Thiel College originated in 1866 under the leadership of the Lutheran pastor William A. Passavant, who was born in Zelienople, Pennsylvania, a town that was named for his mother, Zelie (nee Basse) Passavant. Believing that Christian faith impels social responsibility, Passavant devoted much of his life’s work to philanthropic enterprises. He established numerous hospitals and orphanages from New York through western Pennsylvania and the upper Midwest. Passavant worked tirelessly to enlist the personal and material support of men and women in both the United States and Germany for his many projects of social compassion.
Thiel College arose from Passavant’s vision of Christian commitment to social well-being. The initial funding for the College came as a gift of $4,000 (later increased through interest and additional principal) 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 had been 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, Pennsylvania. (Phillipsburg, in Beaver County, was later named Monaca.) Five students were enrolled for the fall term in 1866; by the end of the first year the 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, named Greenville Hall and dedicated in June 1874. Later that year, on November 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 presidents of Thiel from 1870-1887 and 1893-1902, all but six of the first 32 years of the College. Throughout its history Thiel has benefited from the long-term commitments of men and women who have devoted personal service and material support to the College.
Throughout its history Thiel has also reflected values associated with its founding. A coeducational institution from the outset (three of the first five students enrolled in 1866 were women), Thiel has prepared both men and women for lives of leadership and service in church and society. Thiel has also provided a holistic education that addresses the ethical and spiritual as well as the 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.
SOURCE: Strategic Plan: prepared by the Strategic Planning Committee; Sept. 2, 2003, updated Sept. 22, 2003.