Oberlin Heritage Center Blog


Posts Tagged ‘Oberlin College’

Winter Term 2012: Finding Community Through History

Friday, January 27th, 2012

Until my time spent at the Heritage Center, my interest in museum work and cultural heritage management was underwritten by my fascination with the objects involved—Classical archaeology was only as interesting as its statuary and American history was only as interesting as the objects which told its stories. My concept and appreciation of museum work gained another crucial dimension during my month with the Heritage Center: the importance of community. In many ways the Oberlin Heritage Center is a professional institution, but in seemingly as many other ways it is a community club of sorts, relying heavily not only on the monetary support of its members but also their expertise and experience.

Towards the end of January, Prue Richard, the Collections Assistant, invited me to attend a collections committee meeting, which would be held at—to my surprise—Kendal (a local retirement community). On the way to the meeting I remember asking Prue if these meetings were public or private, if the committee was composed of board members or paying members, and who would be attending. The answers to these questions were not at all what I had expected. The committee was composed of an incredible diversity of volunteer talents, each of which was hugely valuable to the Heritage Center. The use of community talent and expertise seems essential to the continued prosperity of the Center.

I also enjoyed and learned quite a bit in my more day-to-day tasks at the Center. Interested in both research and collections management, I was able to spread my time somewhat evenly between these two interests. In terms of research, I was given the task of updating biographies on the previous tenants of Monroe house to go with the new furnishings plan. I focused primarily on the Monroe Children—Emma, Mary, Charles, and William. As far as collections management goes, I was able to help Prue develop a new salvage plan which would be used to evacuate the most important objects in the event of a fire or other major crisis. In performing these two tasks I became very familiar with the museum database program Past Perfect as well as a number of genealogical research databases. I also spent a good deal of time in the College archives poring over old financial and legal documents.

The tasks I was given by the Heritage Center staff were undoubtedly personally valuable—and hopefully valuable to the Center as well; but, the aspect of my time here that I may have enjoyed most was being my friends’ personal Oberlin historian. Dozens of times other Oberlin students would approach me with questions about the age of their home or the previous tenants, and given my access to all the information stored at the Heritage Center, I was more than capable of answering these questions. From finding the building history of my house on East College to finding that my friend’s apartment was previously a Masonic Temple, these small bits of historical knowledge have really brought Oberlin to life for me—breaking out the four year cycles I tend to see Oberlin as being stuck in, and revealing a community with a rich, important history that needs to be told and remembered.

Greg Brown
OC Class of 2012

“Oberlin Knows No Crisis”: Local Happenings during the Presidential Inauguration of 1861

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011


On March 4, 1861, one-hundred-and-fifty years ago, Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated President of the United States of America. Only a few weeks before in Montgomery, Alabama, Jefferson Davis had been inaugurated provisionally as President of the Confederate States. With already seven states having seceded from the Union, Lincoln began his presidency of a fragile United States. Fittingly, his speech was entirely devoted to the “secession flurry.” The country was at a breaking point, he admitted—but it was unnecessarily and wrongly so.  “May his views of prerogative penetrate the nation,” Oberlin’s local paper, The Lorain County News states approvingly, “[but] whether the mild measures which Mr. Lincoln proposes will not excite civil war remains to be seen.”

While the federal government was in strife, small town life in Oberlin was not—“Oberlin Knows no Crisis,” the local paper comments. Yes, the country was in a tough spot, and certainly, Oberlinians were aware of it. Daily life in the village, though, very much like today, was ongoing. So, what was going in Oberlin 150 years ago? A perusal of the local paper finds out: a lot!

The weather in Wellington and Oberlin was mild these first two weeks in 1861, more like “May, instead of March.” Temperatures were recorded as being upwards of sixty.

The college’s student population was threatening to reach an all time high—700 enrolled, and perhaps, could reach 1000! This, despite the “crisis,” the editor of the paper notes. Oberlin College students had just participated in the “Day of Annual Fasting and Prayer for Colleges,” which entailed, as the title speaks of, fasting and prayer for Christian students and the colleges that endeavored to educate them.

Complaints were pouring in about the condition of some of the sidewalks in Oberlin: “One fourth of the walks in our otherwise moral and orthodox village are indecently dangerous! [They are] in a state hardly navigable for cats.” (To modern Oberlinians and readers elsewhere just coming ourselves out of a long and snowy winter: I think we can relate!)

