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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.

We've reached the halfway point of our unmasking.  Delazon Smith has detailed the shortcomings of student life in the early days of Oberlin College:  learning, labor, sex, and food.  He now turns to the shortcomings of the faculty and other “pious” Oberlinians.

Sometimes they held a “protracted meeting.”  No math instruments were involved, just debating and preaching and confessing and praying.

(In the 20th century we would call these “revival meetings.”  For a week, members of a church would forgo their usual evening activities and attend special services, conducted every night by an allegedly inspiring preacher from out of town.)

Charles Finney lectured in 1835 that protracted meetings “are not new, but have always been practiced, in some form or other, ever since there was a church on earth.  The Jewish festivals were nothing else but protracted meetings.  In regard to the manner, they were conducted differently from what they are now, but the design was the same:  to devote a series of days to religious services, in order to make a more powerful impression of divine things upon the minds of the people.  ...Yet now in our day they have been opposed, particularly among Presbyterians, and called New Measures.”

Finney argued that “when circumstances plainly call for it, it is our duty to lay aside every other business, and make direct and continuous efforts for the salvation of souls.”

Therefore, in the fall of 1836, classes were canceled and the people of Oberlin were summoned to a protracted meeting where they were urged to beg forgiveness for their sins.  Various faculty members and students admitted to stealing chickens, eating too much gravy — and wife-beating!  Some even doubted the existence of God.


Conduct and Character of the Church.

I shall not go into minute detail of the peculiar “New Measure” sentiment.  Suffice it to say that the standard of the Christian church was formerly too low and worldly to suit the piety and zeal of the present inhabitants of Oberlin, who therefore “came out from the world” and have set themselves up as a “peculiar people.”  They are those into whose hands God has entrusted the destinies of this nation.  They are to “New Measure-ize” the inhabitants of the Great Valley of the Mississippi.

At my first arrival in the summer of 1835, soon after that of the “almost supernatural Finney,” every man seemed to have set himself up as his brother's judge, each one criticizing another.  But a mutual agreement was made that Mr. Finney should receive their homage in future, and for a time all animosities and difference of opinion ceased.

Accordingly, the ladies must have a weekly lecture on Moral Reform, another on the Abolition of Slavery, and another on “Tight Lacing” (instructing them how they should cut, make, and wear their clothes).

All the operations of the Institution must be suspended to witness the astonishing legerdemain of proving that:

1.  all elegance of dress was an abomination in the sight of God;

2.  tea, coffee, spices, and pepper were injurious;

3.  animal food “was never intended to be eaten”; and that

4.  anyone who used the products of slave labor could not be a Christian.

Much time is spent in listening to recommendations, yet the Faculty teach by precept that which they do not do by practice.  While they say to their followers, “do not follow the fashions of this world,” at the same time they are arrayed in their $30 black coats!

These subjects having been thoroughly discussed, differences in theology were now to have their turn.   Since the doors of the Church were open to all evangelical denominations, these differences were great and numerous.


1. Baptism

It was agreed that one hour of each Sunday should be appropriated to discuss the question of infant baptism.  President Mahan was to select scripture to favor the doctrine, while those differing in sentiment should state their objections.

But while President Mahan was yet speaking, one colonist cried out, “I don't believe in throwing water onto babies!”

Some half dozen voices were now heard at once: “Take care there, brother!”  “That's blasphemy!”

“I don't care,” replied the first; “I won't be choked down!”

Another brother now jumped up and declared that infant baptism is sacred, and that any man who baptizes a person who had already been baptized in infancy “sins against God Almighty!”

The Pastor came forward to say he would not have sentiments of that kind advanced in his church.

“Well,” said his antagonist, “that's my opinion.”

The pastor replied, “Can't help that, sir.  I won't hear it, for I am one of those very men myself.  Yes, sir, I baptize persons the second time if they wish it.”

The discussion adjourned sine die with a mutual desire that these things might be kept from the public.


2. Tainted Goods

The right and wrong of the use of the products of slave labor was now to be discussed.  After meeting together at the appointed time, President Mahan arose, as usual, and expressed his views.

