The Wells College Cuneiform Collection



“Cuneiform writing is probably the most ancient system of writing. The name ‘cuneiform’…comes from the Latin cuneus, ‘wedge,’ and forma, ‘shape’ or ‘form;’ hence the term cuneiform, meaning ‘wedge shape.’ Cuneiform, therefore, has come to be the term assigned to the ancient scripts which are made up of characters formed from a combination of strokes having the shape of a wedge, cone, or nail…[this system of written communication] is believed to have been in existence by about the middle of the fourth millennium B.C….A medium-soft lump of clay was taken and shaped into a flat tablet, prism, or cone, on which the writing was engraved by means of a fine stylus…the tablet was then baked by being left in the sun to dry or by placing it in a kiln.” (Stec, 1979, p. 10-16)

Small collections of cuneiform tablets can be found throughout the United States in museums, libraries, universities and personal collections. Currently, there are twenty-three cuneiform tablets in the Wells College Archives. According to the “Campus History of the Wells College Cuneiform Tablets,” written by Professor Emeritus Arthur Bellinzoni, the tablets have been acquired through two sources. A 1917 letter from a Professor E.J. Banks (University of Chicago) to President Macmillan, of Wells College, implies that he was commissioned by the president to obtain a collection of cuneiform tablets for the college. The second source comes from the President’s Report, 1916-1917, “which states that ‘these [tablets] are a gift of President Zabriskie.'”  (Bellinzoni, 1978, p.1)

Through the years, the collection has been moved from the Cleveland Library, to  the Wells College Museum (Main basement), to the Zabriskie Hall basement, Morgan Hall, and eventually, in 1972, the tablets were moved to Long Library.

Wells students, and faculty, have shown interest in researching and preserving this unique collection. In February of 1973, Molly Rahe ’73 took four of the tablets to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to be examined and translated. In the fall of 1978, Professor Emeritus Arthur Bellinzoni and his students  rearranged, labeled, and tagged the collection while also compiling a history of the Wells Cuneiform Tablets, including their history at Wells College, a history of Mesopotamia, and a history of cuneiform writing. This compilation, along with letters, translations, and other documents relating to cuneiforms are housed with the collection in the Wells College Archives.

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Compiled by Lisa Hoff ’09 Reference, Instruction, and Outreach Librarian, Long Library


Wells Reunion


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Since 1871, alumnae/i have been returning to the Wells College campus around commencement time in order to reunite with classmates, participate in special events, and celebrate their college years. As the number of alumnae/i through the years continued to grow, it was decided in 1923 to honor class years in groups of four. By 1970, again due to the large turnout, the present day “quinquennial” reunion tradition of celebrating classes every five years was established and reunion dates were pushed back to the week after commencement.

This year, “Reunion 2012,” (May31-June 2) will celebrate the classes ending in 2’s and 7’s with the Class of 1962 celebrating their 50th Class Reunion.  The Reunion traditions of the  “March of Classes,” class dinners, campus tours, awards convocation… and, of course, Tea Time will continue on!

Below is a sampling of some of the photographs, and other memorabilia, that will be displayed at the Long Library during Reunion. Please stop by and have a look and be sure to bring any class photographs that you would like to share with the Wells College Archives.

Photos Featuring the Class of 1952 and Class of 1962

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Click for more information from the Wells College Archives.

Lisa Hoff ’09 Reference, Instruction, & Outreach Librarian, Long Library

The Boathouse

During President William E. Waters’ tenure one building appeared on campus – a boathouse to replace the “small patched shanty” the Boat Club had been using since its organization in 1876. The students had raised some money, but only about half of what was needed. Through the generosity of Henry A. Morgan (son, not brother, of E. B. Morgan), the building was put up in 1898. During the summer of 1900, a pier and breakwater were installed in front of the boathouse, a gift of Henry A. Morgan’s daughter Edith P. Morgan, honorary member of the class of 1896.

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Since the construction the boathouse has been used in many ways. For instance the inside second floor, when first constructed, was a very comfortable place. The second floor was a lounge filled with class year pillows and comfortable chairs. It became a hangout location. For example, in The Cardinal from 1900-01 one student wrote, “it was the perfect spot for the freshmen to hide out from the ever watchful sophs.”  Additionally,  in that same year the seniors wrote that it became the perfect spot for an after prom reception area.

