Art Library > About the Art Library > Art Library Exhibitions > Adelia Field Johnston > Her Friends Became the Friends of Oberlin

Her Friends Became the Friends of Oberlin

Font size: AAA

Baldwin Cottage

Adelia Johnston met Mr. and Mrs. Baldwin in 1881 while convalescing in St. Augustine Florida. They became fast friends and kept up their acquaintance when both returned to Ohio. When the Ladies Hall was destroyed by fire in 1886 Mrs. Johnston sought support for a new building. To her surprise the Baldwins gave $20,000, funding the entire project:

"We only had a few thousand dollars, and I felt anxious. So I went in to Cleveland and called upon Mr. Baldwin at his place of business. I did not mean to ask him for anything, but just to tell the situation. I thought he might give something, perhaps a few thousand dollars. He listened attentively to my story, said he had long been thinking of doing something for Oberlin, and without saying how much quietly wrote a check and handed it to me. When I saw how much it was, I was dazed. I had no words to thank him properly. As I left his office I fairly walked on air. I made my way to the home of my friends, Mr. and Mrs. Solon Severance and there Madam Severance promised $800 for the furnishing. I never expect to be so happy again as I was that day."

Everybody was welcome...

Mr. Baldwin was later chided by a friend for giving so much to Oberlin instead of Cleveland. Mr. Baldwin replied that Oberlin gave more education for the dollar than any other institution he knew. Additionally, he is reported to have said, his eyes twinkling, “Mrs. Baldwin and I think a great deal of Mrs. Johnston.”

Further evidence for their fondness was Mrs. Baldwin’s insistence that a suite of rooms within Baldwin be prepared for Mrs. Johnston’s exclusive use.

Mrs. Elizabeth R. Lord and Lord Cottage

Mrs. Elizabeth R. Lord

Lord Cottage is another example of a building donated to the college on the strength of Adelia Johnston’s enthusiasm and friendships. The first account of Adelia Johnston and Elizabeth Lord meeting was the latter’s gift toward furnishing the newly built Sturges Hall. As reported in the November 17, 1883 issue of The Review:

"Mrs. Elizabeth R. Lord met Mrs. Johnston lately and told her if she would call [visit], $50 would be added to the Sturges Hall fund. Mrs. Johnston invited the Fourth Years to accompany her, -- all report a pleasant time. We may add that Mrs. Johnston and the Fourth Years stand ready at any time to make calls upon similar terms."

So began a friendship cemented in 1884 when Mrs. Lord became Assistant Principal of the Ladies Department. Most of Adelia's friends gave to Oberlin out of their wealth, but not all. Mrs. Lord, like Adelia, was widowed and a teacher, having worked with her late-husband, Dr. Lord, teaching blind children to read. So her large gift - paying for the construction of Lord Cottage- was a complete surprise, even to Adelia, as related in her biography:

One evening to some friends gathered in her parlor Mrs. Johnston described her difficulty locating rooms for the daughters of a missionary who had arrived unexpectedly. Then partly to herself, and partly to the others she went on:

"We really ought to have a cottage where missionaries’ and clergymen’s children should have the first right, -- a cottage that would be comfortable and not too expensive. I really must go out and see if I cannot raise the money for such a building – we ought to have one."

The next morning Mrs. Lord laid a paper before her saying, “That’s for your missionary children’s cottage.”

"I unfolded the paper and to my astonishement found it a check for $10,000. I remonstrated, I told Mrs. Lord that I could not take it, that she out not to give so much, but she quietly said:

'Let me explain. All my life I have been a wage-earner, and many years ago I determined when I had leisure that I would go to Europe. So I began to set money aside for that purpose and I have added to the original sum but have never taken from it. It is now fully $10,000. I did not have time to go abroad when I was young, and I know now that I shall never go – and I want you to have that money for your cottage.' "

Mrs. Lord laid the cornerstone of Lord Cottage in 1892.

An Art Building

In March 1900 Adelia Johnston resigned as Dean of the Women’s Department. This release from administrative duties would allow her to focus more on teaching, and also:

"I propose to attempt the raising of funds for an Art Building; not that Oberlin will ever have a picture gallery. She needs much more a collection of casts and photographs that will illustrate the history of classical, mediæval and modern Art. Such a building should have at least two lecture rooms where the material gathered in the building could be easily and successfully installed."

Although an Art Building was not erected until 1917, seven years after her death, the vision was clearly hers: the Allen Memorial Art Building had the prescribed two lecture rooms and a sculpture court with a collection of casts. It was grander, however, than even Mrs. Johnston had envisioned: it included a library, a studio annex and picture gallery. And its funding by Dr. Dudley P. & Mrs. Allen (the son of Dr. Dudley and Mrs. Allen whom she met at Kinsman in 1862) was a direct result of her close ties with the Allen family.

Last updated:
July 12, 2018