Wellesley College

Wellesley College

Wellesley College, at Wellesley, Mass.; for women; chartered 1870, opened 1875. Long a leader in women's education, it was the first woman's college to have scientific laboratories. With Lake Waban and 500 acres (202 hectares) of wooded hills, the campus is noted for its beauty. The Jewett Arts Center and the Davis Museum have collections of classical, medieval, and contemporary art, and the library has a large Browning collection. There is a cross-registration program with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

See F. Converse, Wellesley College (1939); Wellesley Alumnae Magazine, special centennial issue, A Women's Place (1974).

Wellesley College is a women's liberal arts college, in Wellesley, Massachusetts, that opened in 1875, founded by Henry Fowle Durant and his wife Pauline Fowle Durant. Today, the mission of the college is to "provide an excellent liberal arts education for women who will make a difference in the world." The college's motto, "Non Ministrari sed Ministrare" (not to be ministered unto but to minister), reflects this purpose. According to the 2009 U.S. News and World Report rankings, Wellesley College is the #4 liberal arts college in the United States behind Williams, Amherst and Swarthmore.


Situated in Wellesley, Massachusetts (12 miles west of Boston), Wellesley College grants four-year baccalaureate degrees and is one of the original Seven Sisters. Approximately 2,300 students attend this highly selective school. Based on rankings by U.S. News & World Report, Wellesley consistently ranks among the top five liberal arts colleges in the United States, and is the highest ranking women's college in this category.

The current president of Wellesley College is H. Kim Bottomly, formerly of Yale University The previous president was Diana Chapman Walsh, class of 1966.

According to admissions literature, classes at Wellesley range from 12 to 24 students in size, and there are approximately 9 students for every faculty member. Wellesley's libraries contain over 1.5 million catalogued books, journals, media recordings, maps, and other items.

As of June 30, 2007, the endowment for the college was about $1.67 billion. Wellesley has a generous financial aid policy and is one of the most socioeconomically diverse colleges in the country. Fifty-five percent of all students receive financial aid. In February 2008, the College eliminated loans for students from families with incomes under $60,000 (and for international students and Davis Scholars) and lowered loans by a third (to a maximum of $8,600 total over 4 years) to students from families with incomes between $60,000 and $100,000. The maximum loan level for other students on aid is $12,825 total for 4 years. Wellesley is one of only a few colleges or universities to meet 100% of a student's demonstrated financial need.

Wellesley's last fundraising campaign, in 2005, set a record for liberal arts colleges with a total of $472.3 million, 18.1% more than the goal of $400 million. According to data compiled by The Chronicle of Higher Education, Wellesley’s campaign total is the largest of any liberal arts college.

The college also has a special program for non-traditionally aged women, called Davis Scholars.The program allows women who, for various reasons, were unable to start or complete a bachelor's degree, to attend Wellesley.

The college is renowned for the picturesque beauty of its 500 acre (2 km²) campus which includes Lake Waban, evergreen and deciduous woodlands and open meadows. Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., Boston's preeminent landscape architect at the beginning of the 20th century, described Wellesley's landscape as "not merely beautiful, but with a marked individual character not represented so far as I know on the ground of any other college in the country."

Wellesley and MIT were the two primary institutions Benson Snyder studied in The Hidden Curriculum (1970), in which he concludes that a mass of unstated requirements and expectations thwarts students' ability to think creatively or develop independently.

For a long time, Wellesley has produced more women in top positions in Corporate America than any other college or university, according to an article in the New York Times in 1995 (see reference below). They included Lois Juliber, then at Colgate, Marion O. Sandler, then at Golden West Financial, Ellen Marram, then at Seagram's Beverage Group, and Donna Ecton, then at Business Mail Express. Sheila Wellington was, at the time, president of Catalyst, the women's advocacy and research group.


Founded by Henry and Pauline Fowle Durant, the charter for Wellesley College was signed on March 17, 1870 by Massachusetts Governor William Claflin. The original name of the College was the Wellesley Female Seminary, and the renaming to Wellesley College was approved by the Massachusetts legislature on March 7, 1873. Opening day was September 8, 1875.

The first president was Ada Howard. There have been twelve subsequent presidents: Alice Elvira Freeman Palmer, Helen Almira Shafer, Julia Josephine Thomas Irvine, Caroline Hazard, Ellen Fitz Pendleton, Mildred H. McAfee (later Mildred McAfee Horton), Margaret Clapp, Ruth M. Adams, Barbara Wayne Newell, Nannerl Overholser Keohane (later the president of Duke University from 1993-2004), Diana Chapman Walsh and H. Kim Bottomly.

The original architecture of the College consisted of one very large building, College Hall, which was approximately 150 meters in length, and up to five stories in height. Until 1914, it was both a principal academic building and a principal residential building. On March 17, 1914 College Hall was destroyed by fire. The precise cause of the fire was never officially established. The fire was first noticed by students who lived on the fourth floor near the zoology laboratory. It has been suggested that an electrical or chemical accident in this laboratory- specifically, an electrical incubator used in the breeding of beetles- triggered the fire. A group of residence halls, known as the Tower Court complex, are located on top of the hill where the old College Hall once stood. Wellesley is also home to Green Hall, the only building bearing the name of famed miser Hetty Green; Galen L. Stone Tower, in which a 32-bell Carillon is housed, is part of the building.

Wellesley's campus is uniquely site specific. After a visit in 1902, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. wrote: I must admit that the exceedingly intricate and complex topography and the peculiarly scattered arrangement of most of the buildings somewhat baffled me. The original master plan for Wellesley's campus landscape was developed by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., Arthur Shurcliff, and Ralph Adams Cram in 1921. This landscape-based concept represented a break from the architecturally-defined courtyard and quadrangle campus arrangement that was typical of American campuses at the time. The site's glaciated topography, a series of meadows, and native plant communities shaped the original layout of the campus, resulting in a campus architecture that is integrated into its landscape. The most recent master plan for Wellesley College was completed in 1998 by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc. (MVVA). According to the designers, this plan was intended to restore and recapture the original landscape character of the campus that had been partially lost as the campus evolved through the twentieth century.

Student life

Wellesley's 2,400 students come from more than 62 countries and every U.S. state.

Nearly all students live on campus in one of the 21 residence halls. Some cooperative housing is available. Wellesley offers housing for Davis Scholars as well , though not for their children or spouses, which is an issue of constant debate on campus A June 03 2008 article in The New York Times discussed the move by women's colleges in the United States to promote their schools in the Middle East. The article noted that in doing so, the schools promote the work of graduates of women's colleges such as Hillary Rodham Clinton, Emily Dickinson, Diane Sawyer, Katharine Hepburn and Madeleine K. Albright. The Dean of Admissions of Bryn Mawr College noted, "We still prepare a disproportionate number of women scientists [...] We’re really about the empowerment of women and enabling women to get a top-notch education."

For more than 30 years, Wellesley has had a cross-registration program with MIT. In recent years, cross-registration opportunities have expanded to include nearby Babson College, Brandeis University, and Olin College of Engineering. To facilitate cross-registration, the College operates a bus -- the Wellesley College Senate Bus -- to the MIT and Harvard campuses in Cambridge, Massachusetts as well as a bus to the Olin College campus in Needham, Massachusetts.

The College has approximately 180 student organizations, ranging from cultural and political organizations to community service, campus radio, and club sports.


As is the case with many colleges, especially the Seven Sisters, Wellesley College has many traditions. Each new fall semester is marked by a non-denominational service known as Flower Sunday. Upperclasswomen are matched up with first-years who become their "little sisters." On the morning of Flower Sunday, the older students give their little sisters flowers before the service. The big sisters often become friends to their little sisters. While the service itself has changed over the years, today it consists of speeches made by the college president and deans, recitation of poetry, and several songs by the Wellesley College Choir. Additionally, student representatives from each of the many religious groups present a short reading from their faith.

