Jesup Hall

by Ryan Mayhew, Williams 2001

For a full history and timeline, see an archived version of Ryan Mayhew’s student web project.

The history of Jesup Hall is significant in that the changing needs of the Williams Campus are mirrored in the changes in the building over the past one-hundred years. As early as 1895, there was an acknowledged need for a space which would bring together the far-flung aspects of college life (C, N). The initial idea of a student center was the idea of the Mills Young Men’s Christian Association (Y.M.C.A.). The members of this group aspired to create a building “Devoted to the social and religious uses of Williams men.” (B). The persevered and in 1897, the Trustees gave the go ahead to proceed with fundraising for the project. Around this time, Morris K. Jesup approached the College and offered to donate $35,000 towards the erection of such a building provided that the College could raise $10,000 in permanent endowment funds to support the building (A). This was a tremendous gift in that it allowed the College to construct a building greater than was previously possible.

A building committee was then convened, chaired by Professor Hewitt and consisting of the President, another faculty member, alumni, and the entire student executive committee of the Y.M.C.A. (C). The composition of this group speaks to the prominence and influence of religious groups on the Williams College campus at the turn of the century. As President Harry Garfield put it in 1913, “I regard the work of the Christian Association the most valuable of all the undergraduate activities.” (LL). It is hardly surprising then, that while the resulting building integrated multiple aspects of campus life: student group offices, athletics offices and trophy display areas, a sophisticated performance space, a sizeable reading area, accommodations for ten students, and a well-equipped billiard room; the religious groups (the Y.M.C.A. in the early years) were given a generous amount of space within the building (A, B, OO).

During the early years of Jesup Hall’s operation, the building was administered by a graduate committee of control. Overall, this committee maintained highly permissive management policies within the building, much to the pleasure of the student body (NN, QQ). This management style likely was a reflection of the overall spirit on campus at the time. The student body had recently succeeded in creating the Honor System, which engendered a trusting spirit all across campus.

Over the years following its construction, Jesup Hall fulfilled the role for which it was created. All indications from the years between 1900 and 1928 show that the building was flourishing and alive with student activity. Beginning in 1928, though, there were indications that the College was considering using the space within the building for other purposes. A series of letters between members of the College administration in 1928 question whether the College was required to leave the building solely dedicated to the donor’s desire of “…a building where every young man will feel free to go, and where all that is good in college life shall be fostered and promoted under pleasant circumstances.” (N). Ultimately, it was decided that M. K. Jesup had not placed any long-standing restrictions on his donation and that it would be possible to use the building for other purposes so long as adequate student spaces were provided elsewhere (KK). It was never stated what these other purposes were, but they likely involved the Alumni Relations and the Development Offices. In 1933 fireproof vaults were installed in the basement and ground level of the building to contain the records of the Society of Alumni (AA). This action is the first concrete indication of the presence of a (non-student) administrative office in Jesup Hall.

As late as the early 1940’s there are reports of students still being quartered in the building (O, MM). But, by the late 1940s, the dormitory rooms were gone and other administrative offices would call Jesup Hall their home: the science secretary, the chemistry department, as well as Alumni Relations (AAA, HHH). While the presence of these offices undoubtedly reduced the space available to student group offices, there are no indications of widespread student dissatisfaction with these changes. For the most part, the students and the administration coexisted in the building, though, over time the administration would slowly take over more and more space within the building.

By 1949, students keenly felt the need for a centralized student social space. Thus in 1949 they proposed that the unused basement area be converted into an social venue with a food counter, a dance floor, ping pong tables, and seating for nearly ninety people (Y). The campus at the time was beginning to keenly feel the strain from the separation brought about by the fraternity system and this proposal was an attempt to remedy the situation. Unfortunately, all indications are that the proposal was never implemented (HHH, III, JJJ). The situation with the fraternities continued to develop until 1952 when the Garfield Club voted itself out of existence, thus forcing the College to construct Baxter Hall. Baxter Hall was completed in 1954. Upon its completion, the center of campus life shifted away from Jesup Hall (A).

Throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s Jesup Hall continued to be used by both the administration and the student body. Many student groups maintained offices in the building during the 1950s and the auditorium saw regular use for classes, lectures, debates, performances, and the like (O, HHH, III). Though with the focus of the campus social scene now on Baxter Hall and the rapid growth of the College administration in the 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s, Jesup Hall lost its student focus and became far more administrative (JJJ).

By the early 1980’s most student group offices and student spaces were gone and the building was being used primarily for Cap and Bells performances and as office space for the Alumni Relations and Development Offices (P). By this time, the campus computer center housed in the Bronfman Science Center was bursting at its seams and desperately needed a new space (QQQ). Furthermore, having not been restored since 1959, Jesup Hall was showing significant signs of wear and age (I). With several other facilities about to come on-line (Adams Memorial Theater Downstage, Mears House, and the Alumni Center), it was possible for the offices which occupied the building to move out. Jesup Hall was then renovated in 1984 to convert the entire building into a computer center (H, BB). It was at this point the building completed its long journey from a student space to the computer center that is seen today. Any student functions (offices, lounges, and theatrical space) were lost from the building. Since then the building has remained true to the purpose set forth for it in 1984. In recent years has Williams Students Online, the student computer and web-services group, has moved into Jesup Hall. With it returns a bit of the student focus that Morris Jesup envisioned so long ago.

Sources

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