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Records of the Graduate School of Theology (Group 11)
[17] Records of the Graduate School of Theology, 1841-1966, 28ft.

Historical Note

In 1834 tensions climaxed between the students and the board of trustees at Lane Seminary in Cincinnati, Ohio, when the trustees voted to prohibit antislavery agitation. As a result the Lane Rebels, including students, Trustee Asa Mahan (1799-1889), and Professor John Morgan (1802-1884), left the Cincinnati school. These explosive events caught the attention of Arthur Tappan (1786-1865) and John Jay Shipherd (1802-1844), financial agent and founder, respectively, of the Oberlin Collegiate Institute. Since the theological students were financially backed by Tappan, Shipherd seized the opportunity to solve Oberlin’s fiscal problems by inviting the rebels (including Mahan and Morgan) to come to Oberlin. This they did under three conditions: that Oberlin accept students regardless of color, that Oberlin respect students’ freedom of speech, and that Oberlin not “interfere with the internal regulation of the school.”

As a result of the merger, in the fall of 1835 the Oberlin Collegiate Institute opened a new theology school with Asa Mahan as president, Charles G. Finney (1792-1875) as professor of theology, and the Lane Rebels among the first theology students. In 1844 the catalog mentions the Oberlin Theological Seminary for the first time, replacing the old theological department. Other significant changes in the seminary during the 19th century involved the inclusion of women and minorities. During the 1840s Antoinette Brown Blackwell (1825-1921), the first woman ordained a minister, was a “resident graduate, pursuing the Theological Course.” Although Oberlin did not award its first B.D. degree to a woman, Juanita Breckenridge-Bates (1860-1946), until 1891, it was still the first school to do so.

During the later half of the century the Slavic department was formed with the financial support of the American Home Missionary Board, making the Oberlin Theological Seminary the only school in the United States that prepared candidates to minister to the Polish, Bohemian, and Hungarian ( Slovak ) populations. By 1900 the seminary had 11 departments covering the necessary curriculum for master’s and doctoral degrees in religion.

Until 1904 the president of Oberlin College also served as head of the seminary. With the creation of seminary dean, the dean, not the president, shaped the policies and mission of the seminary. Under the first dean, Edward Increase Bosworth (1861-1927), the seminary was renamed the Graduate School of Theology (GST). During Bosworth’s tenure the seminary employed its first part-time female instructor, Frances Gertrude Nash (1871-1961), who taught elocution. (Nash also was dean of women of the Conservatory of Music from 1914 to 1937, and she was professor of dramatic expression.) Under Dean Thomas W. Graham (1882-1971), the first female recorder, Charlotte J. Ormsby (1871-1947), was hired, and later, when the title changed to registrar, Gertrude F. Jacob (1908- 1989) filled this position Jacob also served as the first executive secretary of the GST.

Many women taught and participated in the Graduate School’s summer sessions (1949-1960). These courses were well attended by ministers and others interested in religious education.

Since Oberlin was a nondenominational graduate school, enrollment was never consistent However, enrollment increased when Leonard Stidley (1898-1958), the dean of the GST between 1949 and 1958, arranged with the Ohio Conference and the Northeast Ohio Conference to make Oberlin a training school for Methodist theological students. Enrollment also expanded in 1954 when the Schauffler College of Religious and Social Work of Cleveland closed its undergraduate division and moved its graduate program and students to Oberlin. With the arrival of’ the Schauffler Division of Christian Education and its professor Ruth Lister (b. 1917), the Oberlin Graduate School of Theology appointed its first permanent female faculty member. During the 1950s a Methodist seminary was established in Ohio, and Oberlin’s enrollment once again declined.

Despite the earlier interest of President William E. Stevenson the GST was increasingly seen as a financial drain on the institution, as well as an academic program that had outlived its usefulness on the campus. Therefore, in 1965, the board of trustees of Oberlin College voted to discontinue professional graduate instruction in theology on the Oberlin campus. In September 1966, six faculty members and 22 students joined the Divinity School of Vanderbilt University as part of a merger agreement. Thus ended Oberlin’s 130-year commitment to the education of ministers.

Scope and Content

This collection spans the period from 1844 to 1967 and documents Oberlin’s religious commitment. Most of the documents constitute the files maintained by dean of the graduate school. In the executive correspondence of Edward Increase Bosworth, information exists on the Slavic department’s effort to train missionaries around the world and on the Kyrias School for girls in Albania. There also are printed materials, minutes of faculty meetings (1884-1966), correspondence (1887-1897), and the GST Alumni Association records (1961-1967). Course materials covering various religious subjects (1941-1951) are available, as is the summer school curriculum (1942-1966). Records of various organizations include those for the Leaven Club (1900-1948, 1960-1962, 1963-1966), a club for women faculty members and students and wives of faculty members and students. Included in these files of the associations are constitutions, bylaws, amendments, and lists of membership. In the control file there is a list of all the women who attended the GST and received the B.D. degree. Tape recordings of speeches (1959-1966) also exist.

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