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Oberlin College

Historic Sites, Monuments, Landmarks, and Public Art (National Historic Landmark)


Oberlin College is a private liberal arts college in Oberlin, Ohio, noteworthy for having been the first American institution of higher learning to regularly admit female and black students in addition to white males. The Oberlin Conservatory of Music, part of the college, is the oldest continuously operating conservatory in the country. The college is famously referred to as "the college that started the Civil War".

Female graduates from 1855
undated photo of first building to hold the Oberlin Business College
Birdseye view of Oberlin
Oberlin historical marker
1840s sketch of an Oberlin college building
undated photo of Bosworth Hall
Bosworth Hall today
Revella Hughes, Oberlin alumni



Oberlin is a four-year, highly selective liberal arts college and conservatory of music. Founded in 1833 by a Presbyterian minister and a missionary, it holds a distinguished place among American colleges and universities. It was the first college to grant bachelor's degrees to women in a coeducational environment and, historically, was a leader in the education of African Americans. It is accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, Higher Learning Commission. The Oberlin community is known for its exemplary academic and musical pedagogy and its commitment to social justice, sustainability, and creative entrepreneurship.

Oberlin College which was named Oberlin Collegiate Institute until 1850, is a private liberal arts college in Oberlin, Ohio.   In 1833, Presbyterian ministers John Jay Sipherd and Philo P. Stewart founded the institution as a college preparatory institute to promote Christian values.  Oberlin's progressive history began during the antebellum period.  In 1835 it became the first predominantly white collegiate institution to admit African American male students and two years later it opened its doors to all women, becoming the first coeducational college in the country.   In 1862, Mary Jane Patterson earned a B.A. degree in education from Oberlin, becoming the first African American woman to earn a degree from an American college. Other black women had graduated earlier but did not receive the collegiate degree (BA). Oberlin continued to be an important institution for African Americans for the next century.  By 1900, one third of all black professionals in the U.S. had undergraduate degrees from Oberlin.

Oberlin’s commitment to the abolition of slavery made it a welcoming and safe environment for 19th Century black students.  As part of the Underground Railroad, Oberlin’s intricate network of back road routes and safe houses, the college and town provided refuge for fugitive slaves bound for Canada.  In 1858, students, faculty, and residents of Oberlin and nearby Wellington, Ohio rescued a runaway slave John Price from U.S. marshals, and transported him to freedom in Canada.  The incident which became known as the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue, received significant press coverage. One year later three African American residents of the town of Oberlin, Shields Green, Lewis Sheridan Leary, and John Anthony Copeland, participated in John Brown's Raid on Harpers Ferry.

Oberlin College continued to promote social and racial justice for the next century.  During the early 1960s its campus chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) joined other activists in Cleveland sit-ins and boycotted Ohio businesses that practiced segregation.  During the decade the college also invited civil rights leaders like Roy Wilkins of the NAACP and Malcolm X of the Nation of Islam. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke at Oberlin on numerous occasions throughout the 1950s and 1960s.   In 1965 Dr. King was the college's commencement speaker.  Just before his address Oberlin officials awarded him an honorary degree of humane letters.

In the 1970s Oberlin College officials celebrated its abolitionist legacy with Cameron Armstrong's “Underground Railroad Monument,” a sculpture of a railroad track emerging from the ground reaching skyward.  The city's Martin Luther King Park contains other monuments honoring the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue and the Harpers Ferry Raid.

Over the years, Oberlin has also produced several prominent 19th and early 20th Century African American leaders including scholar William Sanders Scarborough and activists Anna Julia Cooper and Mary Church Terrell.  More recent graduates include former Washington, D.C.  Mayor Adrian Malik Fenty, and New York City, New York Congresswoman Yvette Diane Clarke.  In 2010 the campus had 2,850 students of whom approximately 10% were African Americans.1

One of the many famous alumni of Oberlin was singer, educator and musician, Revella Hughes from Huntington, WV.



1. Roland M. Baumann, Constructing Black Education at Oberlin College: A Documentary History (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 2010); Stephanie Y. Evans, Black Women in the Ivory Tower, 1850-1954: An Intellectual History (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2007); Michele Valarie Ronnick, ed., The Autobiography of William Sanders Scarborough: An American Journey from Slavery to Scholarship (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2005); - See more at:

Cox Administration Building, Room 201
Oberlin, OH 44074
Phone Number
(440) 775-8411
  • African American History
  • Cultural History
  • History of Public and Higher Education
  • Military History
  • Religion
  • Women’s History
This location was created on 2015-05-28 by Mike Emett, Marshall University Libraries.   It was last updated on 2015-05-29 by Mike Emett, Marshall University Libraries.

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