175th Anniversary of Oberlin College and the City of Oberlin: 1833 - 2008

Timeline of Oberlin History

We welcome you to browse through our timeline of Oberlin Community+College history. The information here represents a snapshot of some of the milestones, facts, and trivia on the City and College during the past 175 years. For specific details, visit College Archives or Electronic Oberlin Group.

1833 – 1858


Presbyterian minister John Jay Shipherd of Elyria, Ohio, and his student, Philo P. Stewart, a former missionary, decided to bring to life their dream of a church-centered community that would build and support a school to train preachers and Christian leaders for work in Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and Illinois. The duo purchased and resold land for the new settlement and college and named both in honor of the man who inspired their vision: John Frederick Oberlin, who pioneered educational programs, established schools, built roads and introduced trades of masonry and blacksmithing throughout France.


Eleven families now live in the colony. Oberlin Collegiate Institute opens on December 3 with 34 students and two departments: academic and primary. Cofounder John Shipherd had completed a type of fundraising tour out East and acquired $1,462.75 in cash before expenses that, when added to paid and unpaid subscriptions and 500 acres, totaled $3,641.12 in assets to support the new institute.

First public announcement of Oberlin Collegiate Institute (Published in Autumn of 1833 in the New York Observer)


Oberlin’s 12-member Board of Trust agrees to admit all students, becoming the first institution of higher education in America to admit students without respect to race as a matter of regular policy. The first two students of color were James Bradley (spring 1836) and Charles Langston (1835, 1841-44). Noted preacher Charles Finney joins the faculty as head of the theological department. Minister and abolitionist Asa Mahan begins his term as president.

Students from Lane Seminary in Cincinnati join in protest with Oberlin students because Lane trustees sought to prohibit students from their abolitionist activities and from speaking out against slavery in public or private places. Dubbed the Lane Rebellion,  an estimated four out of five students left the school in protest and studied temporarily at Oberlin and other locations.

Charles Grandison Finney


Oberlin community decides it needs a school for its children and commence to raising $215 toward the purchase of a wood frame to begin construction on the northeast corner of Main and Lorain streets. Workers build a stone foundation and construct a one-story, one-room school that measures 20 feet by 24 feet. The school opens in 1837 for 18 children. Oberlin graduate Eliza Branch is the first teacher. The townspeople soon realize the building is too small to accommodate the growing number of school-age children and begin plans to develop their public school system and build additional schools. The Little Red Schoolhouse, however, remains a fixture in the community. The Oberlin Heritage Center currently oversees the building.


Three of four women who are granted admission to the Oberlin Collegiate Institute become the first in the United States to receive the Bachelor of Arts degree: Caroline Mary Rudd, Elizabeth Prall, and Mary Hosford. Mary Fletcher Kellogg enrolls but does not complete her degree. The Oberlin Collegiate Institute is the founding name of Oberlin College.


Sarah J. Watson Barnett becomes the first African American woman to enroll in Oberlin Collegiate Institute, the founding name of the College. Lucy Stanton Sessions becomes the first African American woman to earn a four-year degree, literary course of study, in 1850.


Oberlin College forefather John Jay Shipherd dies at the age of 42. He leaves Oberlin in 1836 to create similar homesteads in Indiana and Michigan, as he had earlier envisioned.


The Ohio Legislature incorporates Oberlin as a village. The community establishes a city council and a mayor to conduct all civic matters in the interest of the residents.


Oberlin Collegiate Institute changes its name to Oberlin College. The change in part reflects a gradual shift in the curriculum and educational focus, which transitions the institution from a preparatory, manual labor, and theology-based program to one that offers more formal instruction and coursework in the classics, sciences, the fine arts, and music, among other disciplines.


John Mercer Langston, born to free parents in Virginia, graduates from the Collegiate Department at Oberlin in 1849, the fifth African American man to do so. He later enrolls in Oberlin's Graduate School of Theology graduate program in preparation for legal study. He earns a master's degree, but cannot gain admittance law school. Undeterred, he reads law under Philemon Bliss of Elyria, Ohio. Langston passes the Ohio bar exam in 1854 and becomes the first African American lawyer in Ohio. He advocates educational opportunity, political equality, and economic justice coupled with individual responsibility. He goes on to serve Oberlin as a member of the city council and school board.

