Oberlin College Archives

Rev. Henry Cowles, D.D., 1803-81

Papers, 1824-1908

Scope and Content Note

The papers of the Rev. Henry Cowles document Cowles' active role in the establishment of the Oberlin enterprise from 1835 to 1881. They illuminate Cowles' abilities in the diverse fields of biblical scholarship and college fundraising and reveal his avid support for home missionaries and the rights of freedmen. A small amount of material pertains to Henry Cowles' daughter, Sarah Cowles Little (1838-1912).

The collection is arranged into six records series: I. Correspondence of Henry Cowles; II. Correspondence of Sarah Cowles Little; III. Diaries of H. Cowles; IV. Writings; V. Account and Memoranda Books; and VI. Miscellany. Within select series, files are further subdivided into subseries.

The personal correspondence (1824-81, n.d.) of Henry Cowles constitutes a valuable resource for the study of Oberlin College's first fifty years. Letters, largely incoming,concern Oberlin's struggles to finance itself, the missionary and antislavery movements, and the education of women and blacks. Correspondents include Charles Grandison Finney (1792-1875), John Keep (d. 1870), Arthur (1786-1865) and Lewis Tappan (1788-1873), Theodore Dwight Weld (1803-95), and Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-96). Also present are letters between Cowles and the American Education Society relating to scholarship aid for Oberlin College students.

Henry Cowles' memoranda and account books provide supplementary evidence of Cowles' administrative activities on behalf of Oberlin College and reveal a penchant for thorough record-keeping. Several volumes contain lists of donors to the College (1837-45, 1859) and to the Oberlin Theological Seminary (1858-59). "Memorandum on Business for Freedmen's Aid Society" (ca. 1864) and "Catalogue-Memoranda" contain notes on early efforts to assist freed blacks. The "Catalog and Record of Colored Students in Oberlin" (1835-62), which appears in duplicate copy in other holdings of the College Archives, constitutes one of the earliest sources of information about black enrollment at Oberlin. Additional volumes pertain to Cowles' support for home missionaries.

This collection provides a sampling of Professor Cowles' voluminous writings in biblical interpretation. Present are manuscript notes for the first draft of Commentaries on the New Testament (1878-80), a portion of his sixteen-volume opus. Several account books, housed in Series V, contain orders for and records of the sales of several volumes of the commentaries. Other writings include early essays written at Yale College (1822-26), theological notebooks (1825-50), ms. sermons and essays, and two published addresses. Many of Cowles writings appeared in the Oberlin Evangelist.

Cowles' tenure as editor of the Oberlin Evangelist from 1848 to 1862 is sketchily documented by correspondence (1844-62) and by a memoranda book, "List of Subscribers to the Oberlin Evangelist in New York State." For local holdings of the periodical,consult the card catalog or on-line terminal in the Special Collections Department of the Oberlin College Library.

Papers relating to Henry Cowles' youth and family life in Connecticut include his diary for 1825-34 and correspondence sent and received (1824-31) during his years as a student at Yale College and Theological Seminary. Correspondents include Henry's father, Samuel Cowles, his brother, John, and sisters Mary and Eliza. Letters from Cowles to his family describe his studies, health, and future plans and comment on the contemporary religious scene in New England.

Henry Cowles' daughter, Sarah Cowles Little (1838-1912), graduated from Oberlin College in 1859 and from 1875 to 1891 was Superintendent of the Wisconsin State School for the Blind in Janesville, Wisconsin. This collection contains a small amount of Sarah Cowles' incoming correspondence from the period 1867-1908, including 38 postcards (1874-81) received from Henry Cowles. The postcards are of a personal nature and reveal little about Oberlin College or Henry Cowles' professional concerns.As the letters are all incoming, they offer virtually no information regarding Sarah Cowles Little's thirty-year career educating the blind. Her correspondents include her brother, J. G. W. Cowles (b. 1836; A.B. Oberlin 1856), Adelia A. Field Johnston (1837-1010; Lit. Oberlin 1856) and Professor Albert Allen Wright (1846-1905; A.B. Oberlin 1865) of Oberlin College, the Rev. Edward Increase Bosworth (1861-1927), Oberlin classmates George Frederick Wright (1838-1921; A.B. Oberlin 1858, Sem. 1862) and Katherine Bissell (d. 1891; A.B. Oberlin 1859), Smyrna missionary Charles Tracy (b. 1874; enr. Oberlin 1893-97), and officials of the Wisconsin Teachers Association and State School for the Deaf.