A classified in the local paper reads similar to one we might find today for a car, “For Sale-A valuable Horse, and a first rate new Lumber Wagon, (single or double) cheap for cash. Call on R.J. Shipherd.”

An elderly woman wrote in to the paper and commented on Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, “What a critter Mrs. Stowe is to write!” This was just after she had just finished another chapter of the book.

On impure drinking water, the local paper advises: “Set a pitcher of iced water in a room inhabited, and in a few hours it will have absorbed from the room nearly all the respired and perspired gases of the room, the air of which will have become purer, but the water utterly filthy. Hence water…should be often renewed.”

In retrospect, in the first days of March 2011,

Karyn Norwood

Questions? Comments?

Email: cw150@oberlinheritage.org

Source Consulted:

The Lorain County News, 6 March 1861, p. 2,3; The Lorain County News, 13 March 1861, p. 2.

A Winter Term at Oberlin Heritage Center

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

By Timothy Krumreigh (Oberlin College class of 2012)

Timothy Krumreig encapsulates a historic document so it is safely protected in our archives.

Week One:

The first week interning at the Heritage Center was devoted to introduction and familiarization. Liz and Prue showed me around the basement and allowed me to familiarize myself with the location of resources. Additionally, Prue pulled out documents and books  (i.e. Collections Goals of OHC and Introduction to Museum work) based on my interested in the museum field so I could begin obtaining some background knowledge.

Week Two:

During the second week of interning at the Heritage Center, I began to utilize the resources to start some projects. Rachel and I did a very basic inventory of 123 (formerly 21) South Professor Street for the owner. We looked through directories,  at online documents, and in college guides in hopes of discovering more information about the residents of 123 S. Professor Street. Additionally, Prue showed Rachel and I two examples of scrap books and explained the problems and solutions for preserving old scrapbooks. After the discussion, Prue showed us a recently donated scrap book and demonstrated the construction of a phase box.

Week Three:

Week three of interning at the Heritage Center was really exciting. Rachel and I continued to work on the inventory of 123 S. Professor Street. We completed looking through documents and electric resources and will now move on to the final write up for the file. I went on the field trip to McKay-Lodge conservancy and was very impressed. The trip gave me a good idea of some of things that can be done with conservation and allowed me to see some of the awesome processes used in order to conserve a piece of art or historic document.

When we arrived back at the Heritage Center, Rachel and I discussed gaining experience and working with historic objects and documents with Prue. The next day, Prue collected various documents and pictures in need of preservation. She showed us the flat file of Soldiers Monument and taught us how to encapsulate the documents and pictures that were in the flat file. After walking us through the first encapsulation, she allowed Rachel and myself to encapsulate the remaining documents. On Friday, Rachel and I were given a register from the college and asked to build a phase box, with some assistance were were able to complete a box.

Week 4:

I think week four of our winter term internship was probably the most exciting. The Heritage Center sent us to a symposium in Indianapolis, Indiana for two days. The symposium was called “The Green Historic Preservation Symposium,” which was sponsored by the EPA region five. The symposium brought together people from many different fields: preservation, conservation, construction, business, and many more. The idea of the conference was to bring different minds together to figure out what’s working, what’s not working, and what needs to change in terms of green historic preservation. People are now beginning to realize that tearing down historic homes to make way for “new, green construction,” is not actually green. Green historic preservation is a new and developing idea; hopefully as this idea develops, we will see it applied in Oberlin.

Week Five:

During our last week of work at the Heritage Center, we began working more on the doll house and the objects found in the attic. I was shown how to remove the surface dirt from the furniture and toys by using vulcanized rubber. After the toys were cleaned, I recorded the type of objects so they could later be accessioned. Prue showed us how to add an accession number to the Pass Perfect program and Rachel and I printed a new deed for the found doll house items. The last big project we worked on involved writing the accession numbers on the objects themselves. This process involves different chemical and products that allow a museum to write on the object, but also remove the writing if necessary. We painted on chemicals and wrote the tiny accession numbers on the collections.

Working with the Heritage Center has given me a lot of great insight to preservation and museum work. I would like to go into the preservation and/or museum field after Oberlin, so this internship has allowed me to “get my feet wet” and get an idea of what I may be getting myself into. I had a great time working with the heritage center staff and the other winter term volunteers. I hope to continue working with the heritage center in the future.