1858 – 1883


Hundreds of Oberlin and Wellington, Ohio, residents rescue an l8-year-old fugitive slave, John Price, from U.S. marshals on September 13. The group brings Price, originally from Kentucky, to Oberlin and then transports him to Canada. Among the rescuers are 12 African Americans, 13 whites, four students, and a professor, all from Oberlin. The liberators were jailed in Cleveland for violating the Fugitive Slave Act and for their part in the rescue but eventually gain release. The case draws national coverage. Years later, the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue would be known as the incident that set the Civil War in motion.


During the Civil War years, the College enrollment went from 1,313 in 1860 to 859 in 1862. Many men yielded the call to serve. Most join the Union Army in support of emancipation. Noted abolitionist John Brown attempts to take over an arsenal on October 20 in Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. Three free African American Oberlin men take part in the raid: John Copeland, Lewis S. Leary, and Shields Green. Military officials kill Leary during the raid, and later hang Copeland and Green. Oberlin citizens erect an eight-foot marble monument in honor of the three men. The monument is in the town’s Vine Street Park.


The town has approximately 2,115 residents of which 20 percent or 423 are African American.


Mary Jane Patterson, a native of Raleigh, North Carolina, studies one year in the Oberlin College Preparatory Department and four years in the College before graduating in 1862 with a Bachelor of Arts degree, the first African American woman in the United States to do so. She moves to Philadelphia where she teaches in the Institute for Colored Youths for seven years. In 1869, she goes to Washington, D.C., to teach and, in 1871, is the first African American principal of the newly established Preparatory High School for Negroes. She continues as a teacher at the school until her death in 1894.


John Paul Morgan, Fenelon Rice and George W. Steele organize the Oberlin Conservatory of Music initially as a private school. They also teach vocal music at the College. The Conservatory becomes part of Oberlin College in 1867, operating as one of its departments. Before the Conservatory, the College enjoyed many years of musical instruction and performances led by noted Professor George Nelson Allen, who teaches at Oberlin for 33 years. Nelson, known for writing sacred music, is best known for the hymn Maitland, often sung with the words Must Jesus Bear the Cross Alone.


The community establishes its first free library and reading room that operates for many years under great financial difficulties. Oberlin College Board of Trust decides to supplant the library, create a college library and make it available to residents. T. H. Rowland and W. B. Bedortha head a fundraising drive to support the new library.


Oberlin College hires its first woman faculty member: Adelia A. Field Johnston, an 1837 alumna, who the board hires to oversee the Ladies Department. Johnston also was an instructor of history, dean, and professor of medieval history. She advocates for women, ensuring that they have some of the same privileges as men students. She teaches at Oberlin for 37 years and is the first woman to become a member of the Board of Trust, 1901-02.


The first of two major fires in the history of Oberlin destroy a string of businesses on East College Street, causing $60,000 in damages. The fire destroys a bookstore, photo gallery, Omnibus Office, and Telephone Exchange. Incendiary origin is the cause of the blaze.



Oberlin College and town experience substantial growth during this period with the development of modern public utilities (telephone, talking machine, incandescent and arc lamps), gasoline motor and modern water plant, a sewage system, sidewalks and streets, free mail delivery, and new school buildings.


Oberlin College experiences tremendous growth during this time (1885-1910) in the form of new campus buildings: Peters Hall, Talcott Hall, Baldwin Cottage, Carnegie Library, Severance Chemical Laboratory, Rice Memorial Hall, Warner Gymnasium, and Wilder Hall. These thick, stately, and solid constructions are made of blocks of rough-textured buff Ohio sandstone, excavated from a site just six miles north of Oberlin.


Oberlin College and town collaborate to fund the construction of a water works plant. Workers complete the plant in 1888. Many deem the new facility and public service as “Oberlin’s greatest public improvement.”


