Thiel College formed in 1866 under the leadership of the Lutheran pastor William A. Passavant, a native of Zelienople, Pa. Believing that Christian faith impels social responsibility, Passavant devoted his life to philanthropic enterprises, establishing numerous hospitals and orphanages in New York, western Pennsylvania and the upper Midwest.
The initial funding for the College came as an initial gift of $4,000, presented on New Year’s Day 1865 to Passavant, by Louis and Barbara Thiel, German immigrants who had settled in Pittsburgh a decade earlier and become active members of the Lutheran church. The Thiels were early investors in the Columbia Oil Company, and devoted a tenth of their investment earnings to projects of social benevolence.
The College began as an academy known as Thiel Hall, located initially in Phillipsburg, Pa. (later named Monaca). Five students enrolled for fall term in 1866 and by the end of the first year enrollment had risen to 30. In 1870, Thiel Hall was reorganized as Thiel College under universal charter from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and relocated to Greenville. Thiel’s historic partnership with the community of Greenville began when the borough presented the College its first permanent building, Greenville Hall, in 1874. Later that year, on Nov. 10, the anniversary of Martin Luther’s birth, Thiel faculty and students planted 392 trees in two rows forming what became known as Brother Martin’s Walk.
Institutional stability and development of Thiel College during its first decades in Greenville were achieved under the leadership of the brothers Henry and Theophilus Roth, Lutheran pastors who served respectively as Thiel president from 1870 to 1887 and 1893 to 1902, all but six of the first 32 years of the College!
Throughout its history, Thiel has striven to reflect the values associated with its founding. A coeducational institution from the outset (three of the first five students enrolled were women), Thiel has prepared both men and women for lives of leadership and service in church and society while providing a holistic education that addresses the ethical, spiritual, vocational and professional development of its students in the liberal arts tradition. In addition, Thiel has promoted a holistic view of the world, cultivating both global awareness and interdisciplinary understanding.