Organized in Chronological Order
“The Necessity Of A Pure Heart”: The Oberlin Female Reform Society, 1835-1857
Project date range: 1835-1842
Led by prominent Oberlin women, the Oberlin Female Reform Society addressed injustice within the bounds of what was considered respectable women’s work. They questioned the blame heaped upon women for their abuses at the hands of immoral men and promoted the idea that female virtues, like modesty and restraint, should act as moral benchmarks for men as well as women.
“As Free as Ever”: The Letters of Irene Ball
Project date range: 1836-1842
One of the first women to attend Oberlin College, Irene Ball struggled with the demands and danger of abolitionism. Along with her husband, William T. Allan, one of the famed Lane Rebels and a shepherd of the Underground Railroad in Oberlin, she dedicated her life to abolitionism.
“You Will See With What Freedom I Have Written”: The Courtship Correspondence of James H. Fairchild and Mary F. Kellogg
Project date range: 1838-1941
James Fairchild, who would become the third President of Oberlin College, and Mary Kellogg met as students at Oberlin in 1838. The letters included in this collection offer glimpses into early life at Oberlin, antebellum courtship practices, and the racial attitudes of anti-slavery Oberlinians.
“Education is as needful to the lady as to the gentleman”: The Papers of Mary Sheldon
Project date range: 1842-1850
Mary Sheldon studied and discussed racial and social inequality in the Ladies’ Literary Society, even hoping to join John Brown’s raid at Harper’s Ferry with her husband. Sheldon’s notebooks, full of social criticism, philosophy, and creative fiction detail her politicization as an abolitionist and women’s rights activist in antebellum Ohio.
K-I-S-S-E-D: Emily Pillsbury Burke & the Oberlin Ladies Board
Project date range: 1850
Scandal rocked Emily Burke’s tenure at Oberlin as principal of the Oberlin Female Department, when she was dismissed for allegedly kissing a male student. Was she the victim of the sexual double standard, or did she assert her intellect and agency too aggressively?
The Phillips Sisters: Early Oberlin Feminists
Project date range: 1852-1853
Within the letters of Edith Bennett, Philena, Hannah, and Sarah Grace, who all attended Oberlin in the 1850s, the Phillips sisters describe student life in Oberlin, including literary societies and abolitionism. They embodied a quiet and seemingly submissive participation in public issues, but demonstrated discontent and dissatisfaction with this limited role.
Wives, Sisters, and Daughters: Henry Woodcock’s Correspondence with the Women in his Life
Project date range: 1853-1899
Henry Woodcock was an Oberlin Theological Seminary graduate and a pastor in New England and Kansas. His correspondence address many important subjects, such as temperance and abolition, and show an evolution of Henry Woodcock’s ideas about gender, as he moves from essentialism to equality.
Heartache from the Home Front: Emilie Palmer’s Diaries 1859-1863
Project date range: 1859-1862
Emilie Palmer’s detailed diaries allow a glimpse into life in Oberlin during the Civil War, and the events leading up to it that earned Oberlin the name ‘hotbed of abolition,’ including the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue.
“My Highly Valued Friend” and “Darling Husband”: The Civil War Courtship of Mary E. Burton & Giles W. Shurtleff
Project date range: 1862-1865
Mary Burton, teacher and member of temperance and reform societies, married Giles Waldo Shurtleff, Union captain for Ohio companies. Their letters provide a window on conceptions of romantic love, as well as growing tensions between female education and domesticity.
Lucy Stanton Day, a free-born African American woman, graduated from the Oberlin College Ladies’ Department in 1850, giving the commencement address “A Plea to the Oppressed.” This project focuses on her eligibility to teach at a missionary school for freed people in the South during the Civil War.
One Step More: Lucy Stone And The Fight for Woman Suffrage
Project date range: 1870-1892
Lucy Stone was a prominent abolitionist and suffragist, leading groups such as the American Equal Rights Association and the American Woman Suffrage Association. Stone’s view of enfranchisement for African Americans distinguishes her from contemporaries Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
“Singular Charm and Superb Character”: The Life of Adelia Antoinette Field Johnston
Project date range: 1874-1936
Adelia Field Johnston’s mark on Oberlin College was profound, as the college’s first female professor and fundraiser for almost every nineteenth century building on campus. Through her prestige and personal success, Johnston was a testament to women’s education and coeducation.
Frances Densmore: A New Woman, But Not Without Complication
Project date range: 1884-1885
Frances Densmore pioneered the field of ethnomusicology for women through her preservation of Native American song and music – by mistreating Native Americans in order to collect songs and music. Densmore’s strong relationship with women faculty and professors at Oberlin likely inspired her to pursue a challenging profession herself, one in the sciences.
“No apology is needed”: The Career of Sarah Furnas Wells
Project date range: 1885-1886
Wells’ impressive career in the United States and globally is not only a testament to her skills as a medical practitioner, but to her perseverance to pursue a career almost exclusively held by men and a scientific doctrine that preached, among other inaccuracies, that thinking too much would make women sterile.
