1834

Seminary Hall

Built in 1834 across the street from the Wheaton homestead on the site where the north wing of Mary Lyon Hall now stands, Seminary Hall was the first building constructed for Wheaton Female Seminary. It contained classrooms, recitation rooms and offices. All academic and most social functions of Wheaton Female Seminary were held in this building from 1835 until it was replaced in 1849. Laban Morey Wheaton had completed its construction by the end of 1834 before the family had finalized plans for the Seminary.

The original design included Neoclassical features like its two-story front portico, four simple columns and low pediment. The columned cupola, topped by a weathervane, gave it a decidedly “schoolhouse” appearance. Its current appearance bears little resemblance to this original design. The portico and cupola are gone, and a two-story sunporch was added to the south side in 1938.

A peripatetic building, “The Sem” has served many purposes. Between 1849 and 1933, it was moved three times across Howard Street, and it has stood in four different locations. In 1850, having been moved to Howard Street and replaced with Mary Lyon Hall, it was used as a straw hat factory, tenement and meeting hall, rented to groups such as the Sons of Temperance. In 1868, it was moved back across Howard Street and attached to the rear of the Boarding House, where it served variously as the laundry, infirmary, gymnasium, bookstore and post office. As such, it was the most popular spot on campus in the mornings after Chapel, as students rushed to collect their mail before their first classes. In 1933, it was moved to its present location on Howard Street. Used for student activities, it became the headquarters for the Student War Activities Board (SWAB) during World War II.

The Sem held faculty apartments from 1941 until 2010, when it once again became a residence hall for students.

The most vivid imprint of The Sem’s previous history survives in the upstairs apartment, where four rooms that stand in pairs off of a long, narrow hallway still feature transoms over each doorway. In each of these rooms, on either side of the entrance, are two closets containing deep, built-in shelves meant to serve as dressers for student residents.

In 1933, prior to the demolition of the Boarding House, the building was moved to its current location on Howard Street and given its nickname, “The Sem,” by President Park. This name appears on a small pediment over the front door.