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Select Historic Portraits from the Oberlin College Collection

Oberlin College established the Historic Portrait Collection in 1883 on the occasion of its Jubilee celebration. Beginning with less than ten portraits, the collection’s focus was “to secure, so far as possible, the portraits of the more eminent men and women connected with our history for a permanent collection.” The College actively sought life sized oil portraits of former professors and instructors, former and present members of the Board of Trustees, founders of professorships and prominent donors, early colonists, treasurers and other officers connected with the institution, and prominent friends of the anti-slavery and temperance movements who have been in any way associated with Oberlin (Jubilee Notes, May 1883). In the early decades the portraits hung permanently in the College Chapel and Peters Hall.

Over the next one hundred years, the College continued to develop the collection by commissioning individual portraits of each of its presidents. For some individuals, like Charles G. Finney or Asa Mahan, the collection includes more than one portrait. On several occasions, a portrait was created from daguerreotypes or photographs because the subject had died before the College commissioned a portrait. These portraits were made possible by donations from Alumni classes, student organizations, and prominent Oberlin families. In 2004, the collection consists of more than fifty portraits and continues to grow.

This virtual collection brings together many portraits located throughout the College. While the College Archives has assumed responsibility for maintaining the digital presentation of this collection, the actual portraits are to be found throughout the College, and they are administered by a number of different administrative units. The Location, Repository, and Copyright fields in each record reports on these ownership distinctions among the portraits.

Additional biographical information on many of the subjects of the portraits can be found in a two-volume work titled A History of Oberlin College: From its Foundation through the Civil War authored by Robert Samuel Fletcher in 1943. Of some value too is John Barnard’s From Evangelicalism to Progressivism at Oberlin College, 1866-1917 (Columbus, 1969) and Donald M. Love’s Henry Churchill King of Oberlin (New Haven, 1956). These titles are available at the Main Library of Oberlin College or for use on site, at the Archives. Additionally, reference is made to an entry in the 23 volume set of the American National Biography (ANB), John A Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, general editors, published in 1999. When an entry exists, the citation appears in the Biographical Notes field.

>>Click here for Select Historic Portraits from the Oberlin College Digital Collection

Technical Note

The digital images presented here were captured in most cases using standard photographic or natural lighting and a digital camera. A cooling filter was then applied to many of the digital images to create an image that more closely matches the current physical presentation of the portraits.

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