IN their evangelistic campaign to build a Christian community across the U.S. from the Atlantic to the Pacific, Protestant churches of the 19th century used the denominational college as an intellectual stronghold. By the Civil War era, the churches had founded some 40 colleges in Ohio alone, to ensure for the state a Christian core and to train the ministers who plodded after the frontiersmen across the plains.
Empty treasuries and denominational rivalry have killed off all but 20 of these Ohio colleges. Of the survivors, educators often group six together because of their high academic standing in the liberal arts and sciences: Kenyon College (1824), Denison University (1832), Oberlin College (1833), Ohio Wesleyan University (1842), Antioch College (1853), and the College of Wooster (1866). Small and selective, the six produce a surprisingly large percentage of graduate students; e.g., 60% of Oberlin's male students take advanced work. Because of facts like these, no similar intrastate group of colleges and universities is more widely respected among the nation's educators than the Ohio Six (see color pictures).
Fashions in Christianity. Each of the six is true to its Christian origins in its fashion, but the fashions vary widely from campus to campus. Methodist Ohio Wesleyan and Presbyterian Wooster still have formal ties to their mother churches, still make chapel attendance compulsory. At Wooster, which annually sends 10% to 15% of its graduates into the ministry, an aide to President Howard F. Lowry explains: "Christianity is not something we just talk about; it's something we live here. You simply do not have a liberal education when you divorce learning from man's deepest inquiry."
Religion is less in the air at Kenyon (Episcopalian), although the college has its own divinity school, and its 500 students are required to attend chapel. A faculty member has defined the place of religion as "a part of education, like English, biology and math, but certainly a more important part than the others." Despite these points, one official of Kenyon frankly admits: "The Episcopalians and the other major denominations have fellowship groups which are sneered at by about half the campus."
The campuses differ about as widely on extracurricular activities, although all six de-emphasize intercollegiate athletics. Kenyon, the only men's college of the six, invites girls by the busload for its dances, but half the student body at Baptist Denison (1,300) and Ohio Wesleyan (2,000) is female. Wooster has no national fraternities, but Kenyon has eight, and 90% of the student body at Denison belong to fraternities or sororities. At Wooster the Presbyterian Church controls the administration; at Oberlin (no church affiliation) the faculty is the big wheel on campus, even sets salaries (top for a full professor: $11,000, highest among the six schools).