The Story of Wellesley
Part 1 out of 4
Corrected version of text, several minor typos fixed
This Etext prepared by: Stephanie L. Johnson (Wellesley '91)
THE STORY OF WELLESLEY
BY FLORENCE CONVERSE
To Alma Mater, Wellesley's daughters,
All together join and sing.
Thro' all her wealth of woods and water
Let your happy voices ring;
In every changing mood we love her,
Love her towers and woods and lake;
Oh, changeful sky, bend blue above her,
Wake, ye birds, your chorus wake!
We'll sing her praises now and ever,
Blessed fount of truth and love.
Our heart's devotion, may it never
Faithless or unworthy prove,
We'll give our lives and hopes to serve her,
Humblest, highest, noblest--all;
A stainless name we will preserve her,
Answer to her every call.
Anne L. Barrett, '86
The day after the Wellesley fire, an eager young reporter on a
Boston paper came out to the college by appointment to interview
a group of Wellesley women, alumnae and teachers, grief-stricken
by the catastrophe which had befallen them. He came impetuously,
with that light-hearted breathlessness so characteristic of young
reporters in the plays of Bernard Shaw and Arnold Bennett. He
was charmingly in character, and he sent his voice out on the run
to meet the smallest alumna in the group:
"Now tell me some pranks!" he cried, with pencil poised.
What she did tell him need not be recorded here. Neither was it
set down in the courteous and sympathetic report which he afterwards
wrote for his paper.
And readers who come to this story of Wellesley for pranks will
be disappointed likewise. Not that the lighter side of the
Wellesley life is omitted; play-days and pageants, all the bright
revelry of the college year, belong to the story. Wellesley would
not be Wellesley if they were left out. But her alumnae, her
faculty, and her undergraduates all agree that the college was
not founded primarily for the sake of Tree Day, and that the
Senior Play is not the goal of the year's endeavor.
It is the story of the Wellesley her daughters and lovers know
that I have tried to tell: the Wellesley of serious purpose,
consecrated to the noble ideals of Christian Scholarship.
I am indebted for criticism, to President Pendleton who kindly
read certain parts of the manuscript, to Professor Katharine Lee
Bates, Professor Vida D. Scudder, and Mrs. Marian Pelton Guild;
for historical material, to Miss Charlotte Howard Conant's "Address
Delivered in Memory of Henry Fowle Durant in Wellesley College
Chapel", February 18, 1906, to Mrs. Louise McCoy North's Historical
Address, delivered at Wellesley's quarter centennial, in June 1900,
to Professor George Herbert Palmer's "Life of Alice Freeman Palmer,"
published by the Houghton Mifflin Co., to Professor Margarethe
Muller's "Carla Wenckebach, Pioneer," published by Ginn & Co.;
to Dean Waite, Miss Edith Souther Tufts, Professor Sarah F. Whiting,
Miss Louise Manning Hodgkins, Professor Emeritus Mary A. Willcox,
Mrs. Mary Gilman Ahlers; to Miss Candace C. Stimson, Miss Mary B.
Jenkins, the Secretary of the Alumnae Restoration and Endowment
Committee, and to the many others among alumnae and faculty, whose
letters and articles I quote. Last but not least in my grateful
memory are all those painstaking and accurate chroniclers, the
editors of the Wellesley Courant, Prelude, Magazine, News, and
Legenda, whose labors went so far to lighten mine.
II. THE PRESIDENTS AND THEIR ACHIEVEMENT
III. THE FACULTY AND THEIR METHODS
IV. THE STUDENTS AT WORK AND PLAY
V. THE FIRE: AN INTERLUDE
VI. THE LOYAL ALUMNAE
INDEX [not included]
THE FOUNDER AND HIS IDEALS
As the nineteenth century recedes into history and the essentially
romantic quality of its great adventures is confirmed by the
"beauty touched with strangeness" which illumines their true
perspective, we are discovering, what the adventurers themselves
always knew, that the movement for the higher education of women
was not the least romantic of those Victorian quests and stirrings,
and that its relation to the greatest adventure of all, Democracy,
was peculiarly vital and close.
We know that the "man in the street", in the sixties and seventies,
watching with perplexity and scornful amusement the endeavor of
his sisters and his daughters--or more probably other men's
daughters--to prove that the intellectual heritage must be a common
heritage if Democracy was to be a working theory, missed the beauty
of the picture. He saw the slim beginning of a procession of
young women, whose obstinate, dreaming eyes beheld the visions
hitherto relegated by scriptural prerogative and masculine commentary
to their brothers; inevitably his outraged conservatism missed
the beauty; and the strangeness he called queer. That he should
have missed the democratic significance of the movement is less
to his credit. But he did miss it, fifty years ago and for several
years thereafter, even as he is still missing the democratic
significance of other movements to-day. Processions still pass
him by,--for peace, for universal suffrage, May Day, Labor Day,
and those black days when the nations mobilize for war, they pass
him by,--and the last thing he seems to discover about them is
their democratic significance. But after a long while the meaning
of it all has begun to penetrate. To-day, his daughters go to
college as a matter of course, and he has forgotten that he ever
grudged them the opportunity.
They remind him of it, sometimes, with filial indirection, by
celebrating the benevolence, the intellectual acumen, the idealism
of the few men, exceptional in their day, who saw eye to eye with
Mary Lyon and her kind; the men who welcomed women to Oberlin
and Michigan, who founded Vassar and Wellesley and Bryn Mawr,
and so helped to organize the procession. Their reminders are even
beginning to take form as records of achievement; annals very far
from meager, for achievement piles up faster since Democracy set
the gate of opportunity on the crack, and we pack more into a half
century than we used to. And women, more obviously than men,
perhaps, have "speeded up" in response to the democratic stimulus;
their accomplishment along social, political, industrial, and above
all, educational lines, since the first woman's college was founded,
is not inconsiderable.
How much, or how little, would have been accomplished, industrially,
socially, and politically, without that first woman's college,
we shall never know, but the alumnae registers, with their statistics
concerning the occupations of graduates, are suggestive reading.
How little would have been accomplished educationally for women,
it is not so difficult to imagine: Vassar, Wellesley, Smith,
Mt. Holyoke, Bryn Mawr,--with all the bright visions, the fullness
of life that they connote to American women, middle-aged and
young,--blotted out; coeducational institutions harassed by numbers
and inventing drastic legislation to keep out the women; man still
the almoner of education, and woman his dependent. From all these
hampering probabilities the women's colleges save us to-day. This
is what constitutes their negative value to education.
Their positive contribution cannot be summarized so briefly; its
scattered chronicle must be sought in the minutes of trustees'
meetings, where it modestly evades the public eye, in the academic
formalities of presidents' reports and the journalistic naivete of
college periodicals; in the diaries of early graduates; in newspaper
clippings and magazine "write-ups"; in historical sketches to
commemorate the decennial or the quarter-century; and from the
lips of the pioneers,--teacher and student. For, in the words of
the graduate thesis, "we are still in the period of the sources."
The would-be historian of a woman's college to-day is in much
the same relation to her material as the Venerable Bede was to
his when he set out to write his Ecclesiastical History. The thought
brings us its own inspiration. If we sift our miracles with as
much discrimination as he sifted his, we shall be doing well. We
shall discover, among other things, that in addition to the composite
influence which these colleges all together exert, each one also
brings to bear upon our educational problems her individual
experience and ideals. Wellesley, for example, with her
women-presidents, and the heads of her departments all women
but three,--the professors of Music, Education, and French,--has
her peculiar testimony to offer concerning the administrative and
executive powers of women as educators, their capacity for initiative
This is why a general history of the movement for the higher
education of women, although of value, cannot tell us all we need
to know, since of necessity it approaches the subject from the
outside. The women's colleges must speak as individuals; each one
must tell her own story, and tell it soon. The bright, experimental
days are definitely past--except in the sense in which all education,
alike for men and women, is perennially an experiment--and if
the romance of those days is to quicken the imaginations of college
girls one hundred, two hundred, five hundred years hence, the women
who were the experiment and who lived the romance must write it down.
For Wellesley in particular this consciousness of standing at
the threshold of a new epoch is especially poignant. Inevitably
those forty years before the fire of 1914 will go down in her
history as a period apart. Already for her freshmen the old college
hall is a mythical labyrinth of memory and custom to which they
have no clue. New happiness will come to the hill above the lake,
new beauty will crown it, new memories will hallow it, but--they
will all be new. And if the coming generations of students are
to realize that the new Wellesley is what she is because her
ideals, though purged as by fire, are still the old ideals; if they
are to understand the continuity of Wellesley's tradition, we who
have come through the fire must tell them the story.
On Wednesday, November 25, 1914, the workmen who were digging
among the fire-scarred ruins at the extreme northeast corner of
old College Hall unearthed a buried treasure. To the ordinary
treasure seeker it would have been a thing of little worth,--a rough
bowlder of irregular shape and commonplace proportions,--but
Wellesley eyes saw the symbol. It was the first stone laid in
the foundations of Wellesley College. There was no ceremony when
it was laid, and there were no guests. Mr. and Mrs. Henry Fowle
Durant came up the hill on a summer morning--Friday, August 18, 1871,
was the day--and with the help of the workmen set the stone in place.
A month later, on the afternoon of Thursday, September 14, I871,
the corner stone was laid, by Mrs. Durant, at the northwest corner
of the building, under the dining-room wing; it is significant that
from the foundations up through the growth and expansion of all
the years, women have had a hand in the making of Wellesley.
In September, as in August, there were no guests invited, but at
the laying of the corner stone there was a simple ceremony; each
workman was given a Bible, by Mr. Durant, and a Bible was placed
in the corner stone. On December 18, 1914, this stone was uncovered,
and the Bible was found in a tin box in a hollow of the stone.
As most of the members of the college had scattered for the Christmas
vacation, only a little group of people gathered about the place
where, forty-three years before, Mrs. Durant had laid the stone.
Mrs. Durant was too ill to be present, but her cousin, Miss Fannie
Massie, lifted the tin box out of its hollow and handed it to
President Pendleton who opened the Bible and read aloud the
"This building is humbly dedicated to our Heavenly Father with
the hope and prayer that He may always be first in everything
in this institution; that His word may be faithfully taught here;
and that He will use it as a means of leading precious souls to
the Lord Jesus Christ."
There followed, also in Mrs. Durant's handwriting, two passages
from the Scriptures: II Chronicles, 29: 11-16, and the phrase
from the one hundred twenty-seventh Psalm: "Except the Lord
build the house they labor in vain that build it."
This stone is now the corner stone of the new building which rises
on College Hill, and another, the keystone of the arch above the
north door of old College Hall, will be set above the doorway of
the new administration building, where its deep-graven I.H.S.
will daily remind those who pass beneath it of Wellesley's unbroken
tradition of Christian scholarship and service.
