From Foundations to Celebregalias: Mount Holyoke College Presidents and Inaugurations, 1837-2010

September 2 - October 22, 2010
Williston Library Court

Mount Holyoke will celebrate the inauguration of Lynn Pasquerella as the eighteenth president of Mount Holyoke College on September 24, 2010. In honor of this transition, Archives and Special Collections has taken a peek into its collections to see who has led Mount Holyoke in the past and how inaugurations have been celebrated over time; from foundations to “celebragalias.”

Mary Lyon, Founder of Mount Holyoke Female Seminary and First Principal, 1837-1849

Mary Lyon (1797-1849), born on a farm in the small Western Massachusetts town of Buckland, was unafraid of “renovating the world” (Missionary Offering). Educated in local Common Schools, Lyon began her career as an educator at the age of seventeen, alternating periods of teaching with periods of “gaining knowledge by the handfuls” She taught at Ipswich Female Seminary, soon making the school one of the most noted in the country. When the trustees of Ipswich refused to set up an endowment for the school and tried to dilute its rigorous curriculum, Lyon resigned and began making plans for a new female seminary.  She spent three years raising funds and planning, opening Mount Holyoke Female Seminary on November 8, 1837. A school for women of modest means, Mount Holyoke was unique in its: curriculum, modeled on men’s education at the time, domestic work system, and strong endowment. Mary Lyon fashioned a school that would survive on its own, independent of its visionary leader.

On Display:

  1. Lithograph, Buckland, Massachusetts. 1849.
  2. Wood from Buckland homestead.
  3. Stone from Buckland homestead doorstep.
  4. Enlarged photographic print from daguerreotype of Mary Lyon, 1845.
  5. First Annual Catalogue of the Officers and Members of the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, South Hadley, Mass, 1837-8.
  6. Missionary Offering or Christian Sympathy, Personal Responsibility, and The Present Crisis in Foreign Missions by Mary Lyon. Boston: Crocker & Brewster, 1843.

Mary C. Whitman (1809-1875), Principal 1849-1850 and Class of 1839

Whitman graduated from Mount Holyoke in 1839, and began teaching there in the same year. She was associate principal from 1842-1849, when she was elected Principal.

Mary W. Chapin, Acting Principal 1850-1852, Principal 1852-1865, Class of 1843

It was under Chapin that the Seminary expanded its 3-year course to a four-year program.

Sophia D. Hazen Stoddard, Acting Principal 1865-1867, Class of 1841

Stoddard remained at Mount Holyoke as a teacher and associate principal for nine years, after graduating in 1841. In 1850 she went as a missionary to Persia, now Iran, returning to Mount Holyoke after Mary Chapin’s resignation. She served for two years as acting principal.

Helen M. French, Principal 1867-1872, Class of 1857

French remained at the Seminary after her graduation in 1857, first as a teacher and then as a principal. She provided leadership under which funds were raised for installation of a steam heating system in the Seminary building and for the construction of a separate library building.

Julia E. Ward, Principal 1872-1883, Class of 1872

After graduation from the Seminary in 1872, Ward served as a teacher at Mount Holyoke for twenty-six years and as principal for eleven years. During her tenure the first science and art building was erected, along with Williston Observatory.

Elizabeth Blanchard, Principal 1883-1888, Acting President 1888-1889, Class of 1858

Blanchard was a seminary teacher and administrator from the time of her graduation in 1858. During her tenure, she added more teachers, not trained at the Seminary, to the faculty and lead efforts to upgrade the curriculum as Mount Holyoke changed from a Seminary to a College.

On Display:

  1. Stereoscope view of Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, ca. 1860s by Connecticut Valley Views.
  2. Photographic print of Mary Whitman portrait, ca. 1850.
  3. Photographic portrait of Mary Chapin, ca. 1860.
  4. Photograph of Sophia Stoddard, by Hardie Schadee in Northampton, Mass, ca. 1850.
  5. Group portrait of Seminary teachers: Helen French (left), Julia Ward (center), Emily Wilson, and Elizabeth Blanchard (right), 1861.

Mary A. Brigham, President Elect 1889

Brigham, who attended Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in the late 1840s and taught there from 1855-58, enjoyed a distinguished career as the principal of Brooklyn Heights Seminary from 1863-1889. She died tragically en route to assume the presidency at Mount Holyoke in a railway accident.

On Display:

  1. Photographic portrait of Mary Brigham by Theo N. Gates’ Photo Studio, Westboro, Mass, ca. 1850s.
  2. “A Bad Wreck. The Boston Express Ditched and Three Lives Lost” Daily Union, Springfield, MA, May 24, 1889 (photocopy)

Louise F. Cowles, Acting President 1889-1890, Class of 1866

Cowles graduated from the Seminary in 1866, and served as a teacher for thirty-seven years and then as acting president from 1889-90.

