Document 4: Petitions to the Board of Trustees,
22 April 18501

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Transcribed below are three petitions to the Board of Trustees that came from the Oberlin Collegiate Institute's male and female students, as well as various citizens of Oberlin who had an interest in the governance of the College. These petitions reflect the intensely controversial nature of Oberlin politics. They claim ignorance of the student-teacher kiss and express concern that Emily Burke's reputation is at stake, speaking to Burke's intense popularity as Principal of the Female Department.

Interestingly, although his wife was one of the Ladies Board members threatening to resign, Asa Mahan, the current President of Oberlin College, was a Burke supporter. At the time of the controversy, Mahan was poised to resign his post as President of Oberlin College to found a Cleveland University, at which he planned an adjunct female seminary with Emily Burke at its head.2 Similarly, Charles Grandison Finney's name appears on one of the student petitions in support of Emily Burke. At the time, Finney was a professor of theology at the College and pastor of Oberlin's main church. Following Mahan's controversial resignation, Charles Finney became President of Oberlin College in 1851. With the support of such prominent Oberlin men in these petitions, as well as the support of male students and Oberlin residents, the triumph of the Ladies Board in the dismissal of Emily Burke becomes apparent.

These three petitions were dated April 22, 1850, based on when they were presented to the Board of Trustees, rather than the date they were written. Presumably, many were penned after Emily Burke's dismissal and before the Ladies Board's rejection of her appeal. The signatures of the petitioners are not transcribed due to their illegibility.

Petition 1:

To the Hon. Board of Trustees of the Oberlin College
We the undersigned students, having learned with regret of the unanticipated removal of Mrs. Emily P. Burke from the office of Principle [sic] of the Female Department of this institution and not being aware of the reasons for said removal, earnestly pray your Hon. Board to investigate her cause. We fervently solicit this for the subsequent reasons. --

First. - Because we are apprehensive that reports have gone forth to the world, which seriously militate against her reputation.

Second. - We regard Mrs. B. as eminently qualified both by nature and acquired talent, for this station.

Third. - For we have ample testimony of her success as an instructress of the young, not only in the branches of secular knowledge, but also in the study of the Sacred Scriptures, the learning of the way to obtain the boon of everlasting truth.

Fourth. - Because of the painful embarrassment to which the "widow, and the fatherless"3 is subjected while a sojourner in a strange land.4

Petition 2:

Oberlin April 22nd 1850

To the Hon. Board of Trustees of the O.C. Institute
We the Pupils of the Female Department of this Institution having sympathized deeply with our late Principal Mrs. E.P. Burke in her unfortunate situation in which she has recently been placed, do pray you Hon. Board to investigate this matter for the following reasons:

First. Because she has been removed from us, in a manner which causes suspicions derogatory to her reputation not only in our community but as far as this Institution is known.

Second, That if possible this stigma may be so removed from her character, that she may still be a blessing to the young ladies of her Country.

Third, We feel grieved by being deprived of her instruction, sympathy, & influence, which we enjoyed for a few months, with, as we supposed, a reasonable hope that she would be continued to us.5

Petition 3:

To the Hon. Board of Trustees of the O.C.I.
The undersigned citizens of Oberlin take the liberty of praying your Hon. Body That you inquire into the alleged cause of the unexpected removal of Mrs. E.P. Burke from her Situation as principal of the Ladies Department of this Institution

We ask this for the following reasons
1st The uncommon faculty she seemed to possess of interesting her pupils in the various Sciences they were so learning and especially and especially [sic] in the Study of the Scripture.
2nd Because of our gratitude for her energetic and arduous labors in renovating and repairing the Ladies Hall.6
3rd The deep Sympathy we feel for her in her present unpleasant Situation among us in a land of Strangers.7

[1] Transcribed by Lee Cheatham.

[2] Fletcher, Robert. A History of Oberlin College from its Foundation through the Civil war. (Oberlin, OH: Oberlin College, 1943), pg. 482.

[3] A biblical reference that may be either Zechariah 7:10 - "And oppress not the widow, nor the fatherless, the stranger, nor the poor; and let none of you imagine evil against his brother in your heart" - or Isaiah 1:17 - "Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge [defend] the fatherless, plead for the widow" - or a general reference to both.

[4] There are 194 signatures total, across two pages. The last 61 appear to be women's signatures; the rest are male names or identified by initials. One signature among the male names reads "Charles G. Finney."

[5] There are109 names total, across two pages. The names on the first page are all female names or initials, and several names reappear from the first petition. On the second page, there are about ten signatures identifiable as male names; the rest are initials, female names, or ambiguous.

[6] Emily Burke, upon arrival in Oberlin, apparently performed a comprehensive cleaning and re-wallpapering of the Ladies Hall, despite having cholera. She also requested more funding from the Board of Trustees for furnishing the Hall.

[7] 21 signatures on one page. One signature might be a female name; the rest are initials or male names.