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RG 30/21 - George Frederick Wright (1838-1921)
Scope and Content

The papers of George Frederick Wright document his work as a minister, theology professor, geologist, and literary writer.  The collection consists of correspondence, writings, sermons, and addresses, the bulk of which spans the period from Wright's young adulthood through his death in 1921.  Additional material includes notes, newspaper clippings and miscellaneous printed material, and photographs.  The collection also includes correspondence and genealogical information of the Wright family.

The papers reflect Wright’s involvement in a number of areas.  There is documentation of his early thinking about Darwin’s theory of evolution beginning in the late 1860s as well as of his changing views as he turned toward fundamentalist ideas at the end of the nineteenth century and into the early twentieth century.  Wright's papers also reflect his work investigating geological, particularly glacial, formations.  But most significant is the documentation of Wright’s work bringing science and theology together by reconciling scientific theories, notably evolution, with biblical accounts.  The collection also documents other aspects of Wright’s life, including his early career as a Congregational minister in Vermont and Massachusetts, 1862-1881.

Wright’s geological investigations are documented by his field notes as well as by his writings about his findings.  Of particular interest in his geological notes are approximately 20 notebooks recording his work from 1881 to 1884 surveying the glacial drift border for the Second Geological Survey of Pennsylvania and the U.S. Geological Survey.  Other notebooks document his study of the Muir Glacier in Alaska in 1886, his 1894 study of the glaciers of Greenland, and the glacial formations he studied on a voyage across Asia and Europe in 1900-1901.  Additional field notes contain observations about the geology of parts of the United States, particularly New England.

Wright's life-long involvement in religious matters is well represented.  The sermons he wrote from 1862 to 1881 provide most of the documentation of Wright's early career as a Congregational minister.  Additional material from this time, located in Series VII. Ministerial Files, include a register from the Free Church in Andover, Massachusetts, and letters and notes about church membership in Andover and in Bakersfield, Vermont.  Although he gave up active ministry in 1881 to take a post at the Oberlin Theological Seminary, he frequently served as a visiting minister at area churches; these later sermons are also in Series XI. Sermons and Addresses. 

Wright's work as a professor at the Oberlin Theological Seminary included the teaching of courses on a number of subjects.  As Professor of New Testament Language and Literature from 1881 to1892 Wright taught courses on the gospels, the epistles, textual criticism, and the theology of the New Testament.  From 1892 to 1907, as Professor of the Harmony of Science and Revelation, Wright's courses included apologetics, the origin and antiquity of the human race, and inductive reasoning.  Lectures and notes for his theology courses are in Series XIII. Theological Files.  Many of Wright's lectures and notes were written in notebooks, and a few of these include lists (c.1883-85) of student names.  His students included Edward Increase Bosworth (1861-1927, B.D. 1886) who succeeded Wright as Professor of New Testament Language and Literature and later served as dean of the Theological Seminary.

As Professor of the Harmony of Science and Revelation, Wright taught a course on glacial geology in the College in addition to his theology courses.  Notes and lectures for this course are in Series VI. Geological Files.  This series also includes exam questions from his 1907 geology course.  There is no other material related to a specific year or term for any of his courses, which leaves a considerable gap in the record of his teaching.

As a professor and alumnus, Wright’s interest in Oberlin continued after his time as a student.  He wrote a number of articles about the College and his experiences as a student from 1855 to 1862.  The most thorough of these articles was “Oberlin College” written for New England Magazine in 1900; copies of this article are in the printed writings in Series XV.  An article titled “Significant Events of the Seventy-Five Years” and an address titled “Oberlin - the Past, the Present, and the Future” from 1898 reflect on Oberlin’s first seventy-five years.  The file on Oberlin College in Series XIV. includes Wright’s research notes about Oberlin, an undated “General Scheme for the Reorganization of Oberlin University,” and a 1919 statement concerning the organization of an alumni association.

