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Mount Holyoke Seminary:
The Home with Every Amenity

The first floor plans of the seminary showing the dates for the construction of each component. Courtesy MHC Archives
Mount Holyoke seminary building, ca. 1880s.Courtesy MHC Archives (19)

Domesticity on a Large Scale: The original structure of the Mount Holyoke Seminary, designed in part by founder Mary Lyon, incorporated nearly all necessary facilities under one roof. Initially built to accommodate seventy-seven students and two teachers, the building also included an assembly room, library and lecture hall (see above, left). The walls and ceilings were painted white and rooms were shared, yet roommates, as well as rooms, were changed periodically throughout the year (3). This left little opportunity to form close bonds with those one lived with, despite efforts to make the building more feminine and college life feel more domestic. And with the constant oversight of peers and teachers, the seminary building held “no places for retreat, no interstices for freedom” (4).

First Expansions: By 1853, the seminary building, intended at first to be like “a well-governed home”, was expanded to accommodate around 300 students within its walls (4). And in 1865, a gymnasium was added, connecting the north and south wings of the seminary, ultimately making the seminary building into a quadrangle (1; 3). Later, a library was erected outside the building to the north, yet the designers made it accessible by means of a hallway connecting it directly to the seminary. Despite the addition of some external facilities, nearly all aspects of student life could be found under one roof (see above, left).


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