Light on the hill: A history of Tufts College, 1852-1952

Miller, Russell


President Cousens had ambitious plans for the expansion and beautification of the physical plant of his Alma Mater. When speaking to the Boston Tufts Club in the winter of 1922, he expressed his desire that the campus might some day be described by the phrase "The Hill a Garden." The slogan was immediately associated with his plans for landscape improvements. Not all of his projects were carried out in his lifetime. Nonetheless, the record of accomplishment was impressive in spite of delays and difficulties created in almost every instance by that most effective of roadblocks - paucity of funds. Throughout the economically depressed 1930's the College conducted its building program with whatever private resources it could summon. The question was raised in 1935 as to the propriety of applying for aid from the federal government under one or more of the numerous public works programs, but the Tufts Trustees voted that "as a matter of principle" it was not de


sirable to seek such aid for the construction of new buildings. The College seems to have done surprisingly well in expanding and improving its physical plant during a period of economic malaise by following the philosophy of "Hooverism."

The first problems of campus planning and building utilization faced by the College during Cousens' administration were associated with the return to peacetime conditions after the First World War. Because Curtis Hall had been turned over to military uses, the College bookstore was temporarily housed on the second floor of Ballou Hall. To relieve the resulting congestion, the bookstore was moved to the basement of Eaton Library, where it remained until 1948.[76] 

Less than six months after he had been unanimously elected president (June 8, 1920), Cousens was apprising the Trustees of the need for an additional women's dormitory and for a combined Administration-Student Union building. That portion of the Stearns estate north of the Hill came into the possession of the College in 1920. It consisted of vacant land and the decrepit remains of the old Stearns homestead, which were removed the following year. In 1921 it was decided to set the land aside for the use of the Physical Education Department.76 The president also saw the advantage of obtaining several acres of abandoned clay pits across the street from the Stearns property - popularly known as the "Brick Yards" because of the manufacturing operations conducted there for many75 The quarters were so cramped, even in the library, that the expedient was tried in the spring of 1923 of selling textbooks directly in the classrooms, with bookstore staff in attendance. This experiment failed, largely because no one had thought to officially notify either faculty or students of the plan in advance. In 1922 the operation of the bookstore, which had been under the supervision of a faculty Committee of Books and Supplies, which in turn had been responsible for arranging for student management, was taken over directly by the Trustees. Under the new arrangement the facility was to be managed and conducted "without profit for the benefit of the students." Joseph W. Morton was the first bookstore manager; he was replaced in 1923 by Dirrell D. Sample. A bookstore was operated for many years in Boston for the convenience of medical and dental students but was closed in 1931 because it seemed "impossible to run it without a loss."


years.[77]  This area too could be converted (as most of it actually was) into athletic fields after proper filling and grading.

President Cousens, anxious to enclose as well as beautify the Hill campus, devoted much attention to the construction of gates and fences. The Gager Gate, dedicated in 1921, was placed at the head of the Campus Drive and across from the site of the old reservoir.[78]  In 1924 Eugene B. Bowen, a newly elected Trustee from the Class of 1876, presented, for the west end of the campus, a brick and ironwork gate bearing his name. This became part of the brick and iron fence which had long been desired as an enclosure for the main campus and to which sections were contributed by the Class of 1899 as part of its twenty-fifth anniversary celebration and by numerous other classes beginning with the Class of 1924.[79]  Simultaneously (in 1923-24) a six-hole golf course was laid out on the south side of the campus on the site of part of the old athletic fields, and Professor Robert C. Givler of the Philosophy Department became one of the leading organizers of golfing activities. The golf course, the number of holes of which varied over the years, finally disappeared when new buildings encroached on the former cow pasture after the Second World War. The Starkweather Gate was added to the easterly side of the Hill in 1926, and that entrance was completed within the next three years by terraced steps leading up to Miner and Paige Halls and the top of the Hill. In order to keep the campus as well maintained as possible and to care for the rapidly growing physical plant, the annual budget for the


Department of Grounds and Buildings had skyrocketed to more than $100,000 by 1926.

