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Records of the Graduate School of Theology (Group 11)
[29] Records of the Graduate School of Theology, 1833-1966, 27.5 l.f.

Administrative History

The Theological Department was conceived by founders of the Oberlin Collegiate Institute who hoped to spread their Perfectionist gospel throughout the Western Reserve and the Mississippi River Valley. In the fall of 1835, students at Lane Seminary in Cincinnati rebelled against the trustees who tried to curb their antislavery agitation. When students and several faculty members threatened to leave, John Jay Shipherd invited them to come to Oberlin. With financial support from the Tappan brothers (Arthur and Lewis), a theological faculty including Professor John Morgan (1802-1884), Lane Trustee Asa Mahan (1799-1889), and evangelist Charles Grandison Finney (1792-1875) was formed. This founding occurred on the condition that the College admit students “irrespective of color,” that Oberlin respect students’ freedom of speech, and that Oberlin “not interfere in the regulation of the school.” As theological education evolved at Oberlin College, the department was also called the Oberlin Theological Seminary and renamed the Graduate School of Theology in 1916. Until 1903, the president of Oberlin College also served as head of the Seminary.

During the 1866-1889 presidency of James Harris Fairchild (1817-1902), funds were raised from local Congregational churches and other sources to support the seminary, curriculum expansion, and construction of its first permanent home, Council Hall. Architect Walter Blythe of Cleveland designed the neo-Gothic structure located on the north side of Tappan Square, next to the former home of Oberlin founder John Jay Shipherd. Council Hall housed the Theological Seminary until it was torn down in 1930.

Under President Henry Churchill King, Edward Increase Bosworth (1861-1927) was appointed the first Dean of the Theological Seminary. During the tenure of Bosworth (1903-1923) and of his successor Thomas Wesley Graham (1923-1948), Oberlin’s missionary education and theological curriculum of pastoral psychology, management, and fieldwork was expanded. This led in 1930 to the construction of the Graduate School of Theology Quadrangle. Using a ca. 1903 bequest from Mrs. D. Willis James and a 1927 $400,000 contribution from the John D. Rockefeller family, College Architect Cass Gilbert designed the new seminary complex for the site of the recently razed Council Hall. At the time of the dedication in October, 1931, the quadrangle provided divinity students with their own small campus setting, complete with chapel, library, classrooms, faculty offices, dining hall, and gymnasium. Bosworth Hall fronted Tappan Square to the north and featured a central Romanesque tower. Fairchild Chapel projected northward from Bosworth into the courtyard. Shipherd Hall enclosed the building group on the north side, with red brick dormitories bordering the courtyard on the east and west sides. Limestone colonnades connect these buildings to Bosworth. The capitals of the West Colonnade, described by Oberlin College Professor Geoffrey Blodgett as a “rare effort to relate architectural ornament to the local past,” feature carved faces of notable Oberlin persons (e.g., Henry C. King, Edward I. Bosworth, Kemper Fullerton, James Harris Fairchild). In 1959, ornate stained glass windows, designed by Henry Lee Willet, were added to embellish Fairchild Chapel.

In 1954, under Dean Leonard Albert Stidley (1898-1958), Oberlin’s Graduate School of Theology (GST) assumed responsibility for Cleveland’s Schauffler College of Religious and Social Work. Nevertheless, Oberlin’s program was unable to compete with prominent inter-denominational seminaries in the East for quality seminary students. Increasingly, the GST program and students were isolated from the rest of Oberlin’s student body. In June, 1965, the Oberlin College Board of Trustees voted to close the Graduate School of Theology, which subsequently merged with the Vanderbilt Divinity School and moved its operations to Nashville, Tennessee. The theological quadrangle thereafter served as a facility for other college functions.

