Degree Year


Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts




Carol Lasser
Geoff Blodgett


Jew, Jewish, Marion Benjamin Roth, Rabbi Wolsey, Oberlin College, Menorah Association, Religion, History, Higher education


In searching for the first Jewish student at Oberlin College, I discovered and subsequently researched the life of, 1920 graduate Marion Benjamin Roth who started the Oberlin branch of the Menorah Society, a Jewish literary and cultural group. Mrs. Roth, whom I interviewed, started the group because she was concerned about the environment for Jewish students. In letters to Rabbi Wolsey in Cleveland she discussed her perceptions of life for Jewish students at Oberlin soon after her arrival.

Marion Benjamin later reflected that Jewish students needed to have "some place that they could get together if they wanted; to discuss problems, if they had any, and to be together for a holiday. Eventually Rabbi Wolsey spoke at Oberlin. More importantly, Marion Benjamin proposed starting an Oberlin branch of the Menorah Society. In April 1918 the college faculty voted its approval for the formation of the "Menorah Association." Unfortunately, the Oberlin branch didn't last much beyond 1920 when Marion Benjamin graduated.

Throughout my research on Mrs. Roth, the question of the history of Jewish students at Oberlin kept surfacing. The concerns she raised about the situation for Jewish students at Oberlin piqued my interest and I submitted a proposal to do an independent research project on the topic. My proposal was approved and in the beginning of 1988 I began researching the history of Jews at Oberlin.

The paper is divided into eleven section. To put the experiences of Jewish students at Oberlin in some perspective I will first highlight American Jewish history since the turn of the century, focusing particularly on Jews and education. The rest of the paper will focus on Oberlin. In section two I will examine Oberlin's religious foundation, particularly the general aims of the college since its inception, and in section three I will look at the institutional material on application and admission trends. This material is fascinating as it shows the transformation of a small liberal arts school at the turn of the century, where nearly all applicants were admitted, to a competitive school io the 1930s, grappliog with increasing number of applicants. In the fourth and fifth sections, I will look at how admissions related to and affected Jewish students and address the issue of a quota. Because one of the major factors affecting Jewish experiences in higher education in this country during most of the twentieth century was the issue of admission quotas, I will discuss the

respondents' perceptions to the specific question of whether or not they thought Oberlin had a Jewish quota. In sections six through ten I will discuss the general trends which the respondents reported and then examine their experiences in five chronological time periods, divided into Group A through D.

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