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In 1847, William Hanby helped establish Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio. At the time, it was the first university to include women as faculty members and students. It also became known for being one of the few colleges to admit students of color prior to the Civil War.
The Hanby family were abolitionists who helped runaway slaves and persecuted African-Americans by offering their house as a stop on the Underground Railroad. They kept flowers in the window to indicate their home offered safe refuge. The number of blossoms in the vase indicated how many people were currently hiding there.
William's oldest son Benjamin was born in 1833. He was in the second graduating class of Otterbien University. Benjamin was a man of many titles including minister, abolitionist, student and teacher, but we know him primarily as a musician and composer who went on to write over 80 songs in his lifetime.
Among his most popular and best-known tunes are Up on the Housetop, Darling Nelly Gray and Who is He in Yonder Stall. Darling Nelly Gray, an anti-slavery song, was wildly popular at the time. Benjamin died of tuberculosis in 1867 at the age of 33 and is buried in Otterbein Cemetery.
The home where the Hanby family lived from 1853–1870 is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places and open to the public. It contains furniture and personal items that bring this storied past to life. On view are a walnut desk made by Benjamin Hanby as a student, original plates for the first edition of Darling Nelly Gray, and a large collection of sheet music and books.
Cover photo from @otterbeinu via Instagram.