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The Cottage System
Five New Homes
A Teacher's private room and personal chamber on the first floor of Brigham Hall 1897. Courtesy MHC Facilities Management Archives.
Room designated for a teacher in Safford Hall 1897. Courtesy MHC Facilities Management Archives.
Teacher's room in Rockefeller Hall next to a student's room 1897. Courtesy MHC Facilities Management Archives.


Formal authority was put in place within all of the residential halls with the presence of faculty and as well as a Matron. With their placement among students on the residential floors of the dormitories, students were more likely to abide by the rules and regulations set out by the administration. It was a similar tactic that was used in the seminary building. The presence of faculty and matrons set the precedence for the self-governing system at the college and guided students down a path with honesty and integrity.

Breaking Ground: Construction of the five new dormitories set the precedent for the structure of campus life after the fire of the seminary building. As symbols they stood for the new path and future of Mount Holyoke College, as well as a method for separating a college from a seminary. But while these mansions were built primarily for students, they also housed faculty, staff, and Matrons. While President Mead “did not abolish domestic work completely, she released students from the more onerous tasks” (32) and maids were hired. The components of faculty, staff and Matrons were the forms of formal authority within the separate houses.

Placement of Faculty: Similar to the seminary, students and faculty lived under the same roof. However, there were now five new roofs with multiple floors under each. Therefore, the faculty was spread out throughout the dormitories to ensure formal authority and enforce the new regulations of “self-government” among the student body.  Furthermore, since students and faculty had to frequently leave the dormitory there needed to be a person in charge of the organization and daily operations within; hence the Matron. The domestic work that students did not have to further partake in was the preparation of food, setting of tables, and washing dishes; those were left for “more experienced hands” according President Mead (33).

Alumni Disapproval: While the new cottage system was met with praise and viewed as great strides toward a brighter future for the college there were alumni who did not think of the cottage system as a way of preserving the past while moving toward a new future. They “expressed a fear that the result would be unnecessary inconvenience to the students and an increase in the current expenses of the college”(34). However President Mead paid no attention to these worries. She understood that students would be able to have more independence than they had under the seminary. This supervision came via “a faculty member and of a matron”(35). Communication also became more liberalized in the fact that women of the college could receive visitors in the parlors.

Limited Liberalization: But however liberalized these new ways of living within the dormitories were, students had to abide by the rule of self-governance and were required to have permission to conduct receptions of guests within the parlors(36). In all of the new dormitories one could always find a Matron, with her own room and bath, on the first floor. In some dorms the teachers were on all of the residential floors above the ground floor. The faculty also had their own sleeping room and chamber where they could entertain their own guests—say if students wanted to stop by and have tea or talk.

Floor Plan Connection: Even though self-governance was the new way of regulating students, just as in the seminary, the faculty was also present to enforce those rules. The college added the assistance of a matron to watch students because she was in the dormitory for most of the day(37). As well, there was the staff who could also keep an eye out for misbehavior of students. Therefore you had three different types of people survey the students and keeping them in line with the regulations of self-governance. Again, the formal authority and position of the faculty and matron within the student’s living areas of students, were usually enough to keep students in line and honest with themselves—an aspect self-governance tried to produce.

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This page was created by Jackie Finnegan '08 in History 283, Spring Semester 2006 -