Women “Rule The World”: The Lives and Impacts of Female Missionaries
Project date range: 1887-1929
Luella Miner, one of three missionaries featured in this collection, wrote, “The women of China will be saved by women.” This captures both the imperialism and independence that categorized the motivation of Oberlin women to participate in domestic missions on Native American reservations and overseas.
For Every Land: The Internationalism of the Women of the Oberlin W.C.T.U
Project date range: 1897-1898
The Oberlin Colony founding covenant mandated abstinence from alcohol, and Oberlinians were firm in advocating for temperance beyond their own borders. Local WCTU members sought to move past partisan politics to advocate for their sisters worldwide.
“I Must Do What I Can”: Susan Rowena Bird and the Oberlin Band of Missionaries in Shanxi, China
Project date range: 1898-1901
From 1890 until her death in the Boxer Rebellion in 1900, Susan Rowena Bird worked as part of a group of missionaries in Shanxi known as the Oberlin Band. Retroactively labeled imperialist, Susan Rowena Bird participated in the larger forces of U.S. imperialism or the compulsory gender norms that coded the work of “civilizing.”
Evelina Belden Paulson: A Journal of Life at the Hiram House, A Cleveland Settlement, 1910
Project date range: 1909-1910
Before Evelina Belden served with the Red Cross in Poland, she worked for and lived in Hiram House. Defying the conventions of marriage and careers for women in the early twentieth century, Belden pursued social work throughout her life.
“You Can’t Keep Her Out”: Mary Church Terrell’s Fight for Equality in America
Project date range: 1911-1949
This collection concerns Mary Church Terrell’s fraught relationship to Oberlin and larger commitment to justice for black women. Terrell admired early Oberlin abolitionists and the historic precedent the founders set for equality, never letting future administrations forget their legacy.
The Oberlin Mutual Improvement Club
Project date range: 1913-1915
Through two of the Club’s yearbooks scrapbooks reveal the interconnectedness of the Oberlin community, which was dedicated to service and empowerment. The Mutual Improvement Club walked the line between traditional studies of home economics and investigations into the role of Black women in fighting for racial justice.
Chipmunks and Children: The Photography and Life of Ruth Alexander Nichols
Project date range: 1917-1953
Nichols supported herself as a photographer of idyllic, white, suburban children with their mothers, while she supported herself as a widowed mother. Even as Nichols had a successful professional career herself, she crafted an image of postwar motherhood that contributed to the prevailing viewpoint that a woman’s place was in the home with her children.
From Hiram House to Warsaw: Evelina Belden Paulson’s Internationalist Extension of Social Work
Project date range: 1921
Unlike many of her Oberlin peers, Evelina Belden Paulson pursued social work in the United States before undertaking health and humanitarian aid overseas in Poland after World War I. Her long letters to her family and fiancé provide insight into the fulfillment she enjoyed and challenges she faced.
“We cannot change the world but we can change the people in it”: The Eleanor Bumstead Stevenson Papers
Project date range: 1922-1987
After returning from service with the Red Cross in Europe and North Africa, Eleanor “Bumpy” Stevenson joined her husband, Bill, at Oberlin College where he would be president. Bumpy’s speeches and writings reflect her progressive activism, which was rooted in both gender essentialism and a vision of a utopian future.
Scrapbooks and Social Awareness: A Self-Curated History of the Oberlin YWCA
Project date range: 1940-1947
The Oberlin YWCA reprioritized their activities during World War II, adjusting to national demands of Civil Rights and international calls for peace. This collection explores the transition from YWCA’s emphasis domestic skills to political discussions with faculty and action for racial equality.
As Oberlin College’s first black woman tenured, Frances Walker-Slocum stands tall among the most important figures in the institution’s history, let alone classical piano notaries. Walker-Slocum mastered classical works, always including black composers in her repertory of each performance.
Consciousness-Raising at Oberlin College During the Second Wave: Gender and Sexuality Conferences and Workshops
Project date range: 1972-1988
This collection explores the different conferences and workshops at Oberlin during the 1970s and 80s. Drawn from the Dean of Students papers, the documents show changing priorities, methods of activism, and administrative responses to issues of gender and sexuality on college campuses.
“You were made of the stuff that makes legends”: The life and legacy of Ellen H. Johnson
Project date range: 1972-1992
This collection explores art history professor and curator Ellen H. Johnson’s contributions to Oberlin’s department and museum, and the larger American and European contemporary art world. She emphasized access, public art, and sculpture as methods to promote women artists as well as deconstruct elitism in art spaces.
“We are not superwomen”: Navigating Finances, Identity Politics, and Vision of a Feminist Press
Project date range: 1985-1989
This vast collection surveys the opportunities, contradictions, and successes of Seattle’s pioneering feminist press. The editors navigated race, criticism by contemporary feminist publishers, and the excitement and frustration of their writers.