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Records of the Alumni Association (Group 20)
[31] Records of the Alumni Association, 1839-1990, 42 ft.

Historical Note

The Association of Alumni of the Oberlin Collegiate Institute was organized in 1839 “to cultivate and strengthen friendly feeling among its members—to perpetuate the purity and prosperity of the constitution from which they have graduated—and to secure mutual aid and sympathy in carrying forward efficiently and successfully the great object of our being.” The first women elected to this association were the first women to receive the A.B. degree from Oberlin in 1841: Mary Hosford Fisher, Elizabeth Prall Russell, and Caroline Rudd Allen. During the first decades of its existence the association had modest contact with the College. The association’s activities amounted to yearly reunions with an oration from an alumni member. In 1903 Harriet Keeler was the first woman to present a speech at an annual meeting.

The purpose of the Alumni Association evolved to include more contact with the College administration during the late 19th and 20th centuries. In 1878, the Oberlin College board of trustees agreed to have trustees serve on the board for six years. Those eligible to vote for these alumni trustees included all graduates of the College, the Graduate School of Theology, the Literary Department, and the Conservatory of Music. In 1900 the association again broke with the past when it established a fund to aid the College. In 1905, the Alumni Magazine Publishing Company was formed with the purpose of “printing and publishing the Oberlin Alumni Magazine and other literary matters of interest to Alumni of Oberlin College.” Louis Lord and Helen White Martin published the magazine with involvement from Oberlin alumni. Although the association held no direct responsibility for this endeavor, many members were active in it. The Alumni Association took control of the Alumni Magazine Publishing Company in the early 1920s, and the Oberlin Alumni Magazine became the official bulletin and publication of the association. The first woman editor was Dorothy Hall, named to the position in 1932.

In the 1920s the Alumni Magazine Publishing Company and the Alumni Association reorganized, and the association’s mission changed to the promotion of Oberlin College interests. The administrative management of the organization was vested in an elected Alumni Council. A full-time secretary of the Alumni Association was appointed in 1937 to assist the Alumni Council and oversee the activities of the association, including the alumni fund and the alumni magazine. Virginia Van Fossen served in this post from 1935 to 1938. In 1957 the title of executive secretary was changed to executive director of the Alumni Association.

Throughout the second half of the 20th century the Alumni Association became more and more involved with College affairs through various committees, including the committees on admissions and academic affairs. Alumni focused on student life and on how the College responded to student issues and attitudes. In addition to supporting student activities, the association developed extended educational seminars and trips for its members. Duira Baldinger Ward ’34 (b. 1913), the first woman president of the association, was elected in 1971.

Scope and Content

The records (1839-1979) of the Alumni Association document the evolving purpose of organization from “cultivating friendly feeling” to focusing on the needs of the College. Annual reports and minutes, 1839-1979, from the secretary span the history of the association and provide information on the role of women in the association. There are also files on individual committees of the association. Information regarding women includes the results of an alumni questionnaire (1934-35), which notes the occupations of women, information on family life, and the value of an Oberlin education. The records also highlight the role of the Alumni Association in the centennial of coeducation (1936-37). Records exist for the Cleveland-Oberlin Women’s Club, 1949-1976. Included in this subseries are annual reports, lists of officers, scrapbooks, and notes on the effects of the merger between the Cleveland Oberlin Women’s Club and the Cleveland-Oberlin Men’s Club.

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