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by Delazon Smith, a Student

Written 1837
Condensed 2019


Preface by TBT.

Conduct and Character
of the Church.


Conduct and Character, Concluded.

Course of Study,
and Manual Labor.


Board and
Mode of Living.

Intolerance or
Suppression of Opinion.

Connexion of Male and
Female Departments.

Concluding Remarks.


Disclaimer, by an Alumnus:  After its rather rocky first decade, Oberlin College has become much more worthy of our support..

A “gateway" leading nowhere in particular was dedicated at Oberlin College in 1937.  It celebrates the graduation a century earlier of the first Oberlin women.

In the college's earliest years, male and female students lived in its one and only building, so special care had to be taken to maintain propriety.

By 1836 a larger building, Tappan Hall, had opened, and the “laws of the institution” were more strictly enforced. 

That year, wrote Robert Samuel Fletcher in his history, “a student was dismissed because he had ‘broken one of the fundamental laws of the institution, which is that no male student shall go into the chamber of the young ladies on any occasion without a special permission from the principal of that department.’”

But let us take a closer look at the following year.  On May 22, 1837, a romantic triangle departed the campus:  a female student and her two admirers.  One of the suitors would reluctantly climb out of the wagon after only a short distance.  The other man would accompany her back to her parents' home — more than 400 miles away!

Scandalously, this second man was a faculty member, the reverend Principal of the Preparatory Department.  He had been sending love letters to the student.  This may have been sexual harrasment, but it was the 19th century, so the faculty member's colleagues didn't fire him.  Instead, they voted to banish her.

That's just some of Delazon Smith's titillating gossip...



Connexion of Male and Female Departments.

The Male and Female Departments are connected in this Institution.  The professed design is that the female influence may mold, refine, and soften the manners and habits of the male sex.  Also, if they cultivate their virtues together, they may stay themselves against future temptation.  Another, but more secret, object is that the female pupils may be prepared to enter the missionary field.

It is also well known that the connection is an experiment, and that similar experiments in other Institutions have failed.

How can Oberlin sustain this connection, especially when so little restraint is exercised over the students?  I shall delineate facts and then leave fathers and mothers to draw the conclusion and decide whether they will send their sons and daughters, and especially the latter, to Oberlin.


The Couch

As soon as a young lady enters the Institution, she is taught that unless she is prepared to drink down any dose of Oberlin sentiment which they in their good pleasure shall be disposed to administer, she cannot be respected or tolerated there.

In the summer of 1835, and previous to that period, gentlemen and ladies boarded, roomed, and lodged in the same building. It was also customary for them to visit each other at their rooms, and the gentlemen were frequently kind enough to build the ladies' fires for them before they were up in the morning.

During this period several cases of lewdness and extreme depravity were exhibited.  I will venture to mention one.  A young lady repaired to the room of a young gentleman at a late hour of the night and solicited of him a share in the benefits of his couch — and did absolutely obtain it.

Table Talk

In the dining hall, young men and young ladies are seated promiscuously at table.  This creates no small anxiety on the part of some young ladies.

After having become acquainted with some brother — who may have given a smile which the “discreet sister” may have interpreted as one of preference — she, on returning to a second meal, posts off in search of her new admirer.

He may have proved himself an abolitionist of the deepest dye.  If he has been so fortunate as to have received a cow-hiding or coat of rotten eggs as punishment for his views, he then becomes indeed an object of highest adoration.

Such young men are by no means the only object of worship.  The Negro student comes in for his (or her) full share of homage.  A young lady who obtains a seat at table by the side of one of these “Southern gentlemen,” especially if he be a fugitive from his master, is then considered a “sister indeed, in whom there is no guile.”


The Unregenerate

A young man of my acquaintance who entered the Institution something more than a year since — I shall call him Adam — was well known as a “poor, wicked, unregenerate sinner.”  Yet only a few weeks had passed before his insinuating manners had won the entire confidence and affection of a young lady, who became so enamored with him that she could not study with any degree of success.

I was permitted to peruse some of this “sister’s” correspondence, which was of the most pathetic and touching kind.  To come to the sequel, she was deserted by her fond admirer and left with disappointed hopes and blighted prospects; in short, with a broken heart.

Others in similar difficulties would no doubt disengage themselves from those contagious influences if they were only communicated at occasional visits.  But this daily, twice, and thrice-daily meeting at table, recitations, et cetera, is enough to keep the heated imaginations of such persons continually excited.


The Regenerate

Soon after Adam's return to Oberlin in February of this year — he had now become pious — another of the fair sisters became entirely captivated by his irresistible gentility.  I shall call her Ellen.  He obtained permission of the Lady Superior to accompany Ellen to a “Protracted Meeting” to be held at a distant place.  But, during the meeting, they repaired instead to a public house and took up their lodgings.

On his return, he was called before the Faculty to answer for his absence from the meeting.  He also had to answer for stopping among “sinners” at that distant public house, instead of calling upon some brother.  And he had to answer for spending a very considerable part of the time with Ellen in her apartment, where they entertained themselves by playing games of chance, drinking wines, et cetera.

Adam was not a theological student with the impunity appertaining thereto, so he was publicly censured by President Mahan.  The President stated that he himself “dare not visit a young lady at her room alone, especially where there was a bed,” lest he “place himself in the attitude of temptation, and therefore God would not succor him but leave him to fall.”  This acknowledgement argues very poorly for the chastity or purity of President Mahan's own mind, as well as that of the Female Department.

After this public reprimand, things were quite calm for a time; but soon after, other supposed immoralities required a second trial.  These repeated reprimands from the Faculty created quite an inquiring spirit among the students.  Why had the Faculty become all at once so tenacious, strict, and rigid with this loving couple?


