Document 11:

Author: James Harris Fairchild

Recipient: Mary Fletcher Kellogg

Date: June 29 1840

Location: Oberlin College Archives, James H. Fairchild Papers. Series III Courtship Correspondence,

1771-1926, RG 2/003.

Document Type: Transcript (1939) Autograph Letter, Signed by Author.


Like Mary’s letter of 16 March 1840, this letter of James’ reveals that neither of them were fully committed to the idea of women achieving full equality with men, even though they were both advocates of women’s education in general and coeducation in particular. They also both participated in the movements for temperance and abolition, which often allowed women greater freedom and influence than they were traditionally given. James’ acceptance of these expansions of woman’s sphere contrast with his dismissiveness when it came to allowing women to speak in public and women’s political rights, which he shows in the following letter. This demonstrates that even at a radical place like Oberlin, many people were uneasy about woman’s sphere expanding so far and so quickly. It is worth noting that though the following letter reveals that Mary’s classmate, Elizabeth Prall, may have supported women’s rights and a greater expansion of woman’s sphere, Mary herself did not. In one of her earliest letters to James, she describes a lecture she heard given by Oberlin Professor John Morgan on the concept of woman’s sphere, saying:

He spoke upon the sphere of woman. He said as long as individuals felt dissatisfied with their state and undervalued in their sphere<,> they were not prepared to discharge the responsibilities devolving upon them. Therefore he endeavored to show that woman’s sphere was not degraded but was indeed a noble calling. I think it will have a salutary effect upon all the young ladies. Many have thought he very lowly estimated female character. But I have never heard him make any remarks with which I did not perfectly accord. Indeed he showed that he held it in just estimation. I do not mean very high. I would not ever wish anyone to think of it more highly than he should.

Mary’s embraced of the notion that women should confine themselves to the more traditional realm of the home, even as she sought higher education. Her position, particularly when juxtaposed with Elizabeth Prall’s views as described in the following letter, plainly reveals the tensions that existed around woman’s changing place in society in antebellum America.


The Junior Exercises1 were interesting, but a little disagreeable to one or two of the class. Misses Prall2 and Rudd3 were the individuals to practice composition. Miss Rudd endeavored to show that Satan was once an angel in heaven.4 Miss Prall presented the character of Elizabeth of England,5 quite a pretty composition, but<,> near the close<,> she took occasion to make a remark or two on “Woman’s Rights”<,> as they are technically called. Here it lies, let me give you one sentence. Speaking of Elizabeth’s visit to Oxford,6 she says,

Elizabeth of England Source: "Elizabeth I when a Princess" attributed to William Scrots (fl. 1537–1554).
Elizabeth of England
Source: “Elizabeth I when a Princess” attributed to William Scrots (fl. 1537–1554).

“Strange that woman in Monarchical England should be permitted to address vice-chancellors and doctors at Oxford University and in Latin too, while in Liberty-loving America, she is not permitted to speak in her own tongue among the populace to defend her own rights. No wonder Garrison,7 the friend of Equal Rights, comes forth so kindly to vindicate Woman.” The matter passed off then with a laugh, but a discussion soon followed respecting the division of the A. A. S.Society<,>8 which involved the Woman’s Rights question<,> Messers. Bancroft,9 Fisher,10 Dougherty11 and Kedzie,12 disputants. They<,> one and all<,> came out so ungallantly against Miss Prall’s sentiments that the poor girl cried sadly. However, she was as cheery today in the Hebrew class13 as ever. Probably<,> they have settled the quarrel. I understood it all as a joke on both sides until I saw by Miss Prall’s tears that she felt a little serious about it. It is a long story for so trifling an event.


Transcribed by Rebecca Debus.

1These Exercises appear to have been a sort of examination given at the end of term. From the content of this letter, it is clear that the results of these exercises were presented to the rest of the students, though it is unclear whether Misses Prall and Rudd read their compositions themselves, or if a male Professor delivered them, since it was still considered immoral to have a woman address an audience that included men. After a time, this strict prohibition was relaxed in the classroom, but was maintained in public events until the 1880s.

2Elizabeth Smith Prall (1816-1868), along with Mary Kellogg, Mary Hosford, and Caroline Mary Rudd, was one of the first four women to attempt to earn an A.B. degree in the United States. Prall started studying at the Oberlin Preparatory Department in 1834 before beginning the Ladies’ Course in 1835, and then the regular College course in 1837. Along with Hosford and Rudd, she graduated with her A.B. in 1841. Immediately after graduation, she married her classmate, William Patterson Russell, with whom she had three sons and four daughters. She later taught Latin, Greek and Hebrew at Oberlin. Elizabeth Prall always had strong opinions on women’s rights, and had presented a resolution to the Moral Reform Society at Oberlin which moved that men who engaged in licentious conduct with women ought to be judged as harshly as the women who permitted such conduct (Former Student File: Elizabeth Smith Prall (Mrs. William Patterson Russell). Record Group 28/2, Box 892. Oberlin College Archives).

