The meeting of the Congregationalists in annual conference in this city calls back in the memory of this Old Muser events of forty-five years ago, when we published the Oberlin (Ohio) News. Oberlin was then, as it is now, the head and font of Congregationalism in the west, while Andover, Massachusetts, represents the east. Oberlin college represented the culture of the Congregational denomination, and a student graduating from it was fitted, intellectually, for the ministry or other chosen calling. In the early seventies, Oberlin college had a roll of from 1,200 to 1,500 students, men and women, and a large majority of them worked their way through college. There was no royal road in learning for them, and as a consequence when graduation day came and they went out into the battle of life, they were fully equipped by reason of the self-denial practiced during school days. Oberlin was founded on the principle of self-sacrifice. Its history dates back to the early days of the last century when a colony of devoted men and women from the eastern states funded a school that would be open to both sexes, and where no distinction in color was recognized. Though as no time was there more than twenty-five colored students in attendance during any one year, yet the fact that a boy or girl with a black face should be allowed the privilege of an education gave the school the opprobrious term of ‘Nigger College.’ Before the days of the war, it was considered unpardonable, even in the Northern states, to educate a Negro. However, Oberlin fought it out on the dark line and it shows a proud record of a number of educated colored men and women among its list of graduates. Today no town in the United States stands higher as an educational center than does Oberlin. The whole population is interested in it. No one was tolerated as a citizen of the town who was not a dyed-in-the-wool Congregationalist, and it was more than fifty years after the college was started before a church of any other denomination was allowed to be built in the town. The first man who attempted to beard the lion of Congregationalists was an Anglican minister who had been a printer in his earlier days. He not only built the first church, but in the vestry at the rear of the building, he had a printing office from which he issued a weekly religious paper in the interest of his own denomination, doing the editing, typesetting and the presswork himself, with the help of a tourist printer who now and then dropped in. And then on Sunday this printer-preacher held regular service, and he was so eloquent and learned that he drew to his church quite a congregation. He had a small allowance from the general church fund, and he pieced out a living for himself and family from the circulation of the paper. He was the first man to break into Congregationalism in Oberlin and being a genial gentleman got into the good graces of President Finney, the head and front of the town, and this finally smoothed his way so that in time his church was recognized by the faculty of the college, and students were allowed to attend public worship there. We found him in Oberlin when we first arrived, and about the last one we bade adieu to was our printer-preacher friend.
The Rev. Charles G. Finney was one of the first presidents of Oberlin college. In his younger days, he was one of the greatest revival preachers in America. Fifty and seventy-five years ago, he made frequent visits to England in the interests of the college, and was able to secure large bequests to carry on its work. While nominally president of the college, he did but little teaching, his time being devoted to conducting revival meetings and raising money for the college. He ruled Oberlin with his iron will, and yet he was one of the most gentle of men. When at home on Sunday, he always preached the morning sermon, and his congregations filled the large old-fashioned church that hedld at least three thousand people. His sermons were usually an hour in length, but he made them so interesting that the hearers would gladly have the time extended. His audiences were often moved to tears and then laughter, and at times would greet some burst of eloquence with handclapping. The venerable president appreciated and encouraged the moods of his audience. President Finney, in his younger days, before entering the ministry, was an enthusiastic member of the Masonic fraternity. The Congregationalists in those days were very bitter in their denunciation of secret societies, and after Mr. Finney was converted and entered the ministry, he withdrew from the Masonic order. In an hour of weakness, he wrote an exposition of Masonry, but in his later years he expressed regret that he had done so. Oberlin was noted for its hostility to secret societies, yet at the time we lived there, a flourishing lodge existed in the town.
There was no sacrifice too great for the Oberlin people to make for the cause of education and religion. That was the foundation on which the town was built. They were frugal in their manner of living that they might be able to give more to the college and to missions. They were educated along those two points and they did their part religiously. They lived on the plainest food, and their raiment was in keeping. They had well-built houses, comfortably furnished, but in everything the utmost economy was practiced. They went to bed at the tap of the college bell and arose in the morning at the same signal. Such a thing as a loafer was not tolerated, nor was a liquor saloon allowed inside the corporate limits. The drug stores sold what liquor was necessary for medicinal purposes – and quite a number were always calling on their doctor for prescriptions – and the druggists had to keep a record which was examined by a committee at stated times. Every business man in the town was expected to be a member of the Congregational church and contribute to its support. The old Muser did not join the church, therefore it was intimated to him that he had better sell his printing office and try some more ungodly field. At the suggestion of the head of the theological department, we sold our office to a student, taking a chattel mortgage as security on part of the price, and when the last two notes were due, the student had gone out as a missionary, making no provision to pay his notes, and we were out $1,000. The theological department of Oberlin college was one of the best in connection with any college in the United States. Here they trained men and women for the church and for missionaries. As a general thing the students were poor and they had to work their way through college. They were furnished with lodging free, but they had to earn their daily bread. In a number of residences in the town that were used as boarding houses, a theological student would get his board free, he had to conduct family worship and ask blessing at the table. The training at Oberlin for young people was excellent, and to the credit of the college, its students were free from many of the vices of other colleges. The use of tobacco was prohibited, though sometimes indulged in by a few of the students on the sly. It was considered unbecoming for a man to appear in the streets smoking pipe or cigar, and those who loved the weed enjoyed the pleasure in the solitude of their homes.
Last evening, Rev. Henry Churchill King, president of Oberlin college, was the speaker for the hour at the Congregational church. We had not the pleasure of meeting him when this copy was being prepared for the Saturday Musings, but at a venture we would say that it was an able organization, for Oberlin professors have kept up the reputation of its first illustrious president, Rev. Charles G. Finney. Prof. Henry Churchill, after whom President King was named, was in his days one of the great orators of the college, and during the time we were editor of the Oberlin News, he was an editorial contributor at a certain stipend for each article.
The board of education of this city is planning to build two new schoolhouses. Now that every member of the royal family has had a city school named in his or her honor, and even Strathcona and Rev. Mr. Ryerson have not been forgotten, would it not be a good idea to reserve one of the new buidings as a memorial to the first principal of the public school system, Dr. J. H. Sangster? Sixty-one years ago, Dr. Sangster was elected principal of the Central school, and he planned its course of study along such lines that it was adopted throughout the province of Upper Canada. Prior to1853, when the Central school was opened, Hamilton had no regularly defined public school system, for about that time, the private school was just passing out. Several men were recommended by educators in Toronto for the principalship of the Central, but none of them felt equal to the work. J. H. Sangster, then a recent graduate from the university was offered the position, and notwithstanding older and more experienced men had declined the task of organization, he accepted a laid the foundation of a system that needed but little change. All of the Hamilton old boys were educated under him, and even to this day, the children of later generations hear from father and mother the beloved name of Dr. Sangster. At the reunion of the old Central school graduates and scholars held a few years ago, Dr. Sangster was the guest of honor. Since the he has passed on to his reward. Lieutenant-Governor Gibson was one of his pupils, and Hamilton has honored the the governor by christening a school building with his name. Now let the school board think kindly over the suggestion, and when next a new school building is to be christened, call it in honor and memory of Dr. J. H. Sangster, the first principal and organizer of Hamilton public schools.