Archive Materials



Founding Years




Gracious Living

Broader Diversity

Forward Looking





Student Life

Historical Contexts

Wider World


Students Inconvenienced by 1922 Rockefeller Hall Fire,
Yet Cooperative with Changes


The original Rockefeller Hall, erected in 1896, was given by John D. Rockefeller. Courtesy MHC Archives (15)
  Rockefeller Hall up in flames, December 21, 1922. Courtesy MHC Archives (16)  

Students watched in astonishment as their beloved Rockefeller Hall burned down on December 21, 1922.

At nine o'clock in the morning Bessie Symonds, matron of Rockefeller, heard an explosion in the basement as she walked through the dining hall. At the same time, Mary Hopkins '23, discovered trash barrels on fire in the basement as she was packing a trunk for her vacation. It is suspected that the fire was caused by a gas explosion in the basement, but this was never confirmed.

Through examining the Mount Holyoke News' documentation of the fire and student Margaret Chapin's letter to her mother, recounting how the College responded to the fire, we can discern that the 125+ residents of Rockefeller Hall were greatly inconvenienced by the fire, but all were very cooperative with the changes that occurred.

The Mount Holyoke News recounted the fire very systematically and provided the clear details of the day the fire occurred and how the College and its benefactors immediately responded to the crisis. Chapin, however, wrote her letter almost a month after the fire and provided her mother with a personal account of how the fire directly affected the entire student body and caused immense upheaval throughout campus.

Both documents illustrate how the College responded to the Rockefeller fire, yet the Mount Holyoke News recounts the short-term response, and Chapin documented the College's long-term response.

"The appearance of four walls and much sky is calculated to produce a ghastly appearance at any time; but I still can’t see that place that ought to be Rocky and isn’t, without a few qualms."
Read Margaret Chapin's letter to her mother

"The fire was discovered about 8.45 by Mary Hopkins, ’23, who was packing a trunk in the main part of the basement. She smelled smoke and looking up saw wisps of it drifting across the cellar just under the ceiling, apparently coming from the back wing of the building."
Read the Mount Holyoke News' documentation of the fire

Facts About the Fire

Atlas Home
This page was created by Lindsay Theile '04 in History 283, Fall Semester 2003 -