There is little documentation of Wright’s personal life in these papers.  The collection does not provide any detail about his marriages or his relationship with his children.  Series IV. Correspondence Files includes personal letters, as well as correspondence related to his theological and geological work.  Wright's interest in the temperance movement is illustrated by printed material, 1907-1916, in Series X.  Wright’s student days are documented in the correspondence in Series IV and by the essays in Series XII which he wrote while a student at Castleton Seminary (1854), Oberlin College (1855-1859) and Oberlin Theological Seminary (1859-1862).  Of special interest in his student essays are a critique of the Phi Delta Society's exercises of September 22, 1858, and "The Doxology in Long Metre" which Wright read as part of the exercises for the fifteenth anniversary of the Theological Society at Oberlin College, August 15, 1860.

Material relating to the Wright family and to the family of Wright’s first wife, Hulda Maria Day, may be found in the genealogical material in series II. Biographical Files.  Other than one letter to Wright from his cousin Sarah A. Whipple, this material appears to have been collected by Wright's daughters Helen and Etta Maria.  The collection also contains letters (1811-1915) written and received by Wright's parents, Walter and Mary Wright, and other relatives including his uncles Ira Wright and William Wright.  This correspondence, found in Series IV. Subseries 3, is mostly concerned with family news such as marriages and deaths but also includes some references to church matters.  In addition, an 1897 appointment book in Series I. belonged to Wright’s son Frederick, and Series XV., Subseries 2, includes essays written by Wright's cousin Grove Wright. 

The collection also contains information about Wright’s travels to Asia, Europe, Greenland, and Alaska.  While the chief purpose behind these trips was to study glacial formations, Wright also used his experiences abroad as the subject of addresses and writings aimed at non-scientific audiences.  The addresses in Series XI. and writings in Series XV. include these popular addresses and articles, as well as lectures and writings describing his scientific findings.  Wright’s correspondence, particularly his letters to his children in Subseries 1 of Series IV., also provides accounts of his activities abroad.  The itinerary for his 1900-01 trip through Asia and Europe and his passports are in Series II. Biographical Files.  Series VIII. Miscellaneous files contains foreign language material, primarily Oriental languages, also dating from the 1900-01 trip.  Series IX. includes numerous newspaper clippings about the shipwreck of the Miranda, which ended his 1894 trip to Greenland.

Wright’s brief military service during the Civil War is documented in writings and addresses.  Noteworthy is a memorial oration given May 30, 1902, in Wellington, Ohio.  In addition to considering the lasting effects of the Civil War on the United States, the address briefly recounts his experience as a witness to the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue in September 1858 and as a volunteer in the Union Army in 1861  The correspondence Wright received while he was in the army in 1861 as well as later correspondence from former classmates serving in the army provide additional accounts of Civil War experiences.  The collection also includes a typescript copy of the diary of William W. Parmenter (A.B. 1861) who died in a Confederate prison camp in New Orleans, Louisiana, November 3, 1861; this copy of Parmenter's diary is in Series XV. Writings.

The collection does not include much material related to Wright’s editorial work for Bibliotheca Sacra (1883-1921) and Records of the Past (1902-1914).  Information about this area of Wright’s life may be gleaned from correspondence in Series IV.  Some additional material relating to Bibliotheca Sacra may be found in Series III. Contracts and Agreements and in an outline of Rev. Albert H. Plumb's The New Gospel for Humanity which is in Series XIII. Theological Files.  Another weakness in these papers is the lack of documentation of Wright's role as a local historian and compiler of the 1916 two volume work, A Standard History of Lorain County.

The collection is arranged in sixteen series:

I. Appointment Books, 1897, 1899

II. Biographical Files, 1868-1968, n.d.

III. Contracts and Agreements, 1879-1920

Subseries 1. G.F.W. publications, 1879-1916

Subseries 2. Bibliotheca Sacra, 1912-1920

IV. Correspondence Files, 1811-1921, n.d.

Subseries 1. Calendared 1850-1921, n.d.

