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Who Was Clarence Ward?

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Clarence Ward was a force behind art education at Oberlin College during the first half of the 20th century. It's hard to say enough about his influence on the College and the town.

Born in 1884 in Brooklyn, New York, Clarence Ward received his A.B., A.M. and Ph.D. from Princeton and was hired by Oberlin College in 1916, teaching there until his retirement in 1947. In his early years he was the only degreed Art Historian at Oberlin, so the majority of Art History courses fell on his shoulders. In 1916, Ward offered seven full courses. His historical expertise was broad, but his passion was for Medieval and American architecture.

In 1917, Clarence Ward founded Oberlin’s Art Library. Creatively allocating funds and cleverly timing his purchases, he built the collection to 25,000 volumes by mid-century, making the Art Library one of the largest in the country.

As Chair of Oberlin’s Art Department, Clarence Ward helped develop a national reputation for the program. His energy drew well-known professors like Wolfgang Stechow and Ellen Johnson. As Director of the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Clarence Ward transformed the Museum. By his retirement, it was known as one of the finest college museums west of the Alleghenies.

Clarence Ward was also a practicing architect. Among his projects are The Oberlin College President's House (the Samuel R. Williams house on Forest Street), the 1937 wing to the Museum, and the East Oberlin Community Church, where he was a pastor.

At the Art Library, we celebrate Clarence Ward's birthday to honor his dedication to the progress of Art in Oberlin. Over the years, Art Library staff have put together exhibitions on a variety of subjects to coincide with birthday celebrations. Past exhibitions can be found here.

Barbara Q. Prior
Head, Clarence Ward Art Library

Last updated:
April 24, 2019