“I Have At Last Found My ‘Sphere’”
The Unintentional Development of a Female Abolitionist Stronghold at Oberlin College
On August 1, 1846, the abolitionists of Oberlin, Ohio, gathered to celebrate the anniversary of West Indian independence. The First of August was the only Independence Day celebrated in Oberlin, since July 4 marked the birth of a nation fundamentally entangled with slavery. This particular occasion featured the first public antislavery address by Lucy Stone, an Oberlin student who would go on to become one of America’s foremost abolitionists and women’s rights advocates. In 1846, however, her career as an accomplished reformer was years in her future, and in the lead-up to the event, the gravity of what she was about to do set in. Here she was, a woman, and she was to speak publicly on the most explosive issue of the day. A “siege of terrible headaches” betrayed her trepidation, yet when the time came for Stone to address the crowd, she did so with a confidence that impressed her audience, including a Cleveland newspaperman. Stone’s speech, he reported, “gave evidence that a mind naturally brilliant had not been dimmed, but polished rather, by classical studies and the higher mathematics.” He recognized her as “one of those who believe that neither color nor sex should deprive of equal rights.”1
Stone’s abolitionist brilliance was the logical result of an Oberlin education thoroughly steeped in moral duty, perfectionism, and a certainty of the sinfulness of slavery. However, Oberlin women were never meant by the school’s leaders to venture into the public sphere, much less become outspoken abolitionist lecturers. Their education was designed to prepare them for the domestic life of a supportive wife—“to bridle the tongue” while their husbands made their mark in the world.2 However, Oberlin women took many of the same classes as budding male reformers, were taught by the same abolitionist professors, and were instilled with the same moral imperative to fight sin in all its forms. Unexpectedly but unavoidably, Oberlin women trained toward domesticity became some of the most articulate and effective social reformers, male or female, of the nineteenth century.
From its founding in 1833, the town of Oberlin and its organically connected college of the same name formed one of the most significant communities in the American abolitionist movement. It achieved this distinction because of unique circumstances in its early years that gathered an unprecedented multiracial and cohesive abolitionist population that maintained a fever pitch of reform agitation throughout the antebellum period. Oberlin was founded as a utopian community whose sole mission was to save souls and prepare the world for the coming millennium of Christ. Within two years, the community of only a few hundred had become the most radical academic environment in the nation, perhaps the world. Oberlin was the first college in America to admit men and women of all races, and as more conservative schools persecuted outspoken student-abolitionists, Oberlin welcomed them with open arms. The school became a beacon for the nation’s most progressive students, and together with a thoroughly abolitionist faculty and community, they set about the mission of ridding America of its greatest and most pressing sin: slavery.3
Oberlin’s distinction in becoming the first coeducational college in America, however, is a more complicated story. Scholarship on women during this period presents it as a time in which women’s roles were being transformed, yet not necessarily to their benefit. This period witnessed the increasing glorification of “true womanhood”: the woman who represented piety, purity, obedience, and domesticity.4 Although the veneration of the “feminine” sphere by contemporaries was often used as an apology for its constraints in the public sphere, many of the women aspired to nothing short of the purification of America through the liberal application of their moral influence as wives and mothers and, increasingly, as teachers.5 This trend also led to an extension of formal educational opportunities for American girls. A handful of educational theorists agreed that to circumscribe the education of women was “at least problematic.”6 These reformers argued for the necessity of more thorough education of females and stressed the republican project of educating America’s youth as virtuous citizens.7
In the early decades of the nineteenth century, women’s academies sprang up with alacrity. These schools offered their female students a curriculum that included not just elements of a classical education but also instruction in etiquette and refinement, a strong emphasis on moral and religious education, training in domestic science and economy, and preparation for teaching. This early vanguard of educators, which included several women among its ranks, believed that if women were to be prepared to mold the nation’s infant minds, bring about the salvation of mankind through education, competently oversee their traditional domestic realm, and fill the role of pious and intelligent helpmeet to their husbands, then they needed to be taught more than traditional “ornamental” pursuits such as embroidery and drawing.8
The combination of the need for literate women to provide religious instruction to their children, a growing recognition of the desirability of an educated citizenry, and, at least in Oberlin’s case, simple fairness became the opening wedge for women in American higher education.9 In Oberlin’s first circular of 1834, founder John Shipherd announced that a primary goal of the institution was to bring “within the reach of the misjudged and neglected sex, all the instructive privileges which hitherto have unreasonably distinguished the leading sex from theirs.”10 Philo Stewart, Shipherd’s earliest Oberlin associate, agreed that “the work of female education must be carried out in some form, and in a much more efficient manner than it has been hitherto, or our country will go to destruction. For I believe that there is no other way to secure success in our great moral enterprises, than to make prevalent the right kind of female education.”11
