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RG 30/250 - Marlene Deahl Merrill (1933-)
Biography/Administrative History

Marlene Deahl was born in South Bend, Indiana on January 4, 1933, the only child of Orlo and Jessie Deahl. After attending public schools in South Bend, she entered Vassar College (Poughkeepsie, New York) in 1951. She graduated with an A.B. degree, with a major in child study in 1955. Thereafter, she worked in elementary schools, teaching kindergarten through third grade (1955-75), and she also taught at the first Head Start program in Lorain County (1964-68). She served as its director in 1968-69.

In 1975, Marlene Merrill turned her attention to historical studies. In addition to serving as a volunteer assistant in the Oberlin College Archives (1975-77), she attended Oberlin College as a graduate student in the Women’s Studies program (1976-77). The following year, together with Ellen N. Lawson, she began work on the Oberlin College Antebellum Black Coed Project (1977-83). By-products of this research on the education of college black women were a series of articles appearing in the College’s Observer, a faculty and staff newspaper. It also led to the placement of the Lawson-Merrill Papers (RG 30/157) with the Oberlin College Archives. Subsequently, the archival program received the personal papers of Lawson (RG 30/193) in the early 1980s, and then the Merrill papers (RG 30/250) in 1995.

Of special interest was the collaborative publication of two pieces of scholarship. First, an article “The Antebellum ‘Talented Thousandth’: Black College Students at Oberlin Before the Civil War,” appearing in the Journal of Negro Education 52 (1983): 142-55. Second, the book The Three Sarahs: Documents of Antebellum Black College Women, Studies in Women and Religion, Vol.13 (New York: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1984). In the 1980s, Merrill served as a Research Associate at the Oberlin College Library, where she continued to specialize in women’s history, black history, and Oberlin institutional history. Finally, to hone her skills as a documentary editor, she attended, during the summer of 1981, a two-week National Historical Publications and Record Commission Institute for the Editing of Historical Documents at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Marlene Merrill’s scholarly interests also moved in other directions. In 1981-82, she conducted independent research in London and Oxford, England, studying Oberlin’s early anti-slavery ties with Great Britain, 1839-40. This research led to a published article (“Early fund-raising: Weld appealed to British”) in the Oberlin College Observer in November 1981. In the spring of 1983, she published “Radical Women and the Survival of Early Oberlin” in the Oberlin Alumni Magazine. Upon returning to Oberlin, she began work with Carol Lasser, a new member of the College’s Department of History, on the Stone Blackwell Project (1982-87). This research culminated in two publications: Soulmates: The Correspondence of Lucy Stone and Antoinette Brown, 1846-1859 (Oberlin College, 1983) and Friends and Sisters: Letters Between Lucy Stone and Antoinette Brown Blackwell, 1846-93 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987). She followed up these editing, researching, and writing projects with Growing Up in Boston’s Gilded Age: The Diary of Alice Stone Blackwell, 1872-74 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990). For this book, the Colonial Dames of America in 1991 awarded Mrs. Merrill the Preservation Award of the Victorian Society of America in 1992.

Between 1990 and 2005, Marlene D. Merrill continued to work as a free-lance writer, historian, and documentary editor. In the 1990s she prepared a full-length manuscript based on two diaries (one of which was by Oberlin College Professor George Nelson Allen) and collected images from the 1871 Yellowstone Survey. This first official and scientific survey of the area, which resulted in the creation of Yellowstone National Park in 1872, was led by 1850 Oberlin College graduate Ferdinand V. Hayden. The University of Nebraska Press published her Yellowstone and the Great West: Journals, Letters, and Images from the 1871 Hayden Expedition in 1999. The Wyoming Council for the Humanities supported her work in part by a fellowship for Independent Study and Research. A second book based on the Hayden Expedition, Seeing Yellowstone in 1871: Earliest Descriptions and Images from the Field, was published by the University of Nebraska Press in 2005.

In 2003, Merrill authored Sarah Margru Kinson: The Two Worlds of an Amistad Captive. This title, published by the Oberlin Historical and Improvement Organization (O.H.I.O.), received the Ohio Historical Society’s “Outreach” book award in November 2004. In 2004, she also served on the Nord History Project Committee overseeing the writing and publication of Investing in Community: The History and Legacy of the Nord Family of Ohio by Martha Pickrell (O.H.I.O., 2004).

Although Marlene D. Merrill has published widely, primarily, but not exclusively, on subjects related to Oberlin history, she has also given time as a volunteer and community member. Between 2002-05, she worked on behalf of O.H.I.O. validating transcriptions from interview audiotapes of some eighty Oberlinians made in the 1980s for the Oberlin Oral History Project. In 1980 (as a member of the Oberlin Historic Preservation Commission), she proposed this undertaking to the Commission as a way of preserving “people history,” especially that of African-Americans whose families moved to Oberlin before the Civil War. The Commission endorsed the idea and presented the proposal to the City Council of Oberlin, which then approved and funded the project.

Mrs. Merrill has served on numerous college and community committees: Oberlin College’s Women’s Studies Committee (1976, 1980); the Oberlin Historic Preservation Committee (1979-81); the Oberlin City Oral History Project (1979-86); the Oberlin College Sesquicentennial Committee (1980-83) and its Co-education Subcommittee (1981-83); and, the Membership Committee of the Friends of the Oberlin Public Library (1990-94). She was a member of a self-appointed community group (1984-85) that researched affiliate scholar programs in several colleges and universities and then prepared a proposal to Oberlin College for the formation of an Oberlin College Affiliate Scholar Program that was instituted by the College in 1986. Marlene was a founding member of the Friends of the Oberlin College Library, serving as a member of the board (1990-98) and chair of the Program Committee (1996-98).

She is a member of several professional organizations: the Ohio Historical Society, the Association of Documentary Editors, Organization of American Historians, and O.H.I.O.

On August 16, 1956, Marlene Deahl married Daniel D. Merrill (b. 1932), subsequently a Professor of Philosophy at Oberlin College, 1962-98. They have two children: Stephen (b.1958) and Karen (b. 1964). The Merrills live in Oberlin, Ohio and Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

Sources Consulted
Merrill, Marlene Deahl. Curriculum Vita. January 25, 1999.
Merrill, Marlene Deahl. E-mail to Roland M. Baumann. July 23, 2002.
Merrill, Marlene Deahl. E-mail to Roland M. Baumann. July 30, 2002.
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