Stacks sings a song of William S. Johnson, one of the very first students of Antioch College. Of course, that’s only partially correct; to be precise, Johnson was only ever a member of the Antioch Preparatory Department, and therefore a high school student with aspirations of entering the College. He only appears in Antioch College records during its first academic year, 1853-54. Due to a series of family misfortunes, especially the untimely deaths of three of his siblings within weeks of each other, he was never able to resume his studies. Though he was not an Antioch student for long, William Johnson left a remarkable record of that rather brief period in his life.
Johnson’s diary was donated to Antiochiana by his descendant, Frances Wooledge, in 2000. The following excerpt covers his decision to attend Antioch, which was in some ways an expression of his devotion to the founding denomination It also includes his first day on campus and his first month or so as a student.
Excerpted from the Diary of William S. Johnson
I suppose I was put to work very young; as I cannot remember when I could not and did not work. But I can remember very vividly the first day I ever went to school, which was (with the exception of three days, when I was three years old, but that I remember very well) a few weeks after we moved to Warren Co. (I will hereafter say Franklin; for the sake of brevity) I remember those scenes, almost as though it was yesterday; and in fact at most every step taken in my progress of study which was slow, because so little opportunity for going to school; but rapid for the chance. I continued to go more or less every winter- seldom at any other time untill I was of age.
Untill about the age of sixteen or seventeen I thought and cared for little about an Education. About this time my oldest brother had a share in the Springboro Library and was reading books obtained there.
By his reading taking to me for that purpose, there was an interest excited, and I went to reading. [This sentence is as written in journal]
I think I might in justice make one remark here; that is this, that I believe now, the first thing that caused me to commence reading was the perusal of that romance “Alonzo and Malissa” [Melissa]. This was the first book I ever read through. There are some persons who are very hard, yes down, on the reading of such “trash” as they call it; and as a general thing I don’t know but that they are right; but I think there are some that may be read with impunity, and with profit.
(2) Speaking of these Library Books, I was going on to say when an interest was once excited, I sought every opportunity to read that I could. When ever my brother was not reading I was sure to have the book. It so happened one day that he sent me to take the book we had, home and get another. In selecting, I accidentally got hold of one of O. S. Fowler’s works, I think it was “Heridtary Decent(sic)”. I took it and perused it carefully and with profit. From the time that my “mind was waked up” I had a great desire to know something about the human constitution; both physically and mentally. This book then just suited my taste as well as many others, that is books of his publication have since that time. I also had a great desire to be a teacher; and desired my parents to let me go to school for that purpose; but they thought I was not calculated for that; and, in fact, for anything, but to work.
As I could not get to school, I embraced every opportunity for reading that I could get, reading in summer at noon, while the horses rested and the boys were playing marbles, pitching horse shoes, or sleeping.
Monroe June 20th, 1853
There has been quite a change in affairs within a few days. During the preceeding(sic) week, Mr. and Mrs. King, the persons with whom I was boarding, both took sick so that they had to break up their Boarding House. Mr. King was also Principal of the Presbyterian Academy, and in consequence of this sickness his school was broke up six weeks before it was to have been out. I have four weeks to teach yet. I wish it was out now. I am getting tired. I don’t know just what I shall do yet; but without I should get to likeing(sic) it better than I do just now, I think I will hardly teach anymore.
It has been my intention to go to Antioch College, at Yellow Springs, as soon as it was opened. Sometimes I thought of taking a regular course; at other times, only a partial one. But within the last few days I have been turning my thoughts in a new direction; in compliance with a request of my father, to go to a Commercial School or College and study Book keeping. (14) I have gone back to town again, the same place where I boarded the first quarter I taught.
Oct. 9th 1853
First day in Antioch.
This College was dedicated Oct 5th, 1853 the examination of students commenced the next day after dedication; but in consequence of some business not necessary to mention, I had to return home; made preparations; and came back on saturday Oct 8th, on the nine o’clock train. Sunday, today, is my first day in Antioch. We had breakfast at 7 1/2 o’clock. At ten o’clock, we all, that is all the students, together with many other friends assembled in the Chapel for public worship.
Professor Mann, Doherty, Holmes, Pennell and McKinney were present together with many others I did not know. We were addressed by Prof. Doherty in an able and an applicable manner.
Dined at 1 1/2 o’clock. I then visited several of the student’s rooms. During the afternoon, we took a walk to the yellow(16) Springs and also to the village by that name.
Nov 4th, 1853
After this long interval I will write a few lines more. There are something over two hundred students present now. All except a few who compose the Freshman class, were separated into four classes, after an examination, according to the ability of each. I was put in the second division, But did not remain there long till I was promoted to the first, in which I am at present. I am studying Reading, including composition and declamation, arithmetic, English and Latin. I have been here now near a month which time has passed off like lightning almost, seemingly. The Profs are all kind and good, and the students all sociable and friendly. Under these circumstances, how could any one help being satisfied; indeed this seems to me, to be the most pleasant period in all my life.
Another anniversary of the day on which I first opened my eyes to life, in this beautiful world, has come. Another year has flown and I still find myself on this side of eternity; enjoying the gracious blessings and mercies of the Great Father of our Spirits. Oh! How merciful art thou O God! to us. We deserve nothing from thy hand, yet thou art continually pouring out blessing upon blessing upon us. O God grant that our souls may thirst after rightiousness(sic), for we know that they will be filled, if we thirst a right. O! Animate our souls with the spirit that animated the blessed Christ.
This evening, by and through my influence a meeting of several of the students, was held in my room, for the purpose of organizing a Students prayer meeting in Antioch College. We appointed a meeting for (17) tomorrow evening coming, to be held somewhere in the main college building. I was annominated(sic) to confer with the Faculty about it and to solicit a room for that purpose. Nov 7th I spoke to the President Hon. Horace Mann yesterday morning and obtained the privilege of holding our meetings in the Lecture room. Last evening we met according to appointment, at 7 1/4 o’clock . Profs Holmes and McKinney were present and opened the meeting by leading in prayer, followed with some appropriate remarks.
Another week has flown, on the rapid wings of time. All goes on smoothe(sic) and nice. After this I design writing in this book, all or nearly the sentences we write, for future reference. We have to write almost daily, sentences on our English grammar lesson, Prof McKinney Teacher.
The following are some on yesterday’s lesson viz:
No.1 “The pure minded man will look upon all the works of the Creator with feelings of sublimity and adoration, because of the goodness of God.”
1. “The True Christian loves God and keeps his commandments.”
2. “For we are commanded to love and pray for our enemies.”
3. “The man who professes true greatness of mind will never stoop to do a mean act.”
4. “Our Teacher is kind and affectionate toward his pupils.”
5. “The slave works hard, toils and sweats for the benifit(sic) of his master.”
Sentences continued . Antioch College Dec 3, 1853
7. The tones of the flute are sweet and melodious.
The same tree may produce both sweet, and sour apples; so, in like manner, the same person may manifest good and bad qualities.
(18) 9. The industrious husbandman toils early and late.
10. The good and bad alike, are helped with rain.
11. We see the goodness and mercy of the Creator, manifested in all His works; in the material, as well as immaterial works.