Everything about Alice Lloyd College in rural Knott County, Kentucky reflects the determination, strong personality and dedication of Alice Lloyd, the founder of this one-of-a-kind college. Even the address, 100 Purpose Road, Pippa Passes, Ky. shows dedication to the pursuit of knowledge. If you’re there for any other purpose other than to learn you’re on the wrong road.
Pippa Passes shows the poetic yearnings of the Boston educated teacher who journeyed to this rural area in 1923 for health purposes. She took the name from the Robert Browning’s poem, “Pippa’s Song”. Supposedly it was a favorite of hers, or possibly the plight of the heroine in the work was the inspiration for this place in the annals of college lore.
” Pippa was a poor mill child who passed through the surrounding villages singing lyrics that ultimately changed the troubled lives of the people she encountered.” Poor people inhabited this rural valley in between high mountains and the only access to the neighborhood was on a road following Caney Creek as you turned right after leaving Floyd County; or the roughest way, over a steep mountain from Hindman, Ky. the county seat. And no matter the way travelers came into this valley in 1923, it was most often on horseback although now and then a Model T Ford would probably rattle by. In 1923 Miss Lloyd, as she was known locally, most likely came in on a pack mule or a horse.
I grew up about nine miles away at the lower end of Caney Creek, at Raven, Ky, near the Floyd County line, and lived there from the time I was born in 1932 until 1950, but I never met her. I only heard talk and lots of rumors about this tough, love soured, passionate, dedicated and no-nonsense educated woman. Each child in The Caney Creek area received a Christmas gift each year from her and most likely it was the only one they got. Oh, it was nothing more than a coloring book or a string of beads, but it was a gift from the heart.
And because of her dedication and dreams, many poor children sang lyrics not only throughout Eastern Kentucky, but all over the world. They’re still singing. The College has modernized somewhat, boys and girls are now associating with other again—in her time this was prohibitive—and they’re still taking in poor students and finding jobs for them on campus to pay their tuition, but overall the look and the feel of the place has Alice Lloyd written all over it.
The college dorms were built from creek bed rocks and these quaint buildings are still now in use, but of course modern buildings have sprung up also. On purpose, the atmosphere prefers to remain as close to the beginning mission statement as possible. It is religion oriented, although no special group assumes control of the spiritual life of the students. Methodist, Mennonite, Catholic, Old Regular Baptist students, Presbyterian or whatever, all are welcome.
A check of their website will show you the poetic spirit still envelopes the valley and Rudyard Kipling’s poem If permeates the student’s thoughts. It’s almost as if Renaissance England has been preserved in this most unlikely of places. And that’s not too far-fetched, at least not in the early 1900s when part of the Virginia settlers moved westward over the Cumberland Gap into Kentucky. The Virginia settlers were mostly transports from England, Scotland and as some will add, part of the indentured servant group that were supposed to work seven years for some benefactor in the Mother Country to afford passage over.
That may or may not be true but in those days children took their school books seriously. They were few and far between. Today’s school of course is different from those first beginnings, but they’re every bit as proud of their learning as they were then.
And yes, every Memorial day, and probably at other times during the year, flowers will be place on the grave of the dear teacher who loved them so well she gave her life to them. She is buried nearby and no doubt her spirit still lingers. It’s not Oxford of course, but it was the next best thing she could do.