Mary Caroline Crawford.

The college girl of America and the institutions which make her what she is online

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posting of Orlando's love-letters.

In the fun of a May-day fete, Elmira likewise
shares. This year the campus was thronged for the
lovely festival with students and interested specta-
tors. Just south of the lake stood the May-pole,
with its yellow streamers. A little distance off.

1 82 The College Girl of America

draped in white, was the beauteous throne of the
May Queen. At the appointed time, last year's
Queen of the May, preceded by five heralds, took her
place on the throne. Shortly afterward, the fresh-
man class came marching down the campus hill,
escorting the new May Queen, and singing the
college song. When the new queen reached the
throne, she was crowned by retiring royalty with
a chaplet of daisies. Then the class went through
two dances, the May-pole dance, and another flower
dance, in which the girls were dressed to represent
the four class flowers, the chrysanthemum, the red
rose, the daisy, and the yellow rose. A very pretty
picture all this made, as the bright colours in the
costumes stood out in striking contrast against the
green background of the campus. At six o'clock
supper was served on the lawn to the students and
their friends, after which the day's festivities closed
with a dance.


" Standing there alone, I thought I would rather
be Girard as he was thus represented than the
President of the United States, or the ruler of any
of the great nations of the world. It was then and
there that I resolved that if ever I had the ability
I would go and do likewise. Through all the long
years since that resolution was made, it has never
been absent from my mind. Forty years, with the
experience they have ripened, have served to
strengthen rather than weaken my firm resolve.
What you see here in this beginning, this nucleus
of the great work which I have upon my mind, is a
commencement only. If my life is spared, I hope to
see it grow and become one of the first institutions
in the land."

In these words Henry Wells, at the age of seventy,
revealed to the students of the institution which
bears his name the high ambition which came to
him while still a young man, not yet fully launched
upon his business career, as he gazed for the first
time upon the buildings of Girard College, Phila-


184 The College Girl of America

delphia, then in process of construction. The form
into which this ambition had finally crystallized,
when, after many years of patient toil and waiting,
he consecrated so much of his wealth to the cause of
the higher education of women, he makes known
in the address which he delivered on the first an-
niversary of the laying of the corner-stone :

" It is the fervent wish of the founder that this
college may always be conducted on truly Chris-
tian principles, and that its pupils may always be sur-
rounded by an atmosphere of Christian influences.
Highly appreciating the value of secular education,
but not forgetful of its dangers, when divorced from
religious training, it is his heartfelt desire that in
this institution the two shall ever be so thoroughly
combined that, through their mutual and coopera-
tive influence, the young ladies who shall here spend
their school life shall become not only intelligent and
cultivated, but truly Christian, women. The ideal
present to his mind is of a home, in which, sur-
rounded by appliances and advantages beyond the
reach of separate families, however wealthy, young
ladies may assemble to receive that education which
shall qualify them to fulfil their duties as women,
daughters, wives, or mothers. Further, I desire to
furnish the highest grade of education to women, by
means of advantages equal in every particular to

Wells College 185

those which are now afforded to young men in the
most advanced colleges of the land." When we take
into consideration that Wells, though founded so
long ago, is, and has been from the start, one of the
few institutions exclusively for women to take first
rank educationally, we may well grant Henry Wells,
self-made man though he was, to be distinctly a
pioneer in educational matters.

The story of this man's life is the old familiar one
of fidelity to business trust, of capacity and willing-
ness to work, of personal ability and worth. Bom
at Thetford, Vermont, December 12, 1805, ^^
moved, in 18 14, tO' western New York with his
father, a pioneer missionary in that sparsely set-
tled region. The head of the house possessed a
large family, and, having but a small income, was
able to provide for his sons only till they had reached
the age when they could care for themselves. So
when young Henry was sixteen he was apprenticed
to the tanning and shoemaking trade. But for
some reason he did not complete the stipulated term
of service, and it was in the direction of the express
enterprises with which his name was afterward to
be coupled that the young man soon turned his at-
tention. Wealth and the highest kind of success
came to him through the great business which he
built up, but he early saw the dangers which con-

i86 The College Girl of America

stantly threaten a purely material civilization, and
the clear conviction that the family is the real source
of strength and power in the social structure took
possession of his soul. When at last he was able to
put into execution his lifelong ambition, he turned
very naturally, therefore, to the work of founding
a woman's college.

