Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project


William S. Houghton Memorial Chapel

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Institution Name: Wellesley College
Original/Historic Place Name: William S. Houghton Memorial Chapel
Location on Campus:
Date(s) of Construction and Designer(s):
1897-1899original construction Heins & La Farge
Type of Place: Individual building
Style(s): (Glossary)
Foundation: granite block
Walls: granite (buff-colored Amherst stone block, exterior); brick (interior)
Roof: red slate
ca. 1899-present (2007)chapel

Significance: architecture, education, landscape
Landmark designation:
Narrative: see below
References: see below

The William S. Houghton Memorial Chapel is significant for its representation of the College's increasing population and need for additional space, as a testament to the late nineteenth century emphasis on the religious life of the students, and for its association with the well-known ecclesiastical architectural firm Heins and LaFarge, whose renowned work on St. John the Divine in New York was completed by Ralph Adam Cram, future supervising architect for Wellesley College.
Of the many interesting and varied features viewed from the interior, the Daniel Chester French statue built into a corner pier is one of the most prominent. It is a memorial to Alice Freeman Palmer, president of the college from 1881 to 1887, and was donated by Edwin Hale Abbot, trustee from 1892 to 1921. The stained glass windows are of particular interest for their association with many important persons in the development of the educational experience at Wellesley College. The two main windows over the entries to the transepts were designed by Tiffany. Other stained glass windows were designed by John LaFarge, notable glass designer from New York.
The original Chapel of Wellesley College was housed in the monumental College Hall from 1875. In 1887 a fund was established by the students to build a separate chapel which would hold the entire student body, then rapidly growing from the 350 students in Wellesley College's first graduating class of 1879 to nearly 700 students in 1890.
In 1896, the children of William S. Houghton, a trustee from 1880 to 1894, donated $100,000 for the construction of the chapel in memory of their father. The Board of Trustees appointed a Chapel Committee to recommend a site on Norumbega Hill next to the Farnsworth Art Building and requested that the board make a final decision. The competition was by invitation with a $300 payment to each of the four participants. Those invited to submit designs were William A.W. Longfellow, Jr., Peabody & Stearns, Heins and LaFarge and Shaw & Hunnewell. By November 1896, Heins and LaFarge was chosen in spite of the Chapel Commission's earlier recommendation of Longfellow.
Many college traditions have been associated with the Chapel including step singing, commencement, and Honors Chapel.

I. Bibliographic sources:

Fergusson, Peter, James F. O'Gorman, and John Rhodes. The Landscape & Architecture of Wellesley College. Wellesley, MA: Wellesley College, 2000.

Horowitz, Helen Lefkowitz. Alma Mater: Design and Experience in the Women's Colleges from Their Nineteenth-Century Beginnings to the 1930s. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1984.

II. Location of other data:

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