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Records of the Office of the Secretary (Group 5)
[21] Records of the Office of the Secretary, 1834-1991, 90 l.f.

Administrative History

In 1899, a Board of Trustees Committee reported that the duties of the secretary-treasurer “exceeded the ability of a single officer.” In recommending the creation of a new position to handle correspondence and to prepare notices of appointments and degrees conferred, keep records, and distribute catalogues and other publications, the committee also wanted the secretary to serve as an outside representative of the College and to do “broader work.” George M. Jones (1870-1948), who was appointed as the first college secretary, served for four decades.

Under Jones, the Office of the Secretary (as per the 1904 Bylaws) revolved primarily around two functions: minute-taking and record-keeping for the Board of Trustees, the Prudential Committee, and General Faculty, and serving as chief statistician/historian for the College. Some responsibility existed for the college secretary in external affairs and public relations. His assistant, Donald M. Love (1894-1974), succeeded Jones and served as secretary from 1938 to 1962. Following Love’s retirement, the responsibilities of this office were reduced considerably; and, from 1970 until 1983, this once-powerful position was made only part-time. Under President S. Frederick Starr, however, the corporate secretary returned to full-time status. In addition to secretarial duties, this officer assumed responsibility for conducting all campus elections, supervision and planning of commencement and special college events, and maintaining official college governance records. The secretary also assisted the president, preparing reports and correspondence as well as offering advice and support.

Scope and Content

Arranged around ten subgroups, the records of the Office of the Secretary, 1834-1991, pertain not only to the work of the board of trustees, but also include historical and administrative documents (or copies thereof) extant prior to this time. Before 1966, the secretary’s office was the unofficial archivist of Oberlin College. Rich in substance and comprehensive in scope, these records chronicle the administrative history of many of Oberlin College’s institutional, operational and supervisory bodies and committees (e.g., the Board of Trustees, the Prudential Committee, the Executive Committee, faculty councils, and varied student organizations), in addition to the College’s academic divisions. Six subgroups hold records of architectural interest: Subgroup I “Administrative Records (General),” Subgroup II “Administrative Records of Department and Units,” Subgroup III “Records of the Board of Trustees,” Subgroup V “Athletics,” Subgroup IX “Historical Files,” and Subgroup X “Miscellaneous Personal and Real Property Records.”

The records extensively document Oberlin’s administrative oversight of the planning and construction phases of architectural projects from the late nineteenth-century up through the 1960s; in addition, the maintenance and use of campus structures and properties for this period are also covered. These architectural records are largely found in Subgroup I “Administrative Records (General)” under two separate record series: “Building and Property Files” (3.95 l.f.) and “Committee Files” (5.4 l.f.).

For an even broader picture of standard architectural planning and history at Oberlin, readers will want to consult the “Building and Property Files.” Spanning the period from ca. 1875 to the 1960s, these materials sometimes predate the actual construction of the building by many decades. Records consist of architectural correspondence, textual copies and references to annual reports and meeting minutes of both administrative boards and special committees (Board of Trustees, Prudential Committee, the Committee on Location, Plans, and Construction of Campus Buildings, etc.), architectural drawings, project programs, historic news clippings, funding and financing reports, essays and articles, and dedication materials for almost every Oberlin building or property extant during this era. Structures and facilities, which are especially well documented, include the Allen Memorial Art Museum, 1875-1931; the Allen Memorial Hospital; the Hall Park properties (the Arboretum), 1903-1968; Carnegie Library, 1900-1963; Dill Field and Athletic Field for Men, and Savage Stadium, 1913-1960; Finney Chapel, 1908-1955; Hall Auditorium, 1928-1961; the Science (Kettering) and Academic (King) buildings, 1935-1966; Oberlin Inn, 1938-1966; Plant Services buildings, 1910-1955; Tappan Square, 1841-1957; and Wright Laboratory of Physics, 1917-1963. Notable architects represented in these records—with correspondence, plans, and committee minute references—include Cass Gilbert, Cass Gilbert, Jr., Wallace K. Harrison, the Olmsted Brothers, Eldredge Snyder, the firm of Walker and Weeks, and Clarence Ward. This series is especially strong in its coverage of plans and debates for campus landscape architecture and grounds planning in relation to the Hall Park properties at the southern end of campus and to the campus proper, 1903-1968. Related items include the architect’s correspondence, topographical sketches, and administrative discussions of landscape architects for hire and their respective campus plans.