Ground was broken for the first building in April,
1866, and the corner-stone was laid July 19th of
the same year. The college was originally incor-
porated under the title " Wells Seminary for the
Higher Education of Young Women," but it was
given at the very first full authority to " grant and
confer such Honours, Degrees, and Diplomas as are
granted by any University, College, or Seminary
of Learning in the United States." The word col-
lege was substituted for seminary in 1870, in re-
sponse to the petition of the trustees to the regents
of the University of the State of New York, as
more in accord with the powers conveyed by the
charter, and better expressing the plans and pur-
pose of the founder. Thus Wells has every claim
to be considered the second oldest college exclu-
sively for women in the United States. (Vassar
was founded in 1865, and, though Mt. Holyoke was
established as a seminary in 1837, it did not assume
collegiate character till 1888.)

Wells College 187

Because of its location in Aurora, New York, a
beautiful and healthful village on the east shore
of Cayuga Lake, the college has always had the
advantage of delightful surroundings and favour-
able health conditions. All the students spend a
good deal of time on the water, for there are large
club boats, as well as smaller skiffs. Quiet woods
offer the temptation to wander for pure enjoyment
through the ravines with their waterfalls, flowers,
and ferns. Each student is expected to spend at
least one hour daily in the open air, and there has
ever been the greatest possible encouragement of
outdoor sports. Tennis-courts, a basket-ball field,
the golf-links, and fine roads for driving are ready
for enjoyment. Inasmuch as the lake serves to
temper the severity of the winter season — thus
prolonging opportunity for outdoor recreation —
and to render the spring days cool and bracing,
Aurora enjoys remarkable exemption from all in-
fluences injurious to health.

The college aims to give a thorough academic
training to all its students, at the same time main-
taining and preserving, as its founder desired, the
essential characteristics and ideals of a refined home.
Chapel services are held each morning during term-
time, and regular attendance here, as well as in one

i88 The College Girl of America

of the churches of the village on Sunday, is ex-

The system of self-government is in force at the
college. This is based upon a series of simple rules,
made by the students themselves — regulations
which, for the greatest good of all, are observed
by all resident members of the Collegiate Associa-

The founder had originally planned for a small
college — for seventy-five students, indeed, and the
number of students is still small, about one
hundred and thirty only, which makes Wells
the second smallest (Rockford has eighty-one)
as well as the second oldest woman's college
of the first rank. But the real strength and
real life of any college lie not so much in the
number of its students as in their character and
devotion. Mrs. Grover Cleveland well represents the
former. As for the latter — when on August 9,
1888, the main building was burned, — a calamity
almost irreparable, as it seemed, — Wells appeared
to better advantage than at any time in its history.
Scarcely any of the old students failed to return
at the opening of the term in September. Then,
for two years, the zeal of teachers, students, and
friends carried the college triumphantly through the
most critical period of its existence, to place it at the

Wells College 189

end of this time of stress on firmer, more gen-
erous foundations than it had ever had before. The
village hotel was chartered by the trustees and re-
christened the " Wayside Inn " by the students.
The homestead of Colonel Morgan, one of the col-
lege's firmest friends, was brought into service as the
*' Tabard Inn," the palatial residence of Mrs. Henry
Morgan was occupied for the time as the " Annex,"
and Morgan Hall was made to answer most of the
needs of instruction. From the blow of this fire
Wells has risen upward by leaps and bounds in all
phases of its life except that of student body ex-