But we must go back to the days before one stone was laid upon
another, if we are to begin at the beginning of Wellesley's story.
It was in 1855, the year after his marriage, that Mr. Durant bought
land in Wellesley village, then a part of Needham, and planned
to make the place his summer home. Every one who knew him speaks
of his passion for beauty, and he gave that passion free play when
he chose, all unwittingly, the future site for his college. There
is no fairer region around Boston than this wooded, hilly country
near Natick--"the place of hills"--with its little lakes, its
tranquil, winding river, its hallowed memories of John Eliot and
his Christian Indian chieftains, Waban and Pegan, its treasured
literary associations with Harriet Beecher Stowe. Chief Waban
gave his name, "Wind" or "Breath", to the college lake; on
Pegan Hill, from which so many Wellesley girls have looked out
over the blue distances of Massachusetts, Chief Pegan's efficient
and time-saving squaw used to knit his stockings without heels,
because "He handsome foot, and he shapes it hisself"; and Natick
is the Old Town of Mrs. Stowe's "Old Town Folks."
In those first years after they began to spend their summers at
Wellesley, the family lived in a brown house near what is now the
college greenhouse, but Mr. Durant meant to build his new house
on the hill above the lake, or on the site of Stone Hall, and
to found a great estate for his little son. From time to time
he bought more land; he laid out avenues and planted them with
trees; and then, the little boy for whom all this joy and beauty
were destined fell ill of diphtheria and died, July 3, 1863,
after a short illness.
The effect upon the grief-stricken father was startling, and to
many who knew him and more who did not, it was incomprehensible.
In the quaint phraseology of one of his contemporaries, he had
"avoided the snares of infidelity" hitherto, but his religion had
been of a conventional type. During the child's illness he
underwent an old-fashioned religious conversion. The miracle
has happened before, to greater men, and the world has always
looked askance. Boston in 1863, and later, was no exception.
Mr. Durant's career as a lawyer had been brilliant and worldly;
he had rarely lost a case. In an article on "Anglo-American Memories"
which appeared in the New York Tribune in 1909, he is described
as having "a powerful head, chiseled features, black hair, which
he wore rather long, an olive complexion, and eyes which flashed
the lightnings of wrath and scorn and irony; then suddenly the
soft rays of sweetness and persuasion for the jury. He could
coax, intimidate, terrify; and his questions cut like knives."
The author of "Bench and Bar in Massachusetts", who was in college
with him, says of him: "During the five years of his practice
at the Middlesex Bar he underwent such an initiation into the
profession as no other county could furnish. Shrewdness, energy,
resource, strong nerves and mental muscles were needed to ward
off the blows which the trained gladiators of this bar were
accustomed to inflict. With the lessons learned at the Middlesex Bar
he removed to Boston in 1847, where he became associated with
the Honorable Joseph Bell, the brother-in-law of Rufus Choate,
and began a career almost phenomenal in its success. His management
of cases in court was artistic. So well taken were the preliminary
steps, so deeply laid was the foundation, so complete and
comprehensive was the preparation of evidence and so adroitly
was it brought out, so carefully studied and understood were the
characters of jurors,--with their whims and fancies and
prejudices,--that he won verdict after verdict in the face of
the ablest opponents and placed himself by general consent at
the head of the jury lawyers of the Suffolk Bar." Adjectives less
ambiguous and more uncomplimentary than "shrewd" were also applied
to him, and his manner of dominating his juries did not always
call forth praise from his contemporaries. In one of the newspaper
obituaries at the time of his death it is admitted that he had
been "charged with resorting to tricks unbecoming the dignity of
a lawyer," but the writer adds that it is an open question if
some, or indeed all of them were not legitimate enough, and might
not have been paralleled by the practices of some of the ablest
of British and Irish barristers. Both in law and in business--for
he had important commercial interests--he had prospered. He was
rich and a man of the world. Boston, although critical, had not
found it unnatural that he should make himself talked about in
his conduct of jury trials; but the conspicuousness of his conversion
was of another sort: it offended against good taste, and incurred
for him the suspicion of hypocrisy.
For, with that ardor and impetuosity which seem always to have
made half measures impossible to him, Mr. Durant declared that
so far as he was concerned, the Law and the Gospel were
irreconcilable, and gave up his legal practice. A case which
he had already undertaken for Edward Everett, and from which
Mr. Everett was unwilling to release him, is said to be the last
one he conducted; and he pleaded in public for the last time
in a hearing at the State House in Boston, some years later, when
he won for the college the right to confer degrees, a privilege
which had not been specifically included in the original charter.
His zeal in conducting religious meetings also offended conventional
people. It was unusual, and therefore unsuitable, for a layman
to preach sermons in public. St. Francis and his preaching friars
had established no precedent in Boston of the 'sixties and
'seventies, and indeed Mr. Durant's evangelical protestantism
might not have relished the parallel. Boston seems, for the most
part, to have averted its eyes from the spectacle of the brilliant,
possibly unscrupulous, some said tricky, lawyer bringing souls
to Christ. But he did bring them. We are told that "The halls
and churches where he spoke were crowded. The training and
experience which had made him so successful a pleader before
judge and jury, now, when he was fired with zeal for Christ's
cause, made him almost irresistible as a preacher. Very many
were led by him to confess the Christian faith. Henry Wilson,
then senator, afterwards vice president, was among them. The
influence of the meetings was wonderful and far-reaching." We
are assured that he "would go nowhere unless the Evangelical
Christians of the place united in an invitation and the ministers
were ready to cooperate." But the whole affair was of course
intensely distasteful to unemotional people; the very fact that
a man could be converted argued his instability; and it is
unquestionably true that Boston's attitude toward Mr. Durant was
reflected for many years in her attitude toward the college which
But over against this picture we can set another, more intimate,
more pleasing, although possibly not more discriminating. When
the early graduates of Wellesley and the early teachers write of
Mr. Durant, they dip their pens in honey and sunshine. The result
is radiant, fiery even, but unconvincingly archangelic. We see
him, "a slight, well-knit figure of medium height in a suit of
gray, with a gray felt hat, the brim slightly turned down; beneath
one could see the beautiful gray hair slightly curling at the ends;
the fine, clear-cut features, the piercing dark eyes, the mouth
that could smile or be stern as occasion might demand. He seemed
to have the working power of half a dozen ordinary persons and
everything received his attention. He took the greatest pride
and delight in making things as beautiful as possible." Or he
is described as "A slight man--with eyes keen as a lawyer's should
be, but gentle and wise as a good man's are, and with a halo of
wavy silver hair. His step was alert, his whole form illuminate
with life." He is sketched for us addressing the college, in
chapel, one September morning of 1876, on the supremacy of Greek
literature, "urging in conclusion all who would venture upon
Hadley's Grammar as the first thorny stretch toward that celestial
mountain peak, to rise." It is Professor Katharine Lee Bates,
writing in 1892, who gives us the picture: "My next neighbor,
a valorous little mortal, now a member of the Smith faculty, was
the first upon her feet, pulling me after her by a tug at my
sleeve, coupled with a moral tug more efficacious still. Perhaps
a dozen of us freshmen, all told, filed into Professor Horton's
recitation room that morning." And again, "His prompt and vigorous
method of introducing a fresh subject to college notice was the
making it a required study for the senior class of the year.
'79 grappled with biology, '80 had a senior diet of geology and
astronomy." To these young women, as to his juries in earlier
days, he could use words "that burned and cut like the lash of
a scourge," and it is evident that they feared "the somber
lightnings of his eyes."
But he won their affection by his sympathy and humor perhaps,
quite as much as by his personal beauty, and his ideals of
scholarship, and despite his imperious desire to bring their souls
to Christ. They remember lovingly his little jokes. They tell of
how he came into College Hall one evening, and said that a mother
and daughter had just arrived, and he was perplexed to know where
to put them, but he thought they might stay under the staircase
leading up from the center. And students and teachers, puzzled
by this inhospitality but suspecting a joke somewhere, came out
into the center to find the great cast of Niobe and her daughter
under the stairway at the left, where it stayed through all the
years that followed, until College Hall burned down.
They tell also of the moral he pointed at the unveiling of
"The Reading Girl", by John Adams Jackson, which stood for many
years in the Browning Room. She was reading no light reading,
said Mr. Durant, as the twelve men who brought her in could testify.
"She is reading Greek, and observe--she doesn't wear bangs." They
saw him ardent in friendship as in all else. His devoted friend,
and Wellesley's, Professor Eben N. Horsford, has given us a picture
of him which it would be a pity to miss. The two men are standing
on the oak-crowned hill, overlooking the lake. "We wandered on,"
says Professor Horsford, "over the hill and future site of Norumbega,
till we came where now stands the monument to the munificence
of Valeria Stone. There in the shadow of the evergreens we lay
down on the carpet of pine foliage and talked,--I remember it
well,--talked long of the problems of life, of things worth
living for; of the hidden ways of Providence as well as of the
subtle ways of men; of the few who rule and are not always
recognized; of the many who are led and are not always conscious
of it; of the survival of the fittest in the battle of life, and
of the constant presence of the Infinite Pity; of the difficulties,
the resolution, the struggle, the conquest that make up the history
of every worthy achievement. I arose with the feeling that I had
been taken into the confidence of one of the most gifted of all
the men it had been my privilege to know. We had not talked of
friendship; we had been unconsciously sowing its seed. He loved
to illustrate its strength and its steadfastness to me; l have
lived to appreciate and reverence the grandeur of the work which
he accomplished here."
If we set them over against each other, the hearsay that besmirches
and the reminiscence that canonizes, we evoke a very human, living
personality: a man of keen intellect, of ardent and emotional
temperament, autocratic, fanatical, fastidious, and beauty-loving;
a loyal friend; an unpleasant enemy. "He saw black black and
white white, for him there was no gray." He was impatient of
mediocrity. "He could not suffer fools gladly."
No archangel this, but unquestionably a man of genius, consecrated
to the fulfillment of a great vision. It is no wonder that the
early graduates living in the very presence of his high purpose,
his pure intention, his spendthrift selflessness, remember these
things best when they recall old days. After all, these are the
things most worth remembering.
The best and most carefully balanced study of him which we have
is by Miss Charlotte Howard Conant of the class of '84, in an
address delivered by her in the College Chapel, February 18, 1906,
to commemorate Mr. Durant's birthday. Miss Conant's use of the
biographical material available, and her careful and restrained
estimate of Mr. Durant's character cannot be bettered, and it is
a temptation to incorporate her entire pamphlet in this chapter,
but we shall have to content ourselves with cogent extracts.
Henry Fowle Durant, or Henry Welles Smith as he was called in his
boyhood, was born February 20, 1822, in Hanover, New Hampshire.
