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

Miller, Russell


The new president did not confine his Inaugural Address in 1875 to abstractions and classical allusions, although they abounded. With a deft change of pace, he outlined the brick-and- mortar needs of the College. Among them were a separate home on the campus for the divinity school; a scientific building; "a library, new-created, almost, from the bottom" ("even a million dollars would not be too large a foundation for such a collection as every first-class university should have"); a gymnasium; and, above all, "a comely and commodious chapel." President Capen saw three of these — the chapel, the gymnasium, and the science building — completed during the first ten years of his administration. In the next decade, not one but two buildings rose for the divinity school. The money with which to build a new library was received, as Capen expressed it, "as a sort of Christmas present" in December 1904, a few months before his death.

In his first annual report to the Trustees in 1875-76 Capen put the "very pressing necessity" of a chapel at the top of his priority list for buildings. Four years later a joint committee of the Massachusetts Universalist Convention and the Boston Sabbath School Union proposed that a Sunday School and church be provided on the Hill. If the College would furnish $5,000 for a "temporary chapel" and the land on which to construct it, the two organizations would create and staff a parish for the College community. Income from pew rentals could be used to help defray operating expenses. After a permanent chapel was provided, the temporary building could be used "for literary exercises, the anniversaries of college societies, concerts and the like, and so still remain useful." The Trustees felt they were in no position to follow up this idea, particularly


as the authors of the proposal had carefully refrained from suggesting the source from which money might come to finance such a venture.

The problem of obtaining a chapel was solved in 1881 when Mary T. Goddard, widow of Thomas A. Goddard, a Trustee and early benefactor of the College who had died in 1868, offered $25,000 for a permanent building as a memorial to her husband. Goddard Chapel was built in 1882-83 and by the fall of 1883 had been dedicated and put to use. The structure, with an exterior of bluish Somerville slate, was in Romanesque style, with rounded arches and a barrel ceiling, all topped with a contrasting red slate roof. A 100-foot tower at one corner dominated the Hill and could be seen from miles around. The new chapel was considered an architectural masterpiece when it was built, and attracted hundreds of visitors. Even in the 1930's the firm of Andrews, Jones, Biscoe, and Whitmore, for many years the College Architects, considered the chapel and its tower "one of the most picturesque buildings of


the sort in the country." Goddard Chapel actually cost almost $35,000 to construct and to furnish. Part of the extra expense was defrayed by numerous contributions for memorial windows. Mrs. Goddard also farsightedly established a special fund to provide for maintenance. Picturesque or not, Goddard Chapel became a building of many uses; Commencement ceremonies were held there for many years, until the student body had outgrown it.

Another long-felt need of the College was supplied by the same donor who provided the funds for Goddard Chapel, and almost at the same time. In 1883 Mrs. Mary Goddard presented a check for $15,000 to help "satisfy a want so greatly felt by the undergraduates" for a gymnasium. The result was a substantial red brick structure with a rather forbidding fortress-like exterior, with Romanesque tendencies and a minaret on each corner. Goddard Gymnasium, like the chapel, became a multi-purpose building and was used for social occasions and for Commencement dinners as well as athletics. The building was enlarged in 1899. It was renamed Goddard Hall when it was replaced by the much larger


Cousens Gymnasium and was renovated in 1932-33 to become the home of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

The only academic building on the campus that was constructed with the express stipulation that it be named after its donor was completed in 1884. The "friend of the College" who offered $50,000 for the purpose was identified more than a year after his gift as none other than P. T. Barnum, the busy showman who had been unable to attend the meetings of the Board of Trustees to which he had been elected before the College had officially opened. The Trustees immediately agreed to comply with Barnum's desire to have the building named after him, and with his intent that it be used for the Department of Natural History. The main structure was designed by the same architect who planned Goddard Chapel and was also faced with slate quarried in Somerville. The two buildings flanked the College Edifice and added to the architectural variety that was already so evident on the Hill. The original building cost slightly less than $31,000. Three wings were added: a west wing in 1894, an east wing in 1934-35, and a north wing at right


angles to the west wing, in 1963-64. Barnum had bequeathed an additional $40,000 to the College which was used to construct the first two wings. The Dana Foundation, the National Science Foundation, and contributors to the Tufts University Program (successfully completed in June 1963) made possible the third wing. The original structure, christened the Barnum Museum of Natural History, gave Professor Marshall, the long-time teacher of the natural sciences, the space for laboratory work and for displays that had been lacking in the main College building.

Barnum Museum also served for years as a home for dozens of stuffed animals and miscellaneous flora and fauna donated from time to time by Barnum and put on public display at his request. He further contributed $5,000 for the purchase of natural history specimens. Most of the Barnum collection migrated to other quarters over the years, and very little of it remained in the building by the 1960's. In the late 1880's the collection was considered sufficiently valuable to have been insured for $20,000. The best-known item, housed on the main floor of Barnum Museum, becoming a permanent fixture, was Jumbo, the College mascot. During the elephant's lifetime Jumbo was one of the prime attractions of Barnum's far-flung entertainment empire. The mounted skin of this huge pachyderm was placed on exhibition in the Museum in 1889 and remained to awe and delight school children from near and far and serve as a source of pride for generations of Tufts students and alumni. Jumbo has been the subject of a vast and constantly growing literature; the stories about him, apocryphal and otherwise, are legion.[3] 

President Capen could view with satisfaction the construction of three major buildings early in his administration. He encountered, simultaneously, a less happy aspect of educational operations, namely, that most durable of all academic problems - finance. Few presidents of the institution faced more complications than he in



attempting to expand a college with limited resources and at the same time keep it on an even keel.


[3] Authentic details are to be found in articles by Professor Russell L. Carpenter, who in 1941 was largely responsible for transforming the "Jumbo Room" in the Museum into a lounge and treasure room for Jumbo and Barnum memorabilia. The University possesses considerable Barnum correspondence as well as autographed copies of several editions of his famous autobiography, which he periodically updated and distributed widely to an admiring public.

  • 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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