There are always compensations, however, in a
small college for women. And of these Wells has
her very good share. The social life is delightful
in its refinement and simplicity. Each season brings
its own amusements. At Hallowe'en there is a
straw-ride and games; on Washington's Birthday
an old-time reception. At the close of the semi-
annual examinations in January there is the re-
laxation-party, when " the mighty minds unbend
after the labour and strain of examinations, and
a great effort is made to be foolish rather than
wise, to give up the evening entirely to fun, the
more nonsensical the better." As a natural conse-
quence of its situation, most amusements are some-

igo The College Girl of America

thing which can be done out in the woods, or on
the lake. " There is Casa Fehce," a former student^
writes enthusiastically, " a lovely nook in the woods,
with a rustic fireplace, which is a favourite spot
for teas, and where Ruskin readings seem par-
ticularly appropriate. There is Rocky Point, where
larger parties assemble for impromptu picnics, com-
ing by boat or wagon, or on foot, each mode of
transportation appearing to its devotees so much
more delightful than any other, that all are unself-
ishly anxious not to deprive others of the places that
seem especially desirable, until on one occasion
scarcely an individual got the place she wished. In
comparing notes afterward it was found that those
who wished to walk were obliged to ride or row,
those who were afraid of the water had to come
in the boats, and those who were tired and wanted
to ride were compelled, by the kindness and polite-
ness of others, to walk. That was so absurd that
we could only laugh, but we do not often have such
mishaps to complain of. A desire to add to the
adornments of the college campus, and also to spend
out-of-doors one of the golden days of Indian
summer, led us once to the performance of a mask,
* Homage to Nature,' to which the only objection
was that, as all the students took part, there were

' A. A. Wood, in the Century Magazine.

Wells College 191

few to see what a pretty sight it was. The students
wore the academic gown, each class of its own
colour; and each had special trees or shrubs to
plant in chosen spots on the campus, and crocuses
to put everywhere in the green grass. In this par-
ticular mask the Nymph of Castalia, Aurora, the
Goddess Maia, and Diana with her nymphs and
dryads dispute as to which has the best right to
lead the students to communion with nature. These
mortals render homage to the disputants in turn,
with singing, dancing, and dialogue — and all join
in the planting. As the groups moved from place
to place that day on our stately campus, the effect
of the red, white, purple, and yellow gowns, some-
times scattered, sometimes blended, was beautiful.
To be sure, the weather made a slight mistake, and,
instead of soft Indian summer, it was bleak Novem-
ber, so that under those light floating gowns there
had to be cloaks and furs, and the songstresses had
fears for their throats; but there were good fires
and hot coffee indoors afterward, and no harm was
done, and ever since Nature's Mask has been a
delight to read of and to look back upon."

A very important feature of the academic life at
Wells is the fine series of concerts given each year
by the members of the Faculty of Music, with the
assistance of artists of repute from abroad. Special

192 The College Girl of America

features of these concerts are the performance of
such works in chamber music as trios, quartettes,
and quintettes of the great masters. Lectures on
musical subjects and concerts by artists of renown
are of frequent occurrence. During the more recent
years the Httle college on Cayuga Lake has been
visited by De Pachmann, Adele Aus der Ohe, Helen
Hopkirk, Madame Fanny Bloomfield Zeisler, the
New York Philharmonic Club, the Beethoven String
Quartette, E. A. MacDowell, Arthur Foote, Lillian
Blauvelt, and many other distinguished musicians.
The Wells Philharmonic Club is in charge of these
recitals and concerts.

Of other clubs there are several, perhaps the most
important being the Phoenix Literarium Societas,
which holds a charter from the State of New York
and is made up of members chosen for scholarship
and literary ability. The work of this society is
of a practical character, and aims to create or pro-
mote interest in good literature or in literary
style and expression. Wells has twO' college settle-
ment chapters, through which knowledge is spread
and interest deepened in methods of increasing the
spirit of universal brotherhood and of mutual obli-
gation. A branch of the Young Woman's Christian
Association likewise does good work.

Thus it will be seen that Wells College is very

Wells College 193

faithfully executing the trust committed to it by
its founder, in that it is feminine in every way.
Such a thing as a college yell has never been heard
within its walls. It cultivates instead serene self-
poise and all those virtues and qualities which may
be held to be inseparable from the highest intellec-
tual womanhood.