His father, William Smith, "was a lawyer of limited means, but
versatile mind and genial disposition." His mother, Harriet Fowle
Smith of Watertown, Massachusetts, was one of five sisters renowned
for their beauty and amiability; she was, we are told, intelligent
as well as beautiful, "a great reader, and a devoted Christian
all her long life."
Young Henry went to school in Hanover, and in Peacham, Vermont,
but in his early boyhood the family moved to Lowell, Massachusetts,
and from there he was sent to the private school of Mr. and
Mrs. Samuel Ripley in Waltham, to complete his preparation for
Harvard. Miss Conant writes: "Mr. Ripley was pastor of the
Unitarian Church there (in Waltham) from 1809 to 1846, and during
most of that time supplemented the small salary of a country minister
by receiving twelve or fourteen boys into his family to fit for
college. From time to time youths rusticated from Harvard were
also sent there to keep up college work."
"Mrs. Ripley was one of the most remarkable women of her generation.
Born in 1793, she very early began to show unusual intellectual
ability, and before she was seventeen she had become a fine Latin
scholar and had read also all the Odyssey in the original." Her
life-long friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson, writes in praise of her:
"The rare accomplishments and singular loveliness of her character
endeared her to all. . . . She became one of the best Greek
scholars in the country, and continued in her latest years the
habit of reading Homer, the tragedians, and Plato. But her studies
took a wide range in mathematics, natural philosophy, psychology,
theology, and ancient and modern literature. Her keen ear was
open to whatever new facts astronomy, chemistry, or the theories
of light and heat had to furnish. Absolutely without pedantry,
she had no desire to shine. She was faithful to all the duties
of wife and mother in a well-ordered and eminently hospitable
household wherein she was dearly loved. She was without appetite
for luxury or display or praise or influence, with entire
indifference to triffles. . . . As she advanced in life her
personal beauty, not remarked in youth, drew the notice of all."
There could have been no nobler, saner influence for an intellectual
boy than the companionship of this unusual woman, and if we are
to begin at the beginning of Wellesley's story, we must begin with
Mrs. Ripley, for Mr. Durant often said that she had great influence
in inclining his mind in later life to the higher education of women.
From Waltham the young man went in 1837 to Harvard, where we hear
of him as "not specially studious, and possessing refined and
luxurious tastes which interfered somewhat with his pursuit of
the regular studies of the college." But evidently he was no
ordinary idler, for he haunted the Harvard Library, and we know
that all his life he was a lover of books. In 1841 he was graduated
from Harvard, and went home to Lowell to read law in his father's
office, where Benjamin F. Butler was at that time a partner.
The dilettante attitude which characterized his college years is
now no longer in evidence. He writes to a friend, "I shall study
law for the present to oblige father; he is in some trouble, and
I wish to make him as happy as possible. The future course of
my life is undetermined, except that all shall yield to holy poetry.
Indeed it is a sacred duty. I have begun studying law; don't be
afraid, however, that I intend to give up poetry. I shall always
be a worshiper of that divinity, and l hope in a few years to be
able to give up everything and be a priest in her temple." After
a year he writes, "I have not written any poetry this whole summer.
Old Mrs. Themis says that I shall not visit any more at the
Miss Muses. I'll see the old catamaran hanged, though, but what
I will, and I'll write a sonnet to my old shoe directly, out of
mere desperation. Pity and sympathize with me." And on March 28,
1843, we find him writing to a college friend:
"I have been attending courts of all kinds and assisting as junior
counsel in trying cases and all the drudgery of a lawyer's life.
One end of my labor has been happily attained, for about three
weeks ago I arrived at the age of twenty-one, and last week I
mustered courage to stand an examination of my qualifications
for an attorney, and the result (unlike that of some examinations
during my college life) was fortunate, with compliments from the
judge. I feel a certain vanity (not unmixed, by the way, with
self-contempt) at my success, for I well remember l and a dear
friend of mine used to mourn over the impossibility of our ever
becoming business men, and lo, I am a lawyer.-- I have a right
to bestow my tediousness on any court of the Commonwealth, and
they are bound to hear me."
From 1843 to 1847 he practiced at the Middlesex Bar, and from
1847, when he went to live in Boston, until 1863, he was a member
of the Suffolk Bar. On November 25, 1851, he had his name changed
by act of the Legislature. There were eleven other lawyers by
the name of Smith, practicing in Boston, and two of them were
Henry Smiths. To avoid the inevitable confusion, Henry Welles Smith
became Henry Fowle Durant, both Fowle and Durant being family names.
In 1852 Mr. Durant was a member of the Boston City Council, but
did not again hold political office. On May 28, 1854, he married
his cousin, Pauline Adeline Fowle, of Virginia, daughter of the
late Lieutenant-colonel John Fowle of the United States Army and
Paulina Cazenove. On March 2, 1855, the little boy, Henry Fowle
Durant, Jr., was born, and on October 10, 1857, a little girl,
Pauline Cazenove Durant, who lived less than two months. On
June 21, 1862, we find the Boston Evening Courier saying of the
prominent lawyer: "What the future has in store for Mr. Durant
can of course be only predicted, but his past is secure, and if
he never rises higher, he can rest in the consciousness that no
man ever rose more rapidly at the Suffolk Bar than he has." And
within a year he had put it all behind him,--a sinful and unworthy
life,--and had set out to be a new man. That there was sin and
unworthiness in the old life we, who look into our own hearts,
need not doubt; but how much of sin, how much of unworthiness,
happily we need not determine. Mr. Durant was probably his own
Miss Conant's characterization of Mr. Durant, in his own words
describing James Otis, is particularly illuminating in its revelation
of his temperament. In February, 1860, he said of James Otis,
in an address delivered in the Boston Mercantile Library Lecture
"One cannot study his writings and history and escape the conviction
that there were two natures in this great man. There was the
trained lawyer, man of action, prompt and brave in every emergency.
But there was in him another nature higher than this. In all times
men have entertained angels unawares, ministering spirits, whose
missions are not wholly known to themselves even, men living beyond
and in advance of their age.
"We call them prophets, inspired seers,--in the widest and largest
sense poets, for they come to create new empires of thought, new
realms in the history of the mind. . . . But more ample traditions
remain of his powers as an orator and of the astonishing effects
of his eloquence. He was eminently an orator of action in its
finest sense; his contemporaries speak of him as a flame of fire
and repeat the phrase as if it were the only one which could express
the intense passion of his eloquence, the electric flames which
his genius kindled, the magical power which swayed the great
assemblies with the irresistible sweep of the whirlwind."
Mr. Durant's attitude toward education is also elucidated for us
by Miss Conant in her apt quotations from his address on the
American Scholar, delivered at Bowdoin College, August, 1862:
"The cause of God's poor is the sublime gospel of American freedom.
It is our faith that national greatness has its only enduring
foundation in the intelligence and integrity of the whole people.
It is our faith that our institutions approach perfection only when
every child can be educated and elevated to the station of a free
and intelligent citizen, and we mourn for each one who goes astray
as a loss to the country that cannot be repaired. . . . From this
fundamental truth that the end of our Republic is to educate and
elevate all our people, you can deduce the future of the American
"The great dangers in the future of America which we have to fear
are from our own neglect of our duty. Foes from within are the
most deadly enemies, and suicide is the great danger of our
Republic. With the increase of wealth and commerce comes the
growing power of gold, and it is a fearful truth for states as
well as for individual men that 'gold rusts deeper than iron.'
Wealth breeds sensuality, degradation, ignorance, and crime.
"The first object and duty of the true patriot should be to elevate
and educate the poor. Ignorance is the modern devil, and the
inkstand that Martin Luther hurled at his head in the Castle of
Wartburg is the true weapon to fight him with."
This helps us to understand his desire that Wellesley should
welcome poor girls and should give them every opportunity for
study. Despite his aristocratic tastes he was a true son of
democracy; the following, from an address on "The Influences of
Rural Life", delivered by him before the Norfolk Agricultural
Society, in September, 1859, might have been written in the
twentieth century, so modern is its animus:
"The age of iron is passed and the age of gold is passing away;
the age of labor is coming. Already we speak of the dignity of
labor, and that phrase is anything but an idle and unmeaning one.
It is a true gospel to the man who takes its full meaning; the
nation that understands it is free and independent and great.
"The dignity of labor is but another name for liberty. The chivalry
of labor is now the battle cry of the old world and the new. Ask
your cornfields to what mysterious power they do homage and pay
tribute, and they will answer--to labor. In a thousand forms
nature repeats the truth, that the laborer alone is what is called
respectable, is alone worthy of praise and honor and reward."
In a letter accompanying his will, in 1867, Mr. Durant wrote:
"The great object we both have in view is the appropriation and
consecration of our country place and other property to the
service of the Lord Jesus Christ, by erecting a seminary on the
plan (modified by circumstances) of South Hadley, and by having
an Orphan Asylum, not only for orphans, but for those who are
more forlorn than orphans in having wicked parents. Did our
property suffice I would prefer both, as the care (Christian and
charitable) of the children would be blessed work for the pupils
of the seminary." The orphanage was, indeed, their first idea,
and was, obviously, the more natural and conventional memorial
for a little eight-year-old lad, but the idea of the seminary
gradually superseded it as Mr. and Mrs. Durant came to take a
greater and greater interest in educational problems as distinguished
from mere philanthropy. Miss Conant wisely reminds us that,
"Just at this time new conditions confronted the common schools
of the country. The effects of the Civil War were felt in education
as in everything else. During the war the business of teaching
had fallen into women's hands, and the close of the war found
a great multitude of new and often very incompetent women teachers
filling positions previously held by men. The opportunities for
the higher education of women were entirely inadequate. Mt. Holyoke
was turning away hundreds of girls every year, and there were few
or no other advanced schools for girls of limited means."
In 1867 Mr. Durant was elected a trustee of Mt. Holyoke. In 1868
Mrs. Durant gave to Mt. Holyoke ten thousand dollars, which enabled
the seminary to build its first library building. We are told that
Mr. and Mrs. Durant used to say that there could not be too many
Mt. Holyokes. And in 1870, on March 17, the charter of Wellesley
Female Seminary was signed by Governor William Claflin.
On April 16, 1870, the first meeting of the Board of Trustees was
held, at Mr. Durant's Marlborough Street house in Boston, and the
Reverend Edward N. Kirk, pastor of the Mt. Vernon Church in Boston,
was elected president of the board. Mr. Durant arranged that both
men and women should constitute the Board of Trustees, but that
women should constitute the faculty; and by his choice the first
and second presidents of the college were women. The continuance
of this tradition by the trustees has in every respect justified
the ideal and the vision of the founder. The trustees were to be
members of Evangelical churches, but no denomination was to have
a majority upon the board. On March 7, 1873, the name of the
institution was changed by legislative act to Wellesley College.
Possibly visits to Vassar had had something to do with the change,
for Mr. and Mrs. Durant studied Vassar when they were making
their own plans.
And meanwhile, since the summer of 1871, the great house on the
hill above Lake Waban had been rising, story on story.
Miss Martha Hale Shackford, Wellesley, 1896, in her valuable
little pamphlet, "College Hall", written immediately after the fire,
to preserve for future generations of Wellesley women the traditions
of the vanished building, tells us with what intentness Mr. Durant
studied other colleges, and how, working with the architect,
Mr. Hammatt Billings of Boston, "details of line and contour
were determined before ground was broken, and the symmetry of
the huge building was assured from the beginning."
"Reminiscences of those days are given by residents of Wellesley,
who recall the intense interest of the whole countryside in this
experiment. From Natick came many high-school girls, on Saturday
afternoons, to watch the work and to make plans for attending the
college. As the brick-work advanced and the scaffolding rose
higher and higher, the building assumed gigantic proportions,
impressive in the extreme. The bricks were brought from Cambridge
in small cars, which ran as far as the north lodge and were then
drawn, on a roughly laid switch track, to the side of the building
by a team of eight mules. Other building materials were unloaded
in the meadow and then transferred by cars. As eighteen loads
of bricks arrived daily the pre-academic aspect of the campus was
one of noise and excitement. At certain periods during the
finishing of the interior, there were almost three hundred workmen."
A pretty story has come down to us of one of these workmen who
fell ill, and when he found that he could not complete his work,
begged that he might lay one more brick before he was taken away,
and was lifted up by his comrades that he might set the brick
in its place.
Mr. Durant's eye was upon every detail. He was at hand every day
and sometimes all day, for he often took his lunch up to the campus
with him, and ate it with the workmen in their noon hour. In 1874
he writes: "The work is very hard and I get very tired. I do
feel thankful for the privilege of trying to do something in
the cause of Christ. I feel daily that I am not worthy of such
a privilege, and I do wish to be a faithful servant to my Master.
Yet this does not prevent me from being very weary and sorely
discouraged at times. To-night I am so tired I can hardly sit up
And from one who, as a young girl, was visiting at his country
house when the house was building, we have this vivid reminiscence:
"My first impression of Mr. Durant was, 'Here is the quickest
thinker'--my next--'and the keenest wit I have ever met.' Then
came the day when under the long walls that stood roofed but bare
in the solitude above Lake Waban, I sat upon a pile of plank, now
the flooring of Wellesley College, and listened to Mr. Durant.
I could not repeat a word he said. I only knew as he spoke and
I listened, the door between the seen and the unseen opened and
I saw a great soul and its quest, God's glory. I came back to
earth to find this seer, with his vision of the wonder that should
be, a master of detail and the most tireless worker. The same day
as this apocalypse, or soon after, I went with Mr. Durant up a
skeleton stairway to see the view from an upper window. The
workmen were all gone but one man, who stood resting a grimy hand
on the fair newly finished wall. For one second I feared to see
a blow follow the flash of Mr. Durant's eye, but he lowered rather
than raised his voice, as after an impressive silence he showed
the scared man the mark left on the wall and his enormity. . . .
Life was keyed high in Mr. Durant's home, and the keynote was
Wellesley College. While the walls were rising he kept workman's
hours. Long before the family breakfast he was with the builders.
At prayers I learned to listen night and morning for the prayer
for Wellesley--sometimes simply an earnest 'Bless Thy college.'
We sat on chairs wonderful in their variety, but all on trial for
the ease and rest of Wellesley, and who can count the stairways
Mrs. Durant went up, not that she might know how steep the stairs
of another, but to find the least toilsome steps for Wellesley feet.
"Night did not bring rest, only a change of work. Letters came and
went like the correspondence of a secretary of state. Devotion
and consecration I had seen before, and sacrifice and self-forgetting,
but never anything like the relentless toil of those two who toiled
not for themselves. If genius and infinite patience met for
the making of Wellesley, side by side with them went the angels
of work and prayer; the twin angels were to have their shrine
in the college."
On September 8, I875, the college opened its doors to three hundred
and fourteen students. More than two hundred other applicants
for admission had been refused for lack of room. We can imagine
the excitement of the fortunate three hundred and fourteen, driving
up to the college in family groups,--for their fathers and mothers,
and sometimes their grandparents or their aunts came with them.
They went up Washington Street, "the long way", past the little
Gothic Lodge, and up the avenue between the rows of young elms
and purple beeches. There was a herd of Jersey cows grazing in
the meadow that day, and there is a tradition that the first student
entered the college by walking over a narrow plank, as the steps
up to the front door were not yet in place; but the story, though
pleasantly symbolical, does not square with the well-known energy
and impatience of the founder.
The students were received on their arrival by the president,
Miss Ada L. Howard, in the reception room. They were then shown
to their rooms by teachers. The majority of the rooms were in
suites, a study and bedroom or bedrooms for two, three, and in
a few suites, four girls. There were almost no single rooms in
those days, even for the teachers. With a few exceptions, every
bedroom and every study had a large window opening outdoors.
There were carpets on the floors, and bookshelves in the studies,
and the black walnut furniture was simple in design. As one alumna
writes: "The wooden bedsteads with their wooden slats, of vivid
memory, the wardrobes, so much more hospitable than the two hooks
on the door, which Matthew Vassar vouchsafed to his protegees,
the high, commodious bureaus, with their 'scant' glass of fashion,
are all endeared to us by long association, and by our straining
endeavors to rearrange them in our rooms, without the help of man."
When the student had showed her room to her anxious relatives,
on that first day, she came down to the room that was then the
president's office, but later became the office of the registrar.
There she found Miss Sarah P. Eastman, who, for the first six
years of the college life, was teacher of history and director of
domestic work. Later, with her sister, Miss Julia A. Eastman, she
became one of the founders of Dana Hall, the preparatory school
in Wellesley village. An alumna of the class of '80 who evidently
had dreaded this much-heralded domestic work, writes that Miss
Eastman's personality robbed it of its horrors and made it seem
a noble and womanly thing. "When, in her sweet and gracious
manner, she asked, 'How would you like to be on the circle to
scrape dinner dishes?' you straightway felt that no occupation
could be more noble than scraping those mussy plates."
"All that day," we are told, "confusion was inevitable. Mr. Durant
hovered about, excited, anxious, yet reassured by the enthusiasm
of the students, who entered with eagerness into the new world.
He superintended feeding the hungry, answered questions, and
studied with great keenness the faces of the girls who were entering
Wellesley College. In the middle of the afternoon it had been
discovered that no bell had been provided for waking the students,
so a messenger went to the village to beg help of Mrs. Horton
(the mother of the professor of Greek), who promptly provided
a large brass dinnerbell. At six o'clock the next morning two
students, side by side, walked through all the corridors, ringing
the rising-bell,--an act, as Miss Eastman says, symbolic of the
inner awakening to come to all those girls." Thirty-nine years
later, at the sound of a bell in the early morning, the household
were to awake to duty for the last time in the great building.
The unquestioning obedience, the prompt intelligence, the unconscious
selflessness with which they obeyed that summons in the dawn of
March 17, 1914, witness to that "inner awakening."
The early days of that first term were given over to examinations,
and it was presently discovered that only thirty of the three hundred
and fourteen would-be college students were really of college grade.
The others were relegated to a preparatory department, of which
Mr. Durant was always intolerant, and which was finally discontinued
in 1881, the year of his death.
Mr. Durant's ideals for the college were of the highest, and in
many respects he was far in advance of his times in his attitude
toward educational matters. He meant Wellesley to be a university
some day. There is a pretty story, which cannot be told too often,
of how he stood one morning with Miss Louise Manning Hodgkins,
who was professor of English Literature from 1877 to 1891, and
looked out over the beautiful campus.
"Do you see what l see?" he asked.
"No," was the quiet answer, for there were few who would venture
to say they saw the visions in his eyes.
"Then I will tell you," he said. "On that hill an Art School,
down there a Musical Conservatory, on the elevation yonder a
Scientific School, and just beyond that an Observatory, at the
farthest right a Medical College, and just there in the center a
new stone chapel, built as the college outgrew the old one.
Yes,--this will all be some time--but I shall not be here."
It is significant that the able lawyer did not number a law school
among his university buildings, and that although he gave to
Wellesley his personal library, the gift did not include his law
library. Nevertheless, there are lawyers among the Wellesley
graduates, and one or two of distinction.
Mr. Durant's desire that the college should do thorough, original,
first-hand work, cannot be too strongly emphasized. Miss Conant
tells us that, "For all scientific work he planned laboratories
where students might make their own investigations, a very unusual
step for those times." In 1878, when the Physics laboratory was
started at Wellesley, under the direction of Professor Whiting,
Harvard had no such laboratory for students. In chemistry also,
the Wellesley students had unusual opportunities for conducting
their own experimental work. Mr. Durant also began the collection
of scientific and literary periodicals containing the original
papers of the great investigators, now so valuable to the college.
"This same idea of original work led him to purchase for the
library books for the study of Icelandic and allied languages, so
that the English department might also begin its work at the root
of things. He wished students of Greek and Latin to illuminate
their work by the light of archeology, topography, and epigraphy.
Such books as then existed on these subjects were accordingly
procured. In 1872 no handbooks of archeology had been prepared,
and even in 1882 no university in America offered courses in
His emphasis on physical training for the students was also an
advance upon the general attitude of the time. He realized that
the Victorian young lady, with her chignon and her Grecian bend,
could not hope to make a strong student. The girls were encouraged
to row on the lake, to take long, brisk walks, to exercise in the
gymnasium. Mr. Durant sent to England for a tennis set, as none
could be procured in America, "but had some difficulty in persuading
many of the students to take such very violent exercise."
But despite these far-seeing plans, he was often, during his
lifetime, his own greatest obstacle to their achievement. He brought
to his task a large inexperience of the genus girl, a despotic
habit of mind, and a temperamental tendency to play Providence.
Theoretically, he wished to give the teachers and students of
Wellesley an opportunity to show what women, with the same
educational facilities as their brothers and a free hand in directing
their own academic life, could accomplish for civilization.
Practically, they had to do as he said, as long as he lived. The
records in the diaries, letters, and reminiscences which have come
down to us from those early days, are full of Mr. Durant's commands
On one historic occasion he decides that the entire freshman
schedule shall be changed, for one day, from morning to afternoon,
in order that a convention of Massachusetts school superintendents,
meeting in Boston, may hear the Wellesley students recite their
Greek, Latin, and Mathematics. In vain do the students protest
at being treated like district school children; in vain do the
teachers point out the injury to the college dignity; in vain do
the superintendents evince an unflattering lack of interest in
the scholarship of Wellesley. It must be done. It is done.
The president of the freshman class is called upon to recite her
Greek lesson. She begins. The superintendents chatter and laugh
discourteously among themselves. But the president of the freshman
class has her own ideas of classroom etiquette. She pauses. She
waits, silent, until the room is hushed, then she resumes her
recitation before the properly disciplined superintendents.
In religious matters, Mr. Durant was, of course, especially active.
Like the Christian converts of an earlier day, he would have harried
and hurried souls to Christ. But Victorian girls were less docile
than the medieval Franks and Goths. They seem, many of them,
to have eluded or withstood this forceful shepherding with a
vigilance as determined as Mr. Durant's own.
But some of the letters and diaries give us such a vivid picture
of this early Wellesley that it would be a pity not to let them
speak. The diary quoted is that of Florence Morse Kingsley,
the novelist, who was a student at Wellesley from 1876 to 1879,
but left before she was graduated because of trouble with her eyes.
Already in the daily record of the sixteen-year-old girl we find
the little turns and twinkles of phrase which make Mrs. Kingsley's
books such good reading.
Wellesley College, September 18th., 1876. I haven't had time
to write in this journal since I came. There is so much to do
here all the time. Besides, l have changed rooms and room-mates.
I am in No. 72 now and I have a funny little octagon-shaped
bedroom all to myself, and two room-mates, I. W. and J.S.
Both of these are in the preparatory department. But I am in
the semi-collegiate class, because l passed all my mathematics.
But l didn't have quite enough of the right Latin to be a full
freshman. We get up at 6.30, have breakfast at 7, then a class
at 7.55, after that comes silent hour, chapel, and section
Bible class. Then hours again till dinner-time at one, and
after dinner till 4.55. We can go outdoors all we want to
and to the library, but we can't go in each other's rooms,
which is a blessing. There are some girls here who would like
to talk every minute, morning, noon and night.
I went out to walk this afternoon with B. We were walking very
slow and talking very fast, when all of a sudden we met
Mr. Durant. He was coming along like a steam engine, his
white hair flying out in the wind. When he saw us he stopped;
of course we stopped too, for we saw he wanted to speak to us.
"That isn't the way to walk, girls," he said, very briskly.
"You need to make the blood bound through your veins; that
will stimulate the mind and help to make you good students.
Come now, I'll walk with you as far as the lodge, and show
you what I mean."
B. and l just straightened up and walked! Mr. Durant talked
to us some about our lessons. He seemed pleased when we told
him we liked geometry. When we got back to the college we
told the girls about meeting Mr. Durant. l guess nobody will
want to dawdle along after this; I'm sure I shan't.
Oct. 5. I broke an oar to-day. I'm not used to rowing anyway,
and the oar was long; two of us sit on one seat, each pulling
an oar. There is room for eight in the boat, beside the captain.
We went out to-day in a boat called the Ellida and after going
all around the lake we thought it would be fun to go under a
little stone bridge. The captain told us to ship our oars;
I didn't ship mine enough, and it struck the side of the bridge
and snapped right off. I was dreadfully frightened; especially
as the captain said right away, "You'll have to tell Mr. Durant."
The captain's name is ______. She was a first year girl, and
on that account thinks a great deal of herself.
I wish I'd come last year. It must have been lots of fun.
Well, anyway, I thought I might as well have the matter of
the oar over with, so as soon as we landed I took the two
pieces of the oar and marched straight into the office.
Mr. Durant sat there at the desk. He appeared to be very busy
and he didn't look at me at first. When he did my heart beat
so fast I could hardly speak. I guess he saw l was frightened,
for he laughed a little and said, "Oh ho, you've had an
accident, l see."
I told him how it happened, and he said, "Well, you've learned
that stone bridges are stronger than oars; and that bit of
information will cost you seventy cents."
I was so relieved that l laughed right out. "l thought it would
cost as much as five dollars," I said. I like Mr. Durant.
October 15. Mr. Durant talked to us in chapel this morning on
the subject of being honest about our domestic work. Of course
some girls are used to working and can hurry, while others. . .
don't even know how to tie their shoestrings or braid their hair
properly when they first come. . . . My work is to dust the
center on the first floor. It's easy, and if I didn't take
lots of time to look at the pictures and palms and things
while I am doing it I couldn't possibly make it last an hour.
But I'm thorough, so my conscience didn't prick me a bit. But
some of the girls got as red as beets and. . . cried afterward;
she hadn't swept her corridor for two whole days. Mr. Durant
certainly does get down to the roots of things, and if you
haven't a pretty decent conscience about your lessons and
everything, you feel as though you had a clear little window
right in the middle of your forehead through which he can
look in and see the disorder. Some of the girls say they are
just paralyzed when he looks at them; but I'm not. I feel like
doing things just as well as I can.
Sunday, November 19. We had a missionary from South Africa to
preach in the chapel this morning. He seemed to think we were
all getting ready to be missionaries, because he said among
other things that he hoped to welcome us to the field as soon
as possible after we graduated. His complexion was very
yellow. It reminded one of ivory, elephants' tusks and that
sort of thing. We heard afterward that he wasn't married, and
that he hoped to find a suitable helpmate here. But although
Mr. Durant introduced him to all the '79 girls I didn't think
he liked the looks of any of them. At least he didn't propose
to any of them on the spot. They're only sophomores, anyway,
when one comes to think of it, but they certainly act as if the
dignity of the whole institution rested on their shoulders.
Most of them wear trails every day. I wish l had a trail.
To complete this picture of the college woman in 1876 we need
the description of the college president, by a member of the class
of '80: "Miss Howard with her young face, pink cheeks, blue eyes,
and puffs of snow-white hair, wearing always a long trailing gown
of black silk, cut low at the throat and finished with folds of
snowy tulle." None of these writers gives the date at which the
trail disappeared from the classroom.
The following letters are from Mary Elizabeth Stilwell, a member
of that same class of '79 which wore the trails. She, like
Florence Morse, left college on account of her health. The letters
are printed by the courtesy of her daughter, Ruth Eleanor McKibben,
a graduate of Denison College and a graduate student at Wellesley
during 1914 and 1915. Elizabeth Stilwell was older and more mature
than Florence Morse, and her letters give us the old Wellesley
from quite a different angle.
Oct. 16, '75.
My Dear Mother:--
If you are at all discouraged or feel the need of something to
cheer you up you had better lay this letter aside and read it
some other time, for I expect it will be exceedingly doleful.
But really, Mother, I am exceedingly in earnest in what I am
going to write and have thought the whole matter over carefully
before I have ventured a word on the subject. Wellesley is
not a college. The buildings are beautiful, perfect almost;
the rooms and their appointments delightful, most of the
professors are all that could be desired, some of them are
very fine indeed in their several departments, but all these
delightful things are not the things that make a college. . . .
And, Oh! the experiments! It is enough to try the patience of
a Job. l came here to take a college course, and not to dabble
in a little of every insignificant thing that comes up. More
than half of my time is taken up in writing essays, practicing
elocution, trotting to chapel, and reading poetry with the
teacher of English literature, and it seems to make no difference
to Miss Howard and Mr. Durant whether the Latin, Greek and
Mathematics are well learned or not. The result is that l do
not have time to half learn my lessons. My real college work
is unsatisfactory, poorly done, and so of course amounts to
about nothing. l am not the only one that feels it, but every
member of the freshman class has the same feeling, and not only
the students but even the professors. You can have no idea of
how these very professors have worked to have things different
and have expostulated and expostulated with Mr. Durant, but all
to no avail. He is as hard as a flint and his mind is made up of
the most beautiful theories, but he is perfectly blind to facts.
He rules the college, from the amount of Latin we shall read to
the kind of meat we shall have for dinner; he even went out into
the kitchen the other day and told the cook not to waste so much
butter in making the hash, for I heard him myself.
We must remember that the writer is a young girl, intolerant, as
youth is always intolerant, and that she was writing only one month
after the college had opened. It is not to be expected that she
could understand the creative excitement under which the founder
was laboring in those first years. We, who look back, can appreciate
what it must have meant to a man of his imagination and intensity,
to see his ideal coming true; naturally, he could not keep his
hands off. And we must remember also that until his death Mr. Durant
met the yearly deficit of the college. This gave him a peculiar
claim to have his wishes carried out, whether in the classroom or
in the kitchen.
Miss Stilwell continues:
I know there are a great many things to be taken into
consideration. I know that the college is new and that all
sorts of discouragements are to be expected, and that the best
way is to bear them patiently and hope that all will come out
right in the end. At the same time I am DETERMINED to have
a certain sort of an education, and I must go where l can get
it. . . . Oh! if I could only make you see it as we all
feel it! It is such a bitter disappointment when I had looked
forward for so long to going to college, to find the same
narrowness and cramped feeling.--There is one other thing
that Mrs. S. (the mother of one of the students) spoke of
yesterday, which is very true I am sorry to say, and that is
in regard to the religious influence. She said that she thought
that Mr. Durant by driving the girls so, and continually harping
on the subject, was losing all his influence and was doing just
the opposite of what he intended. I know that with my room-mate
and her set he is a constant source of ridicule and his
exhortations and prayers are retailed in the most terrible way.
I have set my foot down on it and I will not allow anything
of the sort done in my room, but l know that it is done
elsewhere, and that every spark of religious interest is killed
by the process. I have firmly made up my mind that it shall
not affect me and l have succeeded in controlling myself this far.
On December 31, we find her writing: "My Greek is the only pleasant
thing to which I can look forward, and I am quite sure good
instruction awaits me there."
In 1876 she cheers up a bit, and on September 17, writes: "I am
going to like Miss Lord (professor of Latin) very much indeed
and shall derive a great deal of profit from her teaching." And
on October 8,
"Having already had so much Greek, I think I could take the classical
course for Honors right through, even though I did not begin German
until another year, and as I am quite anxious to study Chemistry
and have the laboratory practice perhaps I had best take Chemistry
now and leave German for another year. It is indeed a problem and
a profound one as to what I am to do with my education and I am
very anxious to hear from father in answer to my letter and get
his thoughts on the matter. I have the utmost confidence in
Miss Horton's judgment (professor of Greek) and I think I shall
talk the matter over with her in a day or two."
Evidently the "experiments" which had taken so much of her time
in 1875 had now been eliminated, and she was able to respect
the work which she was doing. Her Sunday schedule, which she
sends her mother on October 15, 1876, will be of interest to the
modern college girl.
Rising Bell 7
Silent Hour 9.30
Bible Class 9.45
Prayer Meeting 5
Section Prayer Meeting 7.30
Once a Month Missionary Prayer Meeting 8
Silent Hour 9
And in addition to her required work, this ambitious young student
has arranged a course of reading for herself:
During the last week l have been in the library a great deal and
have been browsing for two or three hours at a time among those
delightful books. I have arranged a course of reading upon Art,
which I hope to have time to pursue, and then l have made
selections from some such authors as Kingsley, Ruskin, De Quincey,
Hawthorne,--and Mrs. Jameson, for which I hope to find time.