A theological student had the presumption to differ with him, treating some of his positions rather sarcastically.  The President said that such remarks ought to receive the frowns and execrations of the audience.  The Theologian now asked pardon of the President, who did not appear disposed to grant it.  The meeting then adjourned.


The young theologian retired to his room, and from thence to bed.  But he had displeased the President!  The President had desired the audience, over whom he had great influence, to execrate his conduct!  He had asked the President's forgiveness, but his prayer had found no bowels of mercy there!

These reflections were too much.  He got up in the dead of night and sought the depths of the forest as a hiding place where he might weep and die.

His absence was discovered the next morning.  President Mahan called the theological class together, and, after mutually agreeing that to keep the affair as secret as possible, they commenced their search.  Every nook and corner of the woods was thoroughly examined for the distance of a mile each way before he was found, lying very composedly by the side of a log.

On being desired to return to the Institution, he declined, declaring his intention to die where he was.  After no entreaties could prevail upon him, it was then proposed to try prayer.  Mr. Jones was requested to lead it, as he possessed the strongest pair of lungs.  I myself heard him distinctly at the distance of three quarters of a mile.

The efficacy of prayer was now supposed to be fully tested, and the poor disconsolate man reluctantly returned to his theological studies.  Now, I am happy to add, he is laboring with much success in the ministry.


3. Perfection

The next question presented for discussion was the doctrine of Christian Perfection.  This caused a mighty convulsion.  Sermons were preached by the different members of the Faculty, some pro and others con.  Students were one day concluding that they were not Christians, and the next day that they were.

At the termination of the discussion, several students declared themselves perfect, as perfect as God.  Considering themselves too wise to be taught, they left the Institution, resolving to “confer no longer with flesh and blood.”

The discussion of this question has since been introduced at several different periods with about the same results.  There have been occasional “flare-ups” in which Christians were accused of coldness in the cause of Christ. 


The Great Protraction

Thus matters continued until the fall of 1836, when an examination was had into the state of the Church and the spiritual condition of a few reputedly impenitent sinners.  It was found that the Church needed purifying.  Therefore it was proposed to hold a Protracted Meeting.

As usual, the operations of the Institution were suspended, and with President Mahan, C.G. Finney, H. Foot, and several of their subordinates at the head, the Meeting was commenced.  Nothing of importance transpired for several days, until a sermon by President Mahan was followed by one from Mr. Finney — the latter contributing not a little to fire the imagination.

Amid the excitement, Mr. Finney made the following request:  That all professors of religion present, who were conscious that they were hypocrites, would now make it manifest by rising up.

At first, some ten or fifteen arose, he in the meantime plying fuel to the fire with all possible diligence. The cry kept up, “Get up!  Get up!  Up, up, up!  Come, better get up now than to weep and howl in the day of God Almighty's wrath!”  The alarm soon reached its zenith, and to his apparent joy and to my surprise, about two hundred rose upon their feet — some crying, others groaning, and numbers making confessions at the same time.

The excitement began to subside, and the reverend leaders seemed gluttonized with joy and satisfaction.

It was then concluded that several days should be spent in making confessions:  “freeing their minds,” “removing stumbling blocks,” et cetera.  Here follows a list of some of the confessions as they were noted down at the time, so far as the confused state of the Meeting would permit.


Hypocritical Faculty

President Mahan confessed that he doubted whether he had ever been a Christian, and that he had never until now understood the Christian religion.

Professor John Morgan said he had never known what practical, experimental religion was, but that he now purposed to seek for it.  Also, he had committed very grievous sins against God, such as by making an idol of his young wife.

Rev. George Whipple confessed that he had been very licentious and depraved in his habits, particularly being very much addicted to the sin of onanism.

Professor Henry Cowles said he feared he was as badly off as his brethren of the Faculty.


Hypocritical Theological Students

U.T. Chamberlin confessed that on leaving Lane Seminary at Cincinnati, he stole a quantity of joiner's tools.  Also, that he had been in the habit of pilfering hen-roosts, and lying, and a gross of other gross sins too numerous to mention.  Also, that he had not prayed to God sometimes for the space of three weeks, because some of his theological brethren could pray better than he could. 