Accordingly, they established Oberlin as America’s first coeducational college. Yet despite the founders’ otherwise progressive stance, many Oberlin professors initially welcomed the experiment for the effects it would have on young men, not their female classmates. James Fairchild articulated the Oberlin position: in a coeducational environment “the animal man is kept subordinate… . We have found it the surest way to make men of boys, and gentlemen of rowdies. It must be a very poor specimen of masculine human nature that is not helped by the association, and a very poor specimen of a woman that does not prove a helper.”12
To be sure, women were receiving an education on a level previously unavailable to them, but women’s involvement in the Oberlin experiment was rarely viewed by college officials independent of their “refining” influence on Oberlin men. Coeducation, then, radical as it was, was not undertaken as a revolutionary reform but as a practical measure firmly embedded in popular notions of women’s work and proper sphere.13 At the same time, however, Oberlin did knowingly and intentionally provide its female students with “all the instructive privileges” it made available to its young men, opportunities and didactic processes that were explosive in their potential and revolutionary in their results.14
As late as the 1850s, many of Oberlin’s professors appeared to remain in the dark as to the dynamic potential that coeducational collegiate training at Oberlin could offer America’s young ladies. In a reply to the question “Is ‘the woman question,’ so called necessarily involved in your experiment?” the editor of the Oberlin Evangelist replied, “Not at all… . The first and greatest right of women—the right to be educated, as being endowed with intelligence equally as man,—is fundamental to the system; beyond this it goeth not.”15 However, where the Oberlin system dared not officially go, Oberlin women boldly marched independently. Their admission to Oberlin brought them under the same radical instruction and exposed them to the same revolutionary ideas as the young men, and they made the most of what they were grudgingly given. In an atmosphere that made concerted action a moral duty for men, many Oberlin women leaped at the chance to fulfill their own duty by speaking out in public on behalf of the abolition of slavery.16
A defining aspect of the liberal education of Oberlin men was their training and regular practice in public speaking. There were practical grounds for thorough training in oratory, since most graduates went on to become either ministers or lawyers, or they engaged in some vocation that required skill in public declamation. Women in the early nineteenth century found nearly all approaches to public speaking closed to them, since almost no one expected “proper” women to attempt to enter any of the learned professions.17 More-over, as one male Oberlin professor pointed out, women might not speak in public assemblies “without violating the natural sense of propriety which God has given us.”18 Thus at Oberlin, men were trained in the arts of debate and oratory; women learned to write essays.19
Still, Oberlin had opened a Pandora’s box when it decided to offer its women the same education as its men. Instruction that was calculated to encourage independent thought in young men, lead them to confront the world in its sins, and rebuke unrighteousness at every opportunity could not help but instill the same emotions in the women who fell under its sway. Even as a professor declared, “It is a thing positively disagreeable to both sexes to see a woman a public character,” women in his audience were already on their way down a path never fully intended by Oberlin’s founders.20
Lucy Stone’s tenure at Oberlin was, as one historian puts it, “one long protest” against the faculty’s reticence.21 She enrolled in 1843 specifically to prepare herself for a public life, and she did not mean to be a passive recipient of reluctant instruction. Rather, she and other ambitious Oberlin women met the challenge head-on. Stone made no attempt to hide her intentions and ruffled feathers in the process. “Lucy Stone was the topic of conversation … in all the boarding houses in town,” one male student wrote. He recalled that others believed “‘she was a woman who wanted to be a man’; others said in derision ‘she was a hen who wanted to crow.’”22 When Antoinette Brown first traveled to Oberlin, she was warned of this notorious student who was “much too talkative.” Brown was advised “to be very careful of her opinions, not to be influenced by her or to become intimate with her.” However, Brown, who would soon consider Stone her best friend, “resolved then and there to know more of Lucy Stone.”23
Despite their criticism of Stone, no one at Oberlin could deny that “she was the most brilliant woman of her age they had ever met.”24 In 1846 she was able to convince Professor James Thome to allow her and Brown to participate in a debate in his rhetoric class (which they had only been allowed to audit). Word of the novel event spread quickly across campus, and a crowd gathered on the appointed day to witness the debate, later described by observers as “exceptionally brilliant.”25 For their efforts, Stone and Brown were called before the Ladies’ Board and rebuked. Thome was warned against repeat performances.26
