About Site


Why 10,000?
Written March 10, 2018


Listen up, Oberlin College alumni!  Our official Alma Mater, written in 1913 and sung at every reunion since, is “Ten Thousand Strong.”

Surprisingly, the Alma Mater was written by neither a student nor an alumnus, but rather by Pittsburgh-born minister Jason Noble Pierce.  From 1910 to 1914 he was the pastor of Oberlin's Second Congregational Church.  That church stood on the present site of Bibbins Hall, the main building of the Conservatory of Music. 

But not all students today are familiar with “Ten Thousand Strong.”  If you search the Internet for that title, you're probably led instead to a song about Armageddon by the heavy-metal band Iced Earth.  That's not the same at all.  We're talking about this old piece of music.

The above is from the eighth edition of the Oberlin College Song Book, published by the Alumni Association in 1946.  On the Internet I did find a video of a group performance, apparently led by Brünnhilde in the Root Room of the former Carnegie Library.

        Ten thousand strong
           Sing we a song...

Yon ived walls
Forming thy halls...

Ye colors old,
Crimson and gold...

You may wonder about the mention of “setting bondmen free.”  That alludes to the Underground Railroad and similar abolitionist activities in the 19th century.

The bigger question is, why did Rev. Pierce refer to “ten thousand”?  There were thirty-eight thousand alumni in 1913.  Today the college boasts more than forty thousand graduates and former students.

*23.6% in 2016-18, according to the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education

Now it's true that a quarter of them* make annual contributions, so the number of alumni who support the college financially is in fact around 10,000.  Almost 3,000 people donated on a single “All In for Oberlin” day, April 25, 2019.

But maybe “ten thousand” was traditional.  I've located an earlier reference to the number.  More than half a century earlier, in fact.  I found it in an address given on the eve of the Civil War by James Harris Fairchild, professor of theology and moral philosophy.  He would later serve as the college's third president. 

In 1858, the town had helped rescue an escaped slave, John Price, and Fairchild hid Price in his home for three days.  That's his house on the left below, on the site now occupied by Fairchild dormitory.

Then on August 22, 1860, speaking to an assembly of alumni, Fairchild reviewed the college's history.

He looked back to 1835, when Oberlin had become the first college in the United States to admit students of all races.  This integration, Fairchild claimed, had virtually eliminated any racism among the students and converted them into ambassaors for brotherhood. 

“In the 25 years past, more than ten thousand students have been connected with the institution, and few of these have been here so short a time as not to have their prejudices removed, their feelings liberalized, and their interest quickened in reference to the colored race.

“To this result, no special means have been necessary.  They meet, from day to day, those whom nature has tinged with a darker shade than themselves, but engaged in the same pursuits, cherishing the same aspirations, gifted with the same powers, and sharers in a common destiny.  A supercilious air seems out of place.  The lip that at first curled with contempt, will at length smile a recognition of a common humanity.

“What men most require for the cultivation of a fellow feeling, is to look each other fairly in the face.  So have we found it here.

“And, of the ten thousand who have gone from among us, there are probably few that may not be relied on as the enemies of oppression and the friends of an abused and neglected race.  The widespread influence which these must exert — in the family, the school, in the church, and in the State — cannot be compassed by human vision.”

Yes, Oberlin has always humanized and liberalized young people before sending them out to change the world!




Back to Top
More CollegeMore College