Scope and Content

The architectural records contained in the Graduate School of Theology group provide information relating to the history of the decades-long planning, construction, and final embellishment phases for the GST Quadrangle. Relevant materials concerning Council Hall and the GST Quadrangle are located in Subgroup 1 “Administrative Files,” specifically in Series V “Correspondence of the Deans, 1896-1945, 1960-1963,” Subseries 2 “Correspondence of Dean Thomas W. Graham,” and in Series X “Buildings and Grounds Files, 1871-1874, 1904-1963.” In addition, architectural drawings of the GST Quadrangle by Cass Gilbert are available under a separate inventory.

Of the architectural materials relative to the GST held in Subgroup 1 “Administrative Files,” the most significant files are labeled “Seminary Building Program, 1913-1931.” A few materials post-date the 1930s. Holdings consist of the following: GST pre-planning, financial needs, design development notes, and correspondence reporting on the work of architect Cass Gilbert, 1915-1920; a blue-line print “Preliminary Specification Booklet” dated June, 1920; a blueprint of a campus plan and town plan, n.d.; blueprint furnishing specifications for the GST dormitory buildings, 1931, which include design drawings of tables, chairs, cabinets, desks, and sofas; a photostat of a “Proposed Landscaping Site Plan” with a planting key, executed by the Department of Buildings and Grounds for the GST, 1943; and a rudimentary floor plan for a renovation study of room space, equipment, furniture, and storage space. Also located here are contemporary newspaper and magazine articles pertaining to the design, construction, and opening of the Graduate School of Theology, 1927-1931; assorted administrative notes regarding the building fund, 1927, and minutes of the board of trustees, 1929; faculty suggestions for the building program phase of GST development and planning; and dedication notes and correspondence with distinguished guests, 1931.

Readers will also want to consult the “Buildings and Grounds Files, 1871-1874, 1904-1963,” found in subgroup 1, series X. The bulk of materials cover the period from the late 1940s to the early 1960s. Comprising of ten folders, the files include remodeling plans for Fairchild Chapel, with sepia-supported work drawings for a basement plan for Bosworth Hall, 1953-1954; design and development drawings for Fairchild Chapel, with six elevations of the chapel altar, as well as section details of the chapel floor plan and a sepia-supported presentation drawing of the chapel entrance, 1956-1958; a blueprint for “Alterations to the Chapel Building,” a “Framing Plan” for the 3rd floor mezzanine, and a stair elevation, 1952. Additionally, researchers will find floor plans for the arrangement of furnishings and lockers, and a development drawing of a first floor plan for the “Remodeling of Bosworth Hall” for the re-design of office space, 1952-1954; a design/development site plan (sepia-supported) for the renovation of the GST, which includes color-coded placement of new dry wall and masonry, as well as an elevation of the front steps of Bosworth Hall, n.d.; correspondence and materials regarding the Fairchild Chapel organ, including an original layout/elevation of the organ and tonal specifications for its installation, and later materials on the condition and re-furbishing of the organ, 1929-1931 and 1956-1963; copious materials on the five chancel windows in Fairchild Chapel, including correspondence, contracts, and miscellaneous documents regarding funding issues and stained glass artist/designer Henry Lee Willet of Philadelphia, PA, 1949-1960; photographs, site plans, and other planning documents for the installation of the sculptured heads which adorn the capitals on the West Colonnade of the GST, 1955-1962; a morning devotion program which provides a detailed map/guide to the location of chapel statuettes, chapel windows, and the west colonnade, 1947; and design drawings for renovation of the basement, first and second floors of Bosworth, 1940. Other informative resources in this series include newspaper articles regarding the plans, construction, and dedication of the quadrangle, 1919 and 1929-1931; an 1874 Council Hall dedication booklet and invitation featuring a woodcut print of the building; a journal for Council Hall occupants; numerous but scattered clippings regarding the Rockefeller gift of $400,000 to the GST building fund, 1927-1929; and a scrapbook of news clippings documenting the erection of the GST Quadrangle, 1929-1934, which also features original black and white snapshots of the many different phases of the quadrangle’s construction and embellishment.

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