J. F. Oberlin

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J. F. Oberlin
Born Jean-Frédéric Oberlin
(1740-08-31)31 August 1740
Strasbourg, France
Died 1 June 1826(1826-06-01) (aged 85)
Fouday, Bas Rhin, France
Nationality French

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


Oberlin, the son of a teacher, was born on the 31 August 1740 in Strasbourg, where he studied theology. In 1766 he became Protestant pastor of Waldbach, a remote and barren region in the Steinthal (Ban de la Roche), a valley in the Vosges on the borders of Alsace and Lorraine.[1]

Oberlin set himself to better the material equally with the spiritual condition of the inhabitants. He began by constructing roads through the valley and erecting bridges, inciting the peasantry to the enterprise by his personal example. 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).[1] He practiced medicine among them, founded a loan and savings bank and introduced cotton manufacture.[2]

Beside all this Oberlin was a man of rare spirituality, being frequently styled “a saint of the Protestant church,” and an excellent pastor, who preached each month three sermons in French and one in German.[2] In 1812 Daniel Legrand visited Ban de la Roche, where he met Oberlin.[3] Legrand came under the spell of the pastor, and moved with his ribbon factory to nearby Fouday, where he lived for the rest of his life.[3]

Oberlin died on 1 June 1826, and was interred with great manifestations of honor and affection at the village of Urbach (now Fouday, Bas Rhin).[1]


Oberlin has been called the "true precursor of social Christianity in France."[4] Daniel Legrand's grandson was Tommy Fallot, founder of "Christianisme social."[4] Legrand and Robert Owen (1771–1853) of Wales, another industrialist, advocated creation of an international organization dedicated to reform of labor laws.[5] Oberlin's orphan asylums were the beginning of the many “Oberlinvereine” for the protection of children.[2] Oberlin College, an American liberal arts college in Ohio, was named for him upon its founding in 1833.[2] Obirin University in Tokyo, Japan, which was named for Oberlin College, also bears a variant form of his name. His brother Jérémie Jacques Oberlin was a noted archaeologist and philologist.



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