The missionary legacy of Oberlin’s founding fathers is demonstrated when graduates of Oberlin College organize the first missionary group to China. The group provides support and guidance for the consolidation of educational efforts at the Ming Hsien Schools in Taigu, Shanxi Province, China. The missionaries endure difficulties and opposition, including the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. By 1918, the Shansi Association (now Oberlin Shansi) sends Oberlinians to Ming Hsien starting the tradition of sending young Oberlin graduates to Asia.


Ohio native Charles Martin Hall majors in chemistry at Oberlin, and becomes interested in finding an inexpensive method for producing aluminum. After earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1885, Hall sets up a lab in his home to conduct experiments. Over time, he refines the process and discovers a method for extracting aluminum from ore. After proving his right to hold a patent, in 1889, he joins a small group called the Pittsburgh Reduction Co. to market and manufacture the aluminum. The company is renamed the Aluminum Company of America, also called ALCOA. Martin remains a generous benefactor of the College.


South African born John Langalibalele Dube enrolls in the Oberlin Preparatory Academy, the pre-college division, in fall 1888. Dube stays in Oberlin until 1890, working; studying the sciences, mathematics, and classical Greek works; and practicing his oratorical skills. He leads a public life as an educator, orator, writer, newspaper editor, and an international civil rights leader. Dube often travels to the United States, finding encouragement at Oberlin College and inspiration from Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Institute. In South Africa, Dube establishes one of the first schools of higher learning for the indigenous peoples, the Zulu Christian Industrial School (1901), later renamed the Ohlange Institute. He is the founding president of the African National Congress (1912), which, in later years, becomes the political organization primarily responsible for overthrowing the apartheid system in South Africa.


Despite much skepticism and trepidation among College leaders, faculty and residents, intercollegiate football comes to Oberlin in the fall and the team plays its first home game against Cleveland’s Adelbert College of Western Reserve University. Oberlin wins, 12-6. The following year, former intercollegiate soccer and football player John William Heisman comes to Oberlin as the College’s first professional football coach. The Cleveland, Ohio, native leads the team to a 7-0 record in its second year. As college sports become more popular in the Midwest, Oberlin gains its share of victories and fame, particularly against noted powerhouses Ohio State and Michigan State universities. Heisman’s successful career at Oberlin, followed by stints at other major football schools, leads Oberlin alumni and friends to create the John William Heisman Club to strengthen its intercollegiate athletic program. Years later, a New York sports club creates an award to honor the most outstanding college football player. Upon Heisman’s death in 1936, the award is renamed the Heisman Memorial Trophy and given annually to the top college football player and the college or university the player represents.


Oberlin and area citizens establish the Anti-Saloon League, an effort to keep the community tobacco and alcohol free. The league is representative of the community’s history of temperance and becomes one of the most effective single-issue lobby organizations in American political history. Organizers elect the Rev. Howard Hyde Russell as the state superintendent of this new organization. Russell, a onetime Iowa lawyer, uses the group as the national drive for the larger Prohibition Amendment of the 1920s.


The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions builds the Memorial Arch in Oberlin and donates it to the College to commemorate Congregational Church missionaries and their children who died during the 1900 Boxer Rebellion; 18 were Oberlinians (five of them children) who served in the Shansi Province in China. The board chooses Oberlin because most of those named on it had a connection with Oberlin. Many often criticize it for failing to recognize the Chinese victims of the rebellion. However, the Chinese victims finally receive recognition as it relates to the arch when the Oberlin Class of 1994 raises money for two new plaques to honor their service and sacrifice.


Louis E. Lord, Class of 1897, and Helen White Martin, Class of 1887, edit an alumni page in the weekly Oberlin Review. The modest experiment is promising enough, in Lord’s opinion, to justify a separate monthly publication devoted to the interests of Oberlin’s scattered graduates. The College launches the new publication, the Oberlin Alumni Magazine (OAM) and names Lord and Martin co-editors. Lord and Martin work with eight associate editors to gather news. The Union Library Association publishes the OAM, with yearly subscriptions sold for $1 (single copies for 15 cents). The magazine has two policies: no pictures (too expensive) and no poetry (too dangerous). Its mission is to keep alumni in “closer touch with the College” by giving them “the news of the College and of the graduates.”


Oberlin College and city leaders begin talks to establish a hospital to serve the community.


