1890s | Cornelia Campbell

From student to leader, the true Campbell matriarch

On the first day of classes, Jan. 5, 1887, an 18-year-old Cornelia Pearson entered the schoolhouse doors of Buies Creek Academy as a student and was immediately put to work as a teacher.

She was asked to take charge of the youngest of the children, schooling them alongside J.A. Campbell, the academy’s founder. From that day on — until the day he died in 1934 — she would be by his side, teaching, praying, planning and directing. Cornelia quickly rose from teacher to assistant principal and business manager, and became Mrs. J.A. Campbell in 1890.

Cornelia Campbell spent the next few decades of her life supporting the Campbell community through the uncertainty of the early Buies Creek Academy days. With a calm and reserved disposition, she faced down the crises of the early years, including a fire that burned campus to the ground in 1900, a food shortage and financial insecurities. She labored daily behind the scenes, working night and day to provide vegetables and fruits from the farm for the meals served in the dining room.

When students had nowhere to live on campus, Miss Cornelia, or “Miss Neelie,” as her neighbors affectionately called her, opened her home for them to stay with the Campbell family.

Cornelia Campbell was an avid reader who reportedly could come across a book in her home while cleaning, open it up to skim through it, put the dust cloth or broom down and read the entire book in one sitting before returning to her task. She moved into a house across the street from Campbell’s main campus after her husband’s death in 1934. That house is now home to Campbell’s Office of Alumni Engagement and Office of Annual Giving, and formerly housed the Home Economics department, honors students, and undergraduate admissions.

Without her hard work, resourcefulness and hospitality in the early days of the University, it is difficult to know whether those offices would even exist today.

Read More: Founders Week 2019 | Cornelia Campbell


This article is related to: