The Oberlin Village Improvement Society was founded in 1903 by Mrs. Adelia Field Johnston (1837-1910) who approached Charles Martin Hall (1863-1914) about improving the town so it would be a place "worthy of the college." The organization was typical of many "City Beautiful" type municipal improvement groups formed during the Progressive Era. The first meeting of the Oberlin Village Improvement Society (OVIS) was held February 16th, 1903 in the Sunday school room of Second Church and was called to order by General Giles Shurtleff. The early projects of the Society included the placing of waste paper receptacles on street corners, stopping people from cutting across privately owned lawns, and promoting home gardening projects among school children.
The Society also worked for better city sanitation, by implementing programs of regular garbage pickup, cleaning up properties deemed "untidy" or "unsightly" within the business district, and encouraging people to keep their farm animals from running loose in the streets. On top of all these projects stood the massive clean-up of the Plum Creek area, which if beautified would, according to the Society's minutes, "mark Oberlin the finest town in Northern Ohio.
"The Society also sponsored various informative lectures by respected speakers, such as in February of 1907, when an entomologist gave "a very acceptable lecture on the enemies of trees", and in April of 1915 when the state fire marshal spoke on techniques of fire prevention. These lectures were often accompanied by stereopticon views and slides. At the annual meeting of 1907, Frances Jewett, a crusader for sanitation reform, spoke on garbage pickup and disposal in New York City and Oberlin. Later, in May of 1910, she lectured again, this time on "the house fly, the dangers arising from its presence, and how to get rid of it."