The problem of the ramshackle, unsightly, and completely inadequate old chemistry laboratory building had dogged the College for decades before Cousens became president. The complaints were as loud and as persistent in the early twentieth century as those voiced by President Capen in 1876 when the chemistry facilities in the College Edifice had been outgrown. "Some of the Professors can find no place for the soles of their feet, but are obliged to wander about in the peripatetic fashion, from room to room, as they may chance to find one vacant." There had been rumors in 1911 that Frederick Stark Pearson, one-time teacher at Tufts and a Trustee from 1892 until 1909, might have contributed "a gift of a chemical laboratory," but even if that had been the case, the financial state of the College at the time would have prevented it from taking advantage of the possibility.[80]  President Bumpus had been very much aware of the need for a new building, but the estimated cost of $75,000 to $100,000 in 1916 was beyond the reach of the College. Even the idea of another "temporary" building constructed


alongside the existing structure at a cost not to exceed $15,000 had to be discarded. The efforts of a Trustee committee in 1916 to raise money for a new building were side tracked by the untimely intrusion of the First World War although they did make sufficient progress to consider a site for the new structure; it would have been located on the exact spot where the new University Library was constructed between 1963 and 1965. When the campus returned to peacetime demeanor and appearance after 1919, the Chemistry Department again found itself in the unenviable position of being forced to use part of Curtis Hall as a lecture room. The chemistry laboratory suffered a fire in the spring of 1919 and the Tufts Weekly voiced an opinion shared by many: "The firemen of Medford and Somerville very shortsightedly saved the Chem. Lab. from burning up last year, and now that building . . . with the aid of a few soap-boxes and a couple of old railroad ties has been completely remodeled."

After years of delay, a new chemistry laboratory was finally authorized late in 1919. The site selected two years before was abandoned in favor of a new location.[81]  But progress in moving the plans off the drawing board was painfully slow, for much of the effort and money intended through the Tufts Foundation for capital outlay had to be diverted to an attempt to meet the pledge of the General Education Board to help raise salaries. As a consequence, the start of actual construction was delayed until the spring of 1922. In the interval, yet another site had been selected, on the southerly side of the campus and across from the faculty residences on Talbot Avenue.

The naming of the new building was left by the Trustees to the discretion of the president. On his recommendation, it became the "Fred Stark Pearson Memorial Laboratory" in 1926, three years after it had been dedicated (on Alumni Day, June 16, 1923).[82] 


Pearson had been an alumnus (Class of 1883) who had achieved international prominence in the field of electrical engineering and urban transportation. He had lost his life in the sinking of the Lusitania early in the First World War.

President Cousens drew heavily on the talents and services of the Tufts Engineering School faculty in campus planning, including the design and supervision of building construction, alterations, and repairs. Professor Edwin H. Wright of the Civil and Structural Engineering Department planned and supervised the addition to Richardson House (a Jackson dormitory), and he and Professor Edward H. Rockwell designed the Pearson Memorial Laboratory. They received extra compensation for their services. Professor Edwin B. Rollins of the Electrical Engineering Department and acting dean of the engineering school between 1926 and 1929 rendered similar services in regard to the heating, lighting, and power requirements of the campus.

The aging original chemistry laboratory building, instead of being torn down, received another series of face-liftings and new occupants. It was used for a time in the early 1920's by the SAVEM Economy Products Company and in 1930 became officially the


"Music House." Even though intended as only a temporary headquarters for the Department of Music, the building was far superior to the quarters formerly occupied by that department on the third floor of Goddard Gymnasium. No one could say that the College had failed to get its money's worth out of the old chemistry laboratory. In 1930 space was also provided in it for the use of the Drama Department, and the basement was fitted up as the hydraulic laboratory of the engineering school.[83] 

