Oberlin College

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Anonymous asked: When did Oberlin get rid of its religious affiliation? I was reading up on the history of the college and saw that it was started by ministers, right? It must have been fairly controversial when it became secular.

A very brief history of Oberlin, as retold by Ma’ayan Plaut ‘10 with some assistance from Aries Indenbaum ‘09 and the Oberlin College Archives.

Oberlin was founded in 1833 by Reverends John J. Shipherd and Philo P. Stewart; their hope was to create a college and a town ”where they would train teachers and other Christian leaders for the boundless most desolate fields in the West.” (Sometimes when this story of our founding is told, it involves divine intervention by a bear.) Our namesake John Frederick Oberlin (and personal hero of Stewart and Shipherd) was a Alsatian pastor who pioneered educational programs, built schools and roads, and brought such trades as blacksmithing and masonry to his town in France.

With the renaming of the Oberlin Collegiate Institute to Oberlin College in 1850, the educational focus shifted from that of manual labor and the theology-based programs to more formal educational coursework (classics, sciences, fine arts, music, etc.). The graduate school of theology (the combination of Bosworth Hall/Asia House were the “campus-within-a-campus” buildings dedicated to religious studies) was in operation until 1965. 

So, in essence, it’s hard to pinpoint when Oberlin lost its religion entirely. It might be worth an exploration of the Oberlin College Archives at some point.

- Ma’ayan Plaut ‘10, Social Media Coordinator

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