Scrapbooks and Social Awareness: A Self-Curated History of the Oberlin YWCA

Part 1: Domestic Arts     |     Part 2: Student-Faculty Discussions
Part 3: Career Symposia     |     Part 4: Interracial Relations

Introduction     |     Document 8: Petition Against Poll Tax     |     Document 9: Survey from National YWCA     |     Document 10: Brochure Diversity    |     Document 11: Interracial Committees     |     Document 12: Glee Club Incident

Document 10: Brochure Diversity

Author: William H. Seaman

1936 Oberlin Admissions viewbook
The photos on this page from a 1936 Oberlin Admissions viewbook only display white students. Photo: Modern Oberlin,1936.Oberlin College Archives.

Recipient: Julia Mowrer

Date: 18 September 1945

Location: 1945-46 YWCA Scrapbook, RG 29, Series II, Box 4, O. C. A.

Document Type: Typed Document



This letter from Director of Admissions William H. Seaman to YWCA President Julia Mowrer dismisses YWCA’s request to Oberlin Admissions to include Black students in its brochures. National and Oberlin YWCA both prioritized strengthening democracy on campus. The Oberlin YW asserted that a campus brochure, just like a government of a diverse nation, should represent its people: in this case, with representation in photographs. This document demonstrates Oberlin YWCA’s commitment to racial justice before National YWCA’s 1946 Interracial Charter.




Original                       Both                    Transcription





William H.  Seaman[1]                                                                                                                                                                                          Director of Admissions

September 18, 1945


Dear Julia,[2]


Thank you for your good letter and the suggestion of the Y.W.C.A. cabinet. I confess I was surprised at the observation in that negroes were not represented in the pictorial booklet “About Oberlin.” In past issues we have included such pictures and I agree with you and the cabinet that it is desirable to have them so represented. I have discussed the situation with Miss Ella Parmenter,[3] who with the college photographer Mr. Princehorn,[4] is securing pictures for the booklet and she fully shares the opinion that it is well to have negroes in one or two pictures and we shall attempt to do so in the new edition which is going to press in October.


I do not feel that there should be a large number of pictures featuring negroes and I feel that for two reasons. In the first place that would be as unrepresentative of the true situation as to exclude them entirely from pictures for our present student body, through no deliberate policy of exclusion or quota, includes only 1¹/² – 2% negroes. In the second place, a profuse use of pictures of negroes would, I think, deter from coming to Oberlin a number of students whose families have violent and unreasonable prejudices in the matter but who need the kind of education that living on a campus that does include negroes will give them. In the last fifteen years I have run into quite a number of families whose children had such favorable experience on the campus here that have greatly changed their prejudices as a result of this experience. I personally should like us to continue to educate families on race relations rather than have them withdraw prematurely because of some half-baked prejudiced notions regarding individual negroes or because of some notion that Oberlin is mainly populated by negroes. I had one excited mother call up by telephone from Toledo to say that one of our competitor colleges had told her that the Oberlin student body was 60% negro!


On the other hand, I do believe firmly as you do that negroes should be represented in our pictures and we shall take steps to see that they are.


Sincerely yours,

Bill Seaman

Miss Julia Mowrer

1251 Lititz Road

Lancaster, Pa.


[Handwritten by scrapbook compiler: Interracial Doings -]


[1] William Harlow Seaman (1902-1948) served as the first Director of Admissions at Oberlin College from 1925-1948. He graduated from Oberlin College in 1924. As Director of Admissions, he authorized the publication of the “Modern Oberlin” and “About Oberlin” viewbooks, which are mentioned in this letter (Office of Admissions Finding Guide, Oberlin College Archives, accessed 29 July 2016, Source).

[2] Julia Elizabeth Mowrer was the president of the Oberlin YWCA in 1946. She attended the 17th National YWCA convention, where the organization’s official Interracial Charter was passed (“YWCA Will Send Eight Delegates to Yearly Meeting,” 15 February 1946, Oberlin Review, accessed 29 July 2016, Source).

[3] Ella Clare Parmenter (1892-1991) was the Secretary of the Publicity Bureau, 1943-1952 (Office of Communications Finding Guide, Oberlin College Archives, accessed 29 July 2016, Source).

[4] Arthur Ewing Princehorn (1904-2001) started working as a photographer at Oberlin in 1929, and served as official campus photographer from 1931 to 1966 (Oberlin College Campus Views, Oberlin College Archives Digital Collections, accessed 29 July 2016, Source).