J. F. Oberlin

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J. F. Oberlin

J. F. Oberlin (August 31, 1740 – June 1, 1826) was a French pastor from Alsace and a philanthropist. He has been known as John Frederic(k) Oberlin in English, Jean-Frédéric Oberlin in French, and Johann Friedrich Oberlin in German.

Oberlin College, an American liberal arts college in Ohio, was named for him upon its founding in 1833. Obirin University in Tokyo, Japan, which was named for Oberlin College, also bears a variant form of his name.


Born the son of a teacher at Strasbourg, he earned a doctorate in theology at the university in his hometown. In 1767 he became pastor of a remote and barren region in the Steintal (Ban-de-la-Roche), a valley in the Vosges on the borders of Alsace and Lorraine.

He set himself to better the material, and spiritual, condition of the inhabitants. Directing himself to their spiritual condition, each month he preached three sermons in French and one in German.

He began his work for their material improvement by constructing roads through the valley and erecting bridges, inciting the peasantry to the enterprise by his personal example. He practised medicine among them, and founded a loan and savings bank. He introduced an improved system of agriculture. Substantial cottages were erected, and various industrial arts were introduced.

He founded an itinerant library, originated infant schools, and established an ordinary school at each of the five villages in the parish. In the work of education, he received great assistance from his housekeeper, Louisa Scheppler (1763–1837). His orphan asylums were the beginning of the many “Oberlinvereine” for the protection of children.

He died in 1826 in Waldersbach, where he had lived for 40 years. He was interred with great manifestations of honor and affection at the nearby village of Urbach (now Fouday, Bas Rhin).

His brother Jérémie Jacques Oberlin was a noted archaeologist and philologist.




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