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John Baldwin (October 13, 1799 – December 28, 1884) was an American educator, and the founder of Baldwin Institute (later Baldwin University) in Berea, Ohiomarker, which would eventually merge into Baldwin-Wallace College. He was also the founder of Baker University and Baldwin City, Kansasmarker, and contributed money to start schools in Bangalore, Indiamarker that are today called Baldwin Boys High School and Baldwin Girls High School.

Born in Connecticut, Baldwin originally was a teacher in Maryland and Connecticut before moving to Ohio in the late 1820s. He became part of the lyceum movement, and situated himself in Berea, Ohio. He opened up Baldwin Institute in 1846 upon seeing the dissolution of the Norwalk Seminary. Nine years later, the Institute became Baldwin University. He moved to Kansas around 1857, laying the foundation for Baldwin City, Kansas, as well as Baker University. In his later life, he purchased a Louisiana plantation, and made contributions to education in India late in his life.


Early life

John Baldwin was born in Branford, Connecticutmarker in 1799. The names of his parents are lost in history. His mother was a well-educated woman, as well as intensely religious. She attempted to become a student at Yale Universitymarker, but was not allowed because she was a woman. Due to this, John resolved to make no distinction between races or sexes should he ever found a school. His father enlisted in the Continental Army during the American Revolution as a private and left as a captain. When John turned eighteen, he joined the Methodist Church. As a student at a private school, he paid his way by chopping firewood, ringing the bell, and building fires. Afterwards, he became a teacher in Fishkill, New Yorkmarker, Marylandmarker, and Litchfield, Connecticutmarker. As a teacher in Maryland, his stance on slavery, a well as black people as a whole, was revealed. A mulatto boy was sent to his school daily as a servant for his master's son. Baldwin began to teach them in common. When the student's father found out about this, he demanded Baldwin not teach him any more, to which he replied, "I do not charge anything for teaching him" and continued to teach him.

Founding Berea

Marting Hall at Baldwin-Wallace College, on the site of Lyceum Square
After marrying Mary Chappel on January 31, 1828, they moved to Middeburg Township in Cuyahoga County, Ohiomarker in April of that year. It was there that Baldwin joined forces with James Gilbrith, a disciple of Josiah Holbrook who wanted to found a lyceum village. In the village, which was founded in 1837 and situated just north of his farm, Baldwin ran the Lyceum Village School for five years until June 1842, when it went bankrupt. However, one day while walking home, he had an impulse to take a new route across the river on his farm. He noticed a grouping of exposed rocks, which would make superior grindstones. This was the beginning of the Berea grindstone industry. Baldwin shipped his grindstones to Clevelandmarker by ox carts. After the Big Four Railroad was built from Cleveland to Cincinnatimarker, Baldwin built a railroad which would connect his quarries to the Big Four Depot. It was then that Baldwin and the others of the Lyceum Village tried to think of a name for their new town. After Gilbrith proposed Tabor, John Baldwin suggested Berea, citing Acts 17:10–11. After a coin flip, Berea was chosen.

Baldwin Institute

In 1843, Baldwin noticed that the Norwalk Seminary, located in Norwalk, Ohiomarker, was dissolving due to lack of funds. He approached Thomas Thompson, who was the elder of the Norwalk District (which included Cleveland and Berea), and asked him to visit Berea. At Baldwin's Old Red House, an agreement was made where Baldwin would create a campus on his farm similar to the Norwalk Seminary. Baldwin Institute officially opened in April 9, 1846. It was meant to open in 1845, but the process was delayed until the completion of a building on Baldwin's farm, which was erected by Baldwin himself, made of stone quarried on his farm and brick made of clay. The institute was open to people of all races, male or female, as Baldwin wanted. It became Baldwin University and was given a charter in 1855. Th university later became Baldwin-Wallace College in 1913.

Life in Kansas

At age fifty-eight, Baldwin desired to satisfy his nature of being a pioneer again by moving to Kansas, which was at that time a territory. He arrived as the brunt of the fighting in the territory was ending. Upon his arrival, he founded Baldwin Citymarker and built the first college building in the territory, which became the foundation for Baker University. He was in Kansas only for a short time when tragedy struck. On August 30, 1858, John's son Milton died unexpectedly after having been sick for only three days. Within a couple years, he laid out a town, built a grist mill and a saw mill, and he turned over the town and college to the Methodist Conference and returned to Berea, although he continued to finance it.

Later Years

In 1867, Baldwin purchased the Darby plantation in Louisianamarker, a plantation of about 1700 acres. At the age of eighty, Baldwin learned of the situation in India; there were large numbers of Europeans in India who could not get a proper education. The Baldwin High School for Boys and the Baldwin High School for Girls were then built in 1880. John Baldwin died at his home in Baldwin, Louisiana on Sunday, December 28, 1884, at 10 A.M.

Personal views

John Baldwin was a person whose views seemed to run counter to the conventional customs of man at the time. Despite his accomplishments, he never wrote a book, held public office, or even kept books. Although he was not an abolitionist by definition, he had no problem teaching blacks and whites as equals, as evident by opening Baldwin Institute without regard to race of gender. His parents taught him to fear god, and from being raised as such he devoted himself to living humbly, righteously, godly, and being kind to the poor, as well as joining the Methodist Church.


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  • Clary, Norman J. Baldwin-Wallace College. Cradles of Conscience. Ed. John Wiliam Oliver, Jr. Kent State University Press, 2003. 39–51 ISBN 0873387635
  • Markham, Virginia Gatch. John Baldwin and son Milton come to Kansas: an early history of Baldwin City, Baker University, and Methodism in Kansas. Baldwin City, Kansas. The University, 1982.
  • Webber, A.R. Life of John Baldwin, Sr. Caxton Press, 1925.

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