Additional materials relating to the Cowles' family include Henry Cowles' diaries (1858-81), student essays (1856) by Mary Louisa Cowles, an unpublished essay probably by Sarah Cowles Little, "Wisconsin as a Missionary Home Field," (ca. 1882), a published sermon (1869) of the Rev. J.G.W. Cowles, and two items belonging to the mother of the Cowles children, Alice Welch Cowles. These include a letter (ca. 1831) from her brother, B. Welch, with a chart showing "Diseases of Infants," and a common-place book (1837).

Series Descriptions

Series I. Correspondence of Henry Cowles, 1824-81, n.d. 1.8 l.f.

Correspondence of Henry Cowles, organized into two subseries by type of correspondence. Subseries 1 contains a card index and partial calendar (card format) to the Personal Correspondence.Subseries 2, Personal Correspondence, includes letters sent and received, organized chronologically. Subseries 3, Correspondence with the American Education Society, includes correspondence and related materials, organized alphabetically by type of material.

Series II. Correspondence of Sarah Cowles Little, 1867-1908 .1 l.f.

Letters and postcards received by Sarah Little from her father, Henry Cowles, from her family, colleagues, and friends. Organized into two subseries by type of material and thereunder chronologically.

Series III. Diaries of Henry Cowles, 1825-34, 1858-81 6 vols. .2 l.f.

Six leather-bound diaries, chronologically arranged.

Series IV. Writings, ca. 1822-1881, n.d. .8 l.f.

Writings of Henry Cowles and others, organized into two sub-series: 1. Writings of Henry Cowles; 2. Writings By Others. Cowles' writings include ms. drafts of the Commentaries, newspaper reviews of the Commentaries, ms. essays and fragments of essays, ms. and printed sermons and addresses, and six volumes of theological notes, alphabetically arranged by topic or type of material. Writings by others consist of ms. and printed addresses, essays, and fragments, arranged alphabetically by author.

Series V. Account and Memoranda Books, 1835-81 .4 l.f.

Nineteen volumes of ms. account and memoranda books, arranged alphabetically by title.

Series VI. Miscellany, ca. 1831-81 .2 l.f.

Commonplace book, land deeds and marriage licenses, clippings, tracts, and miscellaneous ms. and printed items. Arranged alphabetically by topic or type of material.


The Cowles papers were transferred to the College Archives from the Oberlin College Library in 1967, 1969, and 1978.

Related Materials

For holdings of the Oberlin Evangelist, see the card cata-logue in the Department of Special Collections in the Oberlin College Library. It is likely that the Manuscripts and Archives section of Yale University Library holds the student records of Henry Cowles. For additional materials relating to the mission-ary work in Oberlin of Henry Cowles' daughter, Sarah Cowles Little, consult Record Group 38/1, Miscellaneous Missionary Records. The personal papers of two of the children of Sarah Cowles Little, Alice and Elizabeth Little, are housed in Record Group 30/7. Additional Cowles family information is located in the papers of Robert S. Fletcher, 30/24. Student records of the children of Minerva Dutton Penfield, Henry Cowles' second wife, are located in Record Group 28.

Copies of and additions to Cowles' "Catalog and Record of Colored Students in Oberlin" are located in the Records of the Office of the Secretary (5) and in the papers of William F. Bohn (3/2).

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Last updated: 17 Oct. 1994