Nearly a year ago, we began collecting information on the first Black women students at Oberlin College from 1835 through 1865. The impetus for this project came from Professor Gerda Lerner, who, on a visit to Oberlin, remarked that she suspected there was considerable material in the Oberlin College archives which could tell us a great deal about women who have been overlooked or ignored. We decided to work as a team researching Black women in the archives: one of us had had some on-the-job archival training; and the other, a recent Ph.D. in nineteenth-century American history, had taught women's history courses.
We began our work in January 1978, unprepared—we now realize in retrospect—for what was to happen as we began uncovering pieces of the individual lives of these early Black women students—and for what is still happening. We have begun to see Oberlin history in an entirely new way. Black women were an important part of Oberlin College a century ago, not merely peripheral additions to the established institution. These women were part of a dramatic period in Oberlin College history. Through this research we found we more fully understood this town, this college, and American history.