For items of specific architectural interest, the “General Files” of subgroup I hold materials within pertinent subject categories. Held in multiple folders, subjects include “Architects,” 1925-1960; “Oberlin Architecture,” 1938-1958; miscellaneous building needs and repair reports, 1924-1958; “Landscape Architects,” 1903-1958; campus development; and dormitory facilities, 1919-1965. Notes, citations, and minutes for trustee and various committee meetings are located here, in addition to some architectural correspondence, most notably files for the commissioned landscape architect work of the Olmsted Brothers, 1903, 1913; Andrew Auten, 1909; Gordon Cooper, 1938; and Beatrix Farrand, 1939-1955. Cooper received $2,000 and Farrand $1,100 to plant trees in and around the arboretum and the golf course. The entrance structure for the Charles Martin Hall Arboretum on Morgan St., built in 1953 after some delay, was designed by Eldredge Snyder in 1953. Thus, landscape architecture and planning records are well represented, along with materials relative to campus dormitories and support facilities, 1930-1957.

Documents relating to the work performed by consulting architects in regard to various college structures and facilities, 1928-1957, are in Series 4 “Committee Files.” Records mainly consist of architectural plans, drawings, Board of Trustee/Prudential Committee minutes and debate, as well as correspondence relative to the “Location, Plans, and Construction of College Buildings.” In addition to trustee, minutes, citations, and reports, extensive photostat samples of floor plans and architectural renderings are included. Arranged chronologically, records document planning debates for the women’s swimming facilities (Crane Pool), the Graduate School of Theology, Hall Auditorium, the Men’s Club building, Oberlin Inn, and the Wright Physics Building. Notable items include six photostats of Cass Gilbert’s plans for the Hall Auditorium and committee discussion thereof, ca. 1931, as well as notes and minutes regarding the selection, employment, and duties of consulting architects Richard Kimball, 1937-1943; the firm of Shreve, Lamb & Harmon; and architect Eldredge Snyder, 1944-1957. Also located here are pertinent miscellaneous committee reports, 1912-1939, including reports for the Special Committee on the Use of the (proposed) Hall Auditorium, 1924, and for the Committee on Oberlin Inn, 1930-1954. An index kept by the Office of the Secretary for these specific subjects is included.

Records documenting the financial bequest and estate of Charles Martin Hall date from 1914 to 1967. They are maintained in the development files of Series 2 “Administrative Offices” in Subgroup II “Administrative Records of Departments and Offices.” Principally historical in content, materials include an Annual Report of President Henry Churchill King, 1914-1915; Prudential Committee minutes and Treasurer Reports on the Hall bequest, 1925-1939; and historic news clippings and articles regarding Hall’s life, his bequest to Oberlin, the clearing of Tappan Square in 1927, and commemorative monuments honoring Hall and his mother, Sophronia Brooks Hall, the namesake of Oberlin’s Hall Auditorium. Especially notable are materials that document the work of the Prudential Committee and the board of trustees regarding Hall’s bequest, and subsequent planning for the Hall Auditorium, its design, and permanent location. Additional items of related interest include the Annual Report of 1914-1915, which reports on campus planning (with references to Cass Gilbert, et. al.), as well as correspondence to and from Homer H. Johnson, Class of 1885, a primary legal executor of Hall’s estate and a member of Oberlin’s Board of Trustees.

The activities of the Trustee Committee on Location, Plans, and Construction of College Buildings are documented in Subgroup III “Records of the Board of Trustees,” Series 4 “Committee Files.” Held in nine folders and arranged chronologically for the period 1903 to 1958, these records consist of committee minutes, notes, and related correspondence of the Board of Trustees and the General Faculty Committee regarding campus building projects, planning, and funding. Notable among these items is correspondence from President King to College Trustees Irving W. Metcalf, Homer H. Johnson, and Dudley P. Allen dating from 1903 to 1914. These letters discuss campus planning, properties adjacent to Dill Field, possible locations for the Cox Administration building, and College property purchases for plots adjacent to campus north of W. Lorain St., east of Main St., and the Frost property on N. Professor St. Also included are an introductory history of the Trustee Committee on Location, Plans, and Construction; materials describing Cass Gilbert’s 1912 appointment to and connection with Oberlin College; committee votes on proposals for campus planning and specific buildings erected (or not); and the appointment of the New York firm of Shreve, Lamb & Harmon as the College’s consulting architects in the late 1930s and early 1940s, and their subsequent replacement by Richard Kimball. An index compiled by the secretary’s office for these materials is available within these records.