The Boathouse Collection contains original copies of the contract to build the boathouse,  as well as correspondence to and from Henry A. Morgan on its construct

From Jane Marsh Dieckmann’s “Wells College: A History” pages 88-89 and The Cardinal from 1900-1901 pages 99-100  and the print collection of the Wells College Archives.

Summary compiled by Nicole Di Mauro ’12

October 2011

Helen Fairchild Smith Hall

Helen Fairchild Smith Hall, the college’s new gymnasium and recreation building, was formally dedicated on Class Day as part of the Ivy Day celebration in 1905. The class of 1905 planted their class ivy alongside the building. The main part of the new building was a gymnasium with a stage large enough for college plays and easily adaptable for concerts. It was also used for examinations. Above this room was a running track forming a gallery around three sides. In the basement were showers and lockers, and a banquet hall with adjoining kitchen. Room was allotted for bowling alleys, which were never put in. Bowling alleys would later show up in a new student union.

A special gym course was required for all new students four days per week from November 1 to April 1 in addition to the daily outdoor exercise the students had for 45 minutes.  In 1910 a white tile swimming pool was installed in the building and with it a regulation that no senior could receive a degree until she had passed a swimming test. This rule has now been taken out of the curriculum requirements starting with the class of 2015; they no longer have to pass a swimming test to graduate from Wells College.

With the opening of the new Student Union, the decision was made to remodel, The Helen Fairchild Smith gymnasium: the result was as an auditorium for college lectures and classroom for larger courses. Using the newly dedicated  “Piutti Organ”, a gift from the Alumnae  of Wells College was installed and Smith became a venue for student recitals and informal concerts. Also added to Fairchild Smith Hall was the college bookstore which was located first in the basement of Main and then moved  to the ground floor of Macmillan and now resides in the spacious basement of Smith, where the swimming pool and dressing rooms had once been.

From Jane Marsh Dieckmann’s “Wells College: A History”. The Wells College Cardinal 1906-1907. Additional items referenced from the print collection of the Wells College Archives.

More information is available in the Wells College Archives.

Summary compiled by Nicole Di Mauro’12

Frances Folsom Cleveland Library

Cleveland reading room about 1950 photography found in the Susan “Tudy” Crandall Collection

For many years the college had considered construction of a new, separate library building. The arrangement in Main, with books at one end and reading room at the other, was anything but practicable; moreover, space had long run out. The time was right, for Andrew Carnegie was giving money for libraries – numerous institutions and communities nationwide benefited from his generous offer. Wells College received a $40,000 challenge grant, and at the 1909 commencement came the announcement that the necessary matching funds – alumnae donations, for the most part – had been received. A year later ground was broken for the new library, on the site of the old power plant across the circular entrance road and to the south of Main Building. During the breaking ground ceremony Alice E. Sanborn, the college’s librarian since 1901, gave an elaborate speech entitled “The Speech at the Turning of the Sod”. Ground was broken on June 8, 1910.

During the academic year 1910-1911 the library was erected, and Alice Sanborn was given considerable say in planning the interior. In consultation with the architectural firm King & Walker of New York, she worked with scale models she had made herself, moving furniture pieces around until she got each room right. Sanborn’s interest and involvement in building the new library was immense. One of her pamphlets was entitled “Notes and Suggestions one the Wells College Library” (Alice E. Sanborn, Librarian, 1910). This pamphlet contained many of her blueprints and scale models of various rooms and plans.  The design, with the capacity of 50,000 volumes, was arranged so the building could accommodate twice that number of books by adding shelves and an extra floor in the basement. This plan served the college well; the 1911 library was in use for more than 55 years, during which time the student body went from 150 to 500.

The final cost of the library and furnishings came to $58,000. After which the college posted a letter to the Carnegie fund to suggest they give us more money to supplement the $18,000 that went over estimate. Alice Sanborn’s correspondence in the collection has a letter from Carnegie’s secretary suggesting that the school charge the difference to them as well. However, this was never done as the difference was made up for by additional alumnae support.

