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RG 2/1 - Asa Mahan (1799-1889)
Scope and Content

The Mahan papers are largely an artificial creation compiled from a variety of sources. All original documents were transferred from the Library “Autograph File” (RG16). Additional non-original documentation was gathered and contributed from several sources, including researchers and genealogists. The Mahan papers are arranged in five series: 1. Correspondence; 2. Original Documents; 3. Writings by Asa Mahan; 4. Writings about Asa Mahan; and 5. Family Information and Genealogy.

Unfortunately, these papers overall offer little or no information about this multi-faceted individual, his contributions to higher education in America, or his contributions as a nineteenth century religious leader. The collection consists of five original documents, three original published writings, and some forty photocopies relating to Mahan.

The correspondence series contains two original outgoing letters sent by Mahan (Nathan P. Fletcher, 1835, and “My Dear Daughter,” 1884). A photocopy of an 1845 letter sent by Mahan to Oberlin College Treasurer Hamilton Hill attests to the dispersal of the Mahan material, prior to the creation of the Oberlin College Archives in 1966. The letter was reportedly sent by Oberlin College President Henry Churchill King to someone who requested an example of a Mahan signature. The original now resides in the Hamilton College Archives. There is no incoming correspondence in this collection.

Two important documents relating to Mahan’s ongoing disagreements with the faculty and Board of Trustees are part of the original documents in series 2. The ten-point indictment of Mahan drawn up by members of the faculty in 1850 is included here along with extracts from an 1854 appeal by Mahan to the Board of Trustees. The ten-point indictment served as the basis for Mahan’s departure from Oberlin.

Series 3 and 4 contain writings by and about Asa Mahan. Due to the lack of original research material, these items are an important source of information relating to Mahan. Well documented is Mahan’s connection to the short-lived Cleveland University. An original 1851 newspaper article contains the essence of Mahan’s support for the “new education” which was later pioneered at Harvard by Charles William Eliot in 1869.

The final series contains miscellaneous family records and genealogy. This material is useful in providing birth and death dates for members of Mahan’s family. Photocopies of the Revolutionary War service records of Mahan’s father Samuel are both interesting and informative.

Series Descriptions

Series 1. Correspondence, 1835, [1836, 1845], 1884 (0.5 inches)

Organized into two subseries consisting of original correspondence and non-original correspondence. Original correspondence consists of two letters written by Asa Mahan in 1835 (to Nathan P. Fletcher) and 1884 (to “My Dear Daughter”). Non-original correspondence includes a photocopy of an 1845 letter written to Hamilton Hill (Original is in Hamilton College Archives. The letter was reportedly sent by President Henry Churchill King to someone who requested a Mahan autograph). The remaining non-original material consists of printed correspondence from Letters of James Gillespie Birney, 1831-1857, Volume 1, edited by Dwight L. Dumond (New York, 1938).

Series 2. Original Documents, 1850, 1853, n.d. (0.2 inches)

Contains documents relating to Mahan’s disagreements with the Oberlin faculty and Board of Trustees. Includes the ten-point indictment of Mahan drawn up by the faculty in 1850, and extracts from a paper presented to the Board of Trustees by Mahan on August 23, 1854.

Series 3. Writings by Asa Mahan, 1836, 1848, 1851, 1855, 1883, [1889-90] (2.5 inches)

Contains original writings by Asa Mahan, including Principles of Christian Union, and Church Fellowship (1836), a newspaper article with Mahan’s address before the National Educational Convention at Cleveland on August 20, 1851 on the “Character and Comparative Merits of the Old and New System of Liberal Education,” Introduction to the Critical History of Philosophy (1883) (note: the book was used as a scrapbook, pages 64-89 have newspaper clippings affixed over the pages), Modern Mysteries Explained and Exposed (1855) and Science and Moral Philosophy (1848). Non-original writings include photocopies of Mahan’s writings in The Divine Light, 1889-90.

Series 4. Writings About Asa Mahan, [1859, 1884-94], 1935-85 (0.5 inches)

Consists of writings about Mahan, both published and unpublished. Included is a folder of writings relating to the short-lived Cleveland University.

Series 5. Family Information and Genealogy, [1764-1920], 1791-1990s [span dates] (0.3 inches)

Contains genealogy and family information on Mahan. The bulk of the material was compiled by Kenneth Roose, former Professor of Economics, who was a descendant of Mahan. Two cards from 1889 and 1894 announce the death of Mahan and his second wife, respectively. A 1922 letter accompanied the transfer of Mahan’s scale. The latter housed in Museum Items (RG 35). Also included are photocopies of letters, articles, family histories and genealogical charts.

By strict archival definition there are no papers of Asa Mahan. The collection here represents a compilation which has little organic relationship to Asa Mahan. The items were received from a variety of sources, few of which were recorded. The lone exception are the original items received under accession number 223. The original items were transferred from the Library “Autograph File” by Archivist William E. Bigglestone. The book Modern Mysteries Explained and Exposed (1855), by Asa Mahan, was received from Barbara Zikmund as part of accession 2000/082. The book Science and Moral Philosophy (1848) was received from Joanne Moir in 2002 (2002/040).
Related Materials
Mahan correspondence can be found in the following institutional records in the Oberlin College Archives: Presidential papers of Charles G. Finney (RG 2/2) and James Harris Fairchild (RG 2/3); Office of the Secretary (Miscellaneous Early papers) (RG 5); and Treasurer’s Office Records (RG 7). The following personal papers collection contain Mahan correspondence: James Monroe (RG 30/22) and Henry Cowles (RG 30/27). The papers of Robert S. Fletcher (RG 30/24) contains transcripts and photocopies of Mahan correspondence and related records. Additional documentation may be gathered from the minutes of the Oberlin College Board of Trustees and Prudential Committee (RG 1). The papers of Barbara Zikmund (RG 30/327) contain research materials related to her dissertation Asa Mahan and Oberlin Perfectionism (1969).
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