On Display:

  1. Photographic portrait of Louisa Cowles by Knowlton Brothers, Northampton, Mass, ca. 1870.

Elizabeth Storrs Mead, President 1890-1900

Mead, a graduate of Ipswich Female Seminary, became Mount Holyoke’s first non-alumna president. She led the College through enormous change; strengthening and expanding the curriculum, encouraging teachers to pursue advanced degrees, and allowing students a measure of self-government. In 1896, when the Seminary building was destroyed by fire, Mead initiated a building plan that included the construction of six residence halls, a gymnasium, the greenhouse, and a Physics and Chemistry building.

On Display:

  1. Photographic portrait of Elizabeth S. Mead, ca. 1890.
  2. Photograph of Elizabeth Mead’s family members, Christmas 1896.
    Left to Right: George Herbert Mead (son), Albert Temple Swing (son-in-law), Miss Billings (twin sister), Helen Castle Mead (daughter-in-law), Elizabeth Storrs B. Mead, Alice Mead Swing (daughter), Harold Swing (grandson), Betsy Swing (granddaughter), Raymond Gram Swing (grandson), Henry Castle Albert Mead (grandson).

Mary E. Woolley (1863-1937), President 1901-1937

Woolley, a graduate of Wheaton College and the first woman to obtain a Master’s degree from Brown University, was a professor and chair of the Department of Biblical History and Literature at Wellesley College before coming to Mount Holyoke as president in 1901.  During her long tenure, Woolley strengthened the curriculum, abolished sororities and the domestic work system that had been established by Mount Holyoke founder Mary Lyon, guided the College through World War I and the Great Depression, and oversaw the construction of twelve major buildings on campus. Woolley was a “convincing rather than militant” supporter of the suffrage movement and was vitally interested in world peace, serving as the only woman delegate to the 1932 conference on reduction and limitation of armaments in Geneva.

Mary Woolley’s inauguration, on May 15 1901, was the first elaborate inauguration of a president at Mount Holyoke. Her inaugural address was published in The Mount Holyoke, Inauguration Number, May 15, 1909.

On Display:

  1. Portrait, ca. 1901.
  2. President’s Residence, postcard. Woolley was the first resident of the President’s residence, constructed in 1908. Prior to 1908, Mount Holyoke’s leaders had lived in Brigham Hall or the Seminary Building.
  3. A section of the procession at Mary Woolley’s inauguration, May 15, 1901. Woolley’s inauguration was the first inauguration at Mount Holyoke that was elaborate.
  4. “High Honor to Woman: Geneva Post for Ms Woolley”, New York Times, December 24, 1931. (photocopy)
  5. Photograph from World Disarmament Conference in Geneva, 1932.
  6. Photograph of members of the class of 1937 – “The last of the Woolley Lambs” – escorting their about-to-retire President to a reception in her honor, 1937.

Roswell G. Ham, President 1937-1957

Ham’s controversial appointment as the first male president of Mount Holyoke was soon overshadowed by the country’s involvement in World War II. Ham, a graduate of the University of California and Yale and Associate Professor of English at Yale before coming to Mount Holyoke, supported the war efforts by creating “Victory Farms” and training programs for WAVES and Women Marines. He oversaw the addition of seven major buildings and the Orchards Golf Course to the campus during his tenure.

Ham’s inauguration was held on September 23, 1937 in Chapin Auditorium. “Intellect combined with feeling was attitude of mind which President Roswell Gray Ham advocated in his inaugural address...”

On Display:

  1. Photograph of Roswell Ham, ca.
  2. Inaugural program, September 23, 1937
  3. Mount Holyoke News, September 24, 1937

Richard Glenn Gettell (1912-1988), President 1957-1968

Gettell, educated at Amherst College and the University of California, served as Chief Staff Economist and assistant to the publisher of Economist Magazine and the Chief Foreign Economist for Texaco before assuming the Mount Holyoke presidency. His achievements include a vigorous fundraising campaign, construction or renovation of eleven buildings, including Ham and MacGregor Halls, Eliot House, and the Hammond Wing of Pratt Hall. He joined with the Presidents of Amherst, Smith, and the University of Massachusetts to create an educational consortium that is now Five Colleges, Inc.

Glen Gettell’s inauguration was held on Founder’s Day, November 8-10, 1957. “Delegates and guests will travel from all parts of the United States and some foreign countries to attend the inauguration of Richard Glenn Gettell...”

On Display:

  1. Photograph
  2. Inaugural Address “A Plea for the Uncommon Woman” by Glenn Gettell, November 9, 1957.
  3. Weekend Program
  4. The Mount Holyoke News, November 8, 1957

Meribeth Cameron (1905-1997), Acting President 1968-1969

Cameron, a graduate of Stanford and Radcliffe, came to Mount Holyoke in 1948 as a professor of modern Chinese history. In addition to her service to the College as Acting President, she was also Academic Dean (now the Dean of the Faculty) from 1948-1970.

