Document 1: Oberlin Female Moral Reform Society
Meeting Minutes, June 1840-August 18401

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This section of the Oberlin Female Moral Reform Society's minute book was recorded in the summer of 1840. It depicts a series of routine meetings in the Society, in which guest speakers visited, committees and actions were proposed and established, and officers were chosen. The Society seemed to meet relatively infrequently as a group, although it is unclear from the minute book to what extent their work continued outside of these group meetings.

The meetings' agendas provide insight not only into the activities of the Reformers, but also into their moral ideals. Each meeting was opened with a prayer, and throughout the minutes several references were made to "light," demonstrating a Christian moral philosophy. The solutions proposed to licentiousness reflected this Christian mentality, often focusing on personal and cultural changes in behavior rather than legal changes, recommending such practices as chastity, minding dress, and maintaining purity of heart. These ideas were a way in which the Female Moral Reformers asserted their agency. By addressing the concept of licentiousness in their own lives, they demonstrated that they were capable of making personal changes to address greater societal problems.

Document Text:

Held A Meeting June 1840

  1. Meeting was opened with prayer by Mrs. Finney.2
  2. Society addressed by Miss Sarah J Smith of NY remarks principally directed to the young ladies. 1st pointed out the immense responsibilities resting upon young ladies educated here, surrounded by such a flood of light and enjoying privilege probably superior to any in the world. 2nd the importance of listed principles that can hold them firm in any situation, the danger of being floated along by public sentiment and mistaking impulse for principal. Dwelt at length upon the subject of dress. Spoke of the necessity of a pure heart - that those who thought their hearts had never been impure showed that their hearts had never been search by a purity - of God. That - we needed no fuller proof of the impurity of a person's heart, than this turning away from this subject - as to indelicate for them to look at.
  3. Miss Smith was followed by Miss Ingraham of New York - her remarks were addressed principally to mothers on the necessity of guarding their children - of educating them as much as possible themselves, on account of the great danger of their counteracting each other in associating together.
  4. Meeting was closed by prayers from Mrs. Hosford and Ingraham

Held a Meeting August 1840

  1. Opened with prayer by Mrs. Carrier
  2. Remarks by Mrs. Finney, Mrs. Dawes, Mrs. Mahan3, Mrs. Gillett upon several important topicks [sic] connected with this subject.
  3. Society adjourned to September 23rd.

[1] Transcribed by Sophie Hess.

[2] Lydia Root Andrews Finney (1804-47) was the Society's first directress and the wife of Charles Grandison Finney, who was prominent in the founding of Oberlin and would serve as the College's second president from 1851-1866. (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), 72. )

[3]Mary Dix Mahan (d. 1863) one of the Society's first members, and the wife of the College's 1st President (1835-1850), Asa Mahan. Oberlin College Archives Finding Guide for Oberlin Female Moral Reform Society Minutebook, 1835-1857, (ID: 31/006/011), accessed March 19th, 2013.