Besides all this you can't imagine what domestic work has been
given me. It is in the library where l am to spend 3/4 of an hour
a day in arranging "studies" in Shakespeare. The work will be
like this:--Mr. Durant has sent for five hundred volumes to form
a "Shakespeare library." I will read some fully detailed life
of Shakespeare and note down as l go along such topics as I think
are interesting and which will come up next year when the Juniors
study Shakespeare. For instance, each one of his plays will
form a separate topic, also his early home, his education, his
friendships, the different characteristics of his genius, &c.
Then all there is in the library upon this author must be read
enough to know under what topic or topics it belongs and then
noted under these topics. So that when the literature class
come to study Shakespeare next year, each one will know just
where to go for any information she may want. Mr. Durant came
to me himself about it and explained to me what it would be and
asked me if I would be willing to take it. He said I could do
just as I wanted to about it and if I felt that it would be
tiresome and too much like a study and so a strain upon me,
he did not want me to take it. I have been thinking of it now
for a day or two and have come to the conclusion to undertake
it. For it seems to me that it will be an unusual advantage and
of great benefit to me.--Another reason why I am pleased and
which I could tell to no one but you and father is that I think
it shows that Mr. Durant has some confidence in me and what
l can do. But--"tell it not in Gath"--that I ever said anything
of the kind.
Thus do we trace Literature 9 (the Shakespeare Course) to its
Elizabeth Stilwell left her Alma Mater in 1877, but so cherished
were the memories of the life which she had criticized as a girl,
and so thoroughly did she come to respect its academic standards,
that her own daughters grew up thinking that the goal of happy
girlhood was Wellesley College.
From such naive beginnings, amateur in the best sense of the word,
the Wellesley of to-day has arisen. Details of the founder's plan
have been changed and modified to meet conditions which he could
not foresee. But his "five great essentials for education at
Wellesley College" are still the touchstones of Wellesley scholarship.
In the founder's own words they are:
FIRST. God with us; no plan can prosper without Him.
SECOND. Health; no system of education can be in accordance
with God's laws which injures health.
THIRD. Usefulness; all beauty is the flower of use.
FIFTH. The one great truth of higher education which the noblest
womanhood demands; viz. the supreme development and unfolding
of every power and faculty, of the Kingly reason, the beautiful
imagination, the sensitive emotional nature, and the religious
aspirations. The ideal is of the highest learning in full harmony
with the noblest soul, grand by every charm of culture, useful
and beautiful because useful; feminine purity and delicacy and
refinement giving their luster and their power to the most absolute
science--woman learned without infidelity and wise without conceit,
the crowned queen of the world by right of that Knowledge which
is Power and that Beauty which is Truth."
THE PRESIDENTS AND THEIR ACHIEVEMENT
Wellesley's career differs in at least one obvious and important
particular from the careers of her sister colleges, Smith, Vassar,
and Bryn Mawr,--in the swift succession of her presidents during
her formative years. Smith College, opening in the same year as
Wellesley, 1875, remained under President Seelye's wise guidance
for thirty-five years. Vassar, between 1886 and 1914, had but
one president. Bryn Mawr, in 1914, still followed the lead of
Miss Thomas, first dean and then president. In 1911, Wellesley's
sixth president was inaugurated. Of the five who preceded President
Pendleton, only Miss Hazard served more than six years, and even
Miss Hazard's term of eleven years was broken by more than one
long absence because of illness.
It is useless to deny that this lack of administrative continuity
had its disadvantages, yet no one who watched the growth and
development of Wellesley during her first forty years could fail
to mark the genuine progression of her scholarly ideal. Despite
an increasingly hampering lack of funds--poverty is not too strong
a word--and the disconcerting breaks and changes in her presidential
policy, she never took a backward step, and she never stood still.
The Wellesley that Miss Freeman inherited was already straining
at its leading strings and impatient of its boarding-school horizons;
the Wellesley that Miss Shafer left was a college in every modern
acceptation of the term, and its academic prestige has been confirmed
and enhanced by each successive president.
Of these six women who were called to direct the affairs of Wellesley
in her first half century, Miss Ada L. Howard seems to have been
the least forceful; but her position was one of peculiar difficulty,
and she apparently took pains to adjust herself with tact and
dignity to conditions which her more spirited successors would
have found unbearably galling. Professor George Herbert Palmer,
in his biography of his wife, epitomizes the early situation when
he says that Mr. Durant "had, it is true, appointed Miss Ada L. Howard
president; but her duties as an executive officer were nominal
rather than real; neither his disposition, her health, nor her
previous training allowing her much power."
Miss Howard was a New Hampshire woman, the daughter of William
Hawkins Howard and Adaline Cowden Howard. Three of her great
grandfathers were officers in the War of the Revolution. Her father
is said to have been a good scholar and an able teacher as well
as a scientific agriculturist, and her mother was "a gentlewoman
of sweetness, strength and high womanhood." When their daughter
was born, the father and mother were living in Temple, a village of
Southern New Hampshire not very far from Jaffrey. The little girl
was taught by her father, and was later sent to the academy at
New lpswich, New Hampshire, to the high school at Lowell, and to
Mt. Holyoke Seminary, where she was graduated. After leaving
Mt. Holyoke, she taught at Oxford, Ohio, and she was at one time
the principal of the Woman's Department of Knox College, Illinois.
In the early '70's this was a career of some distinction, for a
woman, and Mr. Durant was justified in thinking that he had found
the suitable executive head for his college. We hear of his saying,
"I have been four years looking for a president. She will be a
target to be shot at, and for the present the position will be one
of severe trials."
Miss Howard came to Wellesley in 1875, giving up a private school
of her own, Ivy Hall, in Bridgeton, New Jersey, in order to become
a college president. No far-seeing policies can be traced to her,
however; she seems to have been content to press her somewhat
narrow and rigid conception of discipline upon a more or less
restive student body, and to follow Mr. Durant's lead in all matters
pertaining to scholarship and academic expansion.
We can trace that expansion from year to year through this first
administration. In 1877 the Board of Visitors was established,
and eminent educators and clergymen were invited to visit the
college at stated intervals and stimulate by their criticism the
college routine. In 1878 the Students' Aid Society was founded
to help the many young women who were in need of a college training,
but who could not afford to pay their own way. Through the wise
generosity of Mrs. Durant and a group of Boston women, the society
was set upon its feet, and its long career of blessed usefulness
was begun. This is only one of the many gifts which Wellesley
owes to Mrs. Durant. As Professor Katharine Lee Bates has said
in her charming sketch of Mrs. Durant in the Wellesley Legenda
for 1894: "Her specific gifts to Wellesley it is impossible to
completely enumerate. She has forgotten, and no one else ever
knew. So long as Mr. Durant was living, husband and wife were
one and inseparable in service and donation. But since his death,
while it has been obvious that she spends herself unsparingly in
college cares, adding many of his functions to her own, a
continuous flow of benefits, almost unperceived, has come to
Wellesley from her open hand." As long as her health permitted,
she lavished "her very life in labor of hand and brain for Wellesley,
even as her husband lavished his."
In 1878 the Teachers' Registry was also established, a method of
registration by which those students who expected to teach might
bring their names and qualifications before the schools of the
country. But the most important academic events of this year,
and those which reacted directly upon the intellectual life of
the college, were the establishment of the Physics laboratory,
under the careful supervision of Professor Whiting, and the
endowment of the Library by Professor Eben N. Horsford of Cambridge.
This endowment provided a fund for the purchase of new books and
for various expenses of maintenance, and was only one of the many
gifts which Wellesley was to receive from this generous benefactor.
Another gift, of this year, was the pipe organ, presented by
Mr. William H. Groves, for the College Hall Chapel. Later, when
the new Memorial Chapel was built, this organ was removed to
Billings Hall, the concert room of the Department of Music.
On June 24, 1879, Wellesley held her first Commencement exercises,
with a graduating class of eighteen and an address by the Reverend
Richard S. Storrs, D.D., on the "Influence of Woman in the Future."
In 1880, on May 27, the corner stone of Stone Hall was laid, the
second building on the college campus. It was the gift of Mrs.
Valeria G. Stone, and was intended, in the beginning, as a dormitory
for the "teacher specials." Doctor William A. Willcox of Malden,
a devoted trustee of Wellesley from 1878 to 1904, and a relative
of Mrs. Stone, was influential in securing this gift for the college,
and it was he who first turned the attention of Mr. and Mrs. Durant
to the needs of the women who had already been engaged in teaching,
but who wished to fit themselves for higher positions by advanced
work in one or more particular directions. At first, there were
a good many of them, and even as late as 1889 and 1890 there were
a few still in evidence; but gradually, as the number of regular
students increased, and accommodations became more limited, and
as opportunities for college training multiplied, these "T. Specs."
as they were irreverently dubbed by the undergraduates, disappeared,
and Stone Hall has for many years been filled with students in
On June 10, 1880, the corner stone of Music Hall was laid; the
inscription in the stone reads: "The College of Music is dedicated
to Almighty God with the hope that it will be used in his service."
There are added the following passages from the Bible:
"Trust ye in the Lord forever: for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting
strength." Isaiah, 26: 4.
"Sing praises to God, sing praises:
Sing praises unto our King, sing praises.
For God is the King of all the earth." Psalms, 47: 6-7.
The building was given by the founders.
The year 1881 is marked by the closing, in June, of Wellesley's
preparatory department, another intellectual advance. In June
also, on the tenth, the corner stone of Simpson Cottage was laid.
The building was the gift of Mr. Michael Simpson, and has been
used since 1908 as the college hospital. In the autumn of 1881,
Stone Hall and Waban Cottage--the latter another gift from the
founders were opened for students.
On October 3, 1881, Mr. Durant died, and shortly afterwards
Miss Howard resigned. After leaving Wellesley, she lived in
Methuen, Massachusetts, and in Brooklyn, New York, where she
died, March 3, 1907. Mrs. Marion Pelton Guild, of the class of
'80, says of Miss Howard, in an article on Wellesley written for
the New England Magazine, October, 1914, that "she was in the
difficult position of the nominal captain, who is in fact only a
lieutenant. Yet she held it with a true self-respect, honoring
the fiery genius of her leader, if she could not always follow
its more startling fights; and not hesitating to withstand him in
his most positive plans, if her long practical experience suggested
that it was necessary." From Mt. Holyoke, her Alma Mater,
Miss Howard received, in the latter part of her life, the honorary
degree of Doctor of Letters.
Wellesley's second president, Alice E. Freeman, is, of all the six,
the one most widely known. Her magnetic personality, her continued
and successful efforts during her administration to bring Wellesley
out of its obscurity and into the public eye, her extended activity
in educational matters after her marriage, gave her a prominence
throughout the country which was surpassed by very few women of
her generation. And her husband's reverent and poetical
interpretation of her character has secured for her reputation a
literary permanence unusual to the woman of affairs who "wrote
no books and published only half a dozen articles", and whose many
public addresses were never written.