On Display:

  1. Photograph of Meribeth Cameron, by Vincent D’Addario, Holyoke MA, ca. 1965

David Truman (1913-2003), President 1969-1978

Truman, educated at Amherst College and the University of Chicago, taught at Bennington, Cornell, Harvard, Yale and Williams before serving as professor of Government at Columbia, Dean of Columbia College, and Provost of Columbia College and then assuming the Presidency of Mount Holyoke College in 1969. Truman skillfully steered Mount Holyoke through stressful times linked with social changes, the Vietnam War, and the Civil Rights Movement. He supported changes in the curriculum that lead to the creation of the Black Studies Department, January Term, the Career Exploration Project, and the Frances Perkins Program.  During his tenure, the Art Building and Museum and Willits-Hallowell Center were constructed and the Summer Theatre was established.

Truman’s inauguration took the elaborate celebration from Mary Woolley’s inauguration to a whole new level, called “Celebregalia”. “There was bright sunshine, bright blue sky, bright foliage and prevailing conviviality, certainly a gala conclusion to a perfect weekend.”

On display:

  1.  Photograph of David Truman
  2. October 18, 1969 Inauguration Program
  3. “Celebregalia – Blazing Afterthoughts” and “The Best of Times” from Choragos (Mount Holyoke Student newspaper), vol. 3, no.3, October 17, 1969
  4. Choragos (Mount Holyoke Student newspaper), vol. 3, no.3, October 17, 196

Elizabeth Kennan (1938- ) President, 1978-1995

Kennan was the first alumna in this century to serve as President of the College. She graduated in the class of 1960 and received advanced degrees from Oxford University and the University of Washington. A medieval scholar and historian, Kennan was a Professor at Catholic University before returning to Mount Holyoke as its sixteenth president. Kennan remained committed to women’s education at a time when other women’s colleges were becoming coeducational. Kennan directed two intense capital campaigns and helped develop a master plan for new facilities. She supported the creation of numerous interdisciplinary programs and courses and helped establish the chair in Jewish Studies.

Elizabeth Kennan’s inauguration was celebrated on Saturday October 7, 1978. Where Truman’s celebration was Celebragalia, Liz’ inauguration was Festivalia.

On Display:

  1.  Winter 1979  Alumnae Quarterly
  2. October 7, 1978 Inauguration Program
  3. “Medieval Madness Plagues Festivities”, The Mount Holyoke October 12, 1978
  4. “Kennan as Undergrad?” Choragos, October 19, 1978
  5. Inaugural Speech

 Students dressed up in dragon costume march in President Elizabeth T. Kennan inauguration parade, 1978


Joanne V. Creighton (1942- ) President 1996-2010

Joanne Creighton, a graduate from the University of Wisconsin, Harvard, and the University of Michigan, was named the seventeenth President of Mount Holyoke College in February of 1996. A professor and administrator at Wayne State University, the University of North Carolina, and Wesleyan Universities, Creighton was an advocate for liberal arts education and the continuing importance of women’s colleges. Her tenure led the College to see all-time highs in admissions, fundraising and the endowment; all supported by her strategic planning initiatives including The Plan for 2003 and The Plan for 2010. Creighton launched three academic centers: The Center for the Environment, the Weissman Center for Leadership, and the McCullogh Center for Global Initiatives as well as bucked the academic trend by questioning the value of SAT and ACT scores in student admissions. Creighton co-founded the Women’s Education Worldwide initiative in 2004. In addition to these accomplishments, the campus was renovated and expanded during her tenure. Notable projects include the renovation of Blanchard Student Center, the Kendade Sports Complex, and building a brand-new LEED-certified dormitory, in her name. President Creighton also supported many renovations within the LITS complex, including championing a renovation in 2007 of Archives and Special Collections that created a new secure and environmentally controlled stacks area for the College’s more than 11,000 rare books.

Creighton’s inauguration was held on May 5, 1996. Highlights included a reading entitled “New Beginning, New Work” moderated by playwright Wendy Wasserstein ’71 and featuring author Joyce Carol Oates, Suzan-Lori Parks, Mary Jo Salter and Brad Leithauser. Festivities included a gala concert, followed by fireworks on lower lake. The inauguration itself was held on a Sunday morning in the Kendall Sports and Dance Complex.

On Display:

  1. Inauguration Program, May 5, 1996.
  2. “Confessions of a College President” by Joanne V. Creighton, Mount Holyoke Alumnae Quarterly, spring 1996.
  3. Photograph of President Creighton serving birthday cake on Mary Lyon’s 200th birthday, February 28, 1997.
  4. “Inauguration Finally Arrives” The Mount Holyoke News, May 2, 1996.
  5. “She’s Here! Now What? Planning for Mount Holyoke’s Future” by Emily Harrison Weir, Inaugural Perspectives, VISTA, 1996.