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Celebrating the 175th Anniversary of the Founding of Oberlin College:

The Presidents of Oberlin College
Ernest Hatch Wilkins


Ernest Hatch Wilkins, 1927




Ernest Hatch Wilkins (1880-1966), the seventh President of Oberlin College, was the school’s first non-theological President. Formerly a Professor of Romance Languages at Amherst College, Harvard University, and the University of Chicago, his academic publications include Dante – Poet and the Apostle, The Prose Letters of Petrarch, The Making of the Canzione and other Petrarchan Studies, and A History of Italian Literature.

He is also known, however, for his work towards solving “the problem of war and peace.” War was a pertinent issue during his time as Oberlin’s president from 1927 until 1946 as he served before, during, and after World War II. In an effort to make Oberlin’s campus more peace-minded he founded two student-faculty groups: the Oberlin Public Affairs Society and the Oberlin Peace Society, whose members comprised over half of the student body. After the U.S. entered the war, he took it upon himself to maintain private correspondence with every single G.I. affiliated with the college.

 An advocate for educational reform, in 1927, the same year he assumed his office as Oberlin’s president, he published a book titled A Changing College: A Platform for Life. According to The Chronicle Telegram, “…he believes that the college exists to educate its students, not as a mass, but as individuals. The more individualized its teaching and relations with the student become, the more nearly it succeeds in its greater function.”

Though his proposal for restructuring Oberlin’s program of study was not approved, he still directed Oberlin from its theologically based focus on ethos to its current devotion to the pursuit of learning and intellectual excellence. By raising the standards for new appointments and establishing an Admissions Office during his second year, Wilkins transfigured Oberlin College. Andrew Bongiorno ’23 (d.1998), a former Professor of English wrote “He initiated the transformation of a national college with a Middle Western core into a college truly national and filled the classrooms with students capable of bringing forth the best efforts of the most brilliant teachers.”

The Chronicle Telegram (Elyria, OH), 9/17/30 and 4/10/31
Oberlin College Press Release, 1935
Oberlin Alumni Magazine, November 1966
Ernest Hatch Wilkins Papers, Oberlin College Archives

Beginning in January 2008, the Oberlin College Archives website will feature each month one of the fourteen presidents of Oberlin College (The Oberlin Collegiate Institute from 1833-1850).  For the complete listing of the presidents and the finding guides to their presidential records, see the following link: www.oberlin.edu/archive/holdings/finding/index.html.

Announcements and Other Information


2008 marks the 150th anniversary of the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue, 13 September, 1858. In honor of the anniversary, the Oberlin College Archives will feature items from the collections related to the historic anti-slavery event involving the town and the College. To see a selection of collection items in the Archives, visit http://tinyurl.com/5k8k39. Check this link periodically to see new items added to our online selection.

For information on the history of the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue and anniversary events, see the Oberlin Online Events Calendar, the Electronic Oberlin Group, and the Oberlin Heritage Center. See our outside links and the Oberlin College website.

The Archives offers two publications for sale that will assist researchers in learning more about Oberlin's antislavery activity in this historic event. Go to our Published Resources on the Home page.

The 1858 Oberlin-Wellington Rescue: A Reappraisal, by Roland M. Baumann (2003)

They Stopped in Oberlin, by William E. Bigglestone [2002 reprint]

The Rescuers at the Cuyhoga County Jail


The College Archives' 2006-07 Annual Report is available for viewing online.

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