Subseries 2. Incoming Letters (not calendared), 1876-1915, n.d.

Subseries 3. Miscellaneous Family Letters, 1811-1915

Subseries 4. Select Letters in the R. B. Hayes Library, 1913-1914

V. Diaries, 1875, 1877, 1879

VI. Geological Files, 1877-1903, n.d.

VII. Ministerial Files, 1863-1881, n.d.

VIII. Miscellaneous Materials, 1817-1912, n.d.

IX. Newspaper Clippings

X. Printed Matter, 1860, 1886-1917, 1919, n.d.

XI. Sermons and Addresses, 1860-1918, n.d.

XII. Student Essays, 1854-1862, n.d.

XIII. Theological Files, 1893, n.d.

XIV. Topical Files, 1866-1867, 1875-1877, 1881, 1885, 1888-1897, 1919-1920, n.d.

XV. Writings, 1871-1998

Subseries 1. Writings by George Frederick Wright,

Subseries 2. Writings by others

XVI. Photographs, 1899, n.d.

Series Descriptions

Series I. Appointment Books, 1897, 1899 (0.05 l.f.)

Includes two appointment books from 1897 and two from 1899.  One of the 1897 books belonged to G. F. Wright’s son, Frederick B. Wright.

Series II. Biographical File, 1868-1968, n.d. (0.1 l.f.)

This series includes biographical information and obituaries for Wright, passports and the itinerary of Wright’s 1900-01 trip, diplomas and certificates, and an undated bibliography of some of Wright’s writings.  The series also includes genealogical material concerning the Wright and Day families.  The collection does not include a diploma for Wright's 1877 honorary Doctor of Laws (LL.D.) degree from Drury College in Springfield, Missouri.

Series III. Contracts and Agreements, 1879-1920 (0.05 l.f.)

The contracts and agreements are arranged in two subseries.  The first, G. F. Wright Publications, contains contracts and agreements concerning works by Wright.  The second, Bibliotheca Sacra Publications, includes contracts for works by other authors that were published by Bibliotheca Sacra.  These contracts and agreements cover only a small number of G. F. Wright and Bibliotheca Sacra publications.

Series IV. Correspondence Files, 1811-1921, n.d. (10.55 l.f.)

The correspondence is divided into four subseries: 1. Calendared Correspondence, 2. Incoming Letters (not calendared), 3. Miscellaneous Family Letters, and 4. Select Letters in the R. B. Hayes Library.  Subseries 1 consists of primarily incoming correspondence, 1850-1921, described in Victor V. Lytle's seven volume calendar and index (1953-54).  Subseries 2 consists of G.F. Wright correspondence, 1876-1920, that was not included in Lytle’s calendar.  Most of these letters are arranged alphabetically by correspondent; the remainder are chronological.  Subseries 3 is miscellaneous Wright Family correspondence and is in two groupings.  The first consists of family correspondence, 1811-1869.  These letters were calendared, and a copy of the calendar is found in the first folder.  The second is letters dated 1907-1915 relating to G. F. Wright’s children’s membership in Second Congregational Church in Oberlin.  An additional letter to Second Congregational Church concerns Wright’s book on the history of Lorain County.  Subseries 4 contains photocopies of selected letters held by the Rutherford B. Hayes Library of Wright and his daughter Helen; the subjects of these 1913-14 letters include Records of the Past and the possibility of Wright returning to the Middle East to study the Jordan River Valley and the Dead Sea.  Also included are photocopies of relevant pages from the indexes to the correspondence of Birchard Austin Hayes, Webb Cook Hayes, and Mary Miller Hayes.  Additional correspondence is located with the genealogical material in Series II.

Series V. Diaries, 1875, 1877, 1879 (0.05 l.f.)

The diaries consist of three volumes that document Wright’s work as a minister in Andover, Massachusetts, and also include notes on geological observations and readings.