Stone later remarked that “I was never in a place where women are so rigidly taught that they must not speak in public.”27 This prohibition extended even to Oberlin commencement ceremonies, where graduating men were allowed to give orations, yet women who chose to take the college course were forced to write theirs as essays to be read for them by a professor.28 Stone never composed a commencement essay, since doing so would have been “a public acknowledgment of the rectitude of the principle which takes away from women their equal rights, and denies to them the privilege of being co-laborers with men in any sphere to which their ability makes them adequate.”29
It was not naked ambition that drove these women; it was a conviction, legitimately obtained through their education, that they were obligated by a higher power to agitate the public mind for the sake of righteousness. To follow their consciences into the public arena, Brown, Stone, and a handful of other determined women formed the Oberlin Young Ladies’ Literary Society, an organization meant to provide a forum for female debate and “to improve its members in Writing, Discussion, & Declamation.”30 The society’s meetings, which initially were held secretly, soon emerged as one of the most popular spectator events in Oberlin. One Oberlin man realized the potential results of this training and encouraged one young abolitionist woman that “when [she had] a little experience,” she could “beat Abby [Kelley] to nothing.” “You would make a glorious speaker,” he said, concluding that “I’d rather meet a tropical tornado & Niagara Falls to boot than meet you as a public adversary.”31
The literary society experience, combined with the religious training and moral instruction the women received from their formal education, resulted in Oberlin sending a great cadre of women into battle among the various social reform movements of the day. At a certain level, even college officials seem to have given a grudging consent to women who, officials had to concede, were only acting on impulses most of them developed while studying at Oberlin.32 John Morgan admitted to one eager student that he would try to convince her to remain silent in public if he thought he would be successful, but, realizing that she was determined to speak her mind in public anyway, he would “try to do [his] best” to teach her.33
So taught, Oberlin women set out to save the world, and their most notable target was the abolition of slavery. Many first directed their efforts toward the mission to reform and save “fallen women” and to combat the “licentiousness” that was so notoriously the result of many slave owners’ lechery. Lydia Finney, wife of Oberlin’s famous professor and evangelist, Charles Grandison Finney, was elected “First Directress” of the National Moral Reform Society, with Oberlin’s Alice Cowles serving as the society’s first vice president.34 The following year Oberlinites founded two moral reform societies of their own: the Young Men’s Moral Reform Society of the Oberlin Collegiate Institute and the Oberlin Female Moral Reform Society. These societies soon merged into a single organization.35
However, Oberlin women did not limit their attack on slavery to the problem of sexual licentiousness. Many arrived with a broad abolitionist background, and they were instrumental in shaping the antislavery ideology of the other female students. For instance, Betsey Mix Cowles, who like many other Oberlin women first arrived on campus in her late twenties, had spent many of her pre-Oberlin years lecturing on behalf of antislavery through the Ashtabula Female Anti-Slavery Society.36 Stone was an ardent supporter of William Lloyd Garrison by the time she enrolled at Oberlin, and she kept a picture of him by her bedside and promoted antislavery periodicals on campus.37 Others arrived at Oberlin with unimpeachable abolitionist family pedigrees. Sallie Holley’s father, Myron, had been a founder of the antislavery Liberty Party in 1839.38 Frances Russwurm’s father, John, had been the abolitionist editor of Freedom’s Journal, the first newspaper owned and operated by African Americans in the United States.39 Rosetta Douglass, daughter of Frederick Douglass, assisted his abolitionist efforts at home and at the North Star before she enrolled at Oberlin.40
Perhaps one reason for the extra zeal and effectiveness of the Oberlin women in their antislavery efforts came from their unique and intimate contact with former slaves. Many members of Oberlin’s women’s organizations were positioned in ways that allowed them direct access to survivors of slavery. The Young Ladies’ Literary Society held its first meetings in the home of a former slave, the mother of one of Stone’s pupils.41 Stone was also a teacher in Oberlin’s Liberty School, established in 1844 for the elementary education of black adults, most of whom had begun their lives in bondage.42 Stone recalled of her pupils, “When I saw how they were dehumanized … I wondered, that in the wide universe of god, one tongue could be found, that failed to utter its indignant rebuke against all that pertains to so execrable a system.”43 In addition to the Oberlin Female Moral Reform Society and the Young Ladies’ Literary Society, other groups such as the Oberlin Maternal Association, the Oberlin Female Anti-Slavery Society, and the Oberlin Young Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society demonstrated their empathy with the persecuted bondsmen, going to great lengths to assist self-emancipating slaves who passed through the town on their way to freedom.44
