Working for Higher Education: Advancing Black Women’s Rights in the 1850s

Oneida Institute of New York

Black and white rendering of school

Special Collections and Archives, Knox College Library, Galesburg, Illinois.

The Oneida Institute was one of the original schools founded upon the idea of manual labor and higher-level education for men. The Oneida Institute was founded in 1827 in Whitestown, New York, under the original name of the Oneida Academy by Rev. George Washington Gale, a white abolitionist.[1] In 1824 Gale, with the financial assistance of people willing to support the school, purchased one hundred and fiften acres of farm land. In 1828 buildings were erected, the school was operational, and by 1829 legal corporation of the school was obtained.

The institution’s main aim was to prepare its pupils for advanced theological training or college courses alongside manual labor in order to keep the costs of attending the school low.[2] By using manual labor to lower costs, the founders hoped to open up the availability of this education to more people, including Black students. In 1831, an estimated forty-two men over the course of forty-three weeks had earned more than their share of what it cost for their board at the institution by working the land.[3] Also, the founders had in mind that the rigors of manual labor were necessary in preparing those who plan to go into ministry work.[4]

An example of the course studies at the Oneida Institute

An example of the course studies at the Oneida Institute that included Algebra, Greek Testament, Hebrew Grammar and Pentateuch, Intellectual Philosophy, Astronomy, and Political Economy and the Science of Government. Source: Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

Admission to Oneida Institute did not come easily; the Institute was estimated to hold about 100 students, but in 1831 approximately 500 students had to be rejected from attending the school.[5] While the acceptance rate was low, the only requirements upon attendance were that one had to have a common education and that one could pass examinations in “English Grammar, common Arithmetic, Geography, the Greek Grammar, and the Gospel of Matthew in the Greek Testament.”[6]

Once one was admitted, the courses that a pupil would take changed based upon one’s academic year standing. For each student, the academic classes focused on “the classics” and theology. Freshman year curriculum at the Oneida Institute included: “Algebra, Greek Testament, Hebrew Grammar and Pentateuch, Natural Theology, and Evidences of Christianity.”[7] The school also ran a printing office from which the students printed a weekly paper entitled “The Friend of Man.”

After Dr. Gale’s departure from the Oneida Institute in 1834, the school soon foundered, buried in debt, and lacking proper leadership. In 1844, the trustees of the Clinton Seminary purchased the school and its land. The Clinton Seminary was a school known for its exceptional co-educational curriculum in nearby Clinton, New York. They had also recently purchased a biblical school, therefore, their expansion required a larger facility. They moved onto the land of Oneida Institute and in 1845, Whitestown Seminary was chartered as a school.[8]


[1] Dana W. Bigelow, “Whitestown Seminary,” Proceedings of the New York State Historical Association 14 (1915): 207.

[2] Ibid. 207.

[3] “Religious,” Vermont Chronicle, 14 January 1831, accessed February 22, 2016.

[4] Bigelow, “”Whitestown Seminary,” 208.

[5] “Summary,” Observer and Telegraph 2 May 1833; “Religious,” Vermont Chronicle, 14 January 1831.

[6] Amos Gerry Beman. Scrapbook of Amos G. Beman, 3 Pg 8. JPG. New Haven, Connecticut: Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Bigelow, “”Whitestown Seminary,” 210.


Written by Victoria Walker, History 213 taught by Sharla Fett, Occidental College, Spring 2016.

Edited and revised by Kelli Coles, University of Delaware.