Sue Bennett College began as the Sue Bennett Memorial School in 1897. It was operated by the United Methodist Church and provided grade, high school, and teacher training for the mountain youth of Southeastern Kentucky.
The school's name sake Susan Ann Bennett (1843-1891), was a nineteenth century social activist, from Richmond, Kentucky. She was one of eight children of Samuel Bennett and Elizabeth Chenault Bennett. This large and close-knit family greatly valued education and service to the church and community. Sue Bennett devoted her life to these causes as seen by her service as Superintendent of Sunday Schools at the Methodist Church in Richmond and Secretary of the Kentucky Conference of Woman's Missionary Society.
She became interested in the education of mountain children of Southeastern Kentucky in 1889 after meeting with and observing the success of Reverend J.J. Dickey's school in Jackson, Kentucky. Upon giving her address to the Kentucky Conference she stated, "Let us illuminate some dark corner in the mountains with a school."
She died in 1891 and did not live to see her dream manifest. Her younger sister Isabel (Belle) Bennett took up her cause and financed a trip through nine mountain counties; Rockcastle, Laurel, Jackson, Clay, Knox, Bell, Leslie, Whitley, and Harlan in search of a suitable campus location.
Belle's original recommendation for a campus site was in Manchester, the Methodist Conference agreed, on the condition that local residents raised $5,000, to match the Conference's $5,000 investment. However Clay County businesses were not successful in raising the funds so an alternate campus site was needed.
In 1893, Reverend Dickey advised Belle to locate the school in London (Laurel County), then one of the most cultivated and progressive communities in Southeastern Kentucky. Later Belle met with London Officials and was impressed by the campus site as well as the homes, churches, and the value placed on education.
The Kentucky Conference the Methodist Women agreed to invest $20,000 if London would match the amount. In two short years London had raised the necessary money and 20.5 acres were purchased from the Calloway family on a hill overlooking London for the sum of $2,000.
On the morning of June 23rd, 1896, through the collaborative efforts of Belle Bennett, the Methodist Women, and the township of London, the Sue Bennett Memorial School was dedicated. Miss Belle placed a box of Miss Sue's mementos in the cornerstone of the administration building. Susan Ann Bennett's dream of a school was now a reality.
When the school officially opened on January 1st, 1897, it offered primary, secondary, and normal school courses. The tuition ranged from $1.50 to $3.00 per month and board was $2.00 per week.
In 1922, Sue Bennett Memorial School became Sue Bennett Junior College and in 1932 the college received accreditation by the South Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools. In 1994 the dynamic institution of higher education continued to adjust to meet student’s needs and became a four-year institution. The institution had previously sported a men's and women's basketball program and added football, baseball, and softball to its athletic department.
In 1998, after 101 years service, and having educated more than 11,000 students, the school suffered a series of academic and financial setbacks and was forced to close.