Document 6A: Oberlin Female Moral Reform Society, Annual Report for 1840, Record Book 1835-57, Records of the Oberlin Female Moral Reform Society, Record Group 31/6/11, Oberlin College Archives.
An important question in the history of antebellum female reform is the issue of when the different movements evolved and ended, and how they influenced each other. Some historians view the progression of reform groups as basically linear, beginning with benevolent societies, followed by moral reform and temperance, which were, in turn, superseded by antislavery, and finally women's rights. Others describe the groups as coexisting, competing for funds and supporters, and assisting each other's causes through a long period of American history.
An analysis of the minutes of the Oberlin Female Moral Reform Society (an auxiliary to the New York Female Moral Reform Society) can provide evidence in this controversy. The minutes span a long period, from 1835 to 1857, which certainly overlaps with other movements, notably antislavery. But by the 1850s, the OFMRS was noticeably on the decline, as partially indicated by the dwindling number of committee members, the holding of offices by the same people for years, and a shift in the focus of the society and the tone of its minutes.
The 1840 Annual Report includes an optimistic account of the OFMRS at its most active. The 1855 Annual Report (see Document 6B) seems instead to reflect the weariness of the shrinking band involved in this reform movement. Although reflecting different eras and different individuals in terms of the evocative spiritual and dramatic language, both reports give an indication of how dedicated these women must have been to the cause of moral reform even in the movement's twilight years.
Society met according to adjournment Sept. 30, 1840. 1 Meeting opened with prayer by Mrs. Dascomb.[A] 2 An address by Miss Ladd,[B] on the best method of promoting purity in common schools, some other addresses read, and remarks made on different topics
Through a merciful providence this Society has been brought to the close of another year of its existence. We feel that as an association we have cause of deep gratitude to our Father who hath poured so many rich blessings upon us during the past year
He hath called us to part with but one of our members although our association is so large. And in that, (although we mourn the loss of our dear Sister) we can rejoyce for her sake that she is now in the full enjoyment of that blessed promice which was left to the "pure in heart," We have been cheered and refreshed by a visit from the Editress of the Advocate[C], & the Sec'y of the American Soc'y[D], & feel that we have especial cause of Thanksgiveing to Him who hath raised up & placed in these responsible stations, those who both spiritually, & intelletually are so eminently qualified to fill them. But it would be impossible to recount all our blessings. Yet above all we would acknowledge the blessing of the Holy Spirit which has been so graceiously shed down upon us, & which has enabled many we trust to search their hearts, & to flee to Him who alone can cleanse them from every stain. Truly when we look at the Lord can we can say that he hath done all things well, but when we look at ourselves we feel that we have cause of deep humiliation that we have done so little to advance this glorious cause, we fear that some have felt that in this place there was little to be done, as the vicious did not seek a home here, may this not be the reason why the Lord permited that Monster of impurity, to come in and prowl in our midst. To awaken us to more zeal and energy in this cause, and to show us that we are not safe from the intrusion and polluting influence of even the most degraded & drunken? Indeed we feel that this is a loud call for us to be up and doing for we know not but others of the same stamp may be even now in our midst, breathing out their poison and death upon the boys & youth of this place.
This society was formed in 1835. There has been connected with it some 380 members a number have left, a few have been removed by Death, but a presise number we have not been able to assertain, nor the presise number of our society at present.[E] There are 71 numbers of the Advocate taken, in this place many of them are sent out & extensively circulated through the country and will no doubt accomplish much good. May we not do much more in this way. There has been but $2.22 cents paid into the Society the past year, although there There has been some private donations from Individual members of this society, to the parent society. We have done very little truly.[F] But may this year be indeed the commencement of a new Era to this Society, one in which through the strength of the Lord, we may accomplish much.
In behalf of the Society
L.K. Gillett, Sec'y.
A. Marianne Parker Dascomb (1810-79), Principal of the Oberlin's Female Department 1835-36 and 1852-70, served on the Women's Board of Managers 1836-79 and was married to James Dascomb, a practicing physician who also taught science at Oberlin.
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B. Mary Warner Ladd, from Mantua, Ohio, enrolled at Oberlin 1834-35, 1837-38, and 1839-42; she graduated in 1842 from the Literary Course and married Samuel R. Bacon.
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C. The Advocate of Moral Reform was published by the New York Female Moral Reform Society. Sarah T. Smith, its editor for the years 1836-1845, spoke in Oberlin in 1840, prompting an offer, which she eventually declined, for appointment to the Ladies Department.
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D. The American Soc'y refers to the American Female Moral Reform Society(AFMRS). The Secretary of the AFMRS that visited Oberlin was Mrs. Ingraham.
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E. In 1836, The Advocate of Moral Reform listed 166 members in the OFMRS.
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F. This seems to be a case of false modesty on the part of the reformers, for the Society met more frequently in this year than in any other (meeting the same number of times in 1843 and 1845) and list more accomplishments here than in any other annual report.
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