The building was named and dedicated by First Lady Frances Folsom Cleveland at commencement in 1911. During the commencement ceremony Alice E. Sanborn gave another address for the formal dedication of the new Cleveland Library. At its opening the buildings brochure stated Cleveland to be 60 by 111 feet and to possess a fireproof stack room on the first floor along with a built in museum.Following the opening of the Cleveland Library in 1911, in April 1912 a mini history and some floor plans were published in The Library Journal. Cleveland Library was in use for more then 55 years during which the student population roughly quadrupled.

While the number of  students increased, so did the collection making it necessary to create departmental libraries across campus in an attempt to alleviate the problem.

A new library building was considered by several administrations but it wasn’t until the 1960’s that plans began to formalize.  With the new Louis Jefferson Long Library dedication in 1968, Cleveland was remodeled and became The Cleveland Hall of Languages. Cleveland has ever since been the language building for campus.

From Jane Marsh Dieckmann’s “Wells College: A History” and from the Cleveland Library Collection in The Wells College Archives

Click for more information from the Wells College Archives.

Summary compiled by Nicole Di Mauro’12

President Kerr Duncan Macmillan

“Kerr Duncan Macmillian was unanimously voted in by the trustees. On May 5, 1913, to become the seventh president of Wells College. They awarded him a $6,000 a year salary which included a home with light and heat. On Friday, October 17, 1913, Wells College installed Kerr Duncan Macmillan as its seventh president in a formal ceremony. This formal inauguration was the first of its kind. Most presidents since then also have had formal ceremonies to welcome them to Wells College.”

“During his tenure as president (1913-1936), the longest in the college’s history, President Macmillan maintained firm control over Wells. He inherited an institution running with an annual deficit, which was routinely paid off by N. L. Zabriskie. By the time of his departure, the college had increased its net worth enormously and had become self-sufficient. He was cautious and slow to take action but was devoted to truth and demanded perfect honesty. A strong and strict man, he had upright moral principles and a decidedly patriarchal view of his college family.”

He reformed the curriculum, attracted and retained a remarkable faculty, saw the endowment double, twice over, during his presidency, and left the stamp of his unusual vision on the college. Among the many legacies from the Macmillan era are his public declarations and letters. These documents reflected his deep concern for the moral health and welfare of Wells College and its students. He also occasionally elaborated on his own ideas. His baccalaureate sermon given at the time of the college’s fiftieth anniversary in 1918 addressed issues of female education and their implementation in the context of the Founder’s original intentions. Within this historical framework, he insisted on maintaining high academic standards and an openly religious and Christian mission for the college, as well as the special democratic organization of the College Home, where students lived, ate, and studied together without distinction as to person or property.

The detailed memorial tribute he paid in 1926 to Nicholas Lansing Zabriskie, trustee and friend of the college who had guided its steps for over fifty years, gives a clear narrative of the growth and development of the college campus and its financial base. Through his entire presidency Macmillan strove for centeredness for Wells College, building on what he felt was one of its essential strengths.

From Jane Marsh Dieckmann’s “Wells College: A History”. And additional print files in the Wells College Archives.

More information is available in the Wells College Archives.

Summary reviewed and compiled by Nicole Di Mauro’12

Victor Hammer

Victor Hammer was born in Vienna on December 9, 1882. Fifteen years later, he began his apprenticeship in architecture, and a year after that he transferred into the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna. In 1922, Hammer moved to Florence where he set up a printing press. In 1939 he fled Europe and the Second World War and came to the United States with his wife, Rosl. They moved to Aurora, NY, where Hammer taught the fine arts at Wells College. He was believed by many to be “a perfectionist of considerable complexity.”

“Hammer was an artist in many fields but had gained a worldwide reputation as a book craftsman who designed, cut and cast his own type. The best known and most widely used of the five typefaces he designed was the American Uncial [which he designed while at Wells College]. He brought to the college an antique flatbed press dating from around the turn of the century and while at Wells he printed his own books by hand. The press was placed in the northeast basement room of Zabriskie. With the assistance of his son, Jacob, he established the Wells College Press, which put out some three dozen books, distinctive for beautiful and artistic printing, illustrations, design, and bindings. The subject matter was wide-ranging  – works by some great figures of world literature in the early twentieth century, numerous essays on type design, and several volumes of Wells College material.” (from Jane Marsh Dieckmann’s “Wells College: A History”) In addition to creating the Wells College Press he continued under the name Hammerpress as well for some printings.

