In 1834 tensions climaxed between the students and the board of
trustees at Lane Seminary in Cincinnati, Ohio, when the trustees
voted to prohibit antislavery agitation. As a result the Lane Rebels,
including students, Trustee Asa Mahan (1799-1889), and Professor
John Morgan (1802-1884), left the Cincinnati school. These explosive
events caught the attention of Arthur Tappan (1786-1865) and John
Jay Shipherd (1802-1844), financial agent and founder, respectively,
of the Oberlin Collegiate Institute. Since the theological students
were financially backed by Tappan, Shipherd seized the opportunity
to solve Oberlins fiscal problems by inviting the rebels (including
Mahan and Morgan) to come to Oberlin. This they did under three
conditions: that Oberlin accept students regardless of color, that
Oberlin respect students freedom of speech, and that Oberlin
not interfere with the internal regulation of the school.
As a result of the merger, in the fall of 1835 the Oberlin Collegiate
Institute opened a new theology school with Asa Mahan as president,
Charles G. Finney (1792-1875) as professor of theology, and the
Lane Rebels among the first theology students. In 1844 the catalog
mentions the Oberlin Theological Seminary for the first time, replacing
the old theological department. Other significant changes in the
seminary during the 19th century involved the inclusion of women
and minorities. During the 1840s Antoinette Brown Blackwell (1825-1921),
the first woman ordained a minister, was a resident graduate,
pursuing the Theological Course. Although Oberlin did not
award its first B.D. degree to a woman, Juanita Breckenridge-Bates
(1860-1946), until 1891, it was still the first school to do so.
During the later half of the century the Slavic department was
formed with the financial support of the American Home Missionary
Board, making the Oberlin Theological Seminary the only school in
the United States that prepared candidates to minister to the Polish,
Bohemian, and Hungarian ( Slovak ) populations. By 1900 the seminary
had 11 departments covering the necessary curriculum for masters
and doctoral degrees in religion.
Until 1904 the president of Oberlin College also served as head
of the seminary. With the creation of seminary dean, the dean, not
the president, shaped the policies and mission of the seminary.
Under the first dean, Edward Increase Bosworth (1861-1927), the
seminary was renamed the Graduate School of Theology (GST). During
Bosworths tenure the seminary employed its first part-time
female instructor, Frances Gertrude Nash (1871-1961), who taught
elocution. (Nash also was dean of women of the Conservatory of Music
from 1914 to 1937, and she was professor of dramatic expression.)
Under Dean Thomas W. Graham (1882-1971), the first female recorder,
Charlotte J. Ormsby (1871-1947), was hired, and later, when the
title changed to registrar, Gertrude F. Jacob (1908- 1989) filled
this position Jacob also served as the first executive secretary
of the GST.
Many women taught and participated in the Graduate Schools
summer sessions (1949-1960). These courses were well attended by
ministers and others interested in religious education.
Since Oberlin was a nondenominational graduate school, enrollment
was never consistent However, enrollment increased when Leonard
Stidley (1898-1958), the dean of the GST between 1949 and 1958,
arranged with the Ohio Conference and the Northeast Ohio Conference
to make Oberlin a training school for Methodist theological students.
Enrollment also expanded in 1954 when the Schauffler College of
Religious and Social Work of Cleveland closed its undergraduate
division and moved its graduate program and students to Oberlin.
With the arrival of the Schauffler Division of Christian Education
and its professor Ruth Lister (b. 1917), the Oberlin Graduate School
of Theology appointed its first permanent female faculty member.
During the 1950s a Methodist seminary was established in Ohio, and
Oberlins enrollment once again declined.
Despite the earlier interest of President William E. Stevenson
the GST was increasingly seen as a financial drain on the institution,
as well as an academic program that had outlived its usefulness
on the campus. Therefore, in 1965, the board of trustees of Oberlin
College voted to discontinue professional graduate instruction in
theology on the Oberlin campus. In September 1966, six faculty members
and 22 students joined the Divinity School of Vanderbilt University
as part of a merger agreement. Thus ended Oberlins 130-year
commitment to the education of ministers.
Scope and Content
This collection spans the period from 1844 to 1967 and documents
Oberlins religious commitment. Most of the documents constitute
the files maintained by dean of the graduate school. In the executive
correspondence of Edward Increase Bosworth, information exists on
the Slavic departments effort to train missionaries around
the world and on the Kyrias School for girls in Albania. There also
are printed materials, minutes of faculty meetings (1884-1966),
correspondence (1887-1897), and the GST Alumni Association records
(1961-1967). Course materials covering various religious subjects
(1941-1951) are available, as is the summer school curriculum (1942-1966).
Records of various organizations include those for the Leaven Club
(1900-1948, 1960-1962, 1963-1966), a club for women faculty members
and students and wives of faculty members and students. Included
in these files of the associations are constitutions, bylaws, amendments,
and lists of membership. In the control file there is a list of
all the women who attended the GST and received the B.D. degree.
Tape recordings of speeches (1959-1966) also exist.