Since Oberlin was long the only college open to young women in America, many fathers had no choice but to enroll their daughters there if they wanted them to receive the most thorough education possible.45 This included southerners and even a handful of slaveholders. Oberlin, for its part, did not turn away any qualified students, especially those impressionable young women raised in the midst of slavery. On the other hand, southern fathers could only have sent their daughters to “notorious” Oberlin with the full knowledge of the ideologies to which they would be exposed and perhaps ultimately accept as their own. One of Lucy Stone’s Oberlin roommates was a sixteen-year-old slaveholder’s daughter from South Carolina. Despite strict instructions from her father to avoid any talk about slavery, Stone’s prominent display of Garrison’s likeness and near-constant agitation of the slavery question would have made following the injunction impossible.46 Another student, Harriett Keys, recounted the story of her family’s slave “Aunt Lydia,” who had been exposed to the “dark and malignant passions which the system of slavery is peculiarly adapted to foster and which were constantly exhibited around her.”47 Rather than diluting Oberlin’s antislavery mission with conservatism, these southern women added a firsthand knowledge of the institution of slavery and an intimate understanding of the mind of the master class. As did the testimony of their professor James Thome, son of a Kentucky slaveholder, the women’s ties to slavery and their witness to its brutality helped keep the object of Oberlin’s opposition from becoming an abstraction.48
The “malignant passions” referred to in Keys’s testimony clearly included the sexual abuse of enslaved women by white men. This was a common theme of abolitionist discourse, and the admittedly delicate and provocative nature of the topic was not shied away from in Oberlin’s coeducational environment. As historians Ruth Bogin and Jean Fagan Yellin point out, many women’s commitment to abolitionism was informed by the knowledge that such sexual abuse was widespread. However, they also note that in antebellum America, the very mention of sexual impurity might shock audiences or sully the reputation of the female speaker.49 Oberlin’s unanimity of opinion on slavery-related issues, however, allowed the school and town to offer themselves as forums where even the most controversial topics could be discussed freely and methodically. With little fear that their deliberations would be sensationalized or exploited by critics bent on disruption, the school and town left no issue off the table. In fact, all Oberlinites felt a moral obligation to give a voice to the voiceless while following their founder’s injunction to “be not conformed to this world.”50
Particular Oberlinites who could never have shied away from such a topic were the women of the student and town population who had been enslaved themselves.51 For these abolitionists, as historian Shirley Yee points out, the issues of slavery and racism struck much closer to home.52 There were, most especially, those Oberlin women whose very existence could be traced to their former masters’ abuse of power: the mixed-race children of slave owners. Though their being sent to Oberlin may have resulted from their biological fathers’ sense of indulgence or as a last means of assuaging a guilty conscience, students like Martha Mason, Mary Townsend, and Laura Minor were constant reminders of the transgressions against which other Oberlin women spoke out.53
These formerly enslaved women contributed to the aggressive stance of Oberlin’s female abolitionists as well as to their overall effectiveness. Just as former slaves like Frederick Douglass and Henry Bibb brought an added degree of authenticity to the abolitionist rostrum, Oberlin women who had begun their lives in chains brought a sense of urgency that others could not fully express. Not only did they “perform” abolitionism through the very fact of their participation in the daily life of the college, as historian Carol Lasser argues, African American women at Oberlin also spoke for those enslaved people who remained in the South.54 Fanny Jackson remembered that each time she opened her mouth to speak while at Oberlin, she felt the weight of her entire race upon her shoulders.55 No doubt students Mahalia Mcguire and Sara Margru Kinson, the youngest of the captives freed from the Amistad slave ship in 1841, and Mary and Emily Edmondson, both rescued from the slave ship Pearl in 1848, brought the extraordinary perspectives of victims of the vicious slave trade to Oberlin debates.56 The effect was profound. Free-born women, who could only describe at second hand the horrors of slavery, were moved to truly empathetic tears and propelled into action through the influence of their formerly enslaved sisters.57
As mentioned earlier, Oberlin women were conspicuous in the town’s annual First of August celebrations. The town’s African American community leaders planned the day’s festivities, and the proceedings were very often a chance for black leaders and Oberlin women to demonstrate the “reciprocal supportive relationships” that they had developed in their close connections over the years.58 It was clear to the organizers that some of the most zealous advocates of the cause in Oberlin were, in fact, those women who were busy breaking the traditional mold of the woman’s sphere in the cause of the slave. Black leaders like William Howard Day and Daniel Seales extended invitations to Oberlin students like Stone, Brown, Emiline Crooker, and Mary Crabb to address the First of August crowds on antislavery topics. On platforms that sometimes included only a single white male participant, several Oberlin women passionately spoke out against the iniquities of American bondage.59
These speeches revealed a chink in the armor of the Oberlin proscription of women’s public speaking. To speak at the independence celebration, these women, like any other Oberlin student, would have had to ask for and be granted permission to do so by the faculty. Both the platform and audience would have been “promiscuous,” or mixed gender, a circumstance that in any other instance would likely have led to a spirited refusal by the faculty and Ladies’ Board to a young woman’s request to speak in public.
