"The David Yellin Hebrew Teachers’ State Institute" was the college's original, full and official name, though to most it was known as the "Beit HaKerem Seminary". Situated on a hilltop in the heart of Beit HaKerem, the David Yellin Academic College of Education was an important landmark in the Jewish settlement even before it became known as such. Officially established in 1913, it was the first institution to train teachers in Eretz Israel and a later metamorphosis of the "Ezra" seminary for teacher training, founded by German Jews, where the studies were bi-lingual – general studies being conducted in German and Jewish studies in Hebrew.
The "war of the languages", which raged throughout the country a short time before the seminary's establishment, came to a head when 18 teachers from the "Ezra" institutions in Jerusalem and led by the then deputy director of the seminary, David Yellin, submitted letters of resignation. As a result of the "war", with the creation of an independent national Hebrew education system, a new institution was established called "The Hebrew Teachers’ Institute", where all the teaching was to be conducted in Hebrew.
In its first years the Institute did not have a permanent home but was housed in various buildings in Jerusalem. Early in 1925 David Yellin, the founder and first principal of the seminary, traveled to America on a successful mission to interest people and institutions in helping him to launch a building fund for a permanent structure in Jerusalem. Upon his return he applied to the Beit HaKerem neighborhood committee with the request for a plot on which to erect the building and 14 dunams of local public land were subsequently allocated to build a teachers’ seminary and a school for the children of the district as a gift from the Beit HaKerem community. Towards the end of 1929 the Hebrew Teachers' Institute relocated to its new and extensive permanent premises in Beit HaKerem.
Right from the beginning the students of the seminary participated fully in local community life – in times of pe ace and especially during the riots of 1929 and 1936-1939 and in time of war (World War II, The War of Independence and the Six Day War). They always played an integral role in the guarding and defense arrangements of Beit HaKerem and other parts of Jerusalem.
During the August 1929 riots, the residents of Beit HaKerem, the workers' district, Kiryat Moshe and Bayit Vegan, old and young, took refuge in the seminary's unfinished building. The people occupied all the rooms, while the hall (eventually to become the gym) was used as a cow shed. Guards armed with rifles were stationed on the roof of the building and fired at the rioters from Dir Yassin, a village west of the wadi, who tried to infiltrate the area and reach the seminary building. The residents were blockaded in the building for a week, until the danger passed.
Early in 1935 the Hagana area c ommand installed a large weapons cache in the seminary and used the south basement hall as an instruction and training center for Hagana members from Jerusalem and its environs.
In the 1936-1938 uprising a guards' station was positioned in the seminary.
During the War of Independen ce in 1948 the seminary building was used by the fighters of the Mountain Division, two Palmach squads and two Field Corps squads intended as reinforcements for Gush Etzion. Here plans were finalized and the fighters were issued with weapons and ammunition and briefed for their march. They set out in January of that year and 35 fighters subsequently fell in battle in the attempt to relieve Gush Etzion.
In the days leading up to the Six Day War some of the paratroop forces assembled in and around the college building and the Israeli flag that was hoisted over the Wailing Wall after its liberation came from a house near the college building. From here the paratroopers left for battle on Ammunition Hill and in the eastern part of the city.
A plaque on display in the main entrance of the college is engraved with the names of Beit HaKerem residents side by side with students and graduates of the institution who fell in Israel’s wars.
The building's façade has been preserved just as it was since it was built. Two storeys have been added with classrooms, halls for various activities, administrative offices and a large library with reading rooms. The 600 seat Joseph and Rebecca Mayerhof auditorium and conference hall wa s completed in 1997. The new wing situated behind the original building was finished in 2003 – it has six floors, two below ground-level, and a 120-car capacity underground parking garage.
Initially the seminary accepted students for a further five years of study after completion of eight years of elementary school. The seminary's curriculum was similar to that of a secondary school in Israel, with the extra year dedicated to pedagogical training for elementary school teaching.
Since those early days th e college has grown and developed diverse study programs with 5,000 students currently studying for first and second degrees, teacher certification, diploma studies and pre-academic preparatory courses.