A Doll’s House

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

by Eli Goldberg (Oberlin College Class of 2012) 

Over the last month I’ve been working with Claire and Daniella to restore the Heritage Center’s 1930s doll house.  As an archaeology major, I’m used to working with old things – but this doll house is about 2,000 years out of my league!  Nevertheless, it’s been an amazing month. 
I read through dozens of old issues of the Ladies’ Home Journal, and drew up furniture plans for all the rooms in the dollhouse: living room with a grand piano, dining room, grown-up bedroom, and a twee little nursery that has its own toybox with tiny dolls. I vacuumed the dust out of miniature armchairs. I pored through countless wallpaper catalogs and daydreamed about floor coverings. (Hardwood floors? Handmade rugs? Yes we can!) 

Testing out a furnishings plan in the living room.

We went on two delightful field trips – one to a local art conservation facility (picture displaced sculptures lined up in the snow outside an Ohio barn, awaiting treatment); the other to meet with Steve McQuillin, an Oberlin alum who is a historic preservation consultant (working out of a breathtaking brick farmhouse that he restored himself). 

But halfway through the month – just when I thought I knew what I was doing – came the coolest surprise. 

My mission: take apart the dollhouse. This was a daunting assignment, as I’m excellent at deconstructing things, but not so great at putting them back together. Nevertheless, it will make it much, much easier to put in wallpaper and flooring. I prowled around the house with a camera, snapping photos of every nut, bolt, and screw. Then, tools in hand, I set about dismantling the beast, methodically laying out each piece on a card table. 

I unscrewed the fireplaces, pulled off the chimneys. Then I delicately lifted the roof, and very nearly died. 

Still carrying the roof, I wandered in a daze into the next room, where I found my supervisor. “Hey, uh, Prue? We’ve got an attic full of furniture.” 

“…oh, my goodness. You have got to be kidding me.” 

The sight that awaited us when we opened up the attic.

Oh, yes, there was furniture – some (sadly mildewy) couches, a complete bathroom set, a cast-iron kitchen range, a painted metal parlor set with manufacturer’s stamps. But there was so much more: a working mechanical music box. A toy cash register with coupons and newspaper scraps in the drawer. A pencil case with “March 1925” written on the back. An ancient Mickey Mouse figurine. A tiny tea set. It’s unbelievable that all of this was sitting under our noses the entire time – probably the person who donated the dollhouse didn’t even know it was there. 

I stayed well after my shift was over, exploring our new finds. After working with this house for two weeks, I thought I knew everything about it. But just pull off the roof, and suddenly the shape of my project has completely changed…

Researching Women Physicians in the 19th & 20th Centuries

Saturday, January 30th, 2010

By Chloe Drummond (Oberlin College class of 2012)

This Winter Term, I wanted to stay in Oberlin and work locally. I hadn’t had an internship position for Winter Term before and I thought that working for the Oberlin Heritage Center would be a great opportunity to learn a lot about Oberlin, conduct in-depth history research—something I hadn’t really done before—and give my time to an organization that does a lot for the Oberlin community that I have grown fond of. And let me tell you, I think my Winter Term has been incredibly fulfilling. Not only have I met wonderful people who are truly passionate about their work, but I have learned to use resources I hadn’t previously known about.

I have been working on research about women physicians who practiced in Oberlin in the 19th and 20th centuries. I have found interesting information ranging from specific details such as a person’s physical features and notes about communication preferences, to broader context, such as the environment in which women practiced medicine at this time in U.S. history. Because of the centuries I was dealing with, it was tricky to find a lot of specific information that wasn’t recorded by Oberlin College. For example, I was unable to track down day-to-day practice information of the physicians who had private offices. I was, however, able to find a lot of information on the physicians who worked for the college. I believe that my work, as tough as it was to find information, has only scratched the surface. With more time, and by looking at different school records, city directories and hopefully other good pockets of sources, more information on these women will be revealed. It has been an interesting project because I have learned a lot about Oberlin College’s early physical education programs and in general, the kinds of work that women physicians were confined to in the early stages of allowing women to practice medicine in the United States. Personally, I have developed research skills that I know will be useful later on. I am hoping that the Oberlin Heritage Center can make good use of my project.