Document 1: Mary Jane Turner Churchill to
her husband, 27 January 18501

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This excerpt, transcribed from a letter written by Mary Jane Turner Churchill to her siblings, discloses the circumstances of Emily Pillsbury Burke's dismissal in intimate detail. As the wife of an Oberlin College professor, Mary Jane Churchill was privy to many of the details of the scandal and had plenty to say about the matter. Interestingly, the date on the letter is nearly three months before any petitions or relevant board minutes surface in the case. Perhaps, then, this letter could be read as an example of the sentiment among the Oberlin residents, students, and faculty who eventually rallied in support of Emily Burke. For example, Churchill described Burke in her letter as a "childlike" and "innocent" person who thought little about romantic designs, but instead dedicated herself to her career and the female students she educated. An untranscribed section of this letter also notes Emily Burke's integral role in the refurbishment of the Ladies Hall. Despite being stricken with cholera, Burke cleaned, refurnished, and wallpapered the dormitory, demonstrating her commitment to her female charges. Churchill's pen is less kind to the young man Burke "k-i-s-s-e-d," claiming he suffered from from an overinflated ego, which led him to misinterpret Burke's requests for friendship and information on the student body.

Document Text:

Jan 27th, 1850

...She [Emily Pillsbury Burke] is very familiar and social - She said to the young ladies now I want you to look to me as a friend - not as something so cold and stiff you dare not approach me - come to me with all your little troubles and secrets - and remember I have a heart too - if you are glad to see me kiss me as you would your dear mother [...] Well there was a young man in the Hall2 by the name of Arnold a fine young man who used occasionally to step up to [Mrs. Burke's] sitting room and tell her of things that were transpiring - such as projected parties &c &c &c - so that when the things came to her through the parties themselves she was prepared to meet them - she found by this that it would be an excellent plan to have some one on whom she could rely and in whom she might trust but as Mr. Arnold was going to leave she felt that perhaps the Lord as she says would show her some one [...] [Mr. Cooper] took the opportunity to call on her and beg her to be his friend and a sister to him, said the ladies cared nothing about him - and he wished her to use her influence with a Miss Julia Clark in his behalf - about the dozenth young lady he had made love to here - she told him he had better not be in haste about it &c &c &c. So things went on - he called occasionally as a committee for something I do not know what - but as Mrs B became acquainted with him she thought him a very devoted Christian from what she had heard of his prayers - and thought he would be just the one to assist her, so she told him what a friend he must be to her if she was going to assist him - but told him he must keep it a profound secret for if others knew that he was running to her with every thing he would not stand in very high repute among them and more she did not wish them to think she had favorites - but the great goat was so puffed up with something I dont [sic] know what - he really thought she had fallen in love with him - when she spoke of such a friendship, existing between them she told him she would be a friend to him two years as he would probably remain here but that length of time - so it does not seem as though she meant to offer heart hand and all for an eternal friendship - so in everything she said to him after that he looked at in that light - so of course they appeared very differently - for instance at one time in speaking of Julia C - she said to him she should be happy to see him marry her as any one - but he thought she meant if he must marry anyone beside herself why she should be as happy to have him marry Julia as any one else. When he came to leave for the winter he called on her to bid her good bye - the girls had almost all left the Hall and she said to him my birds have all flown and the cage is desolate - he thought she felt so desolate because he was going to leave - when he rose to leave she shook hands with him and k-i-s-s-e-d him - perhaps that was injudicious of her as a principal - but I believe she did it in the perfect purity and innocency of her heart...

[1] Transcribed by Lee Cheatham.

[2] It is unclear to which "Hall" Mrs. Churchill is referring. She notes in another part of her letter that Mrs. Burke lived in the Ladies' Hall for a time, and at one point the Ladies' Hall housed male students (who used a separate staircase) on its third floor. The other possible dormitories standing at the time were Colonial Hall, Tappan Hall, and Oberlin Hall. Oberlin Hall at one point housed both professors and students, though it seems unlikely that female professors were being housed along with male students and professors when a female students' dormitory was available.