Cousens' constant aim was the unification and centralization of the operations on the Hill to turn it into a more cohesive academic community. He wished to abandon the "cottage" system of dormitories for Jackson College and to construct one large dormitory that would fulfill enrollment needs for at least ten years and simultaneously release the frame dwellings occupied by women so that a higher proportion of the faculty could live on or near the campus.[84]  Cousens had to remain content until 1927 with a continuation of the "cottage" system, for after the Delta Tau Delta fraternity moved to Professors Row in 1920, the home built in 1895 by Professor Frank P. Graves became a Jackson dormitory, and an addition was made to Richardson House in 1923 to accommodate twenty students.[85]  The need of a large dormitory to centralize at least partially the scattered Hill residences of Jackson women was met in 1925 by receipt of a bequest from Martha Stratton Ensign, of which $50,000 was to be used to construct a dormitory to be named "Stratton Hall."[86]  Litigation involving the estate delayed construction of the new women's dormitory until 1927. Pressure for more dormitory space for Jackson College continued to mount, even during the depression years, and in 1937 the Trustees authorized the construction of a new wing for Metcalf Hall which approximately doubled the capacity of the existing building.



When discussions were in progress in the winter of 1925 about building a men's dormitory from part of the proceeds of the Fletcher estate, the architectural firm of Andrews, Jones, Biscoe, and Whitmore were given permission "to make a general study for the development and expansion of the College plant at the Hill," on the presumption that they would become architects for the institution.[87]  Fletcher Hall was completed in 1926 at a cost of a quarter of a million dollars and, with a new dormitory for women, helped to make Tufts more of a residential college and less of a "trolley- car university."[88]  The president, with an eye to the future, saw the need in 1926 for at least two additional dormitories, a new gymnasium for men, separate buildings for the Departments of Music and Dramatics, a physics laboratory, more adequate housing for the Crane School, and better facilities for College assemblies for faculty, students, and outside speakers. An amount in excess of $2,000,000 was called for.

President Cousens' desire to make at least one addition to the physical plant each year during his administration was not always realized, although it came close to being achieved. The record was almost blemished in 1933, but authorization of a greenhouse behind Barnum Museum for the use of the Biology Department saved the day. In 1934-35 the east wing of Barnum Museum that had been projected in the donor's original gift in the late nineteenth century was finally constructed. The bulk of the total cost ($50,000) was financed by $38,000 of accumulated income from the Barnum Fund.[89] 



In 1932 the firm of Andrews, Jones, Biscoe, and Whitmore prepared a long-range plan for the Hill grounds and buildings which made possible some interesting comparisons with what was actually done in later years. They foresaw the need for an enlargement of Eaton Library "before many years" and recommended that Packard Hall be moved back and two larger buildings constructed between East and West Halls. They suggested that one be the headquarters of the new Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, which was scheduled to be opened in 1933. It would be built directly across from Ballou Hall, which in turn would have a new portico on the north side to match the one originally constructed on the opposite side.[90]  Barnum Museum and West Hall were considered "the poorest buildings on the campus, both in their construction and their interior arrangements as well as in their exterior design." The architectural firm advised "never spending money to remodel them," for they should be replaced by better buildings. They proposed the same fate for Curtis Hall, which in their estimation was "not well planned for any purpose and could some time well be given up and torn down."[91] 

The architects suggested a "monumental building" at the foot of the Hill and across from the Memorial Steps. It was to include an assembly hall, theater, and student union. Although such a structure as both the architects and President Cousens desired was not built during his time in office, he kept the idea constantly before the Trustees and recommended in 1934 that a building to serve as a social center and a headquarters for student organizations and alumni offices be constructed between East and West Halls. Packard Hall would be either incorporated into the new building or demolished. At Cousens' suggestion the College architects prepared sketches for the building and presented them for consideration in 1935. It was to have been known as the Graduate Center, and the Those interested in the aesthetics of collegiate architecture were relieved by the decision to use stone which matched the original as closely as possible.


