Antoinette Field Johnston (1837-1910), educator and activist, was
born to Leonard Field (1809-1849) and Margaret Gridley (1813-1887)
in Lafayette, Ohio on February 5, 1837. Her parents moved west
to Lafayette from Rodman, Jefferson County, New York because her
father was eager to “take up” land, and her mother
was ready to develop a teaching career. Although they had never
met in New York, they shared mutual interests in moving to the
new colony, and eventually developed a life-long companionship.
Upon her father's death in Chester, Ohio on September 12, 1849,
Adelia moved to Oberlin with her mother and younger sister at the
age of thirteen. At fifteen, she entered the preparatory side of
the Ladies' Course at Oberlin College (1852-1856).
The young Adelia received a literary degree from Oberlin College
in 1856, and shortly thereafter, left to pursue a teaching position
at Mossy Creek in Tennessee. During a return visit to see her mother
in Oberlin (September 1858), Adelia drove a buggy with her mother
to purchase some books at James M. Fitch's (Sunday school superintendent)
bookstore. There, she overheard Simeon Bushnell (clerk and printer)
and Henry E. Peck (lawyer) discussing with Fitch the rescue of
fugitive slave John Price. Adelia and her mother, Margaret, quickly
to Wellington, and were the first women on the scene of the Oberlin-Wellington
rescue. Freelance writer Nat Brandt has labeled Oberlin, "the
town that started the civil war." Upon returning to Tennessee
that year, she felt compelled to conceal the fact that she had been
a witness of the rescue freeing John Price, and was careful not to
send mail to her home address in Oberlin.
Following teaching appointments at the Black Oak Seminary in Mossy
Creek, Tennessee (1856-1859), Orwell Academy in Orwell, Ohio (1859), Kinsman Academy in Kinsman, Ohio (1862-1865), and the Academy of Scituate in Rhode Island (1865-68), Adelia studied abroad in Germany for two years and then returned to Oberlin
in 1870 to become Principal of the Women's Department (succeeding
Mrs. Marianne P. Dascomb) on the condition she be allowed to teach.
Through this arrangement, she was the first woman to receive full
membership from the Oberlin faculty. Among the Oberlin staff, her
sponsors were James H. Fairchild, and Mr. and Mrs. James Dascomb.
As early as 1880, Johnston began to collect photographs (heliotype
reproductions) and other materials of illustration during her many
trips abroad as an effort to spur a local interest in art among
the college and community. Johnston traveled abroad extensively
hosted summer trips to Europe with Mary M. Wright (1877), Mr. and
Mrs. Cyrus Grandison Baldwin (1881-1882), and Dr. and Mrs. Lucien
C. Warner (1888). Her sponsorship of academic field trips to Europe
(1892, 1894, 1897, 1899) and a Winter Term in Egypt (1903), complemented
her already "graphic and illuminating" Art History and
Architecture courses. Johnston served the College as Dean of Women
until 1900 and as professor of Late Medieval History until 1907.
Johnston's influence on Oberlin College transcended the classroom.
It was through Johnston that the Severance and Allen families became
interested in Oberlin College. Donations for Baldwin and Talcott
Cottages, Sturges Hall, the Warner Musical building, Spear Library,
Lord Cottage, and Rockefeller Skating Center were received by the
college as a result of Johnston's stewardship activity. Dean Johnston
was always successful in making donors feel the pleasure of giving
such financial support to Oberlin.
She gave herself unreservedly to college work until her retirement
in 1907. Johnston announced her retirement during a Commencement
'07 evening prayer, when she expressed that she had been unable "to
do what ought to have been done as a citizen of the town, but relieved
from the labors of deanship, promoting the welfare of the town
and beauty of the community was possible."
During the last ten years of her life, Johnston continued to
give lectures and publish essays concerning the welfare of the
and community, signing them as Madame Johnston. One of her major
contributions to the town of Oberlin was her role in organizing
the Oberlin Village Improvement Society, as is fully documented
Christen in City Beautiful In a Small Town, in collaboration with
Oberlin College trustee Charles Martin Hall. The objective of the
Society, for which she served as president, was to make the city
a place "worthy of the college" by cleaning Plum Creek,
creating a park system, improving sanitary conditions and beautifying
the town in general.
Adelia Antoinette Field married James M. Johnston (OC '58) when
she returned to Rochester, Ohio in August 1859. She pursued advanced
studies with James at the Orwell School, where he served as the
until his enlistment in the Civil War in 1861. She volunteered
as a nurse in a hospital not far from where James was stationed
Ferry. After developing a sudden cold for two weeks, James developed
severe health complications from which he died on January 3,
1862. Adelia A.F. Johnston died on July 22, 1910, due to a cerebral
hemorrhage that she had suffered five weeks earlier. Her beloved
colleagues established the Adelia A. F. Johnston Fellowship in