Information relative to Hall Auditorium, 1931-1948, includes notes and stipulations of the will of Charles Martin Hall, histories of the Hall Auditorium Fund and Hall Auditorium “Plans and Problems,” and use and program requirements for the facility. Most notable among these items, however, are the “Annals of the Auditorium,” a chronicle of the auditorium’s checkered planning history first compiled by President Ernest Hatch Wilkins’ office in 1942, and supplemented regularly until 1948. The “Annals” and their support materials report on the arduous process of architect and design review and selection, as well as issues relative to Hall’s bequest for the auditorium’s erection and for the Oberlin campus in general.

Construction files relating to the Oberlin football field and stadium, 1910-1929, are held in the stadium correspondence of Subgroup V “Athletics.” Items mainly consist of correspondence regarding the funding and construction of Galpin Field, 1913-1914, and Savage Stadium, 1924-1925. College “Bulletins #1 and #2” present an outline of the plans for the field and stadium facilities, a ca. 1903 site plan by the Olmsted Brothers, landscape architects, and a reproduction of a ca. 1913 architectural rendering entitled “Bird’s Eye View of the Oberlin Athletic Grounds” by Cass Gilbert. Stadium materials also include printed information regarding Stadium funding and planning, including “Stadium Facts, Figures, Needs,” and “The New Athletic Field Project for Oberlin College.” These items consist of reproductions of a stadium cross-section and deck plans issued by Osborn Engineering Co.—with assistance from Cass Gilbert—as well as a folder of Osborn Engineering correspondence with the College, 1925-1926. Other notable correspondents in series 2 include Trustees Lucien T. Warner and Dudley P. Allen, as well as Athletic Director Charles W. Savage.

Records documenting Oberlin’s campus and many college structures (some no longer standing) are held in the subject files of Subgroup IX “Historical File.” In addition to copies of and citations for Prudential Committee and Board of Trustee minutes, materials for “Buildings 1902-1952” include itemized summaries of historic cornerstone contents for the following structures: Bosworth Hall (1930), Burton Hall (1946), the Hall Auditorium (1952), the Memorial Arch (1902), Noah Hall (1932), Severance Chemical Laboratory (1900), Talcott Hall (1886), and Theological Hall (1871). Also included here is a letter from architect Franz Warner regarding the 1927 demolition of Spear Library-Laboratory. Materials relative to Hall Auditorium include College Secretary Donald M. Love’s “Summary of Development of Hall Auditorium, 1946-1952,” an excellent textual analysis of the ritualized nature of planning and design approval for the controversial auditorium. Other architectural records relate to the Chinese Temple, 1943-1963; the First Church in Oberlin, 1920-1955; “Oberlin Landmarks, 1928-1932;” and “Oberlin Village and City, 1930-1960.” This documentation includes an 18-part “Landmarks of Early Oberlin” series by Oberlin Professor William H. Chapin, published in the Oberlin Alumni Magazine from 1929 through 1930, and similar historical studies from the late 1920s and early 1930s. Materials regarding the City of Oberlin include the College’s notes and minutes (from the Prudential Committee and Board of Trustees) for the Village Improvement Society, 1930-1962, and from the Oberlin Historical Society. Notable among these items is a record of correspondence between President King and architect Cass Gilbert, 1914-1921; copies of the President’s Annual Reports, 1914-1917, regarding town and college planning; materials documenting an Oberlin Civic Center project, Hall Auditorium, and improvements to Plum Creek; and studies of Oberlin College trees and landscaping, 1900-1955. Additional miscellaneous historical files in this series include varied essays, sketches, and news clippings regarding campus surveying, development, and use, 1929-1959. Of special interest is a ten-page chronological history of the campus’s built environment from 1832 to 1967. Series 7 “Artifacts” holds the contents of the Warner Hall cornerstone, opened in 1964 upon the demolition of Warner Hall. An itemized listing is available.

The Office of the Secretary at Oberlin College also created a 5" x 8" index card file relative to all campus structures extant from ca. the 1870s to the 1960s. Stored in one box, these several hundred cards contain clippings from Oberlin College catalogues relative to a structure’s basic architectural history, brief historical addenda where noted, and numerous citations for Board of Trustees, Prudential Committee, Executive Committee, and General Faculty meeting minutes.

Finally, the personal and real property records in subgroup X, which represents a 1995 accession to the record group, contain realty information dating from 1835 to 1966. One series holds the agreements, contracts, and leases for building renovations or rentals. Contracts with architects are also included. The “Deeds and Property Files” series contains the abstracts, correspondence, deeds, and titles associated with college-owned properties. This series of approximately 150 folders documents the ownership history of numerous houses and building sites in Oberlin, Ohio.

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