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“Early 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

Van 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.

Van 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.

…While 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.)

During 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.