Antislavery, Books Pamphlets & Newspapers
A Brief History of the Anti-Slavery Collection
Founded in 1833, Oberlin's early supporters, students, and settlers actively pursued the Christian ideals of men like Charles Grandison Finney and William Lloyd Garrison. Oberlin College was the first co-educational institution in the United States, as well as the most influential of the early institutions that admitted African-Americans. The town was major stop on the Underground Railroad. Oberlin College has, and continues to embrace many social and political causes, and the foremost among these was the crusade to end slavery in the United States.
During the years 1838–1840, travelers to England made appeals to British anti-slavery sentiment and collected books for the school's fledgling library. Their trip was marvelously successful, and among the 2000 or so volumes they brought back with them were several British books arguing against slavery representing the oldest portion of our collection.
When the Spear Library building opened in 1885, the librarian, Rev. Henry Matson, recognizing the role which Oberlin had played in the abolitionist struggle, made an appeal to local residents for anti-slavery literature.
It is proposed to make in the college library an anti-slavery collection, complete as possible, for the future historian, in which shall be gathered every book, every pamphlet, every report, every tract, every newspaper, and every private letter on the subject. For such a collection nothing is unimportant. Scattered here and there these documents are all but worthless, but gathered in one collection they would be priceless. (Oberlin Weekly News, Feb. 29, 1884)
Among the generous contributions made at this time was the original draft of the Anti-Slavery Declaration of 1833 in the handwriting of William Lloyd Garrison. In 1931/32 Geraldine Hopkins Hubbard compiled a catalog of the Anti-Slavery Collection of which published copies and later appendices are available in Special Collections. In 1968, the Lost Cause Press in Louisville, Kentucky, realizing the national importance of Oberlin's holdings, made the entire collection available in a microcard edition, which is also available for use in the Oberlin College Library. The set is now on microfiche cards available from Primary Source Media.
Scope of the Collection
The Anti-Slavery Collection now consists of around 2500 or more items, most of which have been cataloged and so can be searched using the online catalog. In the collection you will find:
• Anti-slavery societies' documents: annual reports, addresses, and publications. Books, pamphlets, and other documents outlining the moral, religious, economic, and legal aspects of the slavery debate.
• Travelers' observations of slavery.
• Slave narratives — autobiographical, biographical, and fictional.
• Biographies of leaders of the anti-slavery movement.
• Children's literature.
• Poetry, songs, anthologies, and gift books.
• Newspapers and periodicals, including The Abolitionist, The American Anti-Slavery Reporter, The Emancipator and Republican, The Gerrit Smith Banner, The Liberator, Liberty, and many others.
• Political works, including documents related to the Missouri Compromise, the Fugitive Slave Law, the Kansas-Nebraska Controversy; party propaganda; and speeches made in and out of Congress.
• Some pro-slavery literature.
• Ephemera, including bills of sale for slaves, manumission papers, slave shackles, etc.
Gravestone of Lee Howard Dobbins
One of the most compelling artifacts in Special Collections is a gravestone of a four year old escaped slave. In March of 1853, a slave woman named Miriam arrived in Oberlin from Kentucky, with her entire family—her children and grandchildren and a sickly four-year-old foster child named Lee Howard Dobbins. Miriam had fled her master in a desperate attempt to save her daughters, whom she had learned were going to be sold.
By the time they arrived in Oberlin, little Lee Howard was extremely ill. Miriam and the rest of her family couldn't afford to wait for his convalescence — since she and her family were the only slaves their master owned, he was no doubt in hot and angry pursuit. A family in Oberlin promised to care for the child, and Miriam and her children were safely delivered to Canada, where her brother was awaiting them.
Lee Howard Dobbins died of consumption a week later. The whole town mourned his death — a thousand people were reportedly crammed into First Church for his funeral, where all grieved not only the loss of this child, but the horrors of slavery. The collection at the funeral was used to buy this gravestone for him.
The stone has weathered badly, and so it was put in the Oberlin College Library Special Collections for safekeeping in 1938. The Inscription reads:
Let Slavery perish!
LEE HOWARD DOBBINS
a fugitive Slave orphan.
brought here by an
adopted mother in her
flight for liberty
MAR. 17, 1853
left here wasted with
a refuge in death
MAR. 26, 1853
Aged 4 Years
Related Material in the Oberlin College Archive
Among the rather extensive mid-nineteenth century documents held by the Oberlin College Archives are papers relating to the anti-slavery movement and Black education. These documents are of both an institutional and a non-institutional nature.