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RG 30/24 - Robert S. Fletcher (1900-1959)
Scope and Content

The Fletcher papers reflect Robert S. Fletcher’s interest in the history of Oberlin College, an institution located in the Connecticut Western Reserve, and his interest in the history of the trans-Mississippi West.

The collection, which is composed of nearly 200 folders of historical materials in a potpourri of formats and dates, is organized around four records series: Series I. Professional Files relating to the “History of Oberlin College,” etc., 1900-1958, n.d.; Series II. Research Files: Original Records (from private sources), 1833-1946, n.d.; Series III. Research Files: Non-Original Records, 1816-1908, n.d.; and, Series IV. Research Files: Non-Textual Records, ca. 1930s-1943. In writing the history of Oberlin College Fletcher noted that as the author he “depended to a very large extent upon manuscript material: personal letters and diaries, the archives of various organizations, and unpublished narratives” ("A Partial List of Sources,” p. 927). Thus, a great many of these sources, which were collected/gathered by Fletcher, represented new material or body of documentation.

Although fifty years have passed since Robert S. Fletcher last browsed among his cherished manuscripts and notes on Oberlin’s history, the resources he gathered for his own historical research comprise one of the most noted and widely used manuscript collections held by the Oberlin College Archives. Fletcher’s acquisition efforts are fully detailed in the incoming and outgoing correspondence (4 folders) filed under Series I and in the transmittal letters filed with sets of historical materials in the three series of Research Files: Original Records, Non-Original Records, and Non-Textual Records. Fletcher, who apparently had to fund his own historical research and travel, received some internal assistance from Librarian Julian Fowler and from graduate and undergraduate student assistants. One primary external supporter of this project was Mary Rudd Cochran (d. 1982), Class of 1903. In his capacity as institutional historian and “unofficial” archivist, Fletcher used these research materials both to produce his two-volume institutional history as well as to answer letters of inquiry for historical information received by the institution. The scope and content of this collection was further conditioned by Fletcher’s plan to prepare for the Centennial an Oberlin Historical Source Book, 1833-1867. The latter was never published owing to a lack of funds.

The original documents found in Series II, which were collected from private sources, represent a small lot. Included in this single box are twenty-four folders containing the letters of Mary C. Chittenden (d. 1906), diary of Mary Louise Cowles (d. 1859), letters of Delia A. Fenn (d. 1882), letters of Daniel Jerome Jones (1831-1919), letters of Hattie M. Reed (unknown), and five folders marked “Miscellaneous Correspondence of Letters,” which contain a variety of documents and cover the period from Oberlin’s founding years to the early decades of the twentieth century. The above material is rich in the development and history of coeducation. Two other notable folders are entitled: Library, 1889-1908, and n.d. (mainly early history of) and “The Gay Young Man,” a manuscript of a story of an unnamed Oberlin student in the 1850s. Finally, a number of folders of original documents for Delevan Leonard (1834-1917), Nancy Prudden (1818-1910), and John J. Shipherd (1802-1844) were removed from the Fletcher Collection and filed with manuscript groups bearing their names, respectively.

Constituting the bulk of the Fletcher collection are the non-original records (Series III), consisting of typescript and photostat copies of letters, diaries, minutes, and other types of historical documents largely deposited with private persons. These research files (5.6 l.f.) have been divided into three subseries: Name Files, Subject Files, and Periodicals. Among the more prominent nineteenth century individuals to be found in these files are Mr. & Mrs. James Dascomb, Mr. & Mrs. James H. Fairchild, Charles G. Finney, Mr. & Mrs. James Monroe, and Gerrit Smith. Subjects covered relating to Oberlin College include antislavery movement, black education, Civil War, missions, moral reform scholarships, women’s rights, and so forth. Subseries 3 consists of excerpts taken from numerous newspapers and periodicals, mostly published in Northeast Ohio.

The non-textual records, consisting of varying types, represent a strong body of visual documentation on Oberlin’s mid-nineteenth century history.

Use of copies for publication may require the permission of the institution holding the original, if other than Oberlin.

Box list available.

Series Descriptions

Series I. Professional Files relating to the “History of Oberlin College” and Other Writings, 1900-1958, n.d. (0.8 l.f.)

Consists primarily of files created/received by author and collector R.S. Fletcher in his effort to write A History of Oberlin College and other pieces of scholarship. Organized around three subseries, this record series includes correspondence (outgoing and incoming), Fletcher’s research notes and materials, and his talks and other writings. The most important material is represented by the exchange of correspondence with potential donors for source materials and the typescript copy of his study.

Series II Research Files: Original Records (from private sources), 1833-1946, n.d. (0.4 l.f.)

Consists of original records, mostly dating in the years from 1833 to 1870 (the period covering Fletcher’s major historical concentration). A few records Fletcher apparently received and never deposited with the College Library, or they were created by him. A majority of the originals are letters received by Fletcher from private sources. He planned to use these sources not only to write the history of Oberlin from 1833-70 but in writing about later periods of Oberlin’s history as well. In many instances Fletcher’s correspondence, or letters of transmittal, will be found in the same folder.

Series III. Research Files: Non-Original Records, 1816-1908, n.d. (5.6 l.f.)

Consists of Non-Original Records, which are mainly typescript and photostat copies of letters, minutes, petitions, and so forth, along with newspapers and/or periodical sources. There are four subseries: 1. Typescript Copies (Name Files); 2. Typescript Copies (Subject Files); 3. Typescript Copies (Periodicals); and, 4. Photostats. A folder list of the “Miscellaneous Photostats” is filed in the front of Box 19.

Series IV. Research Files: Non-Textual Records, ca. 1930s-1943 (1.5 l.f.)

Consists of six small boxes of Lantern or glass slides (b/w) of Oberlin, many of which either appear in R.S. Fletcher’s “History” or are photographs (glossy 8 X 10) found in the Photographic Subject Files. The three folders of glossy black/white photographs are separated into three categories: “Illustrations used in the History of Oberlin College…, Vol. I;” “Photos, Vol. II;” and, “Illustrations: Extra or not Used.” Finally, a large collection of undated print blocks of Oberlin exist, which were probably created in the 1930s for Fletcher’s “History” as well. The latter are placed in an oversized box.

Series V. Additional materials received, 1916-20, 1953 (0.4 l.f.)

Consists of Robert S. Fletcher's scrapbook compiled while he as a student at Oberlin College, and a sound recording (33 1/2 LP) of a WEOL radio broadcast of "The Ghost of Jimmy Smith," by Fletcher, April 8, 1953 [2004/052]. Also included are writings, correspondence, photographs and negatives (c. 1920-1971).

The records and papers were received from the Oberlin College Library in 1968 and in 1969. The book Lucy Stone: Pioneer of Women’s Rights (1930) was received in 2002. Additional materials received from David Fletcher in 2002 and 2004.
Related Materials

See the bibliography of Fletcher’s book, A History of Oberlin College…, for a general review of his sources, especially pages 927-41. See also The Robert S. Fletcher Papers located in the K. Ross Toole Archives at the University of Montana. (A copy of the finding guide is located in the Fletcher Papers case file.)

Two wooden boxes (including one made from lumber from Tappan Hall) that belonged to Robert S. Fletcher are filed in RG 35 Museum Items. A property deed (1933) from the previous owners of the Fletcher residence at 291 Elm Street is filed in RG 21 Oberlin File [2002/061].

See also Museum Items Collection (RG 35), #211 [2002/119].

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