Melville B. Cox (Memorial) of Maine was the first Methodist missionary to Liberia. He departed for Liberia on the ship “Jupiter” from Norfolk, VA on November 6, 1832, and arrived in Monrovia on March 8, 1833. Mr. Cox’s vision for his work in Liberia included establishing a mission house, a school, a seminary for young Christian converts, and churches. His accomplishment to realizing these dreams was the purchasing of a house that had formerly been the property of the Basel Missionary Society; and getting the Methodist Church established in Liberia as a branch of the Methodist Episcopal Church in the U.S.
Four months after his arrival, on July 21, 1833, Cox died of malaria. His visions became a rallying cry for the Methodist church in Liberia.
The Monument that marks his grave carries the epitaph “Though a thousand fall, let not Africa be given up “, was his reply to the question “Why Africa” - posed to him during an interview before he boarded the ship for Liberia.
In 1816 the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church institutionalized the course of study for candidates to the ministry. . . persons desiring to be admitted into full connection would have to complete the course of study. It therefore became imperative that a conference seminary be established to meet this mandate. Thus the Monrovia Seminary was established (renamed College of West Africa in later years) in 1839. The Rev. Jabez A. Burton was commissioned the Seminary’s first principal immediately after its establishment; and served until his death in August 1842.
The Rev. Alexander P. Camphor, was appointed Principal in 1896. At the end of his first year of administration, he began the re-organization of the seminary to eventually include a high school. In 1897 Camphor presented his plans to the Liberian Annual conference where it carried a majority vote for the transformation of the Monrovia Seminary to the College of West Africa with the following as its charter: - that it be the one central and leading school of all Methodist educational institutions; providing degree granting courses in ministerial training whilst also providing a high school education; that dormitory facilities be established for male and female students.
For the next ten years Rev. Camphor worked to implement this new plan as voted upon at the 1897 session of the Liberian Annual Conference. His first project in this new plan was the erection of the school building to be named the Cox Memorial Auditorium - (for Melville B. Cox, in observance of the Methodist Mission work he started.)
In 1904, by an act of the Liberian Legislature, the college was officially recognized and confirmed as the College of West Africa.
By 1925, as a result of the grave personnel and financial difficulties, and political interference, the College was forced to close its collegiate department, but continued to function as a secondary school with the appointment of the Rev. R. L. Embree as its new President. Rev. Embree reorganized the curriculum and programs of the school to continue the college preparatory courses, even though it was now a high school. He continued the building project started by Rev. Camphor. As a result of his efforts, grounds-breaking ceremonies were held on May 25, 1927. Construction was completed and ready for dedication on March 7, 1933.
The name “College of West Africa” was retained because of its charter to serve as a degree-granting institution - a mandate it later carried out, granting Associate Degrees in Business and Finance.
The school is 100% owned and operated by the Liberian Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.