So why was there no chorus of disapproval for these women’s requests for permission to participate in an activity their professors otherwise considered “a thing positively disagreeable to both sexes” and openly discouraged?60 Essentially, the answer is that Oberlin’s reputation and stance on the antislavery issue were sealed. At Oberlin, abolitionism trumped all other concerns. Although the antislavery activity of Oberlin women mostly occurred after the abolitionist “schism” of 1840, ostensibly over the role of women in the movement, Oberlin refused to participate in the infighting. Town and gown had a long shared history of nonsectarian reformism, and they encouraged diversity in antislavery thought. Rather than falling into a distinct abolitionist “camp,” Oberlinites took the field as men and women devoted to emancipation by any means necessary, even if that was through unconventional methods or by an abandonment of strict ideological consistency. Their philosophy had always been a composite of various schools of antislavery thought aimed at providing the best hope of success.61
Oberlin’s abolitionist pedigree, then, would have precluded the denial to any person, man or woman, the opportunity to speak on behalf of the millions of enslaved Americans. After all, even “man woman” Abby Kelley was allowed to present her arguments multiple times before Oberlin audiences, hostile as they were to many of those beliefs.62 All voices in favor of the slave would be given a hearing, regardless of what social taboos they might tread upon. Moreover, in Oberlin, nearly everyone was already a committed abolitionist; there would be no risk of offending or turning away a potential “convert” over women speaking in public to a mixed audience.63
Oberlin officials even countenanced women’s entry into the all-male club of antislavery electoral politics. The literary society paved the way by priming its members’ debate arsenals with such topics as “Should Women Vote?” and “Was the Liberty Party Wise in Electing Their Candidate This Fall?”64 Just when many abolitionists were debating the propriety of antislavery political action, Oberlin women pressed their case to cast their own ballots on behalf of freedom.65 At times, it seemed as if the women in Oberlin were more genuinely concerned with practical politics than the men. Delegates to a Whig county convention in 1840 remarked on the notable presence of Oberlin women among the crowd. In a year when the town was struggling with the question of voting for the nominally antislavery Whig candidates or for the newcomer abolitionist Liberty Party, one man wrote, “You see the ladies are not backward in the good cause.”66 Even some of the professed Garrisonians among the Oberlin women got in line behind those who sought to promote antislavery through the ballot.67 Lucy Stone, as fierce a “nonresistant” as there was in Oberlin, looked hopefully upon the efforts of Oberlin political anti-slavery. She was “glad to have anything done for the poor, downtrodden slave, and [she did] not care whether it is by the Old Organization or New Organization, for the oppressed.”68
Groups composed exclusively of black women, their own disenfranchisement more obvious than that of their white sisters, were just as active in the political realm. It was not uncommon for black women from Ohio to attend male-dominated protest gatherings or conventions, and though they did not participate as recognized delegates, they often contributed songs or toasts to the already spirited proceedings. In 1849 the women at the State Convention of the Colored Citizens of Ohio submitted a biting resolution to Oberlin graduate and business committee chairman William Howard Day that declared, “We the ladies have been invited to attend the Convention, and have been deprived of a voice, which we the ladies deem wrong and shameful. Therefore, RESOLVED, That we will attend no more after tonight, unless the privilege is granted.”69 Their threat was taken seriously, and after some debate, the resolution was adopted, and they were welcomed into the convention. This further opened the door to participation in the state conventions by Oberlin women to pressure their men to “be true, be courageous, be steadfast in the discharge of your duty.”70
However, Oberlin women were not content to limit themselves to playing a supporting role to that of their male counterparts. Despite many of the wishes of Oberlin’s faculty and community leaders, the women of the college and community developed their own “sphere” of antislavery influence. It was an enlargement of the role intended for them, for while they were trained in the cult of domesticity and taught the skills necessary for a supporting role in domestic life, they were also brought under the academic influence of their abolitionist professors, taught to become critical and independent thinkers, imbued with the imperative to fight sin in all its forms, and steeped in the radical antislavery environment that was Oberlin. For many Oberlin women, the only logical and morally responsible outcome of this experience was for them to become antislavery agitators in their own right. As Sallie Holley was fond of saying when pleading for her enslaved sisters, “While woman’s heart is bleeding, shall woman’s voice be hushed?”71 Immediately upon completing her degree at Oberlin in 1851, Holley undertook an abolitionist lecturing tour of the northeastern states. One of her contemporaries remarked that “it was with the clearest consciousness of the nature of the situation and the principles involved that Sallie Holley chose her path and entered on it with a courageous and trembling heart.”72 Not long thereafter, Holley reported her successes to another Oberlin alumna. “You cannot know,” she effused, “how richly rewarded I feel, how full my enjoyment is, in going about with these anti-slavery friends.” “It does seem to me,” she concluded, “that I have at last found my ‘sphere.’”73
1. Lucy Stone to “Dear Father and Mother,” August 16, 1846, RG30/24, box 10, folder 2, Oberlin College Archives (hereafter OCA).
2. Alice Cowles, “A Complete Finish,” n.d., RG30/24, box 4, folder 17, OCA.
3. See J. Brent Morris, Oberlin, Hotbed of Abolitionism: College, Community, and the Fight for Freedom and Equality in Antebellum America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014).
4. See Barbara Welter, “The Cult of True Womanhood, 1820–1860,” in Dimity Convictions: The American Woman in the Nineteenth Century, ed. Barbara Welter (Columbus: Ohio University Press, 1976), 21–41.
5. Alice Rossi, “Coeducation in a Gender Stratified Society,” in Educating Men and Women Together, ed. Carol Lasser (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987), 12.
6. Judith Sargent Murray, The Gleaner (Boston: J. Thomas and E. T. Andrews, 1798), 68.
7. For discussion of the idea of “republican motherhood,” see Linda Kerber, Women of the Republic: Intellect and Ideology in Revolutionary America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1980). On the rise of women’s schools during this period, see Linda Kerber, “‘Nothing Useless or Absurd or Fantastical’: The Education of Women in the Early Republic,” in Lasser, Educating Men and Women Together, 37–48; and Patricia Palmeri, “From Republican Motherhood to Race Suicide: Arguments of the Higher Education of Women in the United States, 1820–1920,” in ibid., 49–64.
8. Annie Meyer, ed., Woman’s Work in America (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1891), 66–67, 69; Palmeri, “From Republican Motherhood,” 52; Ronald Hogeland, “Coeducation of the Sexes at Oberlin College: A Study of Social Ideas in Mid-Nineteenth Century America,” Journal of Social History 6, no. 2 (1972–73): 167.
9. Rossi, “Coeducation,” 12.
10. Circular, Oberlin Collegiate Institute, March 8, 1834, RG30/24, box 12, folder 14, OCA.
11. Philo Stewart to Levi Burrell, April 10, 1837, Oberlin Collegiate Institute Letters Received, microfilm roll 1, OCA.
12. James Fairchild, Coeducation of the Sexes (Oberlin: Biblioteca Sacra, 1871), 390–95; Trustee Minutes, March 9, 1836, RG30/24, box 15, folder 7, OCA.
13. James Fairchild, Oberlin: The Colony and the College (Oberlin: E. J. Goodrich, 1883), 174.
14. Circular, Oberlin Collegiate Institute, March 8, 1834, RG30/24, box 12, folder 14, OCA; Frances Hosford, Father Shipherd’s Magna Charta: A Century of Coeducation at Oberlin College (Boston: Marshal Jones Company, 1937), 31.
15. Oberlin Evangelist, December 3, 1851.
16. The past twenty years have seen the publication of a wealth of scholarship on women in the abolitionist movement. See, for example, Julie Roy Jeffry, The Great Silent Army of Abolitionism: Ordinary Women in the Antislavery Movement (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998); Kathryn Kish Sklar and James Brewer Stewart, eds., Women’s Rights and Transatlantic Antislavery in the Era of Emancipation (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2007); Beth Salerno, Sister Societies: Women’s Antislavery Organizations in Antebellum America (Dekalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2005); John R. McKivigan, ed., Abolitionism and Issues in Race and Gender (New York: Garland, 1999).
17. Hosford, Father Shipherd’s Magna Charta, 71–72.
18. Oberlin Evangelist, May 25, 1859.
19. Fairchild, Oberlin, 182.
20. Ibid., 18.
21. Robert Fletcher, A History of Oberlin College: From Its Foundation through the Civil War (Oberlin: Oberlin College, 1943), 291–92.
22. Woman’s Journal, June 5, 1902.
23. Antoinette Brown Blackwell, “Antoinette Brown Blackwell: The First Woman Minister,” 1–2, RG30/24, box 4, folder 3, OCA.
24. Woman’s Journal, June 5, 1902.
25. Andrea Moore Kerr, Lucy Stone: Speaking Out for Equality (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1992), 37.
26. Ibid., 37; Antoinette Brown Blackwell to George Jones, January 6, 1907, Antoinette Brown Blackwell Alumni File, folder 1, OCA.
27. Alice Stone Blackwell, Lucy Stone: Pioneer of Woman’s Rights (Boston: Little, Brown, 1930), 60–63, 71–72; Fletcher, History of Oberlin College, 292.
28. Fairchild, Coeducation of the Sexes, 387; Meyer, Woman’s Work in America, 69.
29. Blackwell, Lucy Stone, 67–73.
30. “Constitution and Bylaws of the Young Ladies’ Literary Society,” April 10, 1850, RG30/24, box 12, folder 3, OCA.
31. Timothy Hudson to Betsey Mix Cowles, March 5, 1846, RG30/24, box 5, folder 9, OCA. Abby Kelley was a prominent Garrisonian lecturer in the 1830s and 1840s.
32. Fairchild, Coeducation of the Sexes, 395–96; Antoinette Brown Blackwell, “Reminiscences of Early Oberlin,” February 1918, 2, and “Oberlin College” (clipping), University Quarterly (1860), in RG30/24, box 18, folder 17, OCA.
33. Azariah Root, “Antoinette Brown Blackwell and Oberlin,” 1, n.d., Antoinette Brown Blackwell Alumni File, folder 1, OCA.
34. Lewis Tappan, Life of Arthur Tappan (New York: Hurd and Houghton, 1870), 111–14; Catherine Rokicky, “Lydia Finney and Evangelical Womanhood,” Ohio History 103 (Summer–Autumn 1994): 178.
35. Advocate of Moral Reform, August and September 1835, July 15, 1845.
36. See Betsey Mix Cowles Alumni File, OCA.
37. Charles Hambrick-Stowe, Charles G. Finney and the Spirit of American Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996), 269–70; Lucy Stone to “Dear Mother and Father,” 1845, RG21, series II, box 2, A, OCA.
38. Sallie Holley, A Life for Liberty: Antislavery and Other Letters of Sallie Holley (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1899), 27.
39. Ellen Lawson and Marlene Merrill, “The Antebellum ‘Talented Thousandth’: Black College Students at Oberlin before the Civil War,” Journal of Negro Education 52, no. 2 (Spring 1983): 145.
40. Ibid.; see also Rosetta Douglass Alumni File, OCA.
41. Kerr, Lucy Stone, 37; Blackwell, “Reminiscences of Early Oberlin.”
42. Lucy Stone to Francis Stone and Harriet Stone, February 15, 1846, RG30/24, box 10, folder 2, OCA; “Expenses of Teaching in the Various Departments of the Oberlin Collegiate Institution for the Year 1844–1845,” Lucy Stone Alumni File, OCA.
43. Lucy Stone to Francis and Harriet Stone, February 15, 1846, RG30/24, box 10, folder 2, OCA.
44. Advocate & Family Guardian, June 15, 1855; Oberlin Maternal Association Minutes, April 2, 1845, OCA; Oberlin Evangelist, August 15, 1855. The Young Ladies’ Antislavery Society and the Female Antislavery Society were established in 1835. The former was mostly made up of college women, while the latter was intended mainly for older women in the community. Membership in the much larger Oberlin Antislavery Society, founded in February 1835, was open to everyone. However, after only a few years, all of these groups largely ceased to function as formal organizations. Historian Robert Fletcher notes that the term “antislavery society” was sometimes applied “to the whole unanimously antislavery community (college and colony) when gathered in the frequent mass meetings held for the discussion of anti-slavery matters” (Fletcher, Oberlin College, 237).
45. John Shipherd also founded the second coeducational college in America in Olivet, Michigan, in 1844.
46. Kerr, Lucy Stone, 32.
47. Oberlin Evangelist, September 29, 1852.
48. See Carolyn Williams, “The Female Antislavery Movement: Fighting Against Racial Prejudice and Promoting Women’s Rights in Antebellum America,” in The Abolitionist Sisterhood: Women’s Political Culture in Antebellum America, ed. Jean Fagan Yellin and John C. Van Horne (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1994), 167.
49. Ruth Bogin and Jean Fagan Yellin, introduction to Abolitionist Sisterhood, 5.
50. See Morris, Oberlin, 7, 491.
51. See Mahalia McGuire, Mary Jane Edmondson, Emily Edmondson Alumni Files, OCA; M. B. Luckens to “Mr. Harkness,” October 12, 1912, Frances Josephine Norris Alumni Record File, OCA. Precise figures for African American enrollment at Oberlin and formerly enslaved Oberlinites are unavailable. Officials did not begin recording the race of Oberlin students until 1900, and contemporary and more modern lists, often compiled from memory, are incomplete. From the sources available, I have argued elsewhere that African American students at Oberlin (preparatory and collegiate departments) comprised between 3 and 5 percent of the entire student population in the years preceding the Civil War. Of 1,311 students enrolled at Oberlin in 1862, African Americans made up approximately 4 percent. The census of 1860 listed 442 African Americans in the town of Oberlin (approximately 21 percent of the total population of 2,114). See Morris, Oberlin, 67.
52. See Shirley Yee, Black Women Abolitionists: A Study in Activism, 1828–1860 (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1992), 2–3.
53. See Marc R. Matrana, Lost Plantations of the South (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2009), 41; Alfred Bushnell Hart, Salmon Portland Chase (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1899), 81; Fletcher, Oberlin College, 528–29.
54. See Carol Lasser, “Enacting Emancipation: African American Women Abolitionists at Oberlin College and the Quest for Empowerment, Equality, and Respectability,” in Sklar and Stewart, Women’s Rights, 319–45.
55. Fanny Jackson Coppin, Reminiscences of School Life (Philadelphia: L. J. Coppin, 1913), 15.
56. See C. E. Stowe to Henry Cowles, July 20, 1852, and Harriet Beecher Stowe to Mary Cowles, July 8, 1852, August 4, 1852, RG30/24, box 4, folder 21, OCA; Mahala Mcguire Alumni File, OCA.
57. Antoinette Brown Blackwell Alumni File, folder 1, OCA; Lucy Stone to Francis and Harriet Stone, February 15, 1846, RG30/24, box 10, folder 2, OCA.
58. William Cheek and Aimee Lee Cheek, John Mercer Langston and the Fight for Black Freedom, 1829–1865 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1989), 110; Kerr, Lucy Stone, 37–38.
59. See Oberlin Evangelist, July 17, 1844, August 19, 1846; “Program of First of August Celebration,” 1846, RG21, series XI, box 2, OCA.
60. Fairchild, Woman’s Rights and Duties, 18.
61. For the development of Oberlin’s composite antislavery ideology and its response to the abolitionist “schism,” see J. Brent Morris, “‘All the Truly Wise or Truly Pious Have One and the Same End in View’: Oberlin, the West, and Abolitionist Schism,” Civil War History 57, no. 3 (September 2011): 234–67.
62. “Nothing masculine about her,” Alive Cowles wrote, “except that she walks on the ground, which men have occupied alone.” Alice Cowles to Henry Cowles, July 19, 1840, RG30/24, box 4, folder 18, OCA.
63. See Aileen Kraditor, Means and Ends in American Abolitionism: Garrison and His Critics on Strategy and Tactics, 1834–1850 (New York: Pantheon Books, 1969), 46–47.
64. See Young Ladies’ Literary Society Minutes, November 24, 1847, June 2, 1853, OCA.
65. Young Ladies’ Literary Society Minutes, November 24, 1847, October 9, 1850, June 2, 1853, OCA.
66. Edmund West to Cornelia Johnson, September 19, 1840, RG30/24, box 3, folder 26, OCA.
67. Blackwell, Antoinette Brown Blackwell, 6.
68. Lucy Stone to Francis and Harriet Stone, February 15, 1846, RG30/24, box 10, folder 2, OCA. After the abolitionist “schism” of 1840, the American Antislavery Society was often referred to as the “Old Organization” and the rival American and Foreign Antislavery Society as the “New Organization.”
69. “Minutes and Address of the State Convention of the Colored Citizens of Ohio, Convened at Columbus, January 10th, 11th, 12th, & 13th, 1849,” in Proceedings of the Black State Conventions, 1840–1865, ed. Philip Foner and George E. Walker (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1979), 1:227.
70. John Ernest, A Nation within a Nation: Organizing African American Communities before the Civil War (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2011), 125.
71. Holley, A Life for Liberty, 93.
72. Ibid., 76.
73. Sallie Holley to “The Porters,” September 30, 1851, in ibid., 80.