Series VI. Geological Files, 1877-1903, n.d. (0.8 l.f. + 4 vol.)

These include notebooks of Wright’s geological observations taken during his travels as well as loose notes on his travels and readings.  His notebooks cover his work for the Second Geological Survey of Pennsylvania and the U.S. Geological Survey as well as his trips to study glacial formations in Alaska, Greenland, Europe and Asia.  Also included in these files are lectures and 1907 exam questions for his glacial geology course at Oberlin College.  Additional material relating to Wright’s geological studies is in his writings in Series XV.

Series VII. Ministerial Files, 1863-1881, n.d. (0.05 l.f. + 1 vol.)

Consists of material relating to his posts as a Congregational minister in Bakersfield, Vermont, and Andover, Massachusetts, including a copy of an address by Rev. Eldridge Mix given at Wright’s 1866 installation in Bakersfield.  Also included is a register for the Free Church in Andover, covering 1872-1881.  Wright’s sermons are in Series XI Sermons and Addresses.

Series VIII. Miscellaneous Materials, 1817-1912, n.d. (0.2 l.f. + 1 vol.)

This series contains a variety of materials, including an index compiled by Wright on his readings, c. 1868; foreign language material from Wright's 1900-01 trip; a New Testament given to Wright at the time of his enlistment in 1861; a list of students taught by Wright in an unidentified school; a grade book (c. 1856) from the Select School in Fairhaven, Vermont; a summary of church membership by county in New Connecticut (Ohio); a report about the Ohio Centennial Forestry Exhibit; miscellaneous notes covering topics such as Fort George and the population of Palestine; bills and receipts, 1886-1912, n.d.; a blueprint of a mill from the Noye Manufacturing Company; and an 1894 map of the Johnson Company's property in Lorain County.  The New Testament has a tintype of an unidentified woman pasted inside the cover.  Included with the Oriental language material is a list in English of the participants in a welcome meeting for Wright which took place at Maebash, Japan, March 20, 1900. 

Series IX. Newspaper Clippings, 1879-1919, n.d. (3.75 l.f.)

Clippings of articles about Wright, including reviews of his books and accounts of lectures.  In addition, there are some clippings of articles that Wright wrote.  Other clippings concern subjects of interest to Wright, and have been labeled by subject.

Series X. Printed Matter, 1860, 1886-1917, 1919, n.d. (0.4 l.f.)

Consists primarily of lecture advertisements and programs for events (1886-1917) in which Wright participated.  Additional material includes temperance related material, 1905-1916, and information on excursions that Wright and Charles Dutton (1870-1959, A.B. 1893), a Cleveland teacher, led for geology classes from Oberlin College and Cleveland high schools.  Also included is material from meetings of the Appalachian Mountain Club and the Congregational Club of Cleveland.

Series XI. Sermons and Addresses, 1860-1918, n.d. (2.0 l.f.)

These include sermons Wright gave during his time as an active minister and later as a visiting preacher at various churches, primarily in Ohio.  The sermons include Wright’s reflections on particular texts and cover subjects such as the immortality of God and divine revelation.  Wright numbered his sermons and recorded the dates and places where he gave them and his addresses.  A bound volume contains skeletons of the sermons Wright preached at the Gustavus revival of 1860-61; this volume also includes records for the students Wright taught in Gustavus, in 1860.  The addresses document Wright’s career as a well-known lecturer and include addresses about geological subjects and about Wright’s travels, particularly in Asia.  The sermons and addresses are arranged chronologically; sermons that Wright gave in more than one church are filed under the earliest date noted.  Undated material is arranged alphabetically at the end.

Series XII. Student Essays, 1854-1862, n.d. (0.1 l.f.)

Wright wrote the majority of these essays while he was a student at Oberlin College and Oberlin Theological Seminary; a few of the essays date from his time at the Castleton Seminary in Vermont.  They cover such topics as China, intellectual faculties, and providence.  They are arranged chronologically, with undated material arranged by title at the end.