The desire to promote overseas education expands with the establishment of the Oberlin Shansi Memorial Association. Now called Oberlin Shansi, the association is an independent organization on campus dedicated to educational exchange and international understanding between Asia and the United States. Oberlin Shansi sponsors individual and group educational programs, exchanges, conferences, and community projects.

The College has an endowment of $1,500,000, up from $91,000. The College received its first endowment in 1852.



Famed architect Cass Gilbert designs Finney Memorial Chapel on the site of the former residence of Oberlin College President Charles Finney. Dedicated on June 21, 1908, the chapel’s christening corresponds with the College’s 75th anniversary. Frederick Norton Finney funded the construction at a total cost of $135,000 with the aims “That the youth of this foundation of learning may daily meet to worship God, and that a son may honor the memory of his father.” Finney Chapel officially opens for student use in September 1908.


The Oberlin Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People opens in January just eight years after the founding of the national organization. The chapter elects the Rev. George Washington, pastor of Mount Zion Baptist Church in Oberlin as president, along with Harley Smith (vice president), Hamilton Mosby (treasurer), and Samuel B. Coleman (secretary).


Robert Andrews Millikan, Class of 1891, wins the Nobel Prize in Physics. He had taught elementary physics at Oberlin for two years before earning his PhD in physics at Columbia University. He later becomes a professor at the University of Chicago, where he makes many of his important discoveries in electricity, optics, and molecular physics. These include determining the charge on the electron, verifying Albert Einstein’s photoelectric equation, and extending knowledge of the UV spectrum, among other discoveries.


Allen Memorial Hospital opens, funded jointly by Oberlin College and Elisabeth Severance Prentiss Allen, widow of Dr. Dudley Peter Allen, who graduated from Oberlin College in 1875 to become a well-known doctor and professor at Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland. He hoped to build a hospital in Oberlin, but died of pneumonia in 1915 before he could realize his dream. His widow’s attempts to carry out his plans take a backseat to World War I, and she encounters disagreements with the College over size and appearance of the hospital. However, in 1925, Allen Memorial Hospital opens its 25 beds to the sick. Although the hospital expands throughout the 20th century, it is now back to its former capacity, in compliance with its federal designation as a rural “Critical Access Hospital.” The College’s art museum and art building also bear Dudley Allen’s name.


Sarah Frances Gulick Jewett, wife of Oberlin College Professor of Chemistry and Mineralogy Frank Fanning Jewett becomes a great advocate of public health, a position she takes in response to the formation of large cities and urban areas. Part of a Progressive Era movement of middle-class women in favor of “municipal housekeeping,” “Fannie” as she is known, advocates for cleaner streets, sanitary garbage, and sewage systems. She pens seven books on the subject of personal and public hygiene, which together sell more than six million copies. In 1916, she receives an honorary AM degree from Oberlin College in recognition of her achievements. She dies in August 1937.

1933 – 1958


Oberlin erects a government building to house the town’s post office. The new building is located on South Main Street opposite the town hall. It is completed and dedicated in August 1933, under the administration of Postmaster Eugene Dick. Actual mail service began in Oberlin in 1834 shortly after the town was established.


The College has a number of vibrant and active student political groups, a carryover from earlier years. Among them is the Oberlin Peace Society established in 1930 by students, faculty, and the administration under President Ernest Wilkins. Membership is open to anyone in the Oberlin community who supports the goals of the society: take public stands for peace, demonstrate on behalf of peace, participate in scientific investigations as to the causes of war and how to stop it, and use Oberlin opinion as an agent to promote goodwill. The society sponsors lectures, study groups, conventions, and letter-writing campaigns to advance the peace movement.


The Oberlin Business Men’s Club publishes a business directory that shows a bustling and vibrant community. Among the business in Oberlin are two banks, two bakeries, nine restaurants, five shoe stores, five tailors, two taxi cab companies, a movie theater two hotels, nine physicians, four dentists, an optometrist, a furniture store, two laundries, seven meat markets, and five dairies, among other businesses.


