Beulah Rucker Oliver was born in 1888 in Banks County, Georgia, in an area previously known as Harmony Grove. She was one of eight children born to Caroline Wiley and Willis Rucker, who were sharecroppers. While growing up she learned her ABCs by looking at the newspapers that had been plastered on the walls of the cabin for warmth. Ms. Rucker knew from the time she was a little girl that she wanted to be a teacher. When she was five years old, Ms. Rucker attended her first school in a small wooden church in Banks County called Neals Grove. After her first day of school, she came home and told her mother that she wanted to be a teacher. Thus, the dream was born. Ms. Rucker finished county school early and her parents made plans to send her to Athens, Georgia, to attend Jeruel High School, which was run by the American Baptist Missionary Society.
Throughout the years that Ms. Rucker spent at Jeruel High School, her parents faced considerable economic strain. Many times she received food from home because she could not afford to pay for it at school. She helped to pay her room and board by getting a job milking two cows in the morning, then going on the principals house and cleaning for his wife. She would do all of this every morning and still be at school by 9:00 a.m. When school let out for vacations, Ms. Rucker was usually able to keep her jobs, allowing her to save a little money which she sent to her parents.
At some point during her stay in Athens, Ms. Rucker began attending Knox Institute, which had been organized in 1868 by the Freedman’s Bureau. The American Missionary Association and the tuition of the students supported the school. Although Ms. Rucker had no money for tuition, she was allowed to remain at the school in exchange for work at the school and principal’s house.
At Knox Institute, Rucker learned industrial teacher training and domestic skills in sewing and cooking as well as Latin and music. (Ann Short Chirhart, Gardens of Education Beulah Rucker and African-American Education in the Georgia Upcountry, 1912-1950) Ms. Rucker graduated with honors on May 28, 1909. During her senior year, she began to have dreams and visions that her purpose in life would be to establish a school for her race. Upon graduation, Ms. Rucker worked various jobs which included teaching public and private school, music lesions, and making and selling hats. Through this work, Ms. Rucker eventually saved enough money to start her own school.
Beulah Rucker married Reverend Byrd Oliver during the time she operated the first school near the Southern Railroad crossing. She purchased the site for the Industrial School in 1914, where the school remained until its closing in the 1950s. She also began and continued to work towards her college degree by taking extension, correspondent and short courses from Savannah State College, where she eventually finished in 1944.