Hope College History as Reflected in the Correspondence of
Rev. Albertus C. Van Raalte to Rev. Philip Phelps Jr., 1857-1875”
excerpts from Elton J. Bruins’ paper presented to the
Association for the Advancement of Dutch-American Studies
Raalte met [Philip] Phelps for the first time in 1857. Although
the Phelps family had visited the Holland Colony on their
western tour in 1856 and Mrs. Van Raalte had entertained
them, Van Raalte himself was not in Holland at that time.
During Van Raalte’s fund-raising trip in 1857, he stayed
with the Phelps family in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, a
village just north of New York City. Phelps, a graduate of
the Albany Academy, Union College, and the Theological Seminary
at New Brunswick, was serving as pastor at the First Reformed
Church. The congregation was generous in its giving to the
cause which Van Raalte represented.
Raalte took a liking to young Phelps, then thirty-one years
old. Correspondence between Van Raalte and Phelps and an
association between them continued from 1857 until a year
before the death of Van Raalte in 1876, [and as this correspondence
reflects,] Van Raalte and Phelps became very good friends.
Van Raalte’s personality did not lend itself to close
friendships, and it appears that during his lifetime Phelps
and Rev. Anthony Brummelkamp, his brother-in-law in the Nether-lands,
were his closest friends. The friendship of Van Raalte and
Phelps proved to be crucial because working together to advance
the cause of education in the Holland Colony depended on
their close collaboration.
Van Raalte was engaged in many pursuits, Phelps, in spite
of his heavy teaching and preaching load, was laying the
foundation of Hope College. (His congregation was growing
and was organized into Hope Reformed Church in 1862.)
this same period while he was the sole teacher in the academy,
he laid out the freshman college course so that the graduates
of the academy could begin to do college work right on the
premises. No longer would the graduates of the academy have
to travel to Rutgers College many miles back East. In 1863,
the General Synod of the Dutch Reformed Church gave its approval
to the founding of a Christian college in the West to be
named Hope. With the permission of the denomination to found
a college came the responsibility for Phelps in 1864 from
the General Synod to raise an endowment of $85,000 to fund
the new institution. At this time, Phelps, not Van Raalte,
became the primary fund-raiser for the academy and the college.
In 1866, Phelps obtained the permission of the State of Michigan
to incorporate Hope College. He officiated that same year
at the graduation of the first class consisting of eight
young men and was inaugurated as the first president.