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Harriman Hall: A Wesleyan Architectural History, Part Two

Observatory Hal in an undated photo vs. where PAC/Harriman stands today

Observatory Hall in an undated photo vs. where PAC/Harriman stands today; PAC seems to be set further away from Brownstone Row and a little further from Andrus Field

By 1927, when Harriman Hall was built, Van Vleck Observatory Hall had already gone up, housing what is still Connecticut’s largest telescope. The construction occurred largely due to donations from Henry Ingraham Harriman ’95 (that’s 1895) in memory of his father, Daniel G. Harriman ’54, who spent the first two years of his college career in the hall that had previously occupied the site. Along with Olin Library, which was completed around the same time, Harriman Hall was the first building on campus to be finished in “Harvard” brick rather than the brownstone of Van Vleck and Clark. An alumni newsletter connected this choice to admiration of a certain other New England institution: “It will be built of brick and marble, like the Library, rather than of brownstone, like Clark Hall; and the wood pilasters and roof coping will be painted white like that of the Library, and like the new buildings of the Harvard School of Business.” The Olin history website, however, has a more prosaic take on this choice of materials; they write that by 1925, all the local brownstone quarries had apparently been exhausted or closed.

There is little information left on what life in Harriman Hall was like. The interior sounds swaggy—it was trimmed in oak with maple floors in the rooms—and I wonder why it’s all gone now. Only the infamous marble bathrooms on the fourth floor of PAC remain. In opposition to Observatory Hall, which was one of the most inexpensive dorms to live in, Harriman Hall was considered expensive and luxurious, with an electric light in every closet.

Harriman Hall: A Wesleyan Architectural History, Part One

Wesleyan University Library, Special Collections & Archives

As our minds turn back to all matters campus-y, many of us, especially in History, Sociology, Gov, and CSS, will no doubt be getting reacquainted with good ol’ PAC. Have you ever looked up at the letters “Harriman Hall” chiseled into the side of the building, or the cornerstone set into the wall on the first floor, and wondered about its past life—including its brief stint as a women’s residence hall, even though its name sounds like “Hairy Man Hall”? PAC’s history hearkens back to a time when academic and residential life at Wesleyan were more intertwined, an era that has gotten even further away from us as COL moved out of the Butts this year. The building is now 85 years old, and the site on which it sits has an even more richly storied history, beginning in an era that pre-dated Wesleyan.

From 1833 until 1927, the same basic site was home to a (to put it politely) “austere” building known as Boarding Hall. Being generally in favor of historical preservation, I usually think of old buildings as beautiful. The old Observatory Hall drives this home to me: that the old buildings we see now are there because they stood out and were beautiful.

Open House for 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation

For those of you on campus, here’s something to check out.  In about an hour, Special Collections & Archives is hosting an “Open House in Honor of the 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation”:

On Thursday, January 10, original documents, books, and printed materials related to the Emancipation Proclamation, President Abraham Lincoln, and the Civil War, will be on view in the Davison Rare Book Room, Special Collections & Archives, from 2 to 4:30 p.m. Among the items on display will be a certificate signed by Lincoln appointing Hiram Willey (Wesleyan Class of 1839) U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut; Harper’s Weekly, the North’s most comprehensive, illustrated source for news about the Civil War; Confederate publications related to slavery; abolitionist publications; and the first edition of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s galvanizing novel, Uncle Cabin.

Date: Today, January 10
Time: 2 PM – 4:30 PM
Place: Special Collections & Archives, Olin Library

Election Special Argives: “Student Packs Carry-On for Kerry, Catches Flight to Florida Polls”

“I feel like no matter what happens, I will never look back on this with any regrets.”

Eight years ago, Wesleyan students voted in the first presidential election following the 2000 Florida clusterfuck. Intent on getting Bush out of office, most students from swing states dutifully mailed their absentee ballots. But when Jeff Kessner ’07, a Palm Beach County native, failed to receive his ballot in the weeks leading up to the election, he decided to take action: he flew 1,360 miles home for early voting.

“For me it’s important,” Kessner told the Argus at the time. “I made sure that my vote counted.” Later in the piece, though, he acknowledges some degree of selfishness:

“I think it is amazing,” said Amanda Hungerford ’07, a friend. “Jeff was able to put his own disillusionment aside in order to effect change.”

To Kessner, however, it was actually a selfish act.

From the Argives: Massive Water Fight Strikes Clark Hall 50 Years Ago Tonight

“The Argus was also cited as a possible instigator for suggesting to one freshman early in the evening that a riot would be useful for filling up extra space in its pages.”

If you’re in Clark tonight, take a minute and pour out a water bottle on the north stairwell. Maybe pour out a whole handle of water. It’s the least you can do to commemorate the ferocious water fight that raged in the dorm on the night of Sunday, September 30, 1962—50 years ago tonight.

According to a story on the front page of the October 2 Argus, the commotion began around 10:30, shortly after President Kennedy’s address concluded on television, when “hoots and gobbles flung from the upper floors of Clark were met with blasts from record players and sirens.” Twenty minutes later, about 75 freshmen banded together and began the historic Siege of Clark as upperclassmen cheered from the library terrace. (Note that Clark only years later became an all-frosh dorm.) Meanwhile, a dean of students “watched grimly as Jim Dooney ’63 tried to comfort him with remarks to the effect that ‘it can’t last much longer,’ as water, wastebaskets, soggy toilet paper, and foul screams continued to rock the sandstone walls of Clark Hall.”

From The Argives: September 11, 2001 at Wesleyan

“What can we do as a community in this time of crisis and uncertainty? The most important thing, perhaps, will be to learn from each other.” —President Bennet

Here’s what the Argus looked like the week of September 11, 2001—shocked, singularly focused, teeming with questions and grief. The bold header is striking and clear: “UNIVERSITY STUNNED BY ATTACKS.”

