Document 1: Oberlin Female Moral Reform Society
Constitution & Preamble, 18351

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This first transcription is the opening entry from the Oberlin Female Moral Reform Society's Minute Book. Dated 1835, it records the society's constitution, presumably as composed at their inaugural meeting. The Oberlin Female Moral Reform Society was founded shortly after its New York counterpart, and many of its moral frameworks and tactical emphases were borrowed from the New York society. Substantial numbers of prominent Oberlin women were founding members of the Society, including Alice Welch Cowles, the principal of the Oberlin Ladies' Department at the time.

The rhetoric of the constitution emphasizes male accountability, strict regulation of licentiousness, and high standards for female moral purity. These tactics are part of a broad legacy of women using conservative, religious morals to advocate for their safety, agency, and wellbeing within the respectable codes of their era.

Document Text:

Oberlin Female Moral Reform Soc.

Whereas the sin of licentiousness in all its forms, and with all its horrors, exists throughout the length and breadth of our beloved2 country -poisoning the fountain-head of morality and virtue. Sapping the life-blood of domestic happiness and believing as we do that it is the imperative duty of all females to combine their influence for the suppression of this vice. Therefore, we have formed ourselves resolved to form ourselves into a society to be governed by the following


Art. 1st
This Society shall be called the Oberlin Female Moral Reform Society: auxiliary to the New York F.M.R.S.

Art. 2nd
The officers of the society shall be a Pres. Vice Pres. the Treas. and a Com. of three six who shall be chosen annually.

Art. 3rd
The first object of this society shall be to promote and sustain moral purity among its members the virtuous. We therefore pledge ourselves to refrain from all licentious conversation-to cultivate and promote purity of feeling, of action, and deed; both in ourselves, our associates, and all who come within the sphere of our influence. The 2nd object shall be to reclaim by such means as are sanctioned by word of God, all those who have wandered from the path of virtue.

Art. 4th
Believing that the licentious man is not only as guilty, but in a majority of instances more guilty than the licentious woman. -We will exclude all such persons from our friendship and society.

Art. 5th
Believing that the prolonging of visits with any gentleman after the usual hour for retirement, is one of the 1st steps toward licentiousness, we pledge ourselves to discontinue such practices by precept and example.

Art. 6th
We pledge ourselves to speak of the marriage institution in such a manner as shall sustain its original honor and its character of moral purity-and we will affectionately suggest any failures we may become acquainted with to the individuals themselves before explaining them to others.

Art. 7th
This constitution may be amended at any meeting of the society by a vote of two-thirds of the members present.

Art. 8th
This society shall meet quarterly.
Eighth article amended.
This society, instead of meeting quarterly, shall convene whenever circumstances shall warrant the Pres. in calling a meeting.

Art. 9th
This Soc. shall hold their annual meeting during the month of May.


Nov. 4th 1835

At a meeting of the Ladies, an address was delivered by Mr. Clark in which many facts were noted showing to what an alarming extent the vice of licentiousness is corrupting, debasing, and destroying both soul and body of our virtues throughout this and other lands. Also some of the means employed by too large a portion of our community in accomplishing then their dark and cruel designs: designs by which they would breathe poison and moral desolation over the whole face of society.

At the close of the meeting a society was formed adopting the preceding constitution and the following officers chosen.

Mrs. Cowles Pres.3
Miss. E.M. Leonard Sec.4
Mrs. Shipherd Treas.5
Mrs. Penfield6, Mrs. Pease7, Mrs. Dascomb8, Miss Rudd9, Miss Lewis, Miss Herking, Miss Lohite.

[1] Transcribed by Adrian Bennett

[2] The word "beloved" is written in smaller text above the word "country," as if added later.

[3] Alice Welch Cowles (1804-43). Cowles was Oberlin's "ladies' principal." She gave lectures to female students on " to make collective domestic labor more scientific. Significantly, women were paid for their work." (Lori D. Ginzberg, "The 'Joint Education of the Sexes': Oberlin's Original Vision," in Educating Men and Women Together, ed. Carol Lasser, (Urbana and Chicago, University of Illinois Press, 1987), 71.)

[4] Elizabeth M. Leonard (d. 1873).

[5] Esther Raymond Shipherd (1797-1879), wife of Oberlin founder John J. Shipherd.

[6] Minerva Dayton Penfield Cowles 1800-80).

[7] Ruth H. Pease (1802-59).

[8] Marianne Parker Dascomb (1810-79) was the wife of Dr. James Dascomb. She was a woman who arrived in Oberlin in the " days. She was principle of the female department of the college in 1835-36 and again in 1853-70." In 1870, she led a group of 140 married women as they filed a protest in favor of equal suffrage. (Oberlin News Tribune, "Two Noted Women in the History of Oberlin: Mrs. Marianne Dascomb and Madam Johnson Outstanding," 29 March, 1935.

[9] Caroline Mary Rudd Allen (d. 1892, A.B. 1841), one of the first women to graduate from Oberlin College.