It is from Professor Palmer's "Life of Alice Freeman Palmer",
published by the Houghton Mifflin Co., that the biographical
material for the brief sketch following is derived.
Alice Elvira Freeman was born at Colesville, Broome County, New York,
on February 21, 1855. She was a country child, a farmer's daughter
as her mother was before her. James Warren Freeman, the father,
was of Scottish blood. His mother was a Knox, and his maternal
grandfather was James Knox of Washington's Life Guard. James Freeman
was, as we should expect, an elder of the Presbyterian church.
The mother, Elizabeth Josephine Higley, "had unusual executive
ability and a strong disposition to improve social conditions
around her. She interested herself in temperance, and in legislation
for the better protection of women and children." Their little
daughter Alice, the eldest of four children, taught herself to
read when she was three years old, and we find her going to school
at the age of four. When she was seven, her father, urged by his
wife, decided to be a physician, and during his two years' absence
at the Albany medical school, Mrs. Freeman supported him and the
four little children. The incident helps us to understand the
ambition and determination of the seventeen-year-old daughter
when she declared in the face of her parents' opposition, "that
she meant to have a college degree if it took her till she was
fifty to get it. If her parents could help her, even partially,
she would promise never to marry until she had herself put her
brother through college and given to each of her sisters whatever
education they might wish--a promise subsequently performed."
And the girl had her own ideas about the kind of college she meant
to attend. It must be a real college. Mt. Holyoke she rejected
because it was a young ladies' seminary, and Elmira and Vassar
fell under the same suspicion, in her mind, although they were
nominally colleges. She chose Michigan, the strongest of the
coeducational colleges, and she entered only two years after its
doors were opened to women.
She did not enter in triumph, however; the academy at Windsor,
New York, where she had gone to school after her father became
a physician, was good at supplying "general knowledge" but "poorly
equipped for preparing pupils for college", and Doctor Freeman's
daughter failed to pass her entrance examinations for Michigan
University. President Angell tells the story sympathetically in
"The Life", as follows:
"In 1872, when Alice Freeman presented herself at my office,
accompanied by her father, to apply for admission to the university,
she was a simple, modest girl of seventeen. She had pursued her
studies in the little academy at Windsor. Her teacher regarded
her as a child of much promise, precocious, possessed of a bright,
alert mind, of great industry, of quick sympathies, and of an
instinctive desire to be helpful to others. Her preparation for
college had been meager, and both she and her father were doubtful
of her ability to pass the required examinations. The doubts were
not without foundation. The examiners, on inspecting her work,
were inclined to decide that she ought to do more preparatory work
before they could accept her. Meantime I had had not a little
conversation with her and her father, and had been impressed with
her high intelligence. At my request the examiners decided to
allow her to enter on a trial of six weeks. I was confident she
would demonstrate her capacity to go on with her class. l need
hardly add that it was soon apparent to her instructors that my
confidence was fully justified. She speedily gained and constantly
held an excellent position as a scholar."
President Angell is of course using the term "scholar" in its
undergraduate connotation for, as Professor Palmer has been careful
to state, "In no field of scholarship was she eminent." Despite
her eagerness for knowledge, her bent was for people rather than
for books; for what we call the active and objective life, rather
than for the life of thought. Wellesley has had her scholar
presidents, but Miss Freeman was not one of them. This friendly,
human temper showed itself early in her college days. To quote
again from President Angell: "One of her most striking characteristics
in college was her warm and demonstrative sympathy with her circle
of friends.... Without assuming or striving for leadership, she
could not but be to a certain degree a leader among these, some
of whom have since attained positions only less conspicuous for
usefulness than her own.... No girl of her time on withdrawing
from college would have been more missed than she."
It is for this eagerness in friendship, this sympathetic and
helpful interest in the lives of others that Mrs. Palmer is especially
remembered at Wellesley. Her own college days made her quick
to understand the struggles and ambitions of other girls who were
hampered by inadequate preparation, or by poverty. Her husband
tells us that, "When a girl had once been spoken to, however
briefly, her face and name were fixed on a memory where each
incident of her subsequent career found its place beside the
original record." And he gives the following incident as told
by a superintendent of education.
"Once after she had been speaking in my city, she asked me to stand
beside her at a reception. As the Wellesley graduates came forward
to greet her--there were about eighty of them--she said something
to each which showed that she knew her. Some she called by their
first names; others she asked about their work, their families,
or whether they had succeeded in plans about which they had
evidently consulted her. The looks of pleased surprise which
flashed over the faces of those girls I cannot forget. They
revealed to me something of Miss Freeman's rich and radiant life.
For though she seemed unconscious of doing anything unusual, and
for her l suppose it was usual, her own face reflected the happiness
of the girls and showed a serene joy in creating that happiness."
Her husband, in his analysis of her character, has a remarkable
passage concerning this very quality of disinterestedness. He says:
"Her moral nature was grounded in sympathy. Beginning early, the
identification of herself with others grew into a constant habit,
of unusual range and delicacy.... Most persons will agree that
sympathy is the predominantly feminine virtue, and that she who
lacks it cannot make its absence good by any collection of other
worthy qualities. In a true woman sympathy directs all else. To
find a virtue equally central in a man we must turn to truthfulness
or courage. These also a woman should possess, as a man too
should be sympathetic; but in her they take a subordinate place,
subservient to omnipresent sympathy. Within these limits the
ampler they are, the nobler the woman.
"I believe Mrs. Palmer had a full share of both these manly
excellences, and practiced them in thoroughly feminine fashion.
She was essentially true, hating humbug in all its disguises....
Her love of plainness and distaste for affectation were forms of
veracity. But in narrative of hers one got much besides plain
realities. These had their significance heightened by her eager
emotion, and their picturesqueness by her happy artistry.... Of
course the warmth of her sympathy cut off all inclination to
falsehood for its usual selfish purpose. But against generous
untruth she was not so well guarded. Kindness was the first
thing.... Tact too, once become a habit, made adaptation to the
mind addressed a constant concern. She had extraordinary skill
in stuffing kindness with truth; and into a resisting mind could
without irritation convey a larger bulk of unwelcome fact than
any one I have known. But that insistence on colorless statement
which in our time the needs of trade and science have made current
among men, she did not feel. Lapses from exactitude which do not
separate person from person she easily condoned."
Surely the manly virtues of truthfulness and courage could be no
better exemplified than in the writing of this passage. Whether
his readers, especially the women, will agree with Professor Palmer
that, in woman, truthfulness and courage "take a subordinate place,
subservient to omnipresent sympathy", is a question.
Between 1876 when she was graduated from Michigan, and 1879 when
she went to Wellesley, Miss Freeman taught with marked success,
first at a seminary in the town of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, where
she had charge of the Greek and Latin; and later as assistant
principal of the high school at Saginaw in Northern Michigan. Here
she was especially successful in keeping order among unruly pupils.
The summer of 1877 she spent in Ann Arbor, studying for a higher
degree, and although she never completed the thesis for this work,
the university conferred upon her the degree of Ph.D. in 1882, the
first year of her presidency at Wellesley.
In this same summer of 1877, when she was studying at Ann Arbor,
she received her first invitation to teach at Wellesley. Mr. Durant
offered her an instructorship in Mathematics, which she declined.
In 1878 she was again invited, this time to teach Greek, but her
sister Stella was dying, and Miss Freeman, who had now settled
her entire family at Saginaw, would not leave them. In June, 1879,
the sister died, and in July Miss Freeman became the head of the
Department of History at Wellesley, at the age of twenty-four.
Mr. Durant's attention had first been drawn to her by her good
friend President Angell, and he had evidently followed her career
as a teacher with interest. There seems to have been no abatement
in his approval after she went to Wellesley. We are told that they
did not always agree, but this does not seem to have affected
their mutual esteem. In her first year, Mr. Durant is said to have
remarked to one of the trustees, "You see that little dark-eyed
girl? She will be the next president of Wellesley." And before
he died, he made his wishes definitely known to the board.
At a meeting of the trustees, on November 15, 1881, Miss Freeman
was appointed vice president of the college and acting president
for the year. She was then twenty-six years of age and the youngest
professor in the college. In 1882 she became president.
During the next six years, Wellesley's growth was as normal as
it was rapid. This is a period of internal organization which
achieved its most important result in the evolution of the Academic
Council. "In earlier days," we are told by Professor Palmer,
"teachers of every rank met in the not very important faculty
meetings, to discuss such details of government or instruction as
were not already settled by Mr. Durant." But even then the faculty
was built up out of departmental groups, that is, "all teachers
dealing with a common subject were banded together under a head
professor and constituted a single unit," and, as Mrs. Guild tells
us, Miss Freeman "naturally fell to consulting the heads of
departments as the abler and more responsible members of the
faculty," instead of laying her plans before the whole faculty at
its more or less cumbersome weekly meetings. From this inner
circle of heads of departments the Academic Council was gradually
evolved. It now includes the president, the dean, professors,
associate professors (unless exempted by a special tenure of
office), and such other officers of instruction and administration
as may be given this responsibility by vote of the trustees.
Miss Freeman also "began the formation of standing committees
of the faculty on important subjects, such as entrance examinations,
graduate work, preparatory schools, etc."
This faculty, over which Miss Freeman presided, was a notable one,
a body of women exhibiting in marked degree those qualities and
virtues of the true pioneer: courage, patience, originality,
resourcefulness, and vision. There were strong groups from
Ann Arbor and Oberlin and Mt. Holyoke, and there was a fourth
group of "pioneer scholars, not wholly college bred, but enriched
with whatever amount of academic training they could wring or charm
from a reluctant world, whom Wellesley will long honor and revere."
With the organization of the faculty came also the organization
of the college work. Entrance examinations were made more severe.
Greek had been first required for entrance in 1881. A certificate
of admission was drawn up, stating exactly what the candidate had
accomplished in preparation for college. Courses of study were
standardized and simplified. In 1882, the methods of Bible study
were reorganized, and instead of the daily classes, to which no
serious study had been given, two hours a week of "examinable
instruction" were substituted. In this year also the gymnasium
was refitted under the supervision of Doctor D. A. Sargent of Harvard.
Miss Freeman's policy of establishing preparatory schools which
should be "feeders" for Wellesley was of the greatest importance
to the college at this time, as "in only a few high schools were
the girls allowed to join classes which fitted boys for college."
When Miss Freeman became president, Dana Hall was the only Wellesley
preparatory school in existence; but in 1884, through her efforts,
an important school was opened in Philadelphia, and before the end
of her presidency, she had been instrumental in furthering the
organization of fifteen other schools in different parts of the
country, officered for the most part by Wellesley graduates.
