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Keuka College

The History of Keuka College


Today Keuka College continues the original mission of founder George Harvey Ball by educating young students and adult learners “to bring strength to our nation and to help humanity” through combined classroom and Experiential Learning activities.


In 1890, a Baptist minister named Rev. George Harvey Ball had a vision.

At a time when the vast majority of young men and women – particularly those in rural areas – did not attend high school, he envisioned a college that would provide a high-level education to all deserving students, regardless of economic background. As a brochure produced in 1891 attested: Keuka College was “pre-eminently, for the common people…With ample endowment,” the brochure trumpeted, “it will raise an army of country people from comparative ignorance and consequent weakness to superior men and women who shall bring strength to the nation and help to humanity.”

Perhaps the greatest testament to the strength of the Rev. Ball’s vision is that Keuka College is still doing exactly what it originally set out to do 115 years ago. It is still educating superior men and women who will bring strength to the nation and help to humanity.

Financial troubles forced the College to close in 1915, and it was re-opened in 1921 as Keuka College for Women. Keuka remained a single-sex institution until 1985, when financial troubles caused by declining enrollment (from 536 total students in 1979 to 407 students in 1984) again forced the issue and the Board of Trustees voted to admit men.

In 1942, Edith Estey, a 1933 Keuka graduate and administrator, created the Field Period program, which remains a major component of a Keuka College education. Through Field Period, each Keuka student is required to spend 140 hours per year (or approximately one month) in a self-directed learning experience. This can involve a work internship, a community service project, spiritual exploration, personal development (such as an Outward Bound experience), cross-cultural diversity exploration, or a group cultural experience to another city or country.