Asa Mahan

From Ohio History Central
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Asa Mahan, only trustee to vote against restricting the rights of Lane Seminary students, ca. 1860-1869.

Asa Mahan was an educator, reformer and the first President of Oberlin College.

Mahan was born on November 9, 1800, in Vernon, New York. As a child, he was a devoted Christian. He graduated from Hamilton College in 1824 and from Andover Theological Seminary in 1827. In 1829, he was ordained as a minister in the Presbyterian Church, and two years later, became the minister of the Sixth Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio.

While in Cincinnati, Mahan became committed to abolitionism. He was an active member of the Cincinnati Colonization Society. In the early 1830's, many residents of Cincinnati were divided over the issue of slavery. Mahan served as a member of the board of trustees of the Lane Theological Seminary. In 1835, the school hoped to avoid conflict and prohibited its students from discussing slavery. Mahan firmly opposed this denial of free expression. As a result of the school's action, Mahan, one professor, and several students left Lane Theological Seminary and went to Oberlin College. Oberlin's founder, John Shipherd, asked Mahan to become the college's first president. Mahan agreed after Shipherd agreed to allow the students and faculty to enjoy freedom of speech. Mahan also insisted that Oberlin College admit African-American students.

Perhaps the greatest difficulty facing Mahan's tenure as president of Oberlin was the college's lack of money. To help guarantee the school's success, Shipherd and Mahan asked New York merchants Arthur and Lewis Tappan to financially support the school. The two merchants agreed. Mahan dedicated his efforts as president to encouraging his students to support the emancipation of slaves and the securing of rights to African Americans and women equal to those of white men. He also hoped that Oberlin's students would live in a morally correct manner and avoid earthly desires. Mahan tried to impose his views on the faculty of the college. In 1850, Oberlin's faculty asked that Mahan change his views and practices. Mahan chose to resign.

With several Oberlin students and a handful of faculty members, Mahan established Cleveland University in 1850. Due to a lack of students and financial problems, Cleveland University failed. Mahan then became a minister in Jackson and then Adrian, Michigan. In 1861, Mahan joined the faculty of Adrian College and eventually served as that institution's president. Mahan resigned from this position in 1871. He later moved to Great Britain and died in Eastbourne, England, on April 4, 1889.

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