Campus News

The Founding of Oberlin College

December 6, 2019
Communications Staff
This wood engraving, made in 1846 from a drawing by Henry Howe, depicts West College Street in Oberlin.
The early days of Oberlin College. This wood engraving, made in 1846 from a drawing by Henry Howe, depicts West College Street in Oberlin. Photo credit: Courtesy of Oberlin College Archives.

"In Oberlin History" is a series dedicated to notable events in Oberlin College history. It is created in partnership with the Office of Communications and Oberlin College Archives. 

During this month 186 years ago, Oberlin College was founded by a Presbyterian minister and a missionary. The Reverend John J. Shipherd and Philo P. Stewart shared mutual discontent with what they characterized as the lack of strong Christian principles among the settlers of the American West.

In direct response to this notion, the pair decided to establish a college and a colony based on their religious beliefs. With the financial assistance of several wealthy sources, they formed the town and the college on approximately 500 acres of donated land. On December 3, 1833, 29 men and 15 women began classes as the first students of the Oberlin Collegiate Institute.

Soon after its founding, the college adopted the motto, “Learning and Labor.” In the early days of the college, tuition was free because students were expected to contribute by helping to build and sustain the community. While this approach was eventually discontinued, the motto remains to this day.

Find out more about Oberlin’s history

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