Three of the original Seven Sisters colleges were on our middle daughter’s list of schools in her post-secondary search; Smith, Vassar, and Wellesley. Of the three, only two fit into our schedule. After leaving the morning tour and information session at Wheaton College in Norton, we made the forty minute drive back up to Wellesley, Massachusetts.
Aside from routing us through Boston on Route 1 (not a good idea), the GPS is only as good as the street addresses you give it. I didn’t dig any deeper than the street address given on the Wellesley College home page, only to find that this was not the main entrance to campus. There was a nice wrought iron gate and a small parking lot next to the child development center, but no indication where the rest of campus was. We finally noticed another sign for the “Motor Entrance” and parked in the garage attached to the college police department. Little did we know that the other main entrance was much closer to the admissions building where we would eventually arrive after a good ten to fifteen minutes’ brisk walk across (through?) campus.
Looking back on it, I really didn’t do my homework (sorry, professor). I did look quickly at Wellesley’s web site, at least to get the street address but apparently not much more. A friend of mine from high school attended Wellesley, too, but I never talked with her much about it and never visited, so that didn’t do me much good either.
On our way across campus we walked for miles (well, it seemed that way, since we were already late for the information session) seeing not much more than signs promising we would eventually reach the admissions building and a beautiful park-like setting with many different kinds of trees, little ponds, and landscape that reminded me of, say, Frederick Law Olmsted (because I know so much about landscape architecture… not). Still somewhat foot-weary from our weekend in Washington, I found the long walk somewhat annoying. That it was my own fault really didn’t matter that much at the time.
We eventually reached the admissions building and found our way to the conference room where four or five other girls were there with their parents. By the time we got there, though, I was decidedly not in the right frame of mind to hear more of the same kind of higher education propaganda information that I had become accustomed to hearing.
From the beginning it was clear that Wellesley was much more of a question mark in our middle daughter’s mind. Coming into campus on the wrong side was our/my fault. But the arrangement of the buildings and the apparent distance to get from one place to another didn’t help. In the information session the admissions representative said there were concerns about allowing men to take courses at Wellesley but that her observations was that the few men who do so “sit quietly in a corner, because Wellesley women aren’t afraid to express themselves.” I’m paraphrasing, but that was the jist of what she had to say. Other than that, I would have to say that the academic program at Wellesley, especially with the availability of courses at MIT and other nearby schools, is easily as good as the other schools we were looking at.
On our tour I continued to remark at the park-like setting and how beautiful it was – it really was. No doubt it would become easier to get around campus once you knew the shortcuts (if there are any), but the buildings appeared to be clustered here and there, but not in relation to each other. The library was spectacularly set in the landscape, as are many of the buildings, both old and new.
The Tower Court, in the words of our guide, was like something straight out of Harry Potter. The common room to the left of the main entry looked like it could have been the set for Gryffindor at Hogwarts. Since so many of the schools we were looking at started out as female seminaries, having a building that looked like a Gothic cathedral didn’t seem really out of place but, my, what an impression it makes.
As our tour neared its end we passed through the science center and library, an interesting combination of the Neo-Gothic and modern à la the Pompidou Centre, with the entrance to the modern so much a part of the landscape that you would think it was always there.
In the end I’m not sure we really got that much out of our visit to Wellesley. Clearly it is an outstanding institution, but I can’t help but wonder whether the all-women’s college isn’t something of an anachronism. Middle daughter and I were talking about this on our way back across campus to the car when I noted that, “for a college campus, Wellesley makes a nice park.” It wasn’t until we got home and I was working on the blog posts for our trip that I read the full Wikipedia article. There that I found that, yes indeed, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., was partly responsible for the layout, and was similarly flummoxed by it – ” I must admit that the exceedingly intricate and complex topography and the peculiarly scattered arrangement of most of the buildings somewhat baffled me.“
On to Poughkeepsie, New York and Vassar College.