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Oberlin College, the first coeducational institution to admit both women and African Americans, is an example of how religious affiliation and a need to spread westward were realized through education and institutions of higher learning. Because of the progressive nature of its early Presbyterian leadership, Oberlin became one of the most inclusive colleges of its time.

“…On the subject of education afford us a decisive proof that the movement of civilization is onward.”

--Francis Wayland, Thoughts on the Present Collegiate System (1848)

  • Chartered in 1834, but began in spring 1833
  • Presbyterian
  • Founded by Rev. John J Shipherd and Philo P. Stewart
    • Had met in Elyria in 1832
    • Founded the college because of a “lack of strong Christian principles among settlers of the American west.”

Jean Frederick Oberlin, an Alsatian pastor for which the college was named

establishment and purpose
Establishment and Purpose
  • The town was established with the college itself on donated land
  • 29 men and 15 women began the first classes at Oberlin Collegiate Institute in December 1833
  • Tuition was free
  • Instead, students were expected to help build and expand the community
  • Motto: Learning and Labor
  • Students and teachers were meant to learn how to improve the Godless and unknown “west.”
  • The first building was completed in Spring 1833, Peter Pindar Pease built a log house
oberlin 1838
Oberlin - 1838

Early partial view sketch of the College

progressive presidents of oberlin college
Progressive Presidents of Oberlin College
  • FIRST: Asa Mahan
    • 1835-1850
    • Became president after leaving another institution that prohibited its students from discussing slavery
    • Wanted Oberlin to admit African-American students.
  • SECOND: Charles Grandison Finney
    • 1851-1866
    • Leading revivalist
    • Abolitionist
    • Believed in equal educational opportunities for women and African Americans.

Charles Grandison Finney

women at oberlin
Women at Oberlin
  • Oberlin was coeducational when it was founded, although women were not admitted to receive baccalaureate diplomas until 1837.
  • Before that point, they received diplomas from “Ladies Courses”
  • The first women admitted to Oberlin were: Caroline Mary Rudd, Elizabeth Prall, Mary Hosford, Mary Fletcher Kellogg
  • Kellogg was the only one who did not graduate in 1941 (due to financial problems)
  • Lucy Stone, a famous abolitionist and suffragette, graduated in 1847.

Lucy Stone

Caroline Mary Rudd

african americans at oberlin
African Americans at Oberlin
  • First African American students admitted in 1835
  • Presidents were abolitionists, as were many of the students
  • Mary Jane Patterson was the first woman to receive a BA
  • Oberlin was a stop on the Underground Railroad
  • Oldest continuously operating college to admit both women and African Americans and white men, although the admissions process was still uneven.
    • Students were not treated as equals

Mary Jane Patterson

fundraising and expansion
Fundraising and Expansion
  • Oberlin faced extreme financial difficulty in the 1850s
    • Trustees were forced to travel along the East Coast and in Britain to fundraise
    • Funds raised mainly from abolitionist communities
    • Raised $300,000
  • The school shifted from a curriculum that focused on theology and manual labor to one that focused on classics, science, and fine arts
  • Name officially changed from “Oberlin Collegiate Institute” to “Oberlin College” in 1850 following the Act of Ohio Legislature
  • Renowned conservatory founded in 1867
reviewing the argument
Reviewing: The Argument
  • Like essentially all other institutes of higher learning at the time, Oberlin was founded with a direct relationship to a form of religion, although the town was built around the school. The schools founding was an example of the desire in the 1830s for Americans to move westward but to maintain a relationship with God and education while doing so. The best way to do this was through an institution of higher learning.
  • Because of its early leadership, Oberlin was relatively more progressive than other colleges, although it was obviously far from perfect.
  • Oberlin is an example of colleges moving beyond the east coast into newer parts of America.
  • Francis Wayland, Thoughts on the Present Collegiate System (1848)