In this same year the Christian Association was organized. Its
history, bound up as it is with the student life, will be given
more fully in a later chapter, but we must not forget that Miss
Freeman gave the association its initial impulse and established
its broad type.
In 1884 also, we find Wellesley petitioning before the committee
on education at the State House in Boston, to extend its holdings
from six hundred thousand dollars to five million dollars, and
gaining the petition.
On June 22, 1885, the corner stone of the Decennial Cottage,
afterwards called Norumbega, was laid. The building was given
by the alumnae, aided by Professor Horsford, Mr. E. A. Goodenow
and Mr. Elisha S. Converse of the Board of Trustees. Norumbega
was for many years known as the President's House, for here
Miss Freeman, Miss Shafer, and Mrs. Irvine lived. In the academic
year 1901-02, when Miss Hazard built the house for herself and
her successors, the president's modest suite in Norumbega was
set free for other purposes.
In 1886, Norumbega was opened, and in June of that year, the
Library Festival was held to celebrate Professor Horsford's many
benefactions to the college. These included the endowment of the
Library, an appropriation for scientific apparatus, and a system
In a letter to the trustees, dated January 1, 1886, the donor
explains that the annual appropriation for the library shall be
for the salaries of the librarian and assistants, for books for
the library, and for binding and repairs. That the appropriation
for scientific apparatus shall go toward meeting the needs of the
departments of Physics, Chemistry, Botany, and Biology. And that
the System of Pensions shall include a Sabbatical Grant, and a
"Salary Augment and Pension." By the Sabbatical Grant, the heads
of certain departments are able to take a year of travel and
residence abroad every seventh year on half salary. The donor
stipulated, however, that "the offices contemplated in the grants
and pensions must be held by ladies."
In his memorable address on this occasion, Professor Horsford
outlines his ideal for the library which he generously endowed:
"But the uses of books at a seat of learning reach beyond the wants
of the undergraduates. The faculty need supplies from the daily
widening field of literature. They should have access to the
periodical issues of contemporary research and criticism in the
various branches of knowledge pertaining to their individual
departments. In addition to these, the progressive culture of an
established college demands a share in whatever adorns and ennobles
scholarly life, and principally the opportunity to know something
of the best of all the past,--the writers of choice and rare books.
To meet this demand there will continue to grow the collections in
specialties for bibliographical research, which starting like the
suite of periodicals with the founder, have been nursed, as they
will continue to be cherished, under the wise direction of the
Library Council. Some of these will be gathered in concert, it
may be hoped, with neighboring and venerable and hospitable
institutions, that costly duplicates may be avoided; some will be
exclusively our own.
"To these collections of specialties may come, as to a joint
estate in the republic of letters, not alone the faculty of the
college, but such other persons of culture engaged in literary
labor as may not have found facilities for conducting their
researches elsewhere, and to whom the trustees may extend invitation
to avail themselves of the resources of our library."
These ideals of scholarship and hospitality the Wellesley College
Library never forgets. Her Plimpton collection of Italian manuscripts
is a treasure-house for students of the Italy of the Middle Ages
and Renaissance; and her alumnae, as well as scholars from other
colleges and other lands, are given every facility for study.
In 1887, two dormitories were added to the college: Freeman Cottage,
the gift of Mrs. Durant, and the Eliot, the joint gift of Mrs. Durant
and Mr. H. H. Hunnewell. Originally the Eliot had been used as
a boarding-house for the young women working in a shoe factory
at that time running in Wellesley village, but after Mrs. Durant
had enlarged and refurnished it, students who wished to pay a part
of their expenses by working their way through college were boarded
there. Some years later it was again enlarged, and used as a
village-house for freshmen.
In December, 1887, Miss Freeman resigned from Wellesley to marry
Professor George Herbert Palmer of Harvard; but her interest in
the college did not flag, and during her lifetime she continued
to be a member of the Board of Trustees. From 1892 to 1895 she
held the office of Dean of Women of the University of Chicago; and
Radcliffe, Bradford Academy, and the International Institute for
Girls, in Spain, can all claim a share in her fostering interest.
From 1889 until the end of her life, she was a member of the
Massachusetts Board of Education, having been appointed by
Governor Ames and reappointed by Governor Greenhalge and Governor
In addition to the degree of Ph.D. received from Michigan in 1882,
Miss Freeman received the honorary degree of Litt.D. from Columbia
in 1887, and in 1895 the honorary degree of LL.D., from Union
What she meant to the women who were her comrades at Wellesley
in those early days--the women who held up her hands--is expressed
in an address by Professor Whiting at the memorial service held
in the chapel in December, 1903:
"I think of her in her office, which was also her private parlor,
with not even a skilled secretary at first, toiling with all the
correspondence, seeing individual girls on academic and social
matters, setting them right in cases of discipline, interviewing
members of the faculty on necessary plans. The work was overwhelming
and sometimes her one assistant would urge her, late in the
evening, to nibble a bite from a tray which, to save time, had
been sent in to her room at the dinner hour, only to remain
untouched.... No wonder that professors often left their lectures
to be written in the wee small hours, to help in uncongenial
administrative work, which was not in the scope of their recognized
The pathos of her death in Paris, in December, 1902, came as a
shock to hundreds of people whose lives had been brightened by
her eager kindliness; and her memory will always be especially
cherished by the college to which she gave her youth. The beautiful
memorial in the college chapel will speak to generations of
Wellesley girls of this lovable and ardent pioneer.
Wellesley's debt to her third president, Helen A. Shafer, is
nowhere better defined than in the words of a distinguished alumna,
Sophonisba P. Breckenridge, writing on Miss Shafer's administration,
in the Wellesley College News of November 2, 1901. Miss
It is said that in a great city on the shore of a western
lake the discovery was made one day that the surface of the
water had gradually risen and that stately buildings on the
lake front designed for the lower level had been found both
misplaced and inadequate to the pressure of the high level.
They were fair without, well proportioned and inviting; but
they were unsteady and their collapse was feared. To take
them down seemed a great loss: to leave them standing as
they were was to expose to certain perils those who came and
went within them. They proved to be the great opportunity of
the engineer. He first, without interrupting their use, or
disturbing those who worked within, made them safe and sure
and steady, able to meet the increased pressure of the higher
level, and then, likewise without interfering with the day's
work of any man, by skillful hidden work, adapted them to
the new conditions by raising their level in corresponding
measure. The story told of that engineer's great achievement
in the mechanical world has always seemed applicable to the
service rendered by Miss Shafer to the intellectual structure
Under the devoted and watchful supervision of the founders,
and under the brilliant direction of Miss Freeman, brave plans
had been drawn, honest foundations laid and stately walls
erected. The level from which the measurements were taken
was no low level. It was the level of the standard of
scholarship for women as it was seen by those who designed
the whole beautiful structure. To its spacious shelter were
tempted women who had to do with scholarly pursuits and girls
who would be fitted for a life upon that plane. But during
those first years that level itself was rising, and by its
rising the very structure was threatened with instability if
not collapse. And then she came. Much of the work of her
short and unfinished administration was quietly done; making
safe unsafe places, bringing stability where instability was
shown, requires hidden, delicate, sure labor and absorbed
attention. That labor and that attention she gave. It required
exact knowledge of the danger, exact fitting of the brace to
the rift. That she accomplished until the structure was again
fit. And then, by fine mechanical devices, well adapted to
their uses, patiently but boldly used, she undertook to raise
the level of the whole, that under the new claims upon women
Wellesley might have as commanding a position as it had
assumed under the earlier circumstances. It was a very
definite undertaking to which she put her hand, which she was
not allowed to complete. So clearly was it outlined in her
mind, so definitely planned, that in the autumn of 1893, she
thought if she were allowed four years more she would feel
that her task was done and be justified in asking to surrender
to other hands the leadership. After the time at which this
estimate was made, she was allowed three months, and the hands
were stilled. But the hands had been so sure, the work so
skillful, the plans so intelligent and the purpose so wise
that the essence of the task was accomplished. The peril of
collapse had been averted and the level of the whole had been
forever raised. The time allowed was five short years, of
which one was wholly claimed by the demands of the frail body;
the situation presented many difficulties. The service, too,
was in many respects of the kind whose glory is in its
inconspicuousness and obscure character, a structure that
would stand when builders were gone, a device that would
serve its end when its inventor was no more.--These are her
contribution. And because that contribution was so well made,
it has been ever since taken for granted. Her administration
is little known and this is as she would have it--since it
means that the extent to which her services were needed is
likewise little realized. But to those who do know and who do
realize, it is a glorious memory and a glorious aspiration.
Rare delicacy of perception, keen sympathy, exquisite honesty,
scholarly attainment of a very high order, humility of that
kind which enables one to sit without mortification among the
lowly, without self-consciousness among the great--these are
some of the gifts which enabled her to do just the work she
did, at the time when just that contribution to the permanence
and dignity of Wellesley was so essential.
Miss Freeman's work we may characterize as, in its nature,
extensive. Miss Shafer's was intensive. The scholar and the
administrator were united in her personality, but the scholar
led. The crowning achievement of her administration was what was
then called "the new curriculum."
In the college calendars from 1876 to 1879, we find as many as
seven courses of study outlined. There was a General Course for
which the degree of B.A. was granted, with summa cum laude for
special distinction in scholarship. There were the courses for
Honors, in Classics, Mathematics, Modern Languages, and Science;
and students doing suitable work in them could be recommended for
the degree. These elective courses made a good showing on paper;
but it seems to have been possible to complete them by a minimum
of study. There were also courses in Music and Art, extending
over a period of five years instead of the ordinary four allotted
to the General Course. Under Miss Freeman, the courses for Honors
disappeared, and instead of the General Course there were substituted
the Classical Course, with Greek as an entrance requirement and
the degree of B.A. as its goal; and the Scientific Course, in which
knowledge of French or German was substituted for Greek at entrance,
and Mathematics was required through the sophomore year. The
student who completed this course received the degree of B.S.
The "new curriculum" substituted for the two courses, Classical
and Scientific, hitherto offered, a single course leading to the
degree of B.A. As Miss Shafer explains in her report to the
trustees for the year 1892-1893: "Thus we cease to confer the
B.S. for a course not essentially scientific, and incapable of
becoming scientific under existing circumstances, and we offer
a course broad and strong, containing, as we believe, all the
elements, educational and disciplinary, which should pertain to
a course in liberal arts."
Further modifications of the elective system were introduced
in a later administration, but the "new curriculum" continues to
be the basis of Wellesley's academic instruction.
Time and labor were required to bring about these readjustments.
The requirements for admission had to be altered to correspond
with the new system, and the Academic Council spent three years
in perfecting the curriculum in its new form.
Miss Shafer's own department, Mathematics, had already been brought
up to a very high standard, and at one time the requirements for
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