Oberlin College established the Historic Portrait Collection in
1883 on the occasion of its Jubilee celebration. Beginning with
less than ten portraits, the collection’s focus was “to
secure, so far as possible, the portraits of the more eminent men
and women connected with our history for a permanent collection.” The
College actively sought life sized oil portraits of former professors
and instructors, former and present members of the Board of Trustees,
founders of professorships and prominent donors, early colonists,
treasurers and other officers connected with the institution, and
prominent friends of the anti-slavery and temperance movements
who have been in any way associated with Oberlin (Jubilee Notes,
the early decades the portraits hung permanently in the College
Chapel and Peters Hall.
Over the next one hundred years, the College continued to develop
the collection by commissioning individual portraits of each of
its presidents. For some individuals, like Charles G. Finney or
Asa Mahan, the collection includes more than one portrait. On several
occasions, a portrait was created from daguerreotypes or photographs
because the subject had died before the College commissioned a
portrait. These portraits were made possible by donations from
Alumni classes, student organizations, and prominent Oberlin families.
In 2004, the collection consists of more than fifty portraits and
continues to grow.
This virtual collection brings together many portraits located
throughout the College. While the College Archives has assumed
responsibility for maintaining the digital presentation of this
collection, the actual portraits are to be found throughout the
College, and they are administered by a number of different administrative
units. The Location, Repository, and Copyright fields in each record
reports on these ownership distinctions among the portraits.
Additional biographical information on many of the subjects of
the portraits can be found in a two-volume work titled A History
of Oberlin College: From its Foundation through the Civil War authored
by Robert Samuel Fletcher in 1943. Of some value too is John Barnard’s
From Evangelicalism to Progressivism at Oberlin College, 1866-1917 (Columbus,
1969) and Donald M. Love’s Henry Churchill King
of Oberlin (New Haven, 1956). These titles are available at the
Main Library of Oberlin College or for use on site, at the Archives.
Additionally, reference is made to an entry in the 23 volume set
of the American National Biography (ANB), John A Garraty and Mark
C. Carnes, general editors, published in 1999. When an entry exists,
the citation appears in the Biographical Notes field.
here for Select Historic Portraits from the Oberlin College Digital
The digital images presented here were captured in most cases
using standard photographic or natural lighting and a digital camera.
A cooling filter was then applied to many of the digital images
to create an image that more closely matches the current physical
presentation of the portraits.