To the Editor of The Independent

31 December 1867


[Published in The Independent (New York), 9 January 1868, p. 1.]






OBERLIN, Dec. 31st, 1867.


My attention has been repeatedly called to an article said to have appeared in your paper, although I did not see it, to this effect: That I expressed to President Haven, of Michigan University, at the time he was at Oberlin Commencement, an opinion adverse to the education of the sexes in the same school. If such a statement appeared it was a mistake. I did not speak with President Haven when here, as I was not able to appear in public, and we did not meet. He was here but a short time.

The facts are these: Several years ago I was written to by the authorities of that university, requesting an expression of my opinion on that question. As nearly as I can recollect, I replied that the experiment here had been altogether satisfactory; but that it had been made under peculiarly advantageous circumstances--circumstances so peculiar that from it I dared not infer a universal rule in favor of it. That, under adverse circumstances, or in the absence of a healthy religious influence, I should fear the results.

The experiment as tried here has been a marked success. Much good, and no evil, that I am aware of, has come to us from this source. Our brethren here are mostly quite confident of its success elsewhere, and under any circumstances, as being nature's method of education. They would not draw this universal inference from so narrow premises as our experiment here, under our circumstances; but from the order indicated in nature. Perhaps I am a little over-cautious, or even fogyish, in the view I have had, and still have, on this question. The facts are that we have, from the first, been surrounded with a powerful religious influence. A faculty of earnest Christian men ever watchful and laboring for the conversion and salvation of all the students; a praying people, always sympathizing with the faculty, and praying and laboring for the salvation of the students; an earnest Christian lady as lady principal of the female department, sustained by a "Ladies Board," always prayerful and earnest in labors for the conversion of the young ladies; nearly every housekeeper in town sympathizing and co-operating, at all times, with the lady principal in her watchfulness and efforts to turn the young ladies to Christ. Under these circumstances we have had an almost continuous revival of religion, insomuch that comparatively very few of either sex have remained long here before they were converted to Christ. These, surely, are no ordinary circumstances. The young people of both sexes have helped forward the good work of revival as well as of education; but it has been, of course, only after they were Christians that they have labored for souls. From what I have seen here, I should not fear any evil to the young ladies in a school of this kind, under ordinary circumstances, except it were moral evil. Intellectually, such circumstances are eminently favorable to their culture and elevation; and no hindrance, but rather a stimulus, to the young men in their studies. In this respect there is often a wholesome competition observable between the sexes. Furthermore, such circumstances are found to be conducive to the cultivation of good manners in both sexes. They counteract and tend to prevent vulgarity and coarseness in both sexes. Being, as they are, constantly exposed to each other's criticism, whatever is unfeminine and unlady-like in the young ladies, and whatever is unmanly and ungentlemanly in the young men, is likely to be noticed, remarked upon, and cured. I have watched the workings of this experiment with much care and solicitude, and am entirely satisfied with it here. As it works here, it renders discipline easy, and severity almost uniformly unnecessary. It is certainly possible for any college and community to agree and create a set of circumstances in which this method would be a success. But I dare not venture the opinion that it would be morally safe and expedient under morally adverse circumstances. In such a case I still must, in candor, say I should fear results.

Who said in your paper that I had recently spoken five hours against Masonry in Chicago? I have never spoken in Chicago on this subject. I have preached to my own people upon it. God bless you brother.




I have not been able to find the article to which Finney refers. Erastus Otis Haven (1820-1881), was a bishop in the Methodist Episcopal Church. He had taught at the University of Michigan from 1852-56, and then in 1863 was called to the presidency. He resigned in 1869. See Autobiography of Erastus O. Haven, D.D., LL.D, edited by C. C. Stratton (New York: Phillips & Hunt, 1883).

Commencement was from Saturday 24th to Wednesday 28th August 1867. Finney presided at the service on Sunday morning in First Church, although he did not preach. President Haven gave an address before the College Literary Societies on the Monday evening. See The Independent (New York), 5 September 1867, p. 4; and 12 September 1867, p. 6.

This letter has not been found.

See Finney's letter to the University of Michigan, 1858. The Board of Regents of the University were at that time against adopting co-education at Michigan.

Three years earlier, at a meeting of the Michigan State Teacher's Association at Ann Arbor, Haven himself, although unaware of what had already been done at Oberlin, had advocated opening the University of Michigan to women, but none of the rest of the faculty was in favor of it. (See Haven, Autobiography, p. 110, where he states that it was "as early, I think, as 1853". The meeting was in 1855). By 1858, however, Haven had changed his mind; and he was still firmly opposed to it, in spite of his visit to Oberlin, when he presented his Annual Report to the Board of Regents of the University of Michigan in September 1867. The subject had come up again, when the State legislature urged opening the institution to women. Drawing attention to the 1858 report, and quoting Finney's cautions at that time, he recommended that no change should be made to the regulations of the University about the admission of women. See University of Michigan. Annual Report of the President, made to the Board of Regents at the Meeting held September 24, 1867 (Ann Arbor), pp. 10-13.

It was not until January 1870, after Haven's resignation, that co-education was eventually adopted. See Elizabeth M. Farrand, History of the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor: Register Publishing House, 1885), pp. 189-191.

According to one historian: "While Oberlin, Kalamazoo College, and a few smaller institutions had accepted the principle of co-education, it was not until Michigan, as a university, thus gave its approval to the innovation that it became the recognized practice in most of the larger institutions of the country, particularly in the Middle West and West" (Wilfred B. Shaw, A Short History of the University of Michigan [Ann Arbor: George Wahr, 1934], pp. 49-50).

According to Robert S. Fletcher: "Michigan became the favorite example of coeducation in a state university" (A History of Oberlin College, p. 907).

The following paragraph was published in The Independent (New York), 26 December 1867, p. 3, under the heading "Ministerial Register":

Finney.--President Finney, of Oberlin College, Ohio, recently addressed a large audience in Chicago for five hours, on Free Masonry and secret societies.

For his dealing with the subject in Oberlin, see Memoirs, pp. 624-32.