Upon mandatory retirement from Wells, Hammer moved to Lexington, KY in 1948, at this time Wells College named him Professor of Arts Emeritus. Hammer worked in Kentucky as Artist-in-Residence at Transylvania College until his retirement in 1953. Shortly after moving to Kentucky, he married his second wife, Caroline Reading Hammer. Victor Hammer passed away on July 10, 1967 at the age of eighty-four.

The flatbed press he brought to Wells College had been abandoned for years after his departure. In 1970, several faculty members reassembled it in Morgan Hall. As part of the 125th anniversary celebration of the college, Wells hosted a three-day symposium in October 1993 to honor the life and work of Victor Hammer. In addition, the Wells College Press was reestablished as a teaching and publishing tool.

The college is a repository of Victor Hammer’s works. In addition, the Archives has a collection of punches and matrices of several of Hammer’s type fonts. A sampling of his work can be seen on the Tools of History website.

More information and details on Victor Hammer can be found in the Wells College Archives.

This summary was compiled with Jane Marsh Dieckmann’s “Wells College: A History” and the Victor Hammer Collection in the Wells College Archives by Nicole Di Mauro’12

Chinese Delegation

In February 8, 1906 Wells College played host to a distinguished Chinese delegation sent to inspect various American educational institutions. The students of Wells College were reported to be surprised at the curiosity of the members of the Chinese Delegation according to the Wells College Cardinal from 1907. President Ward welcomed the visitors, who were able see the two newest buildings on the campus – the gym, Helen Fairchild Smith Hall and Zabriskie, the new science building. In addition, the Chinese Delegation was able to view the student rooms in the two upper stories of the President’s House (today’s Pettibone House).

It is noted in the 1906-1907 Cardinal, that the curiosity in the Chinese delegates was very strong regarding the things around them. Their curiosity was so great that the President had to tear away a group of delegates from something the students were showing off to bring them into the chapel service.  After the program in the chapel, one Chinese delegate said he would recommend ‘Wells as a model for women’s colleges in China’. The chapel event was comprised of President Ward giving a compelling speech and the whole student body performing a few songs.

A reception followed the singing in the chapel. There was cake and sandwiches. The visitors toured the Wells School in the village and had their picture taken on the steps of Wallcourt(Formerly Henry Morgan’s house). Following this the delegates boarded the train to continue their tour of colleges in America.  In 1907 the Imperial Chinese Commission sent three visiting students to Wells.

From Jane Marsh Dieckmann’s “Wells College: A History” page 93. Additional information can be found in The Class of 1906-1907 Cardinal, on pages 145-147

More information is available in the Wells College Archives.

Summary compiled by Nicole Di Mauro’12

The Early Years

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

Wells College Canteeners

The Canteeners from Wells College were part of the YMCA program that sent alumnae overseas during the First World War, ten to a unit, stationed at various canteens in groups of two. Members were to be college graduates, over the age of 25. All had to fulfill the other qualifications imposed by the YMCA.

The YMCA group conducted canteens, and before the armistice was signed, devoted itself to entertaining and encouraging the soldiers who came for rest from the fighting front. The women’s sole duty (unlike the women who worked for the Red Cross, whose work had to do with aiding the sick and wounded soldiers) was to cheer up the boys. The YMCA job meant service, and keeping  the soldiers morale up was first and foremost. They planned entertainment and kept everyone interested and busy. They arranged movies, the entertainment for the camps, exchanged the money for the troops, sent home remittances for the boys, and ran the stores, as well as aiding in religious work.

When the American soldier had been fighting in the trenches for a certain length of time, they were granted seven days leave. They couldn’t go home, so they were sent somewhere as close to home as possible – where there were American girls to look at, to talk to, and to dance with. For all the soldiers’ amusements, they went to the Y, where they bought food between meals, talked to the Y girls, read books, wrote letters, played games, went sightseeing and danced. Such were the general characteristics of a leave area, though each leave area had its own peculiar and distinctive atmosphere.

The majority of the contents of the Wells College Canteeners Collection are letters that the Wells Canteener women sent home from abroad. The remainder of the collection contains newspaper articles which describe their work and living conditions, as well as the article entitled The Y Girl in the Leave Area.

More information can be found in the Wells College Archives.

Summary compiled by Nicole Di Mauro ’12

October 2011