1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Oberlin

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OBERLIN, a village of Lorain county, Ohio, U.S.A., 34 m. W.S.W. of Cleveland. Pop. (1890) 4376; (1900) 4082 (641 negroes); (1910) 4365. It is served by the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern railway, and by the Cleveland & South-Western (electric) railway, which furnishes connexions directly with Cleveland and Elyria, and at the village of Wellington (about 10 m. S.) connects with the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St Louis, and the Wheeling & Lake Erie railways. Oberlin is primarily an educational centre, the seat of Oberlin College, named in honour of Jean Frédéric Oberlin, and open to both sexes; it embraces a college of arts and sciences, an academy, a Theological Seminary (Congregational), which has a Slavic department for the training of clergy for Slavic immigrants, and a conservatory of music. In 1909 it had twenty buildings, and a Memorial Arch of Indiana buff limestone, dedicated in 1903, in honour of Congregational missionaries, many of them Oberlin graduates, killed in China in 1900. Its libraries contained in 1909 98,000 bound volumes and an equal number of pamphlets, and the college had a faculty numbering 113 and a student enrolment of 1944. The resources of the college in 1909 were about $3,500,000. Under the editorship of a professor emeritus is published the Bibliotheca Sacra, a quarterly founded in 1843, and for many years the organ of the Andover Theological Seminary.

The village was founded as Oberlin Colony in 1833 (in 1846 it was incorporated as the village of Oberlin), by the Rev. John J. Shipherd (1802-1844), pastor of a church in Elyria, and the Rev. Philo Penfield Stewart (1798-1868), a missionary to the Choctaws of Mississippi, as a home for Oberlin Collegiate Institute, which was chartered in 1834; the name Oberlin College was adopted in 1850. To the Theological Seminary, opened in 1835, there came in the same year forty students from Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati, after the discussion of slavery there had been forbidden by its board of trustees. A former member of the board, Asa Mahan (1800-1889), who had strongly disapproved of the action of the trustees, came to Oberlin, and became the first president of the college. Oberlin was the first American college to adopt coeducation of sexes, and was a pioneer in America (1835) in the coeducation of the white and black races.[1] The village became a station on the Underground Railway, and an important centre of anti-slavery sentiment. Manual labour was adopted at first as a means for students to defray their college expenses. As late as 1906 it was estimated that nearly two-thirds of the men were to a greater or less degree self-supporting, as were many of the young women. What is known as the “Oberlin Theology” (no longer identified with the college) centred in the teaching of Charles Grandison Finney (1792-1875), who became professor of theology in 1835 and was Mahan's successor in the presidency (1851-1866). He was a powerful preacher and teacher, who broke from Calvinism in denying imputation and teaching perfect freedom of the will, by which perfect holiness might be attained. Finney carried on remarkable revival services in Western New York, in Philadelphia (1828), in New York City (1829-1830 and 1832, the New York Evangelist being founded to carry on his work), in Boston (1831, 1842-1843, 1856-1857), in London (1849-1850) and throughout England and Scotland (1858).

James Harris Fairchild (1817-1902) was president from 1866 to 1889; William Gay Ballantine (b. 1848), a distinguished Hebrew scholar, was president in 1891-1896, and John Henry Barrows (1847-1902) from 1899 to 1902, when he was succeeded by Henry Churchill King (b. 1858).

The modern theological position of Oberlin college is reflected in the writings of President King and of Dean Edward I. Bosworth (b. 1861) of the Theological Seminary, especially in President King's Reconstruction in Theology (1901); Theology and the Social Consciousness (1902); The Seeming Unreality of the Spiritual Life (1908) and The Laws of Friendship — Human and Divine (1909).

See Finney's autobiographical Memoirs (New York, 1876); J. H. Fairchild, Oberlin, the College and the Colony (Oberlin, 1883); D. L. Leonard, The Story of Oberlin (Boston, 1898); and A. T. Swing, Life of J. H. Fairchild (New York, 1907).


  1. A runaway slave, Littlejohn, was taken at Oberlin in September 1858 by a United States marshal, but was rescued at Wellington. Several of the rescuers, notably Professor Henry Everard Peck of Oberlin College, were arrested and were imprisoned in Cleveland for several months. This was a famous fugitive slave case.