The Rival of Twice Her Age

It was soon discovered that Ellen — this young lady of “sweet sixteen” — had stolen the heart, though unconsciously and undesignedly, of the Principal of the Preparatory Department — a Reverend youth of “only” thirty-two!

Various means were now used by the Faculty to persuade Ellen to give her affections not to her classmate but to her teacher.  Adam became assiduous and attentive in his addresses.  Opposition had raised his ambition.  He could not bear the thoughts of a rival.  Time passed on, and Adam gained the uppermost seat in Ellen’s affections.

However, the teacher had resolved to make one more effort.  He walked his room, then reclined upon his bed.  Unconsoled by one gleam of hope, he sought to sleep, but sleep fled from him.  Finally, he arose and committed the gushings of his heart to paper, addressed to the object of his unrequited love.  It was truly touching and pathetic, similar to the following:

“Oh! my dear Ellen, I am in affliction!  I am in trouble!  I had retired to bed but could not rest!  The hours pass heavily and slowly by — and oh, my dear Ellen, I must tell you that you are the cause of my misery.  It is in your power to relieve me.  Will you do it?  I cannot be happy unless you do.”

But even this affectionate epistle did not accomplish the desired object. When no efforts could prevail upon the young lady to forsake her first love, a new expedient was tried.  She was requested to leave the Institution and return to her parents in the state of Kentucky!  It was also determined that this Reverend should accompany her!

This decision seemed for a time to defeat the plans of Adam and Ellen. Meetings were frequent, various measures were proposed, but none seemed to warrant success. It was finally mutually agreed to submit to the decision of the Faculty, but with the understanding that she was to treat this Reverend member of the Faculty, while on their journey, with the greatest coldness and indifference.

Accordingly, on the 22d of May, Ellen took her final departure, accompanied by both of her admirers — one for only a short distance.  There was a little controversy was over which should be favored with a seat by the side of the lady, and Adam finally succeeded in obtaining it for the little distance he designed to go.

It was two months ago that I watched them leave, and that is the last I know of the matter.  What the ultimate results will be, time only can determine.

Here we have a professor so enamored that he is obliged to suspend his professorship.  Yet though being rejected, he wreaks revenge on his rival by obliging the young lady to accept his company, unprotected and alone, for the distance of upwards of four hundred miles!  Moreover, should that rival leave the Institution to accompany her himself, the professor holds the rod of expulsion over the young man's devoted head, well knowing that were he expelled he would be disinherited by his parents.


The Engagement Question

The following question has been frequently discussed among the students:  “Is it expedient for students, while such, to make pledges of matrimony?”  The Faculty decided that it is not — until the student shall have commenced his theological course.

Thus the theological students were turned loose among the “lambs of the flock,” to seek from thence helpmeets qualified for the labors of the missionary field.  And surely their advantages have been good for the purpose of gratifying their wishes — occupying the same building with the ladies and having free access to their apartments.

Prof. John Morgan led off first.  He, a man of gray hairs who had already buried two wives, married a young lady some eighteen or twenty years of age.  Since this affair, theological students have been very assiduously engaged in following the example of their instructor.

One theological student entered into matrimonial engagements with several different ladies at different periods.  The poor, broken-hearted creatures have in consequence left the Institution, almost resolved to lead lives of celibacy.  The last object of his affection was a young lady who came to Oberlin about two years ago, being at the time betrothed to a gentleman from the western part of New York.  But this young Solomon soon seduced her from her previous engagements, and she could not pursue her studies.  By the advice of the Lady Superior, she has returned to her parents.  The theologian has also since departed.


The Ghost

Another theologian married one of the Institute sisters something more than a year since.  Previous to his marriage, however, there was no inconsiderable excitement among the ladies of the Institution.

One of them was reported to have seen a ghost, apparition, or hobgoblin of some kind enter her bedroom at a late hour of the night.  She affirmed that she “spoke to it but it answered not.”

She arose from her bed, clad in the customary habiliments of the night, and escaped from the room.

The cause of this most wonderful phenomenon was soon discovered.  The aforesaid theological student was seeking the bedroom of his intended, and amid the darkness of the night had accidentally found his way into the room of this other unhappy creature.


The New York Girls

Another still more revolting case is that of a student, S.W. Smuller, who was brought before the Faculty for the alleged crime of having seduced and wickedly cohabited with a pious young lady residing in a family where he lodged.

But it seems that this young man was not contented to stop here; for soon after that excitement had abated, he found female associates in the persons of several young ladies, formerly from New York City, now occupying a room in the interior of a shoe shop.  What they had been in New York, milliners or tailoresses or something other, I am unable to say; yet common rumor says that they were ___.

It would be expected that in a community like this, where the most flagrant crimes are smothered by a simple denial or confession and the guilty received into full and perfect fellowship and entrusted with all confidence, that an individual convicted of the most revolting crimes would meet with the same indulgence as an individual of the most unimpeachable character.  So we find it in this case.  Mr. Smuller is still retained as a brother and permitted to visit those New York misses, where with closed doors and muffled windows they associate until any hour of night that might suit his pleasure.



But enough of this individual, and enough too of these abominations.  I will simply say that licentiousness, debauchery, and depravity have been exhibited in a multitude of instances and in almost innumerable ways.

I could well continue this dark picture, but I feel anxious that the accused should be heard in their own defense.  To that end, they can have no objections to their own testimony.  Therefore I shall submit those confessions in the next section.


Continue to “Conduct and Character of the Church.



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