On a high bluff above Rock River, ninety miles
northwest of Chicago, in the midst of a wooded
campus of nine or ten acres, stands Rockford Col-
lege, almost the smallest, yet in many ways the
most interesting, of the women's colleges of Amer-
ica. For the story of Rockford College is the story
of our Middle West. The founding of the school
was an expression of the enthusiasm for the higher
education of both men and women, and of the ar-
dour for missionary work which characterized the
people of this country during the second quarter
of the nineteenth century. Amherst College and
Mt. Holyoke Seminary in the East had its counter-
part in Beloit College and Rockford Seminary in
the Northwest. For it was in the convention of
1844 that the Congregational and Presbyterian
churches of Wisconsin and Illinois passed the fol-
lowing resolution : that " The exigencies of Wis-
consin and northern Illinois require that those sec-
tions should unite in establishing a college and a

female seminary of the highest order, the one in




Rockford College I95

Wisconsin near to Illinois, and the other in Illinois
near to Wisconsin." As a result of this determina-
tion, Beloit was selected as the location of the col-
lege, and, not long afterward, Rockford was fixed
upon as the site of the seminary, the citizens of the
place pledging suitable grounds for the school and
contributing thirty-five hundred dollars toward the
expense of building.

The seminary type of girls' school stood at that
time for the best that was known in women's edu-
cation. It was, therefore, in the name of a semi-
nary that a charter was granted to the trustees
of Rockford, though from the first the institution
had full collegiate powers. Owing, however, to
such business reverses as often overtake a frontier
town, the pledges that had been so generously made
could not at once be met, and it was not until July
II, 1849, that there could be even a beginning
toward opening the school. On that day Miss Anna
P. Sill organized the preparatory establishment that
became the nucleus of Rockford Seminary.

Miss Sill, who had been preceptress of the
woman's department in Gary Collegiate Institute
of Oakfield, western New York, had come to Rock-
ford on the invitation of the Congregational pastor
there. She was a young woman of splendid phy-
sique, and of distinguished beauty, and had been

196 The College Girl of America

possessed by an earnest desire to become a foreign
missionary. Finding this impracticable for vari-
ous reasons, she welcomed the call to the West as
to a destitute field where she was vitally needed.
The fact that this beautiful young woman had
come hundreds of miles to do good undoubtedly had
its effect upon her pupils. Certainly they went to
work with a will, though discouragements were still
manifold. " The seats," one of the members of that
first class has written, " were low and uncouth
affairs, and the sun came in glaringly from the win-
dows, causing much complaint. But the teacher had
an iron will. She opened a modest boarding-house,
and, with the funds thus gained, improved the school-
room, bought the books needed, placed curtains on
the windows, and prevailed upon the scholars to
supply desks." The success of the school was so
immediate, and its growth so marked, that larger
accommodations were soon required. Whereupon
the citizens of Rockford rose superior to all their
financial discouragements and subscribed five thou-
sand dollars for buildings. The women of Rock-
ford raised one thousand dollars more, and with this
the college campus was purchased.

The first class, numbering fifteen, began work in
1 85 1. " Even after the new seminary building was
opened," Mrs. Ainsworth, principal of Rockford

Rockford College 197

from 1 89 1 to 1896, has written, " the discomforts
of living*, which, we are told, were accepted with
philosophical cheerfulness for the most part, seem
quite appalling to us now. The rooms were un-
carpeted, though the catalogues advised that room-
mates might club together and carpet them if they
chose. The heating was ostensibly done by tiny
wood stoves, the capacity of which for blowing hot
and cold was phenomenal. No fuel could be added
after eight o'clock — a wise rule caused by dread
of conflagrations. Four girls and a teacher were
sometimes in a room now occupied by one person.
The students performed the work of the house.
Of necessity the table was not liberal."

All these privations were, however, counted as
nothing if by any means the ideal toward which the
students were striving, with such splendid en-
thusiasm, and through such agony of endeavour,
could be attained. No sacrifice was regarded as too
costly for this end, either on the part of the citizens
of Rockford, or on the part of Miss Sill and her
coworkers. Of pupils certainly there was no lack.
After the structure now known as Middle Hall had
been put up, a hundred applicants were refused for
lack of room.

