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From a House for 300 to a 'Cottage' for 50:
Rebuilding Domesticity After the Seminary Fire


Seminary building after 1896 fire. Courtesy MHC Archives


In October, 1896 when the Mt. Holyoke seminary building burned to the ground, with it went the original structure of the institution, but not the original philosophy of domesticity that was behind the architecture of the all-inclusive seminary system. By the end of the year, President Mead had acquired approval for the construction of new dorms. She wrote to the trustees in late 1896, of the now Mount Holyoke College:

It was voted to build Mary Brigham Hall at once. Later the cottage plan was adopted, and it was voted to build as many houses as money was provided for, the only restriction being that no debt should be incurred (3).

The support for the cottage system was swiftly obtained after the loss of the seminary and plan went ahead without delay. The corner stone for the hall was laid on November 8th, 1896 on Founder’s Day, less than two months after the loss of the seminary building (17).

The buildings of the new 'cottage system,' especially Mary Brigham Hall, incorporated themes of domesticity, not simply by virture of their smaller scale, but also through architectural details associated with contemporary middle-class Edwardian houses.

Mary Brigham Hall (right) was completed before the remains of the seminary could be cleared away (1897). Courtesy MHC Archives
The 'cottage system' replaced the multi-purpose, single-building scheme of the seminary with many structures for different uses, ca. 1910. Courtesy MHC Archives



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