There was the candlelight vigil outside North College Tuesday night, where President Douglas Bennet ’59 spoke (“We are together as a community because we need to sustain each other in a time of loss,” he said) and Dean Mike Whaley opened up the microphone to any student who wished to speak. There was the afternoon forum on Wednesday, featuring words by Professor Khachig Tölölyan among other faculty. There were the “where I was when I heard” anecdotes, the firsthand accounts by alumni survivors, the blood drives, the faculty panel. One article sought to summarize how other colleges were adjusting their schedules—especially those with campuses in New York. At Wesleyan, classes moved forward, with extreme flexibility. “Holding classes will provide us all with an opportunity to gather in small groups,” wrote the University’s administration, “and is preferable to the alternative of our students remaining isolated.”

President Bennet wrote a Wespeak. “We have an unusual opportunity to see past stereotypes, identify and diminish our own prejudices, and experience a complex world through the sensitivities of others,” Bennet urged.

’90s Need-Blind TV Footage Surfaces

A few months ago, before the explosion of discussion regarding Wesleyan’s need-blind policy, I posted an interview with Ben Foss ’95 about financial aid-related student activism in 1991 and 1992. Specifically, Foss took leadership in a group calling itself SFAE (Students for Financially Accessible Education), which organized a series of protests against a proposal that would take into account financial need when accepting students from the wait list. What began as a silent vigil and muted protest in 1991 erupted into a full-scale North College occupation in 1992.

In that interview, Foss described significant news coverage of the protests, including “a loud verbal argument with [former dean of admission and financial aid] Barbara-Jan Wilson on the steps of North College in front of TV cameras.” Naturally, I scourged the internets for that footage. Naturally, I came up empty. As far as I could tell, it was lost forever.

The 1992 Need-Blind Occupation: A Look Back with Ben Foss ’95

Drama over Wesleyan’s need-blind admissions status seems to pop up in ten-year cycles. First, in 1982, there was the WSA’s “Save Aid-Blind Letter Drive,” an aggressive letter-writing campaign to convince the Board of Trustees to preserve need-blind admission despite financial desperation. The university raised enough money not to enact the need-aware proposal.

Then, in late 1991, when President William Chace proposed to alter Wesleyan’s need-blind admissions policy, he was confronted with immediate and fierce student opposition. His proposal, which would permit consideration of financial concerns when admitting students from the waiting list, was part of a five-year plan to fix the university’s glaring budget deficit during the recession. So a group calling itself Students for Financially Accessible Education organized a rally of 300, attracting local news coverage. And in February 1992, shit got real: students organized a series of massive protests, sit-ins, and a silent vigil at Downey House. At the height of the protest, 500 students occupied four floors of North College, chanting, singing, and—in some cases—camping out overnight in sub-freezing temperatures. They declared a boycott on classes; they encircled Downey House, arms clasped silently, while the Board of Trustees met inside.

Twenty years ago yesterday, the Courant reported that Wesleyan would remain need-blind.

In the recent months of 2012, President Roth has proposed to the Board of Trustees a cap on financial aid, a temporary measure until Wesleyan’s finances are better in order. As Roth explained it at last month’s Affordability Forum, the University would remain need-blind for maybe 90% of all applicants. But not once that cap is reached. The University would move away from student loans, more towards grants. Financial aid, says Roth, is becoming “unsustainable.” So where’s the student response today? And what’s the solution?

From The Argives: Digable Planets to Rock Spring Fling 1993

The last time Social Committee announced Spring Fling in late April, they called it a “diverse line-up.” Familiar, no? This was 1993, and underground hip hop trio Digable Planets had been snagged as the last-minute headlining act. (It all seems so 1993, too, until you remember that Digable’s lead emcee, Ishmael Butler, is now one half of hip hop collective Shabazz Palaces, which would’ve been a tight steal for Foss this month.) Opening acts included hip hop group Black Moon, Boston-based ska outfit Bim Skala Bim, and Wes band Thumpasaurus, which are all awesomely named mysteries to me. (Apparently Bim Skala Bim reunited in ’09, so go crazy, Spring Fling Committee.) (As for other acts in consideration that year, committee chair Ron Tuckman ’93 name-drops The Lemonheads, Cracker, Mudhoney, Dinosaur Jr., and Honey. Did I mention it was the ’90s?) (Still, they should’ve booked Dinosaur Jr. You’d be able to enjoy it from Summerfields.)

In other Spring Fling throwback news, I have managed to find the 1999 lineup announcement, which featured reggae legends Toots & the Maytals as headliner (beating out Bob Marley’s former band, The Wailors) and little-known indie trio Yo La Tengo as an opening act:

Archiving Workshop

Did something important happen on campus, or with your student group this year? Which initiatives worked and which did not?

Keeping a record of student initiatives is important for continuity, learning and remembering our past, and building more effective and long lasting change in the projects we are working on.

This Sunday, as part of the Skillshare Extravaganza (more details to come) you are invited to the archiving workshop. Let’s meet together to archive materials like notes, fliers, photos, testimonials, and articles. Come with materials, or just for brainstorming. Stay for all or some of the workshop. During the workshop in a group setting we can begin to strategize how to record in an accessible way what has happened this past year. There will be more workshops to follow with the Special Collections Librarian from Olin if you are not able to make this one. Keeping an archive of what happened this past year can make it easy for next year to pick up from where we left off, learn from mistakes, and for many many next years to get insight into and inspiration from the history they are coming from. Anyone is welcome to help with these projects. Please contact igauthier(at)wesleyan(dot)edu for more info.

Date: Sunday, April 29
Time: 1 pm – 5 pm
Place: UOC
Cost: Free