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The Seminary Building

A Home Away From Home

The Seminary Building and Library from 1873. Courtesy of MHC Archives.
The first floor of the Seminary Building 1837. Courtesy of MHC Archives.

Living in the seminary building was a prime opportunity to take advantage of student location in relation to teachers. Everyone of Mount Holyoke Seminary lived within the building; including teachers and students on the same floor. This strategic location for teachers enabled them to enforce the rules with their authority. With teachers down the hall there the possibilities of not getting caught “whispering” or breaking other rules were slim. Within the seminary, the “self-reporting system was put in place for students to follow"(15). This entailed telling the entire community within the seminary what rule you broke.

A Model of Living: With the model of factories and asylums in mind, Mary Lyon produced her design for the seminary building. While from the outside it gives the impression of a factory with a porch on the front, the interior of the building is modeled after a house. Having the rules of family governance, as well as a house interior living space, sets the stage for a home away from home at Mount Holyoke Seminary.

The Self-Reporting System: The house setting for students did not diminish the seriousness or the formality of respect for teachers and the rules of the seminary. While Mary Lyon’s ideal vision of each student having her own room did not work out due to financial reasons, it did provided students a room companion. (16) (17). But even though students were sharing rooms with each other, they were also living among the teachers of the seminary. With everyone under one roof it was fairly easy for teachers to enforce the rules laid out by the Principle, Mary Lyon. Although the first year rule for the seminary was “the law of love”(18), students were responsible for turning themselves in to the teachers, or to everyone publicly, for inappropriate behavior. This self-reporting system was heavily relied upon. However, it was also the presence of the teachers throughout the living spaces that provided the authority to enforce official rules and the self-reporting system.

Floor Plan Connection: While there are few documents of detailed floor plans, such as the placement of teachers amongst the students, we do know according to E.B.E.’s description of the seminary building that 18 students and teachers lived together on the third and fourth floors(19). On the first floor however, Mary Lyon received her own room, library, and parlor. With the teachers present at all times and with students following a strict schedule everyday there was little time for deviance. Students were required to go to sleep at a certain hour with their doors open, and to rise with the morning bell without any study time in between(20).

Further Control of Student Activities: Students were also “reassigned roommates and room locations and, though students could express preference, the seminary placed sober students with the spirited and immature”(21). This room changing was supposed to make the connection between students and teachers more prevalent as a necessary way of life, but it just became one of the many rules restricting student evolvement and activities with other students. Even though the seminary was supposed to foster educated women for the world, the strict rules and living situation, left little room for independence.

A Power Hierarchy: Also within the seminary building was a power hierarchy that went along with the laws of family governance. For example, Seminary Hall, mimicking a town meeting hall, was designed with a raised platform at the front of the room for the Principle and her assistant. Teachers sat at ground level left of the students “settes” in the center of the room. The position of particular sets of people demonstrated the different levels of authority. Furthermore, even the dining hall established a chain of command with each table headed by a teacher(22). These two examples depict the government and hierarchy of the “seminary family.” But, while this “family” was supportive in the education department there was no room for independence at the seminary. Careful watch over student activities coupled with the authority hierarchy limited students to do little more than receive the education they were sent there for.

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