Oberlin College, where Finney taught for many years and served for a time as president, was in the 19th century a unique institution. Hated in the South because it symbolized abolition, allowing blacks to learn alongside whites, it was adored by abolitionists, and was a favorite project of the wealthy Tappans, who poured their financial support into it.

When Oberlin College opened its doors, it was not the only school in America to accept black students. However, inter-racial education was bitterly opposed by a great many in America, and not only from the South. Finney remarked about how even in Ohio where Oberlin was located, public support was low, and criticism was strong. Oberlin was considered a radical institution and was a symbol against which much hatred was directed. It was a busy station on the Underground Railroad, giving rest and protection to slaves being smuggled to freedom, and its friends, such as the Tappan brothers, and Theodore Weld, were renowned, or infamous (depending on where one stood) for their aggressive work for abolition. Oberlin provided a haven for the “oppressed race” and its dream was to allow an opportunity for black people to benefit from the blessings of education.

That Oberlin allowed women to attend the same classes with men, however, was another great shock, and even many who sympathized with the racial stand shuddered at the prospect of the two sexes mingling in a common classroom. And worse, mixed races and mixed sexes suggested the ghastly possibility of “amalgamation,” the mixed marriage of the races.

Charles Finney and the other members at Oberlin believed that Christianity had a lot to do with questions of rights for black people and for females. Finney saw slaveholding as a sin—the ...

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