1832 - 1899
Harper Bell, the eldest of 12 children, taught
his first school at age 19. Overwork placed him
in the Western Health Reform Institute in Battle
Creek, in 1866, shortly after it opened. There
he accepted the Seventh-day Adventist faith. Soon
after his recovery in 1867, Bell started a private
school for SDA children in Battle Creek. His students
included William and Edson White, sons of James
and Ellen White, and the Kellogg brothers, Will
K. and John Harvey.
While teaching school, Bell also edited the Youth's
Instructor. Beginning in 1869 he became superintendent
of the Battle Creek Sabbath School, and served
as General Conference treasurer between March
1870 and February 1871. He also was one of the
directors of the Health Institute. On December
10, 1871, Ellen White was given a vision in which
she saw "Bell in connection with the cause
and work of God in Battle Creek." It is not
surprising that Ellen White wrote that "more
was expected of Bro. Bell than can reasonably
be of any one man" (Testimony to the Church
at Battle Creek, p. 8).
Bell was a strict disciplinarian, which brought
both approval and criticism from parents and students.
Ellen White wrote: "It is true his style
is in marked contrast with the generality of teachers.
But it is this kind of teaching that is needed,
that will give stability to the character. The
lack on the part of some of the parents to sustain
Bro. Bell made his work doubly hard." But
she also had correction for him: "Bro. Bell
did not realize that he was depending more upon
system to bring up the church of God to the right
position and in working order, than to the influence
of the Spirit of God upon the heart. He trusted
too much to his own ability."--Ibid.
By 1872 Bell had left Battle Creek, discouraged
about his reputation. But Ellen White wrote, urging
him to return to teach in the school that was
to open that year. On June 3, 1872, twelve students
went up to the second story of the old Review
print shop, where Bell welcomed them. The school
was a success from the beginning, and in December
1874 it was moved to the newly erected Battle
Creek College. Bell headed the English Department,
under Sydney Brownsberger, president.
After Brownsberger left the college in 1881, Alexander
McLearn, a new Seventh-day Adventist, succeeded
him. The rules were relaxed, and Bell resisted
the lack of discipline. In December 1881 Ellen
White warned that the college was standing "in
a position that God does not approve." Included
were rebukes for both McLearn and Bell (see Testimonies,
volume 5, pages 21-36).
Bell was severely treated, and left the school
in the spring of 1882. Ellen White wrote a strong
letter of support for Bell, and rebuke to others
for how they had dealt with him. McLearn also
left, and the school closed for the year. Bell
went to South Lancaster, Massachusetts, where
he opened a new secondary school that same year.
After a one-year closure, Battle Creek College
reopened, and, with the opening of Healdsburg
Academy (also in 1882), the church now operated
three secondary schools. In his later years, Bell
started the first church correspondence school.