The Geauga Seminary at Chester, Ohio, was small, but its size did not lessen the school's impact on Garfield. He studied hard to master algebra, grammar, philosophy, and the Classics, and joined a debate team. While at school, Garfield also met Lucretia Randolph, whom he would later marry. Garfield attended the seminary for a year, after which he searched for a teaching job of his own. He eventually found a job teaching for the Solon Township near his hometown of Orange, but the job search proved to be such a trial for Garfield that he resolved in his journal never to ask for a job again.
Garfield taught for one semester in Solon before he returned to the seminary to study Latin, algebra and botany. In the spring of 1850, Garfield delivered his first public address, a six-minute oration at the end of the school year. After spending a summer working as a carpenter, Garfield started studying Greek while working mornings and Saturdays. The school's deep seminary roots also began to awaken in Garfield an interest in religion. The area had originally been settled by a New England congregation and retained much of its religious flavor. The seminary had been founded by Baptists to train ministers, and in February 1850, W.A. Little, one of the founding ministers of the Disciples Church, preached at the school. Little's sermon enthralled Garfield, who was baptized into the Disciples shortly thereafter.
The Disciples were a small church, although they were the largest American- founded religious movement in the United States. An amalgamation of the practices of the Presbyterians, the Congregationalists and the Puritans, the Disciples felt that there should be no division between the faiths of the Christian church. Garfield became deeply involved with the Disciples and even began to preach around the Ohio area. He was never ordained, but he performed weddings and baptisms, and ministered at funerals. Garfield eventually decided, however, that the life of a minister did not interest him and had mostly given up preaching by 1860.
The church grew at such a rate that its elders decided that it needed a school of higher learning, and consequently established the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute at Hiram, Ohio, near one of the church's largest congregations. The Institute proved an excellent way for the church to spread its message. In the fall of 1851, Garfield enrolled in the Institute. There, Garfield continued his study of Greek and Latin and began studying geometry; he was one of the best- educated students at the school. The school's tuition was too expensive for his family to afford, however, and Garfield petitioned the school board to allow him to work off part of it. In the mornings, Garfield rang the school bell, and in the afternoon, he took out the trash. During the winters, Garfield rose early to start the fires and keep the school warm.
Garfield's easy-going nature and moral fiber made him one of the most popular students in the school. Classmates recalled his "brilliant" jokes. Garfield worked hard, writing in his journal that "If at any time I began to flag in my effort to master a subjectI was stimulated to further effort by the thought, 'Some other fellow in the class will probably master it.'"