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History & Exhibits

A Brief History of Simmons College, 1899-1999

The Early Years, 1899-1919

John Simmons, a prominent Boston clothing manufacturer and real estate developer, died in 1870. His will provided for his remaining family two daughters and two granddaughters as well as for the founding of an educational institution:

It is my will to found and endow an institution to be called Simmons Female College, for the purpose of teaching medicine, music, drawing, designing, telegraphy, and other branches of art, science, and industry best calculated to enable the scholars to acquire an independent livelihood.

The actual funding for this college did not become available for almost 30 years, however, having been delayed by the Great Fire of 1872. Simmons's real estate holdings had been located primarily in Boston's financial district, and the Great Fire destroyed many of the properties that had been substantial income providers. Rebuilding took many years; it was not until 1899 that sufficient funding was available to establish the college the John Simmons had envisioned.

The Massachusetts Legislature granted the charter to incorporate Simmons Female College on May 24, 1899. The task of organizing the College was a difficult undertaking as the broad outline of the will provided no instructions. The newly selected Corporation members met in November 1899 to draw up statutes and by-laws, to elect officers, and to appoint a committee to study the educational situation abroad and in the United States, particularly in Boston. This study was undertaken in winter 1900.

In early 1901, the College acquired an office in downtown Boston. In December of the same year, Dr. Henry Lefavour, a member of the Williams College faculty, was appointed president of the new college, and Sarah Louise Arnold, supervisor of schools in Boston, was named dean. Dr. Lefavour prepared a plan of organization at the request of the Corporation; together, he and Dean Arnold faced the task of implementing the plan. A leased building on St. Botolph Street housed the College's new students; it was adjacent to the School of Housekeeping, which the College had newly acquired from the Women's Educational and Industrial Union.

The College opened its doors on St. Botolph Street October 9, 1902 to its first class of 146 students. As not all of the subjects named in Simmons's will could be included in this new institution's curriculum, the Corporation instead decided to carry out the intent of Simmons's will: the initial curriculum offered students Bachelor of Science degrees and certificates in Household Economics (including courses in teaching), Library Studies, Secretarial Studies, and General Science. The program in General Science later included the courses in nursing and teaching. According to the 1904-1905 College Catalog, tuition was $100 a year, not including laboratory fees. Room and board ranged between $250 to $300 a year.

By the fall of 1903, a complete staff of teachers was recruited and a faculty formed, comprised of the president, the dean, and senior representatives of departments. Everyone involved in this grand undertaking  to educate women to "acquire an independent livelihood" was determined to have Simmons Female College succeed. (The name changed to Simmons College in 1915.)

Students in the Secretarial Studies program met for their courses in an office building near Copley Square. Courses in Library Studies were held at one of the houses on St. Botolph Street. With approval of the president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), students took their science courses at Robbins House, the MIT building on Boylston Street. These courses later moved to a leased building at 739 Boylston Street, which provided laboratories for elementary chemistry and biology; the remaining space was used for typewriting rooms, classrooms, and the general offices of the College.

In 1903, the Corporation purchased land next to Mrs. Gardner's Fenway Court (now the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum) for $180,000 to serve as the permanent site of the College. The architectural firm of Peabody and Stearns designed and constructed a four-story main building in 1904 just in time for the fall semester 0 almost. Apprehensive faculty, students, and staff moved in during the final stages of interior construction, stepping around the unfinished and unpainted areas. The main building was 172 feet long and 81 feet deep, with two side ells projecting from the back measuring 88 feet long by 34 feet wide each. A west wing was added in 1909, and an east wing in 1929, for a college building totaling 155,000 square feet. Additions to the main campus at 300 The Fenway were made in 1961 (Beatley Library/Lefavour Hall), 1972 (Park Science Center), 2000 (College Center), and 2002 (One Palace Road).

In 1904, Simmons, in collaboration with Harvard University, established the Boston School for Social Workers. Jeffrey Richardson Brackett, a pioneer in the field of charity and social work, was appointed the School's first director. Located at 9 Hamilton Place, the School was the first academically affiliated school of social work in the United States and offered a Bachelor of Science degree.