On June 15, President Ernest Wilkins, along with the Board of Trustees, designates October 8, 1937, as the “Centennial of the Beginning of College Education for Women and of Coeducation on the College Level.” Wilkins recognizes the first four women graduates of Oberlin College—Mary Hosford of Oberlin, Ohio, Mary Fletcher Kellogg of Jamestown, New York, Elizabeth Smith Prall of New York City, and Caroline Mary Rudd of Huntington, Connecticut—as pioneers, considering they were the first women accepted for a standard college course. Their acceptance into Oberlin launched actual college education for women, which in turn began coeducation. By that time, 575 educational institutions had followed suit by allowing women to take college courses.  The College sponsors a convocation program with Mildred H. McAfee, president of Wellesley College, as the keynote speaker.


The College forms the Association of Alumni of the Oberlin Collegiate Institute to “cultivate and strengthen friendly feeling among its members… to perpetuate the purity and prosperity of the Institution from which they have graduated….” The association begins with 48 alumni, both men and women. The College incorporates this new group on May 26 as an independent not-for-profit organization. The association today represents more than 40,000 alumni who attended the College, the Conservatory, and other predecessor schools.


College broadcasting begins, airing programs three evenings a week on WEOL-AM in Elyria. The College’s Forensic Union develops a schedule of news on Tuesdays, interpretation of domestic and international affairs on Wednesdays, and music on Thursdays. The following year, students create a College station, KOCN-AM, which broadcasts for five days in May as a trial run. In the 1950-51 academic year, KOCN signs on for good and changes its call letters to WOBC . The 1,000-watt station operates from the third floor of Wilder Hall. In 1961, WOBC moves to FM at 91.5. Programs broadcast from this free-form radio station include a variety of musical genres, talk and news pieces, and experimental radio formats, such as broadcasting movie dialogue and re-enactments of naval battles.


The cooperative movement comes to Oberlin College in the spring of 1950. About 11 upper-class women and men seek an alternative to what they consider expensive, low-quality food and restrictive housing policies. They place a proposal for a co-op house before the administration; the College, after a period of some reticence, gives way to student demand. After consulting with the manager of the local Consumer Co-op, the students create a business plan for a cooperative residence of 28 women roomers and 28 additional men boarders. The faculty members approve the plan. Pyle-Inn opens in the fall as a student-run co-op on West College Street.


Oberlin Alumni Magazine reports that Oberlin ranks fifth among colleges nationwide in producing scientists.


The Chicago Tribune proclaims “Oberlin Leads Co-ed Liberal Arts Colleges,” following a nationwide survey of coeducational liberal arts colleges. Editors and survey officials cite Oberlin’s “exceptionally high standards of scholarship and teaching.” The paper also points to the College’s record of producing scientists and the number of graduates who attain doctorates. Oberlin earns the top spot among 10 colleges, ahead of Swarthmore, Carleton, Reed, Pomona, Grinnell, Lawrence, Wooster, Kalamazoo, and Hope.

1958 – 1983


Over 10 days, the College marks its 125th year in mid-October with a series of events, some of which involved the town. The theme “Education—Safeguard of a Dynamic Democracy,” features a series of grand proceedings including an anniversary ball in Warner Gymnasium, College Convocation with a lineup a national educators and business leaders as speakers, a musical variety show in Finney Chapel, and a community-wide cookout that draws more than 1,000 people. The business district transforms into a pedestrian mall, with various shrubs and greenery “planted” in a mock garden at the intersection of College and Main streets. Downtown merchants decorate their windows to tell the history of the College and town. Internationally acclaimed contralto Marian Anderson receives an honorary Doctor of Music, and businessman and philanthropist Alfred P. Sloan receives a Doctor of Humane Letters along with 17 others who receive this recognition during the Convocation program. The celebration concludes with a community worship service in Finney Chapel.


Robert Carr becomes Oberlin’s ninth College president. He’s tenure includes making significant administrative changes, such as creating an Office of the Provost; overseeing new campus construction projects (library, residence halls, and gym); and dealing with students’ discontent and activism during the Vietnam War and Civil Rights movement.