3Caroline Mary Rudd (1820-1892). Like Prall, she was one of the first three women to earn a Bachelor’s degree in the United States, graduating from Oberlin College with her A.B. in 1841. She married one of James Fairchild’s classmates, George Nelson Allen (1812-1877), in October of 1841. George Allen had graduated from Oberlin in 1838, and had then become a Professor of Music and Head of the Preparatory Department there. The Allens had five children, two sons and three daughters, all of whom attended Oberlin. Two of her children, Frederic DeForest (1844-1897)  and Alice W. (1846-1910), graduated from Oberlin; Frederic from the College in 1863, and Alice from the Ladies’ Course in 1867. Caroline Mary Rudd Allen moved with her husband to Cincinnati in 1874, where she lived until her death. Like her husband, her remains were returned to Oberlin and she was buried there (Former Student File: Caroline Mary Rudd (Mrs. George Nelson Arlen). Record Group 28/2, Box 12. Oberlin College Archives).

4The belief that Satan was the fallen angel Lucifer is a very old one, but is never described in the Bible. A few verses, such as Isaiah 14:12 or Luke 10:18, have at various points been interpreted as referring to Satan being cast out of heaven, but are not conclusive. Therefore, though Prall would have been expressing a common Christian viewpoint, it would have required a great deal of skill and knowledge of the Bible for her to be able to successfully argue her point (“Isaiah 14:12 How You Have Fallen from Heaven, Morning Star, Son of the Dawn! You Have Been Cast down to the Earth, You Who Once Laid Low the Nations!” Bible Hub. web address, accessed 11 August 2015).

5 Elizabeth I (1533-1603), Queen of England and Ireland; the last of the Tudor line.

6Elizabeth I visited Oxford as part of a royal progress in 1566.

7William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879) was a radical American abolitionist. He created the anti-slavery newspaper, The Liberator, and was one of the most prominent abolitionist voices in antebellum America. He embraced the doctrine of Christian “Perfectionism” which “which combined abolition, women’s rights, and nonresistance, in the biblical injunction to ‘come out’ from a corrupt society by refusing to obey its laws and support its institutions.” He encouraged the participation of women in abolition, and actively supported women’s rights, particularly in his later life (“William Lloyd Garrison | American Editor, Writer, and Abolitionist.” Encyclopedia Britannica. web address, accessed 11 August 2015).

8The Anti-Slavery Society.

9George Washington Bancroft. He graduated from Oberlin in 1841, and in the same year married Achsah Colburn, who studied at Oberlin from 1837 to 1841. George Bancroft died in 1843 in Clinton, Michigan (Former Student File: George Washington Bancroft. Record Group 28/2, Box 44. Oberlin College Archives).

10Caleb Ellis Fisher (1815-1876). He graduated from Oberlin College in 1841 with an A.B. and then from the Theological Seminary in 1844. He married Mary Hosford, Mary Kellogg’s classmate, one of the first three women to earn an A.B. in the United States. They had three children together, all of whom attended Oberlin College. Caleb Fisher made a career preaching, and also served as Oberlin College’s financial agent from 1873 to 1875 (Former Student File: Caleb Ellis Fisher. Record Group 28/2, Box 328. Oberlin College Archives).

11Alexander M. Dougherty (1822-1882). He received his A.B. from Oberlin College in 1841, and an A.M. from Oberlin in 1844. He was a physician and surgeon, and received a second A.M. from Princeton in 1866. He married in 1847 and had four sons (Former Student File: Alexander M. Doughty. Record Group 28/2, Box 270. Oberlin College Archives).

12This is most likely John Kedzie, a preacher who received his A.B. from Oberlin College in 1841. However, it could also be Robert Kedzie, who began attending Oberlin College in 1841, and later married his classmate, Harriet Eliza Fairchild, James Fairchild’s younger sister. Robert Kedzie then became a Professor of Chemistry. While there was no clear relationship between John and Robert, they both came from the same area of Michigan, and given their fairly unusual last name, it is quite likely that they were related (Former Student File: John Hume Kedzie. Record Group 28/2, Box 556. Oberlin College Archives; Former Student File: Robert Clarke Kedzie. Record Group 28/2, Box 556. Oberlin College Archives).

13This is the class which James was currently teaching.