The first years at Wells were memorable: the college started out with three very different, short-term presidents, and teaching was done by a small group, of much-beloved faculty members with virtually no specialized training. Their instruction was supplemented by professors from Cornell and visiting lecturers.
Wells College consisted of one building located across the footbridge from the home of its founder, Henry Wells. It was growing but remained very small. The young women functioned as a group, not separated by classes, and lived under rules that, for today, would be much more appropriate to a boarding school. All students were expected to be present at all college events, and all stayed to take part in commencement and its various activities, a practice that continued for many years. In those days Wells College was a family, with Henry Wells its father. Just as described in his founding address, Wells College was “A Home.”
The Wells family was adopted by the village of Aurora. The homes of the trustees – some of whom sent their daughters to the college – were open to the students, who were made to feel welcome. They in turn participated in village events, sang in the church choir, and laid wreaths and flowers at the cemetery on Memorial Day.
Life for these students was well regimented. There was the same schedule for all – for rising, playing, meals, classes, studying, and lights out. There were regulations concerning dress and food.
- An example of the regimentation is everyone, whether they knew the language or not, had to speak French from before breakfast until after lunch.
- Students could correspond only with names on a list furnished by their parents to the principal, and telegrams were discouraged.
- Although none of today’s popular sports were known, however, tennis and basketball would soon appear. Croquet was played on the lawn by Glen Park; there was the lake for swimming, rowing and skating. They did their forty- five minutes of daily regulated outdoor physical exercise by walking to the village; when the road was full of mud holes, they walked back and forth over the bridge to Glen Park, calling it the Bridge of Sighs. After awhile the students started the tradition of the “Kicking Tree” while on their 45 minute walk. They would walk up to the tree, kick it, cross the street, and spend the rest of their required time in a small restaurant. Inside, Mrs. Young’s restaurant the young women of Wells College would eat all the food they weren’t allowed to eat on campus, sometimes even sneaking some back with them for later. They then would turn around and walk back, having done only half of the required exercise.
For recreation, the students had sleigh rides in the winter, steamer rides in good weather, excursions to Ithaca on the train, concerts, parties with charades and tableaux. They did frolics and dramatic presentations, using characters from Shakespeare, Dickens, and Mother Goose. There were ghost parties, fancy-dress parties, Halloween parties with a gypsy fortune-teller. All the students lived together and made their own fun together.
Many traditions that live on at Wells began in those early days for instance, singing for special occasions. Some believe this to be the start of the school singing the congratulations song as we do now. They would perform (just for the fun of it) skits, musicals and spoofs written and performed by the students, also included dramatic productions for learning and performing.
From Jane Marsh Dieckmann’s “Wells College: A History”. And additional information found in the Wells College Archives.
Summary reviewed by Nicole Di Mauro’12