The first dormitory, South Hall, and the dining hall, known as the Refectory, were built in 1905 on property purchased on Brookline Avenue, a five-minute walk from the Main College Building. North Hall was constructed in 1907, and small houses on nearby lots and streets were leased as the student body increased during the early years. In later years, the triangle bordered by Brookline Avenue, Pilgrim Road, and Short Street became known as the Simmons College Residence Campus, with a total of nine four-story brick dormitories. A one-story dining center, Bartol Hall, was appended to the Refectory in 1953.

Simmons College held its first commencement exercise at nearby Jordan Hall in June 1906. Bachelor of Science degrees were conferred on thirty-two candidates, and certificates were awarded to more than one hundred students completing one-year programs. Immediately following the exercise, the newly graduated members of the Class of 1906 formed the Alumnae Association.

In a further expansion of course offerings, Simmons joined with the Women's Educational and Industrial Union to offer Lucinda Prince's program for preparing teachers of salesmanship. This program became the School of Salesmanship in 1915, and in 1918, the School of Education for Store Service. It was later known as the Prince School of Retailing and, in 1962, became part of the School of Business Administration as the Prince School Program in Retailing.

In 1912, the Boston School for Social Workers first offered the Master of Science degree in addition to the Bachelor of Science. In 1916, Harvard withdrew its participation in the school, and the name changed to the Simmons College School of Social Work. Also in 1912, the first Founder's Day Convocation (later Honors Convocation) was held for the entire College. The service was scheduled for the Wednesday closest to the anniversary of John Simmons's birthday, October 30.

Also during that time, Simmons first offered the Physical Therapy program (1917), and the School of Public Health Nursing was established in 1918.

It was not all serious study and work at the College during the early years. The intrepid students wanted to include dancing and sports activities in their college experience. The first proms were held in the new Refectory: the Class of 1906 held its Senior Prom in December 1905; and the Class of 1907 held its Junior Prom in May 1906 0 dancing began at "half-past eight and from that time till nearly half-past twelve, the girls were in the seventh heaven."

Outdoor sports 0 made possible in 1910 when the playing field in back of the Main College Building was enclosed by a high fence 0 included annual competitions and tennis tournaments, and, several years later, field hockey. The students played basketball indoors in the small west wing gymnasium of the Main College Building. Students from the Class of 1912 wrote in their yearbook, "Athletics are here to stay. Now that we have them firmly established, it is hard to believe that there was a time when we managed to exist without them."

Traditions were established in the early years as well. The longest continuous tradition, May Day, began in 1912, with the strawberry shortcake breakfast perhaps the most enjoyable part of rising at dawn. The breakfast has been served each year since to the delight of all students. May Day events over the years have included the Maypole Dance and the crowning of the May Queen. Other traditions, such as Step Singing and the Olde English Dinner, served in December, also began around this time.

The Growth Years, 1920-1939

The College's experiment in education 0 combining intellectual achievement with technical proficiency 0 was succeeding, placing Simmons in dire need of funds for its growth, particularly for faculty salaries, maintenance, and additional classroom space. The first endowment campaign began in 1920 and concluded in 1924, raising more than $1 million. Everyone participated in the Campaign, from students selling pencils on street corners 0 their coordinated efforts raised $4,500 in one October afternoon 0 to alumnae selling used merchandise from the Simmons Salvage Shop at 79 Newbury Street, and sandwiches and soda from a lunch wagon in Post Office Square.

 

The east wing, twin to the 1909 west wing, was completed in 1929, at a total cost of $308,750. It housed a large third-story assembly hall, along with the College's first bookstore and lockers for students. The only other construction that took place in this time period was the elegant Evans Hall dormitory built on the Residence Campus in 1938. Featuring a colonial design, Evans housed seventy-two upperclassmen and was central to Simmons's evolution from a commuter school to a campus college.

Together, President Henry Lefavour and Dean Sarah Louise Arnold (who retired in 1919) built the foundation for a highly innovative Boston institution and provided the intellectual underpinnings for the Simmons community. By President Lefavour's retirement in 1933, the student body had grown from 146 students and 28 faculty to 1,577 students and 147 faculty, and the College buildings had expanded from one leased house to an impressive Main College Building, two brick dormitories, a dining hall, and nine small residence houses.

The curriculum developed as well, from course offerings in four major areas of study to programs grouped into nine schools: Household Economics, Secretarial Studies, Library Science, General Science, Social Work, Physical Education, Prince School of Store Service Education, Public Health Nursing, and Landscape Architecture. For the 1932-1933 academic year, tuition was $250 per year, with room and board in the dormitory halls at $500 per year.