Oberlin Chapter of the NAACP, along with 47 Oberlin College students, take part in a nonviolent demonstration organized by the Cleveland Chapter of the NAACP. The students assist the national student-led movement to support sit-ins mostly in the South against discriminatory practices in public places. James Lawson, a graduate of Oberlin’s Graduate Theological School and leader of several sit-in protests, addresses the 3,000 participants on the meaning of Southern demonstrations. Leaders and students consider forming an intercollegiate chapter to give more strength to student movements.


College announces plans to build North, South, and East halls as student newspaper, the Oberlin Review, writes an editorial opposing new “big dorm policy,” to build structures that could accommodate more students, as before then students lived in modest home-like houses and cottages.

In October, 1,600 students sign a petition protesting lack of student voice in long-range campus planning and demand direct access to the Board of Trustees. President Robert Carr suggests the protest is a way for students to demonstrate their sense of self-importance.


College faculty members vote down Saturday night women’s visiting hours in men’s dorms. The following May, faculty members approve Saturday night and Sunday afternoon visiting hours if room doors are “visibly open.”


Martin Luther King Jr. returns to campus in October to speak in Finney Chapel. He warns students to guard against complacency in the drive for integration. King had to cancel an earlier visit to campus after he became ill and just before the assassination of President John F. Kennedy occurred. King returns to campus the following year to give the Commencement address and receives the honorary degree of humanities.

Faculty recommends College legalize use of 3.2 beer on campus. President Carr adopts the proposal in April 1965.


Student group engages in a 48-hour hunger strike to protest the Vietnam War. Strike marks the beginning of a number of anti-war protests at Oberlin as well as other colleges and universities across the country.

The College faculty votes in June to close the Graduate School of Theology (GST) due to an inability of Oberlin’s program to compete with prominent interdenominational seminaries in the East for quality seminary students. The GST program and students had been isolated from the rest of Oberlin's student body. The theology school merges with the Vanderbilt Divinity School in Nashville, Tennessee.


After more than four years of research and discovery by an ad hoc committee to determine the value of creating an archival program for the College, the president and Board of Trustees appoint the College’s first archivist, William E. Bigglestone, a position that reports to the provost. Archives opens in the Cox Administration Building and becomes the repository of the College’s historical records, holdings, special collections, and papers.


Twenty-three students organize an Experimental College program (ExCo), a modest credit-based unconventional program with courses taught by faculty and students, and open to campus and community members. ExCo becomes a student organization and appoints a volunteer committee that is solely responsible for choosing the curriculum and maintaining the program.

Oberlin’s faculty yields its bylaws to govern student life in loco parentis, and College officials adopt an open dorm policy. A year later students and administrators agree to create several coeducation residence halls after reviewing similar housing models at Stanford and Michigan universities, although those schools allow men and women to live in alternate rooms on the same floors.


Oberlin College Press is formed with financial support from the College and publishes a literary magazine, FIELD, a periodical devoted to poetry and poetics, new works, and divergent viewpoints. Oberlin College Press publishes the magazine twice annually.

Campus dorms are a source of student anger during this time, as many oppose the construction of new dorms they considered “slabs” and “sleeping and feeding space” as they were a change from the previous cottage and home-like living quarters. However, their sentiments change when Oberlin transforms Dascomb Hall into a coed dormitory, making it the first of its kind in the United States. Additionally, Hebrew House becomes a winter term project and operates similar to an Israeli kibbutz. The experiment is a success, and today, all but one of Oberlin's students housing are coed. The Baldwin Cottage is open only to women and transgender students.


Oberlin’s decision to create coed living and 24-hour visiting became famous by the November 20, 1970, issue of Life magazine. The article, “Co-ed Dorms: An Intimate Campus Revolution,” featured Oberlin students Rod Singler, a junior, and Cindy Stewart, a freshman. The two lived in the same dorm and developed a close personal relationship. Oberlin’s then Dean of Women Rose Montague gives coed living arrangements a positive endorsement in the article: “It’s so exciting now on campus. The students have a chance to grow as persons, not just academically.”

Students engage in a number of protests in town in May to shed light on what they believe are discriminatory actions by local police. Some 200 students also gather at the intersection of College and Main streets to protest a speech by President Richard Nixon on the United States involvement in Cambodia. Fifteen students travel to Kent State to attend the commemoration of the killings of students at Kent and Jackson State universities. The Oberlin campus closes in the wake of the shootings.


Class of 1977 installs the Underground Railroad sculpture on the grounds of Talcott Hall to commemorate the involvement of the College and city in the abolitionist movement that pushed for an end to slavery. Oberlin also was a stop along the Underground Railroad as fugitive slaves sought freedom in northern states and Canada during the years before the Civil War. Cameron Armstrong (then a senior at Oberlin College) constructs the piece as part of a class art project.


Alumnus Roger W. Speery ’35 is one of three to win the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. He attended Oberlin on a four-year Amos C. Miller Scholarship, earning the AB in English. He later earns an MA in psychology (1937) at Oberlin, and a PhD in zoology (1941) at University of Chicago. He receives the Nobel for “his discoveries concerning the functional specialization of the cerebral hemispheres.”


Eleven women in Oberlin organize a chapter of the National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women’s Clubs, Inc., a service-oriented organization that promotes and protects the interests of African American business and professional women. The chapter receives a charter and 34 women join.

1983 - Present


General faculty approves black studies major. The program, initiated in 1968, evolves into a full-fledged department in 1983. Today the African American Studies Department boasts courses in African American, African, and Caribbean history; West African dance; and African diasporas literatures, politics, theater, music, art, and education.


Stanley Cohen ’45 wins Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. His research on cellular growth factors has proven fundamental to understanding the development of cancer and designing anti-cancer drugs.


Oberlin creates the American Soviet Youth Orchestra, comprised of 100 young musicians from the United States and the former Soviet Union, making it the first arts exchange produced between the two countries. The orchestra includes 58 Americans and 52 Russians, who spend 17 days rehearsing Russian and American music together at Oberlin Conservatory of Music and touring both in the United States and in the Soviet Union.


Oberlin students organize first Drag Ball, sponsored by the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Union, in which the student population dressed in drag. An ongoing tradition even today, the ball is the final event in Transgender Awareness week. The organization invites nationally known drag queens and kings as guests every year.


Nancy Schrom Dye becomes Oberlin College’s first woman president. She leads an ambitious and successful plan to improve the College’s facilities. In 2004, President Dye is the first American college or university president to visit Iran and help reestablish education exchanges between the two countries.


In keeping with a commitment to improve the College’s environmental awareness and initiatives, the College opens the Adam J. Lewis Center for Environmental Studies in November. The building is designed to purify and reuse non-potable wastewater on site, use sustainability grown or produced materials, and eliminate the use of toxic performance levels. The building serves as a type of real-time laboratory that showcases environmentally sound building practices.

Oberlin alumni raise nearly $60,000 to erect a War Memorial Garden on the south lawn of Finney Chapel to honor the men and women who served the country during World War II (1939-1945) with year Cleveland landscape architect James McKnight designs the garden and wall to offer a sense of inclusion such as found in a cloister. Engraved names of fallen soldiers appear in bronze bands that extend the length of the five-foot high stone wall garden.


Already known as an “all Steinway school,” the Conservatory of Music increases its prestige and collection by securing a new C.B. Fisk organ. The dedication of this special instrument includes an orchestral performance in Finney Chapel, which houses the new organ, in memory of the victims of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil on September 11.


The College opens a $67-million dollar science center, the largest capital construction project in its history. The Science Center features a 64-bit supercomputer, the first installed at any four-year, liberal arts college in the nation. It also has lecture halls, laboratories to support academic programs, and a science library.


Oberlin College launches a Creativity and Leadership Project to provide students with opportunities to set their innovative ideas into motion. The project is a reflection of Oberlin’s longstanding commitment to preparing students for leadership, entrepreneurial prowess, and civic engagement.


The College administration introduces the Oberlin Access Initiative to ensure that qualified students who wish to attend Oberlin are able to do so, regardless of their financial circumstances. The initiative comes about by a commitment of $1.2 million from Trustee Clyde McGregor '74, the first stage of the Oberlin Access Initiative focuses on providing loan-free financial aid packages to Oberlin students coming from the most disadvantaged families.