A small, dilapidated building in a field in Randolph County still represents Indiana’s unique role in providing women and minorities higher education.
Efforts are now underway to preserve what is left of the Union Literary Institute.
It was built in 1846 by a group of anti-slavery Quakers and free African Americans.
In an interview with Around INdiana reporter Mary-Rachel Redman, local historians explained how the school got its start.
“People like Levi Coffin and some of the other people around the area that’s known for the Underground Railroad, they got together and started something for higher education,” explained Tom Harshman, a member of the Union Literary Preservation Society.
Harshman says it was one of the first schools to offer higher-level education to all students, regardless of race, gender or religion.
As early as the 1850s, the institute had garnered national attention, even earning high praise from prominent activist and author Frederick Douglass.
“People would come from Tennessee, North Carolina and other areas of the south to attend the Institute. It was high caliber,” said Sarah Mitchell, a member of the preservation society.
Students learned algebra, philosophy, grammar, but they also had to perform manual labor on the school’s farm.
The students took their lessons and knowledge which helped to form the kind of adult leaders they would become.
“Hiram Revels, the first African American senator in the United States, and Amanda Way. She went on to become one of the founding members of the women’s suffrage movement in Indiana,” said Mitchell. “It’s an example of the female integration of the school as well.
The preservation society says about 900 students attended the school before it closed in 1880. The years and the weather have been tough on the old brick structure. Still, supporters say it is worth saving.
“It’s definitely a structure that that is in need of desperate saving. What we want to do is at least stabilize the structure,” said Mitchell.
Harshman says there are several ideas on how to preserve this piece of Indiana history, including building a roof structure over it and then enclose it was etched glass to show what the school looked like in its heyday.