 

The Middle Years, 1940-1959

 

President Bancroft Beatley (1933-1955) guided Simmons College through the lean war years and the booming post-war period. World War II impacted the College in many ways, providing employment opportunities for its professionally trained students and financial challenges for the administration. The well-trained Simmons students found themselves very much in demand even before their graduation; the College could barely keep up with requests from local and national employers.

After World War II, the G.I. Bill of Rights made higher education possible for many veterans. In response, a change in Simmons's charter in the spring of 1945 allowed men to enroll in technical courses, but not as incoming freshmen. The first male veterans to take advantage of the opening of Simmons courses to men entered in the fall of 1945, two men enrolling in the School of Library Science and two men in the School of Social Work.

The early and mid-1950s saw another period of expansion on the residence campus. Arnold Hall opened in 1951, and the new dining hall, Bartol Hall, opened in 1953, as did Dix and Morse dormitories. Simmons Hall, which anchored the Residence Campus triangle, opened in 1956.

Also during this period, the School of Publication, the School of Social Science, and the School of Education were established. In 1949, the School of Library Science began offering a Master of Science degree in addition to a Bachelor of Science.

The Alumnae Association awarded its first Alumnae Achievement Award in 1959 to Dr. Dorothy Boulding Ferebee, Class of 1920, for "her notable life and career in medicine dedicated to the highest advancement and welfare of mankind." Although Dr. Ferebee died in 1980, her legacy continues to serve as an inspiration for today's scholars: the Dorothy Ferebee Scholarship is awarded each year to several outstanding students of African-American, Latina, Asian, or Native American descent.

Appointed at the retirement of President Beatley, President William E. Park (1955-1970) continued the College's course toward further expansion and growth.

 

The Years of Change, 1960-1979

 

1963 was a pivotal year for Simmons: the Continuing Education program for non-traditional-aged students - now known as the Dix Scholars Program - began; the College offered its first Bachelor of Arts degree through the School of Education; and the Self-Study Committee was appointed. The Committee completed its work in 1966, resulting in a reorganization of the undergraduate college and its curriculum, with an academic department structure replacing the school structure (e.g., School of Science, School of Home Economics, and School of Education). Having implemented these changes, several departments turned their energies to the development of graduate programs. The English Department created a Master of Arts in English and the Department of Education began the Master of Arts in Teaching and Master of Science in Education.

Two important additions were made to the main college campus during this period. The five-story Beatley Library/Lefavour Hall complex was completed in 1961, providing a spacious home for the College's library and its administrative staffs, the School of Library Science, and the Communications Department. The modern four-story Park Science Center, featuring up-to-date laboratories specifically designed for science education, opened in 1972, consolidating for the first time all the science programs in one building.

On the residence campus, Mesick Hall dormitory opened in 1961, and Smith Hall in 1964, completing the "quad" of nine brick dormitories and a dining hall. In 1967, a new combined health center and infirmary, outfitted with the latest in x-ray equipment, was built near North Hall.

With the physical expansion of the two campuses finally completed, the focus shifted to renovations. President William J. Holmes oversaw a major two-part fundraising campaign that began in 1975. Part one of the campaign focused on the College's physical environment. The Main College Building was in need of extensive renovation and that work, at a cost of $5 million, was completed by 1980. In addition to new classrooms, restrooms, thermal windows, and heating systems, the Fens dining center was built on the ground level and provided for cafeteria-style eating. One of the four-story staircases was removed from the center of the building, and wheelchair ramps were added between the main building and wings. The third-floor assembly hall was turned into a gym, a commuter lounge was created, the parking lot was reconfigured, and the approach to the main building's rear entrance was renovated to include a handicapped-accessible ramp and an impressive terrace for outdoor gatherings. Throughout the renovations and construction, classes continued to be held.

During the next five years, part two of the campaign focused on increasing the endowment and providing for faculty, staff, and administrative salary increases.

In the late 1960s and 1970s, major transitions were taking place nationally and in the Simmons student body. While man was preparing to walk on the moon, black students prepared to make their voices heard at Simmons. In May 1969, the Black Student Organization presented a list of "Ten Demands" to President Park. Negotiations were conducted relating to changes in the curriculum, faculty, student body, and financial aid, and an agreement was reached without campus disruption.

