Alma College and its successor, Franklin College, were important educational institutions in Ohio during the nineteenth century.
In 1818, abolitionist John Walker, a minister in the Presbyterian Church, established Alma College, in New Athens, Ohio. Walker hoped that Alma College would instill religious and abolitionist beliefs in its students. In 1825, Walker changed the name to Franklin College. This new institution continued Walker's desire to educate students in Presbyterian and abolitionist beliefs.
During their history, Alma College and Franklin College remained relatively small, typically having only a few dozen students enrolled at any one time. Despite this, these institutions educated several prominent Americans during the nineteenth century, including two governors, eight United States Senators, and nine members of the United States House of Representatives. Illustrating Walker's abolitionist beliefs, Titus Basfield, a former slave, graduated from the institution, making him one of the first African Americans to graduate from college in Ohio. Franklin College also eventually allowed women to enroll, and three of Ohio's first women doctors graduated from this institution.
Due to declining enrollment, Franklin College ceased operation in 1919. New Athens eventually acquired Franklin College's buildings and converted one of them to a high school. The high school remained in the structure from 1927 to 1971. The building then served as an elementary school until 1987. In 1992, the Franklin Museum Board of Trustees acquired the building, the last remaining structure from Franklin College, and established a museum. The museum commemorates Franklin College's important role in the abolitionist movement.