Wellesley College was founded in 1870 by Henry and Pauline Fowle Durant as a liberal arts college for women. As one of the original Seven Sisters (historically women’s colleges), Wellesley opened its doors in 1875 to its first class of 314 students, seven professors, and 14 teachers. The university was originally housed in a single building, College Hall, with classrooms and residences all under one roof. In 1914, College Hall burned down, with the fire originating in a zoology laboratory. The college was rebuilt in the layout that exists today, with the Tower Court residence halls located where College Hall once stood.
The picturesque campus is situated among 500 acres of green meadows and woodlands along the north shore of Lake Waban. Wellesley is split into East Campus and West Campus, with a quad in the center. Walking from one side of school grounds to the other is easy, as the campus is fairly compact.
There are a few spots on campus where students typically gather, including the pub and the Hoop. Every week the pub has a different band playing, and it also hosts stand-up nights and, most recently, a Film Society trivia night in which the campus police were schooled by a team of students. The Hoop, located right next door, offers a more relaxed atmosphere where students can lounge among the student-painted murals while enjoying a midnight quesadilla.
When performances, concerts, and plays are occurring, students flock to Jewett Auditorium or Alumnae Theater to support their friends. But as a general rule, a Wellesley woman must be creative and find her own fun. This could include running around the campus at night exploring its nooks and crannies, curling up in a friend’s room and watching an episode of the West Wing, or debating Marxist political theory over coffee in the Campus Center.
Wellesley, MA doesn’t exactly qualify as a bumpin’ college town. It is a sleepy, affluent suburb of Boston. The lack of nightlife, eateries, and stores lead Wellesley women to travel to Boston or Cambridge to get their big-city fix.
The town of Wellesley provides relatively few hangouts past the hour of 6 p.m. At the tolling of that bell, Wellesley closes shop and turns into a veritable ghost town populated only by the specters of yuppies gone by. Most students are forced to rely on the Senate Bus (also known by less fortunate monikers that we will refrain from mentioning here) when leaving campus. The Senate Bus takes students into Cambridge and Boston, making stops in Harvard Square, at MIT, and near Newbury Street. Students disperse to these destinations in varying numbers, depending on the night and the event.
In Harvard Square, students can indulge in a wide variety of food at student-friendly prices. Highlights include Border Café, which is quite possibly the only legitimate place to find Mexican food in Boston; Herrold’s, an ice cream parlor with an endless array of flavors that even includes earl grey; Bartley’s, the famous burger joint with to-die-for sweet potato fries; and the Garage, which is home to a multitude of smaller independent fast-food places. A surefire way to have a great time at Harvard is to make friends. They can show Wellesley students the ins and outs of the dorms while getting them tickets to comedy shows and closed lectures and into parties.
MIT is notorious not only for its tech-savvy students, but also for its frat parties. One cannot really call oneself a Wellesley student until one has attended a frat party and been “sketched” (it’s a word students hear a lot) on by some creepy MIT graduate student. Frat parties, while being cliché, have an awkward glory when transposed onto the MIT campus. There’s the boy who wants to show you his calculator, the one who wants to talk nuclear fusion, and the couple who are intensely focused on their white man shuffles. All in all, though, nice boys and girls are to be met at these parties…just don’t let them ‘show you the roof.’
Most Wellesley women agree that Boston is the greatest college town in the country. Museums abound, including impressive collections at the Museum of Fine Arts and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (check out the courtyard!). For shopping, Newbury Street cannot be topped. Window-shop at Gucci and Vera Wang, or for a cheaper experience and a great international food court, head over to Quincy Market at Faneuil Hall. In the winter, the trees will be lit up, but in warmer weather, impressive street performers can be found flipping, breaking, and walking on stilts. If you’re a sports fan, hit up Fenway Park for a Red Sox game; get there early for the great atmosphere dominated by shouting vendors, and stay for the chance to see someone get kicked out. Boston holds everything a college student could need, from great food to culture - you just have to take advantage of it.
Most Wellesley traditions date back to the era of old-fashioned frivolity and prim-and-properness found in Jane Austin books, but other traditions retain that gaiety by employing more modern methods.
Wellesley is a college built upon traditions. We participate in hoop-rolling, Flower Sunday, little sisters, and convocation. We also adhere to lesser customs that crop up in our everyday lives. Each dorm has a resident director whose job extends beyond mediation and dorm facilitation. Every dorm is unique, and many, like Tower Court, provide a weekly tea. Grabbing a cup of hot tea and a cookie while participating in a craft project (it could be making Christmas cards or writing letters home) can make for a relaxing study break.
When winter rolls around, a thick covering of snow blankets the campus, turning Wellesley’s grounds into a pristine landscape of white. The serenity of the atmosphere is ultimately broken by screams of exhilaration as students whizz down Severance Hill on dining hall trays (this tradition, known as “traying,” involves the frowned-upon and thus covert abduction of trays from the dining hall). However, traying can be dangerous and tricky: try fitting snow pants and all four limbs onto a space no bigger than your laptop. Come spring, the flowers are blooming, the sun is shining, and the students are gradually losing their minds. Seniors still powering through their theses have morphed into zombies, and even the most relaxed first-year begins to show a gleam of mania in her eye. It’s at this point that the college reverts back to treating its students as kindergarteners and brings in a petting zoo. Like five-year olds at a birthday party, students crowd around the goats, llamas, and bunnies, attempting to get the animals’ attention or to feed them a carrot. If only we had pony rides…
Highlighting the fact that Wellesley is an open and safe environment for the LGBT community, every year it hosts the now infamous (thank you, Rolling Stone) Dyke Ball. This event that is meant to offer an alternative prom to students who felt unwelcome in high school, and it has transformed into a campus-wide celebration of sexuality. The dress code can best be described as “creative” – and, yes, body paint does qualify as clothing. It is one of the most sought-after tickets of the year, and has been undergoing a revamp over the past few years to keep the focus on the celebration and not just on alcohol.