Alumni Association was to have secured the estimated $500,000 needed from sources outside the College. Monetary considerations required that this project be set aside for some indefinite future date. Establishing a permanent home on the campus for the Association was a long and drawn-out affair after its constitution of 1906 had stipulated that the secretary-treasurer be selected from alumni living near the College. An Alumni Room had been provided for the use of the Association for several years in Goddard Gymnasium. The headquarters migrated in 1925 to Eaton Library, where Executive Committee meetings of the Association were held for some time. The annual meetings usually took place on the main floor of Goddard Gymnasium, which could be temporarily converted into an auditorium. After Cousens Gymnasium was constructed in 1931-32, an Alumni Room was provided there, furnishings having been contributed by the Class of 1932.[92] 

Cousens' desire to consolidate campus operations and to integrate the total work of the institution was carried over into the curriculum. In 1919 Professor Durkee had urged the Trustees to establish a semiautonomous school of chemistry. All students enrolled in chemical engineering or in the curriculum leading to the B.S. in Chemistry would be registered in the new school. They would take courses in liberal arts and engineering only on request of the faculty of the school, but those meeting requirements of arts or engineering in chemistry would take such courses in the school. Durkee had been "forced to the conclusion that chemical education under existing circumstances cannot be developed satisfactorily or even long maintained at its present standard" without some such arrangement as he suggested. Professor Durkee's proposal had been tabled by the Trustees and was opposed by Cousens. There was, he said, "too much tendency toward division into schools already. Our effort should rather be in the direction of uniting some interests now too far apart than to create any more division." He thought that the "conflict of interest" that had ostensibly developed between the engineering school and the Department of Chemistry could easily be worked out by creating a special course for chemical engineers. In the field of the social sciences, integration was again the watchword. Cousens looked favorably on a proposal to offer a


general introductory course basic to the social science group which would include materials drawn from history, government, economics, psychology, and philosophy. Students could then begin their "chosen work" during their first year.

Closer integration of the Department of Physical Education with the academic departments was accomplished in 1920 when it was placed upon "a comprehensive basis" and strengthened by emphasizing the two-year requirement for graduation and an additional one-year requirement in general hygiene. For the first time physical education was scheduled during the regular class hours and in that respect achieved the status of the regular academic offerings. Freshmen were required to take three hours a week, and sophomores two, except that war veterans were excused. Systematic lectures on hygiene were introduced for both men and women in 1913-14, given by members of the staff of the medical school. Hygiene as a degree requirement was introduced in 1920-21, and the number of hours necessary for graduation was increased accordingly for all undergraduates.[93]  Professor Houston, who had served for several years as graduate manager of athletics and as alumni secretary, was also placed at the head of the Physical Education Department to coordinate the interests of both undergraduates and alumni. President Cousens was firm in his belief that the expression "a sound mind in a sound body" should be more than an aphorism. He was equally convinced that college athletics, both intramural and intercollegiate, were inseparable from the activities of the Department of Physical Education. In his annual report for 1921 he added a swimming pool to his ever-lengthening list of needed facilities and, faithful to his promise, reminded the Trustees of the need for it in every annual report thereafter. He considered the lack of a pool "almost as anomalous as a private house without a bathroom." [94] 

As the years passed, a new gymnasium for men crept closer and


closer to the head of Cousens' priority list, and in 1928 it reached the top. Three years later the lease by the AMRAD Corporation was terminated, and its building became part of the gymnasium when it was constructed in 1931-32. The structure was the most expensive building yet undertaken by the College, costing upwards of half a million dollars. It was financed in part from the income of the Fletcher estate and from special funds raised through alumni efforts. The Alumni Association also allocated part of their Sustaining Fund for the purpose, and it was at their suggestion that the Trustees voted to name the new gymnasium in honor of the president.[95]  It became a fitting memorial to a man who had played Varsity football as an undergraduate and whose enthusiasm for athletics remained undiminished throughout an energetic lifetime.


[76] A piece of vacant land adjoining the Stearns property and purchased as part of the property of the American Radio and Research Corporation (AMRAD) in 1925 was set aside for the same purpose. The AMRAD buildings were leased back to the Corporation until it moved from the campus in 1931.

[77] The College secured an option to buy in 1921, and the purchase was authorized in 1925 but was delayed until the following year. The 450,000 square feet was bought for $52,500. Additional property adjoining the clay pits was acquired in 1927 in order to improve and straighten existing boundaries. Cousens contributed the funds for this purchase out of his own pocket.