Series XIII. Theological Files, 1893, n.d. (0.3 l.f. + 17 vol.)

Includes lectures, lecture notes, and research notes relating to Wright’s teaching and writings.  Additional material from Wright’s theological work is found in Series XI. Sermons and Addresses and in Series XV. Writings.

Series XIV. Topical Files, 1866-67, 1875-77, 1881, 1885, 1888-97, 1919-20, n.d. (0.4 l.f.)

Includes files on specific topics including evolution, the Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society, and the history of Sunday Schools in Ohio.  The file on Judge Charles C. Baldwin contains writings by Baldwin and biographical information that was used by Wright for a memorial article on Baldwin; this file also includes his address concerning the Cleveland Professorship presented at the 1892 annual dinner of Cleveland alumni of Oberlin College and a review of Wright’s Man and the Glacial Period with notes by Baldwin.  Another file includes research notes and newspaper clippings about Z. Swift Holbrook who was a special instructor on Christian Sociology at Oberlin College from 1894-96.  There was an attack on Holbrook's character made in connection to an 1895 property dispute in Chicago, and the file includes clippings about the dispute as well as Wright's letters to the Cleveland Plain Dealer in Holbrook's defense.  The material about Oberlin College includes Wright’s notes on the College’s history, an undated “General Scheme for the Reorganization of Oberlin University,” and a 1919 statement from New York alumni concerning the organization of an alumni association.  Wright’s articles and lectures about the College may be found in Series XI. Sermons and Addresses and in Series XV. Writings.

Series XV. Writings 1871-1998, n.d. (1.6 l.f.)

Arranged in two subseries, 1. Writings by George Frederick Wright and 2. Writings by others.  The subjects of Wright’s writings include geology and theological issues, as well as accounts of his travels.  Subseries 1 is arranged alphabetically by title and includes primarily manuscript or typescript copies as well as notes for a few works.  Many of Wright’s works are not represented; see the appended list for the titles included here.   Subseries 2 is arranged alphabetically by author.

Series XVI. Photographs, 1899, n.d.  (20 photographs)

Photographs of geological sites near New Comerstown, Ohio, Chicago, Illinois, and Scottsbluff, Nebraska.  An additional photograph of an unidentified site was originally with a manuscript of "Geologic Time" by C. B. Shedd (1846-1935, A.B. 1868)  Three photographs of fossils were given to Wright by Sam Huston of Stubenville, Ohio.  Also included is a photograph of botanist and Christian Darwinist Asa Gray, his wife Jane Loring Gray, and third person identified simply as Professor Hooker.  An 1899 photograph shows Wright on an excursion with unidentified students.  Series VIII. Miscellaneous Materials includes a tintype of an unidentified woman that is pasted inside the front cover of a New Testament.


The George Frederick Wright Papers were received in eight accessions, 1968-2001, with the bulk of the material being transferred from the Oberlin College Library in 1968.

Related Materials

The student and faculty files of G. F. Wright are found in RG 28 Alumni Records.  

Wright correspondence is found the Office of the Treasurer, RG 7/1/5, Box 31. Correspondence with Elisha Gray is in the records of the Physics Department, 9/5.  Wright’s correspondence regarding the plagiarism controversy between E.H. House and James K. Newton is in the Library autograph file, RG 16/5, filed under “H.”  Additional correspondence may be found in the papers of Henry Churchill King (RG 2/6), James Harris Fairchild (RG 2/3), and in the Jones Family Papers (RG 30/107).  Oberlin College Annual Reports, 1892-1902 include reports from Wright summarizing his activities.  Notes taken by students in classes taught by Wright are in RG 19/6.  Researchers interested in the Graduate School of Theology should consult RG 11.

Oberlin College Special Collections holds additional printed material relating to George Frederick Wright.
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