But there could be no new building just then, for
the resources of Rockford seemed exhausted, and

igB The College Girl of America

Miss Sill's health had begun to give way. We are
told that she went to the East in December, 1853,
for the double purpose of recruiting her strength
and obtaining funds. In the latter object she was
admirably successful, for she returned with about
five thousand dollars, a large sum for those days,
and with this the foundation of another building
was laid, money being borrowed to complete the
work. Again, largely through Miss Sill's personal
efforts, ten thousand dollars was raised in the West.
The teachers, too, pledged one thousand dollars out
of their own meagre salaries, and New England
once more came to the rescue. Thus it was that the
erection of Middle Hall in 1852 was followed in two
years by the building of Linden Hall. In 1866
Chapel Hall went up. The entire amount ex-
pended for these earlier buildings, with their equip-
ment, was about seventy-five thousand dollars, of
which Rockford and its immediate vicinity gave
two-thirds. Then, in the winter of 1886, Sill Hall
was completed with funds almost entirely provided
by the citizens of Rockford. This building has a
gymnasium on its second floor, and music-rooms on
the first floor.

The number of edifices erected during Miss Sill's
lifetime has now been told. But, for the sake of
clearness and completeness in this connection, it is

Rockford College 199

to be noted that in the fall of 1892 Adams Hall,
a fine modern building, costing about thirty-five
thousand dollars, and having accommodations for
laboratories and recitation-rooms, and in 1891
Memorial Hall, a students' residence, were added to
the college equipment. " Their total cost," writes
Mrs. Ainsworth, '* has not been great, reckoned by-
recent expenditures for educational uses, yet, as re-
gards the proportion of the gifts to the means of
the givers, the sums have been greater than are
often bestowed upon a school." Again and again,
in reading the story and observing the life of Rock-
ford College, one is reminded of the widow's mite

Miss Sill, the first principal of the seminary, con-
tinued actively in this office until the summer of
1884, when she resigned; but, as principal emerita,
she retained her connection with the institution until
1889. Then she died under the roof that her own
strength and devotion had reared.

Miss Jane Addams, of Hull House, Chicago, who
was graduated from Rockford College in 188 1, and
stands to-day, perhaps, as the institution's most
imposing representative, wrote of Miss Sill at the
time of her death : " From the very first we owe
to her whom we mourn to-day with such heavy
hearts the highest grace any institution can possess.

200 The College Girl of America

Miss Sill gave our college that strong religious
tone which it has always retained. She came to
Illinois in an unselfish spirit — not to build up a
large school, not to make an intellectual centre, but
to train the young women of a new country for
Christian usefulness. Unaffectedly and thoroughly
she made that her aim.

" The spiritual so easily speaks over all other
voices that it arrests us at once. We travel the
world over to find the spots associated with the
humble soul, singly striving to unite itself with the
Unseen. Salisbury Plain, with magnificent Stone-
henge, fails to stir us as does the tiny church on
the edge of it, on whose porch George Herbert
mused and prayed. So we are bound by the ten-
derest ties to perpetuate this primitive spiritual
purpose — Miss Sill's life-motive. It will be easy
to do this — we cannot do otherwise ; it is asso-
ciated with this spot by her long life, and made
bright by her gentle death. Why did Thackeray
put dear old Colonel Newcombe into the Charter
House School to die, but that he wished to give
to his Alma Mater the most exquisite finish, the
most consummate grace his genius could devise —
to associate with It for ever the passing from earth
of a gentle, unselfish spirit whose work was fin-
ished. Providence has granted us this grace, and

Rockford College 20i

whatever good fortune the future may hold for us,
nothing can be finer than that we have already."

To the seminary curriculum was added, in 1882,
a collegiate course of study, and from that time
on all students who had completed the requisite
amount of work received the degree of A. B. But
in June, 1891, the board of trustees decided to dis-
continue the seminary course, and the following
year the name of the institution was legally changed
from Rockford Seminary to Rockford College.
Beginning with the class of 1896, all graduates of
Rockford have been college graduates.

All through its history, Rockford College has had

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Online LibraryMary Caroline CrawfordThe college girl of America and the institutions which make her what she is → online text (page 11 of 18)