Madeline Korbel Albright (1959) is a former US Secretary of State and former US Ambassador to the United Nations.
Katharine Lee Bates (1880) was the poetic mind behind the lyrics to “America the Beautiful.”
Madame Chiang Kai-Shek (1917) was the First Lady of the Republic of China.
Hillary Rodham Clinton (1969) is a US Senator from New York, former First Lady of the US, and 2008 Democratic presidential primary candidate.
Nora Ephron (1962) is the director, producer, screenwriter, and novelist responsible for Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail, and When Harry Met Sally.
Heidi Howkins (1989) is a professional mountain climber who has summited Everest and K2.
Ellen Levine (1964) is the editor-in-chief of Good Housekeeping magazine.
Diane Sawyer (1967) has anchored ABC’s Good Morning America and CBS’s 60 Minutes.
Susan Sheehan (1958) is a former staff writer for The New Yorker and a Pulitzer Prize-winning author.
Linda Wertheimer (1965) is a former host of NPR’s All Things Considered.
Wellesley is an NCAA Division III school with a variety of sports for those who choose to supplement their overbooked lives with another activity. Those who participate find their reward in the camaraderie, as teammates often form close social circles. Throngs of fans don’t exactly turn out for games and meets, but most students didn’t come to Wellesley to cheerlead.
To be honest, athletics aren’t a huge part of Wellesley culture. This may have something to do with the absence of a football team around which the whole school could rally. But within the athletics program, student-athletes are very proud of Blue sports and tend to be extremely supportive of each other.
Wellesley has had only women presidents.
Wellesley is supposedly the inspiration for Beardsley Women’s College in Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. Nabokov was once a Wellesley professor.
Rolling Stone published an article in 2001 about “The Highly Charged Erotic Life of the Wellesley Girl,” which claimed to reveal the truth about Wellesley’s sexual culture. Many Wellesley women question the accuracy of the piece.
The fictional Dr. Miranda Bailey (played by Chandra Wilson) on ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy is a Wellesley alum.
There are two easily recognizable references to Wellesley in the public sphere, one grounded in reality and the other utter fiction. Hillary Clinton and the movie Mona Lisa Smile have firmly planted images of Wellesley in the public mind. Hillary, depending on one’s political ideology, represents either the good or the bad of Wellesley College. She’s a trailblazer who breaks glass ceilings and is the ultimate role model for women everywhere, or she’s a bitch, an automaton, and a deceitful woman who cries for votes. You decide.
Mona Lisa Smile, a film starring Julia Roberts, is not very popular with alumna of the 1950s, who contend that it paints a historically inaccurate portrait that makes Wellesley look like an upper-class finishing school. Wellesley women do not attend the college to get married and do not do our boyfriends’ homework, no matter how much begging occurs.
Since students live on campus all four years at Wellesley, they have a chance to experience the variety of living situations the college has to offer. Some dorms can be quiet with strict RAs and closed doors, but others take on a more social atmosphere where students become close friends with all of their hallmates. For the most part, halls contain a mixture of all class years, so first-years can learn the lay of the land from those more experienced.
Wellesley has a diversity of dorms, but generally the campus is split along east/west lines. All the dorms have their own charms, quirks, and peculiar followings. Some of us would cry if we had to live in the ‘New Dorms,’ while others would cry if they couldn’t. There are three major complexes on campus: the New Dorms, Tower Court, and the Quint. Interspersed among these are foreign languages houses, Dower, and Stone-Davis, which, yes, is where Hillary Clinton lived.
The farthest east is Dower, a hall traditionally reserved for first-years and sophomores. Because it is the most removed from other parts of campus, this dorm is not surprisingly one of the last filled on housing night. However, it was recently renovated, and its spacious rooms and, as many devoted residents claim, great sense of community, make it a top pick for intrepid students or for those who own bikes. Not too far from Dower and adjacent to the Science Center are the New Dorms, which are composed of Freeman, Bates, and McAfee. These dorms house the devotees of the Science Center; because it’s so close, students can return to their rooms for a quick change of clothes before once again pitching camp in the labs. Some claim that these newer rooms are larger than those in most of the older dorms.
Stone-Davis is centrally located. Composed of two dorms, “Stone-D,” as it is affectionately known, can lay claim to having the only dining hall that stays open past 7 PM (but it closes on the weekends). It is also the most recently renovated dorm, with an interior reminiscent of a moderately priced hotel. The Quint is composed of Cazenove, Shafer, Pomeroy, Beebe, and Munger. Cazenove and Pomeroy are renowned for their family feel and their residents’ compulsive picture-taking, while Beebe is the pirate dorm. Yes, that’s correct. Take a stroll outside Beebe and you will see the Jolly Roger flying high; just be careful or they might give you “the black spot.” Close to the sports center, the campus center, and the academic quad and overlooking Munger Meadow, these dorms inhabit Wellesley’s prime real estate.
The Tower Court complex is the last dorm grouping and the farthest west. It includes Severance, Tower, and Claflin. Tower is routinely one of the most sought-after dorms, owing to its gorgeous lakeside views and the fact that it showcases enough Gothic architecture to transport you straight to Hogwarts. The Great Hall’s large stone fireplace and intricate wood carvings evoke a medieval spirit and also make it a popular study spot. Tower, Wellesley’s largest dorm, has at times been known as a ‘party dorm,’ though it has recently become far tamer.