[78] The gate was donated by the parents of Harold A. Gager, who had been a member of the Class of 1921 but had died before his graduation. The brick-columned structure had to be removed in 1963 because of extensive construction on the Hill and because its narrow aperture no longer sufficed for conveyances which had to enter the campus.

[79] The Trustees voted in 1926 to construct ten sections of the campus fence to represent the Classes of 1857 through 1866. By the 1960's the fence had been almost completed around two sides of the campus and a part of a third, while at the same time parts of it were being removed to expedite both pedestrian and vehicular traffic.

[80] Professor Durkee had been the source of the Trustees' information.

[81] The special committee to develop plans for the new building established as the tentative site in 1920 the corner of Packard Avenue and Professors Row. If this plan had been carried out, it would have meant the moving or razing of the Zeta Psi chapter house, which the Trustees had sold to the fraternity less than a year before.

[82] A separate account of $35,000, known as the Pearson Memorial Fund, had been created within the Tufts Foundation endowment fund. Trustee Robert Brown and Professor Durkee of the Chemistry Department were largely responsible for the success in raising the Pearson Fund.

[83] Until 1930 engineering students had been required for several years to make an annual pilgrimage to Worcester Polytechnic Institute in order to study the application of principles of hydraulics.

[84] In order to encourage as many of the faculty as possible to live near the College, the Trustees restated their long-standing policy of selling land to the faculty under certain conditions and liberalized the provisions so that land acquired from the College could be mortgaged by the occupants.

[85] Graves House became, in 1955, the residence of Dr. Clark W. Heath, Director of Health Services.

[86] Mrs. Ensign's legacy was supplemented from the estate of her father.

[87] This was the second survey of the Hill grounds and buildings for which Cousens was responsible; he had had a survey made in 1921 to project possible developments for the next fifty years. Among the buildings designed by Andrews, Jones, Biscoe, and Whitmore were Stratton and Fletcher Halls and a new house for the Theta Delta Chi fraternity. In 1926 they prepared a set of drawings for a medical school on the Hill. As has been indicated elsewhere, the possibility of placing the school on the Hill was widely and seriously discussed in the mid-1920's.

[88] In 1923 the following percentages of students lived off the campus: liberal arts, 51 per cent; Jackson, 29 per cent; engineering, 62 per cent. There were no dormitories for students in the medical and dental schools at the time, and no provision for graduate students.

[89] The new wing was named for Fred D. Lambert, a long-time member of the Biology Department. It was to have been faced with red brick which would in no way have harmonized with the stonework of the original building.

[90] The College bookstore, or "Taberna," was constructed there in 1948. The new portico for Ballou Hall (the Bowen Porch) was provided in 1938.

[91] Instead, it continued to serve into the 1960's as a multi-purpose structure housing a branch of the United States Post Office, student activity rooms, sorority headquarters, and lounge and refreshment facilities. It also received an exterior coat of white paint in the summer of 1964 which altered its traditional appearance considerably.

[92] Alumni headquarters were then moved to Ballou Hall and eventually to the former home of Professor Houston on Talbot Avenue.

[93] Physical education for the Boston-based schools was also introduced in the 1920's, through a cooperative arrangement with the YMCA. The course in hygiene for Hill students lasted as a degree requirement until 1951-52.

[94] No discernible progress was made in providing for the swimming pool until 1935, when a plan was recommended whereby the Alumni Council would undertake within two years to raise $75,000 toward $120,000 to construct one. This proposal, however, was not followed up. The Department of Physical Education found the lack of a swimming pool particularly embarrassing, as ability to swim had to be demonstrated as a degree requirement. The College had to depend upon the Somerville YMCA pool.

[95] The five-stage plans for the new physical education plant which Cousens outlined were carried out much as he had hoped, except that the Department of Electrical Engineering was moved into the old AMRAD section, which was to have consisted of locker rooms and offices, and provision was not made exactly as he had anticipated for indoor tennis courts. His dream for a swimming pool was not realized until the Hamilton Pool was built in 1945.

  • Light on the Hill, the history of Tufts College, was published to coincide with the centennial of the institution in 1952. A second volume was published in 1986. This edition was created from the 1966 edition of Light on the Hill, Volume I.
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