Hoop rolling is also a highly competitive annual tradition at the college dating back to 1895. Each upperclasswoman has a wooden hoop, often passed down to her from her “big sister.” Before graduation, the seniors, wearing their graduation robes, run a short race while rolling their hoops. The winner of the race is said to be the first woman in her class to achieve success however she defines it, though this title has itself changed over the years. She is also awarded flowers by the college president and tossed into Lake Waban. The tossing of the winner into the lake began several decades ago when a Harvard University male, dressed as a Wellesley student, won the race. When, upon his victory, it was discovered that he wasn’t a Wellesley student, he was thrown into the lake. The night before the race, many “little sisters” will camp out on the racecourse near the Library to save a good starting position for their “big sisters.”

Some other traditions include step-singing, dorm and class crew races, Lake Day, and Marathon Monday. Each graduation class plants a tree during their sophomore year. Class trees, as they are called, can be found all over the campus, marked with each class’ year on a stone at the trees’ base.

Wellesley College’s crew team is known to be the first female collegiate crew team in the country. While today the team itself is a NCAA varsity sport, crew is widely experienced by many students by their participation in dorm and class crew regattas.

Step-singing is one of the college’s oldest traditions and occurs multiple times throughout the year. Each graduation class has their own color (purple, red, green, or yellow). Students dress in their class' color and sing songs on the steps of the chapel. In-between some of the songs, the classes shout cheers that make fun of the other classes.

Each fall, on a date that is not announced until the night before, students celebrate Lake Day. The event consists of fun outdoor activities ranging from fried-dough stands to moonwalks and is deejayed by the college radio station, WZLY.

One of the most popular traditions is the celebration of Marathon Monday which occurs on Patriots Day each spring, and is highlighted by the Boston Marathon. The marathon course passes the college, which marks its halfway point. Students line up along the street with posters and cheer for the runners. Since they are so loud, the students have created what is widely known as the “Wellesley Scream Tunnel.”

Since 1970 three alumnae are honored at the Alumnae Achievement Awards every February for outstanding achievements in their respective fields.

Wellesley in popular culture


  • In John Irving's novel The World According to Garp, the protagonist's mother, Jenny Fields, attended Wellesley but dropped out in an act of rebellion against her upper-class parents.
  • In Francisco Goldman's novel The Long Night of White Chickens, the character Flor de Mayo Puac, a Guatemalan orphan who is adopted by a Jewish/Guatemalan family living in Massachusetts, graduates from Wellesley.
  • It's allegedly the inspiration for Beardsley Women's College in Vladimir Nabokov's novel Lolita.
  • In Flannery O'Conner's short story "Revelation", Mary Grace is a student of Wellesley College.
  • In Rishi Reddi's short story collection, entitled "Karma and Other Short Stories," a character has her heart broken while walking around Lake Waban of Wellesley College.
  • In J.D. Salinger's short story "The Laughing Man," Mary Hudson attends Wellesley College.


  • Wellesley is the college in which the 2003 film Mona Lisa Smile was set; some of the outdoor scenes were filmed on campus.
  • Mentioned in the movie Girl, Interrupted as the school Winona Ryder's character's former classmate will be attending instead of Radcliffe.
  • Mentioned in the movie Slap Her, She's French in which a full ride to Wellesley College for a broadcasting major is offered to the competing contestants
  • Sigourney Weaver's character in the movie Working Girl, Katherine Parker, is a graduate of Wellesley.
  • Kim Novak's character (a witch) from the 1958 film Bell, Book and Candle claimed to be responsible for the "terrible thunder-storms" at Wellesley College while Gillian Holroyd and Merle Kittridge were students.
  • The school is also mentioned in the film Wonder Boys by the father in law of Professor Grady Tripp.



Wellesley is the site of the Exploration Summer Programs' Intermediate Program.

Notable alumnae and faculty

A number of Wellesley alumnae have gone on to become notable in their respective fields. For example:

Notable former faculty members include Tom Lehrer, Vladimir Nabokov, Richard Rorty, Jorge Guillén, David Ferry,Emily Greene Balch and Alice Walker.

External links


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