Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Chicago: A Look Back at July 3, 1862

The Music Administration Building, the first home of the Evanston College for Ladies (Northwestern University Digital Archive)

Found on the pages of The Chicago Tribune on July 3 of 1892 . . .

On this date in 1862 the annual commencement of the North-Western Female College was held at 10:30 in the morning.  On the previous evening the Floral Concert was held, featuring the school’s music classes.

According to the archives of the Northwestern University Library the North- Western Female College was founded in 1855 by the Reverend William P. Jones and J. Wesley Jones. Reverend Jones served as its President from 1855 through 1862 as well as from 1868 to 1871. 

J. Wesley Jones came to Evanston with a variety of experiences, including a stint as an Indian fighter, a gold miner, and an early photographer.  The two brothers apparently saw a money making opportunity in the new trend, popular amongst the middle class, of educating women. [Pridmore, Jay.  Northwestern University:  Celebrating 50 Years.  Northwestern University Press.]

In 1855 he two brothers purchased property at Greenwood and Chicago Avenues in Evanston. (Northwestern University, unaffiliated to the Female College was also begun that same year, leading to a long feud about naming rights between the two institutions.)  Pridmore suggests that money to build the college building came from the selling of Wesley Jones’s daguerreotypes of the western frontier.

By 1856 the North-Western Female College had an enrollment of 84 students, a source of distinct irritation to the Methodist founders of Northwestern University who had not been able to get enrollment above two-dozen souls.

Bishop Matthew Simpson 
Somehow Reverend Jones was able to invite Bishop Matthew Simpson to the ceremony at which the cornerstone was laid for the new Female College.  Bishop Simpson, who presided over all of the conferences of the Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States and its territories, was a close friend of Abraham Lincoln and in 1865 gave the sermon at the President’s funeral in Springfield.

In 1858 the Female College published the first newspaper in Evanston, the Casket and Budget.  Reverend Jones left the school in 1862, entrusting its management to his brother, but by the mid-1860’s the school began to founder.  By 1869 the Jones brothers were gone, as was the North-Western Female College, it being replaced by the Evanston College for Ladies.  For Northwestern University that was the end of the prickly name recognition issue.

Curiously, the Evanston College for Ladies began the same year that Northwestern University admitted its first woman. The first class at the new College for Ladies included 236 students, among them Sarah Rebecca Roland, who would become Northwestern University’s first female graduate. The overseers of the Evanston College for Ladies made one momentous decision at the very beginning . . . they appointed Frances Willard as the school’s president. 

Frances Willard (Google Image)
Frances Elizabeth Caroline Willard had entered the North-Western Female College in 1858 with her sister and graduated in 1859.  When the Evanston College for Ladies merged with Northwestern University in 1872, Frances Willard became Dean of the women’s division, a post at which she served until 1874 when she resigned in a dispute over the way the division was being administered.  This left her searching for something to do . . . and she found just the thing, becoming president of the Chicago chapter of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.  Ultimately, she became the greatest of all the early crusaders for temperance and women’s rights.

The cornerstone for the new building for the Evanston College for Ladies was laid on in 1871.  Donors had pledged $30,000 for the new structure, designed by architect Gurdon Randall (who also designed the 1873 University Hall at Northwestern), but the Chicago Fire of that same year kept many donors from honoring their pledges.  The building, north of Clark Street between Sherman and Orrignton Avenues, was not completed until 1873 when Northwestern University approved the merger of the College for Ladies with its institution, in the process pledging $50,000 to complete the structure in 1874.

Willard Hall in 1916 (Northwestern University Digital Archive)
The four-story building was designed as a multi-functional structure, providing housing for 135 women as well as classrooms.  The first floor held reception areas, dormitory rooms, the office of the Dean of Women, and a chapel.  On the second and third floors there were rooms for students and faculty.  Music rooms and an art gallery were located on the top floor. [digital library.northwestern. edu/architecture]

In 1901 the building was named, appropriately enough, Willard Hall.  It was used for a variety of purposes until 1940 when the School of Music moved into the building, which was renamed the Music Administration Building since a new women's dormitory had been completed in 1938 and given the Willard Hall designation.  Today the original Willard Hall is in great condition, a proud reminder of another amazing set of personalities that came together at a critical point in the area’s history. 

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