William J. Holmes (1970-1993), the College's fourth president, arrived to a campus forever changed, and Simmons students and faculty benefited from heightened awareness and diversity. Another social movement 0 one for women's liberation 0 propelled students toward less conservative activities, as college traditions took a back seat to more extreme forms of expression and entertainment.

African American Studies courses and Women's Studies courses were added in the early 1970s. Attention to the mission of educating women for the changed world also led to the creation of a new program for women managers: the Graduate Programs in Management in 1974. This innovative program became the Graduate School of Management in 1981 and has since grown into the only business school designed specifically for women.

The 1970s also saw the emergence of computer technology on campus. Simmons entered the computer age in 1970 when Professor Teresa Carterette brought the first computer to campus for research in psychology. Shortly afterward, the Chemistry department introduced remote-access computing and created the "Computer Appreciation Workshop" which, for many students, faculty, and staff, was their first contact with the world of computers. Administrative computing arrived on campus in 1977 when Simmons installed its own multi-user computer system. Also in the late 1970s, Beatley Library served as a test site for an experimental student computer laboratory.

 

The Modern Years, 1980-1999

Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972 banned sex discrimination in schools and became the catalyst for the participation of women in sports at Simmons and other colleges across the nation. In 1979, the gymnasium moved from a small west wing room to the renovated third floor assembly hall area in the east wing, paving the way for intercollegiate sports. Between 1981 and 1985, varsity teams for crew, sailing, tennis, basketball, volleyball, cross-country, and field hockey were formed.

 

Plans also were made for a stand-alone sports center. Ground was broken in 1987 behind South and North halls on the Residence Campus, and in 1989, the Holmes Sports Center 0 complete with pool, running track, basketball arena, and weight room 0 became a reality.

The School of Library and Information Science changed its name to the Graduate School of Library and Information Science in 1980, reflecting the growth of one of the College's first course offerings. Another expansion occurred in 1989 when the Graduate School for Health Studies became the fourth graduate school. Its programs included Physical Therapy, Health Care Administration, and Primary Health Care Nursing. Also in the health care field, a dual-degree program, Maternal Child Health Nursing, was established with the Harvard School of Public Health.

Other cutting-edge programs and cultural opportunities form part of the legacy of the "modern years." The James P. and Joan M. Warburg Chair in International Relations was endowed in 1983, with former U.S. Ambassador Robert E. White named as first holder. The following year, the Benjamin and Julia Trustman Art Gallery opened in the Main College Building, in the fourth-floor space of the former College Library. Computing at the College also leapt forward in 1984 when the Alumnae Sky Club funded the first full-fledged Microcomputer Lab and Classroom, located in the Beatley Library building. First steps toward a campus computer network were taken by Physics professor Edward Prenowitz; the experiments quickly grew into a high speed network connecting the Main College Building, Science Center, and Beatley Library that went online in 1988.

President Holmes retired in 1993 after a 23-year tenure that brought academic growth, social change, and campus expansion. The College positioned itself for a new era when its first female president was appointed; Jean Dowdall served for two years before moving on to other academic challenges. Daniel S. Cheever, Jr. became the College's sixth president in 1996 and has focused on shaping Simmons's financial status and bringing John Simmons's vision into the 21st century.

One of President Cheever's initial undertakings was to support the goal of increasing faculty salaries from the 65th to the 80th percentile of comparable colleges. Another major undertaking was the "Strategic Plan 1999," which reinvested $51 million in the College's facilities and technology. As a result, two major construction projects were funded: the glass-walled College Center on the rear terrace of the Main College Building in 2000, and the four-story Palace Road academic building in 2002. The "Strategic Plan 1999" also led to several new academic programs, the renovation of four dormitories, and the consolidation of the School for Health Studies in the Science Center. The "Strategic Plan 1999" was by far the largest commitment to rebuilding facilities and technology that the College had ever made.

Two major events the Centennial Celebration and the Campaign for Simmons provided a catalyst for President Cheever, the Board of Trustees, and the entire Simmons community to re-assess and re-establish the College's purpose. To this end, a college-wide Strategic Planning Committee drafted a proposal plan, which was approved by the Board of Trustees in January 2002. The "Simmons College Strategic Plan 2002" established a uniform vision for the undergraduate college, the graduate programs, and all four of the graduate schools--"to position Simmons as an authority on women, education for the professions, leadership, and diversity," effectively restating the mission of this unique institution dedicated so long ago to enabling "scholars to acquire an independent livelihood."

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