William C. Cochran (1848-1936, A.B. 1869), lawyer, scholar, and college trustee, was born in Oberlin, Ohio, on March 29, 1848. Cochran represented the convergence of a number of remarkable family lines. He was the son of Professor William Cochran (1814-1847, A.B. 1839), a fervent abolitionist, and Helen Finney Cochran (1828-1911, L.B. 1846), the eldest daughter of Oberlin College President and evangelist Charles Grandison Finney (1792-1875). William C. Cochran's father, William Cochran, studied theology after graduating from the Oberlin Collegiate Institute in 1839. Upon completion of his course work in 1842, Cochran was elected professor of logic and adjunct professor of Intellectual Philosophy. After resigning from his appointments over a salary dispute, William Cochran married Helen Finney in May 1846. Cochran's wife was two months pregnant with William when he died in 1847. By 1849, Helen Finney Cochran married Oberlin student Jacob Dolson Cox (1828-1900, A.B. 1851). Cochran's stepfather, Jacob Dolson Cox, went on to serve as a Civil War General, Governor of Ohio, Congressman, and Secretary of the Interior during the Grant Administration.
Cochran, who was raised as a member of the Cox family, grew up with five other children: Helen Finney (1850-1936), Jacob Dolson (1852-1930), Kenyon (1856-1919, hon. 1912), Charles Norton (1858-1907), and Charlotte Hope (1871-1937). Cochran attended public schools in Warren, Ohio, where his stepfather was the superintendent. Upon completing his public education, Cochran worked as a store clerk, first in Warren (1863-64) and later in Quincy, Illinois (1864-65). Using the money he saved, Cochran entered Oberlin College in the fall of 1865. He was awarded the A.B. degree in 1869 and elected class president. When the Oberlin chapter of Phi Beta Kappa was established in 1907, Cochran was one of two men elected to this honorary body from the class of 1869.
Following his graduation from Oberlin College, Cochran joined the family in Washington, D. C, and was appointed as a Trust Fund clerk in the Department of the Interior. At the time, Jacob Dolson Cox, was serving as Secretary of the Interior under President Ulysses S. Grant. In December 1870, after the resignation of his stepfather, Cochran left his clerkship. For the next ten months, he studied and traveled in Europe with Oberlin College President James Harris Fairchild (1817-1902, A.B. 1838, B.D. 1841).
Upon his return to the United States in 1871, Cochran moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, and he studied law. Cochran was admitted to the Ohio Bar the following year. During his legal career, Cochran focused on corporate and patent law, refusing to handle criminal or divorce cases. Cochran also served on the Ohio State Board of Examiners for Admissions to the Bar from 1901 to 1903. Cochran retired in 1914, but later that year agreed to serve as Clerk of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati. He resigned from the Circuit Court in 1919 to focus his energies on historical writing.
In 1878, William C. Cochran married Rosa Dale Allen (1851-1926), a 1873 graduate of the New England Conservatory of Music. She had attended Oberlin's Conservatory of Music, between 1868 and 1872, and, subsequently, taught vocal music there from 1874 to 1876. Rosa Dale was the daughter of former Oberlin College Professor George Nelson Allen, one of the founders of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music (1812-1877, A.B. 1838), and Mary Caroline Rudd (1820-1892, A.B. 1841), one of the first three women in the United States to receive a bachelor of arts degree. Five children were born of the Cochran-Allen marraige, four of whom attended Oberlin: Mary Rudd (1881-1982, A.B. 1903), William Samuel (1883-1964, A.B. 1906), Helen Finney (1885-1923, A.B. 1906), Allen Deane (1888-1971) and Frances Ermina (1891-1986, A.B. 1912). All the children married, except for Mary Rudd Cochran, and led successful lives of their own.
Additionally, the Cochrans gave of themselves to serve on boards and community-based groups. In 1901, Cochran was elected to the Oberlin College Board of Trustees. In filling the vacancy caused by the death of his stepfather in 1900, Cochran was doubly honored. From 1906 until his resignation in 1931, he served on the Committee on Nomination of Trustees as a member and chair. Cochran was also a trustee of the Mt. Auburn Presbyterian Church and the Miami Medical College, both located in Cincinnati. In 1919, he was awarded an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws from Oberlin College. Outside the family, Mr. and Mrs. Cochran held many personal interests. Both enjoyed music and belonged to several choirs, which included the Harmonic Society and the May Festival Chorus in Cincinnati. William C. Cochran belonged to other organizations such as Associated Charities, the U.C.D. Club (Utile Con Dulce), the Literary Club, the Ohio Bar Association, and was a founding member of the Ohio Chess Association. Rosa Dale Allen was involved with the Mt. Auburn Presbyterian Church, participating in many activities which included the Woman's Missionary Society and president of the Sewing Society.
From the start of the 20th century until his death in 1936, Cochran was engaged in serious historical work. He was devoted to the preservation of state and local history, as well as committed to research and scholarship (he was a life member of the Western Reserve Historical Society and the Mississippi Valley Historical Association). During his retirement from 1914 to his death, he worked to produce a biography of his stepfather, Jacob Dolson Cox. His extensive research resulted in two unpublished manuscripts, "The Political Correspondence of Major General Jacob D. Cox," (1922) and "The Political Experiences of Major General Jacob D. Cox," (1936). These two works added significantly to his earlier published articles on Cox. Included among his writings about Cox were "The Early Life and Military Service of Jacob Dolson Cox" (1901) and "Jacob D. Cox - The Scholar in Action" (1915). His scholarship was not limited to the career of his stepfather, however. Cochran was also the author of Students' Law Lexicon (1888, 2nd 1892, revised 1924), "Labor Legislation" (1900), "Charles Grandison Finney" (1908), "The Dream of A Northwestern Confederacy" (1917), and "The Western Reserve and the Fugitive Slave Law," (1920). Cochran was also a frequent contributor to the Oberlin Alumni Magazine. Included among the articles written for the Alumni Magazine are "What Has Cincinnati Had To Do With Oberlin?" (1907) and "The Oratoria of St. Paul--The Musical Union" (1929). He also authored several pieces on athletics: "Historical Sketches of Athletics at Oberlin: In the Sixties" (1914), "Antiquity of Football" (1925), and "Early Baseball at Oberlin" (1925).
William C. Cochran was the "official" historian of the extended family. He worked to collect material pertaining to the career of his stepfather Jacob Dolson Cox as well as other family lines such as the Allens, Rudds, and Coxes. Cochran compiled a family record. Much of the information used to create the extensive genealogy by Cochran was gleaned from the mass of family letters and memorabilia that he had acquired by him over several generations. Upon his death in 1936, Cochran donated $100,000, his large collection of law books and Civil War material, and the Jacob Dolson Cox papers to Oberlin College. But a large body of family papers, which documented other family lines and members, were left to his oldest daughter Mary Rudd Cochran. Over the next four decades, Mary Rudd Cochran presided over the family records, disposing of small lots on the way to Oberlin College, until her death in 1982. After Mary Rudd Cochran's death and the death of Mr. Laurence and Mrs. Frances Cochran MacDaniels in 1986, granddaughters of Cochran, Ellen MacDaniels Speers and Carolyn MacDaniels Miller (d. 1994), inherited the family papers. Between 1992 and 1996, Speers and Miller donated much of this voluminous historical material to the Oberlin College Archives. (Some historical material may have been dispersed to other family members)