The Woman Who Started it All: The Untold Story of Adelia Field Johnston

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Long before there was an Art Museum at Oberlin, Adelia A. Field Johnston brought her love of art to the college and broader community. Born in Ohio in 1837, Johnston completed the “Ladies Course” at Oberlin in 1856. Traveling abroad to study European culture firsthand she returned to accept appointment as Dean of Ladies and Professor of History, the first female professor at Oberlin. Always a champion of Women’s education, Johnston made the case publicly that college education should not be restricted to men.

Through her teaching, public lectures and print collections, Johnston exposed the Oberlin community to the European art and architecture she continued to study on numerous “field trips” to Europe and North Africa. Johnston’s charisma, intelligence, and affability won her friends both on and off campus and spread support for Oberlin. This goodwill funded many buildings and especially that “Renaissance jewel:” the Allen Memorial Art Museum. Her legacy is the rich visual arts culture and support for women’s education at Oberlin College.

Last updated:
April 26, 2019