C. Stewart Renshaw confessed to being proud in anticipation of his ministerial calling, breaking the Sabbath, lying, and eating too much Graham bread and gravy when dining in the boarding hall.

E.G. Townsend confessed that he too had lied, cheated, and played the hypocrite.  He did not believe the Bible to be of divine origin, and he had some doubts of the existence of a God.

Oliver D. Hibbard — formerly traveling agent for the Institution, now the head of the Foreign Missionary Society at Oberlin — confessed that he did not believe in the Holy Ghost.  Also, he had been guilty of lying, with divers other species of hypocrisy.

L.D. Butts confessed that he had had no religion for several years, though he had kept that fact hid from his brethren.

George L. Hovey confessed having committed almost every abomination; among others, of having lied when standing in the sacred desk preaching the gospel — preaching that which he did not believe himself!

Comment:  It is impossible to calculate the moral mischief that mental lying has produced in society. When a man has so far prostituted the chastity of his mind as to subscribe his professional belief to things he does not believe, he has prepared himself for the commission of every other crime. Can we conceive anything more destructive to morality than this?

I will also mention two confessions which were made in private groups. Rev. S. F. Porter, a theological student who has been a member of the Institution for nearly two years, was married a few months since.  He confessed that he held illicit intercourse with his wife previous to marriage — and, rumor says, with his own sister, as well as with other Institute Sisters.  These things have since so troubled this good man that they have produced partial insanity, insomuch that he has been entirely unable to preach for several months.

Another theological student is known to have given his wife poison, for the purpose of killing her!  It was well known to the officers of the church that he was living in constant abuse of his wife and family.  Still, on leaving the place, he received a letter of recommendation to a sister church.


Hypocritical College & Preparatory Students

William Dewey confessed of having stolen an apple and of having been proud of the velvet on his cuffs and cloak collar.

Edward Henry Fairchild confessed to having been so proud of his power in the conversion of sinners that he had lied and misrepresented, in order to appear more successful than his brethren.

Alexander H. Thompson confessed privately that he was no longer a Christian, having discarded the doctrine of the divine authenticity of the Scriptures and the idea that the Christian religion was a holy religion.

Charles Adams confessed that he had been guilty of various crimes, among which was the continual habit of indulging in onanism for seven years.

And to put on the climax, Mr. , a college student, confessed much licentiousness and debauchery, among which was that of cohabiting with beasts!



The poor sinners were now to receive their portion.  Accordingly there was a most desperate effort made.  Those preachers who were most notorious for their success in the conversion of sinners were now to employ the strongest powers of their skill.

The Law, Hell, Terror, Blackness, and Darkness were sounded loud and long, but no efforts seemed to prevail.  They were about to give up the impenitent as incorrigible.

Then it occurred to them that they could bring down one by constraining him through selfish motives.  Then, should the residue remain obstinate, they could dismiss them from the Institution.

The individual upon whom they were to make the first effort had been guilty of a misdemeanor which they construed into a crime.  It was known that he feared expulsion, as he had been sent here against his wishes by a pious father who threatened to disinherit him should he be expelled.

Accordingly, the vote of expulsion was passed by the Faculty, and one of their number was appointed to inform the young man of the fact.  He presented him two alternatives:  either to submit to God or to take leave of absence.

The young man seemed to be in trouble. The dilemma was before him.  He appeared to be alternately choosing the one and then the other.  When he thought of home, he saw nothing but the frowns of an indignant father, but when he contemplated the Institution, his reason and common sense were opposed to complying with their requests.  He finally chose to obey their arbitary mandate and thus be reinstated.

At the close of the Meeting it was ascertained that two other impenitents were hopefully converted.  However, three weeks had not passed away before they had both apostatized, and the Faculty, on learning this fact, dismissed them both from the Institution.

Thus ended the great and notorious Protracted Meeting held in the fall of 1836.  Three souls were saved from hypocrisy, of whom two fell victim to backsliding.


Continue to “Conduct and Character, Concluded.



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