed to Johnson Bible College in 1909—and then Johnson University in 2011—to honor the founders; Ashley S. Johnson served as president from 1893 to 1925 (the year of his death); he was succeeded by his wife, Emma E. Johnson, who served for two years (until her death). Emma was the first female president of a primary male or coeducational college in the history of the United States. (A concise history of Johnson University is available at www.JohnsonU.edu.)

_ _ _

FIRST MENTION: SEPT. 24, 1892, P. 19

School of the Evangelists

Bro. John B. Dickson will visit Indiana and probably other States in the interest of this new school. I trust the brethren will receive him kindly and help him in his work. I will cheerfully answer all inquiries relating to him or the school. It is an effort to prepare young men for the new fields of the South.
ASHLEY S. JOHNSON, President
KIMBERLIN HEIGHTS, Tenn.

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SECOND MENTION: DEC. 17, 1892, P. 17

School of the Evangelists

Labor Conquers All Things

The mill is now cutting the lumber (90,000 feet) for this new industrial Bible School. It will be modeled after the old “Schools of the Prophets” (II. Kings ii. 1-18, iv. 38-44, vi. 1-7). The building will be three stories, and the architect estimates the cost at $10,000. Our resources are such as to justify me in assuring you that the building will be erected, and that hereafter any young man of zeal, muscle and brain can work his way into the ministry. The chief part of the burden falls on me. I have labored hard, lived economically, and planned to do good with my accumulation, both of knowledge and money. I have a farm of 175 acres, and propose to give its proceeds, including fruit, Jersey cattle, etc., to the cause of Bible education—to prepare evangelists, particularly for the South. The property is forever made secure to the Church of Christ. I need help. Of course I expect to see the work brought to completion, but your help will hasten the time of the opening of the school. Many young men are working. Will you invest one dollar in this good cause? I ask you for this much, but if your heart prompts you to send more, the Lord reward you! I ask your help on the grounds: (1) The need of the South and the scarcity of preachers. (2) The plan will develop in the pulpit habits of industry and self-reliance. (3) The founder of the school is unselfishly devoting his time, talent, energies and means to the work without expectation of earthly rewards, thus illustrating the saying of the Master, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (4) It will rescue hundreds of bright boys from obscurity, and make them useful preachers of the Word. (5) It will give you pleasure in years to come to feel that you are a partner in this work. Just fold a dollar bill in an ordinary letter and send it at our risk. One dollar is not much, but I will ask thousands of brethren for that amount trusting for good results. I know money is scarce, but surely you can invest a dollar in this good work. If you can not give the dollar, will you not sent that much for two copies of my new book (232 pp.), the Condensed Biblical Cyclopedia. This new illustrated work substantially covers the whole Bible, and represents much more work and study. If so, the dollar will go into the building fund. I will deposit a list of the names of those who respond to this letter in the cornerstone. Kindly send me the addresses of a few working brethren. Tell the young men, particularly the poor and struggling, about the new school. Address me at Kimberlin Heights, Tenn.
ASHLEY S. JOHNSON

_ _ _

THIRD MENTION: OCT. 21, 1893, P. 12

(Under “CORRESPONDENCE”)

School of the Evangelists

True merit and real self-sacrifice ought always to be recognized. Bro. Ashley S. Johnson, of Kimberlin Heights, Tenn., is building the school that our poor orphan preacher material has always longed for. Wealthy boys scarcely ever make preachers. Poor boys are humble, and God exalts them from their humility into the spiritual leadership of the people. But oh, how many allow their zeal to carry them into the ministry before they are really competent. They dread to undertake an education. Bro. Johnson’s school has his life and energies all buried away in it, and with a little more help from the brethren he will be prepared to “throw out the life line” to God’s worthy preacher boys who are going to waste for lack of an education. He will educate them for a nominal sum. Brethren, help this good man. He is a business wonder, else he never could have built this school.
J.A. STEVENS
Chattanooga, Sept. 25.

_ _ _

FOURTH MENTION: JUNE 9, 1894, P. 2

(Under “EDUCATIONAL”)

Dedication of the School of the Evangelists

Yesterday was indeed a great day at Kimberlin Heights. The School of the Evangelists was dedicated by C. P. Williamson, of Atlanta, Ga. The cornerstone of Industrial Hall was also laid, and an appropriate speech was delivered by President Ashley S. Johnson.

According to previous arrangements, the steamer “Onega” was chartered for the benefit of the residents of Knoxville and Lyon’s View. The boat arrived about 12:30 p.m., and its occupants were greeted with hearty cheers by students from twenty states.

The crowd, consisting of about 400 altogether, immediately marched to the college chapel, where a grand dedicatory address was delivered by C. P. Williamson, of Atlanta, emphasizing the three central truths: (1) The Fatherhood of God. (2) The brotherhood of man. (3) The gospel is the power of God unto salvation. These truths were illustrated by the able orator in a very effective manner, the audience being captivated by the simplicity with which the many striking thoughts were presented.

Next in order, after the dedication, was the laying of the corner-stone of Industrial Hall, a building designed for the benefit of young men who have not the means with which to educate themselves. The services were conducted by President Johnson, who made an appropriate address, showing what he has done, and what he expects to do, towards preparing reapers for the already ripe harvest of the world. As he spoke of the sacrifices which he has made, and is making, for the propagation of the gospel of Christ, sympathy was manifested, by the tears of many, for this unselfish work. After giving an invitation to all present to come to the dedication of Industrial Hall one year hence, the crowd was dismissed by a touching prayer by Bro. Williamson.

As an appreciation of Bro. Johnson’s work, the spectators voluntarily raised money enough to insure the School of the Evangelists one year.

All the exercises being ended, the many friends from Knoxville and Lyon’s View left with joyful hearts, being accompanied part of the way on the boat by a number of the students.
ALBERT T. FITTS.

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Again, congratulations to the School of the Evangelists, now known as Johnson University. In addition to its Tennessee location, Johnson today has a campus in Kissimmee, Fla.—what was formerly Florida Christian College—a strong online educational presence, and “ExtendEd” campuses at churches in Orlando, Indianapolis, and Phoenix.

—Jim Nieman, managing editor, Christian Standard

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