John Jay Shipherd founded Oberlin College and Olivet College. Shipherd envisioned both of these colleges being an ideal Christian community and atmosphere. Oberlin College was the first college in America to admit both men and women, regardless of their race.  


As a young man headed to college, Shipherd suffered an accident that severely impaired his digestion and eyesight for the rest of his life. Despite this unfortunate tragedy, Shipherd studied theology and became a pastor of a church in Vermont before becoming a General Agent of the Vermont Sabbath School Union. Shipherd also traveled around Vermont initiating Sunday schools. 

In 1832, Shipherd partnered with Philo P. Stewart to form an education institute founded on Christian beliefs and values. Shipherd and Stewart also desired for the school to be open to men and women. For several months, Shipherd and Stewart traveled east searching for donations, land, students, and teachers to begin this school. In 1833, the first classes were held at Oberlin College, and Shipherd led church services as well. Shipherd fought for acceptance of students into college regardless of their race. 

Shipherd still had a desire to form more schools like Oberlin, so he founded Olivet College in Michigan. Shipherd was traveling in Michigan for Oberlin College business and was repeatedly drawn to a small clearing near the hilltop. Shipherd felt that this was a divine sign that the school should be started in this location. Olivet opened in 1844, but Shipherd died shortly afterward.


Shipherd was a faithful Christian who devoted his life to serving God. In a book about Oberlin College (“Oberlin: The Colony and the College, 1833-1883”), author James Harris Fairchild said this about Shipherd: “He was carefully and religiously educated, and while at school at Pawlet, Vt., in preparation for college, his conscious religious life opened in a conversion which began in intense conviction and conflict, and resulted in great peace and joy. From this time to the end of his days, his character and life were marked with profound earnestness and restless activity.”

Seal of Oberlin

Seal of Oberlin

Oberlin College in 1846

Oberlin College in 1846