150 + 100 = 2013
Boston College's Sesquicentennial Anniversary
By David Horn
Bad math? No, just a handy way to remember that the year 2013 marks two important anniversaries for Boston College. At the request of the Jesuits of the Maryland Province, the college's charter was passed by the Massachusetts legislature in 1863, so 2013 will be the one-hundred-and-fiftieth anniversary of that date.
You have probably heard the buzz that is now on campus in anticipation of the year 2013 celebrations: Founders' Day, special commencement program, conferences and speakers, a procession, exhibits in all media. You can hear the construction noise for the new Stokes Hall, the first of many projects planned to position Boston College for continuing excellence in reflection of its motto, "Ever to Excel." (This phrase in Greek is on the college seal. What is its origin?)
On Monday, September 5, 1864, twenty-two students arrived for the first classes at Boston College. To provide a Jesuit and Catholic education for younger students, and to prepare students for the college, Boston College High School was started at the same time. BC High will celebrate in 2013, joining with the college in some activities.
The two institutions continued for fifty years on the same grounds in Boston's South End. Then the needs of the college led to the move to a new campus. In 1913 Gasson Hall, the first building in Chestnut Hill was opened, so we can say
150 + 100 = 2013
That is, the 150th anniversary of the founding and the 100th anniversary of the move to Chestnut Hill coincide in 2013. How thoughtful of the Jesuits to make this major move on the 50th anniversary of the charter!
Rhymes with Sesqui
The word most heard these days is "sesquicentennial." "Sesqui" means one and a half, and - good math now - one and a half times 100 is 150.
Survival for a sesqui-century is not to be taken lightly. Most colleges founded in the United States in the 19th century are no longer with us. Many others have changed names, so it is unusual that Boston College has retained its original designation - though there is some confusion with a local institution with a similar name.
The beginnings of Boston College were not auspicious: a delay of twenty years between the first proposal and the opening of the doors; a high time of anti-Catholic sentiment and activity from the American (aka Know Nothing) Party; reliance on contributions from an impoverished Irish immigrant community; effects of the current Civil War; and the eagle had not yet been selected as the school's symbol.
But we survived and indeed prospered. The official celebration period, from May 2012 to October 2013, will be filled with acknowledgement of an uncertain start, description of the present status of the descendents of those early Irish immigrants, assessment of Boston College as it is, and planning for increasing excellence.
There is not as much buzz about the centennial part of the 100/150 observance, but the move here resembled in some ways the earlier challenges: boldness in choosing a site and an architect; delay in plans and funding; unevenness in enrollments. Shocking as it may seem, the first building, called the Recitation Building, later Tower Hall, and later still Gasson Hall, was completed behind schedule and over budget.
Class of 1913 entering Chestnut Hill campus
The delays made the opening of the building all the more exciting. Fortunately we have a photo of the students first coming to see the new building. On March 28, 1913, members of the senior class traveled from Boston on the trolley and walked up the hill on Commonwealth Avenue. Evidently the president and faculty had taken an earlier trolley, because they were waiting to greet the men, welcome them to the campus, and show them around the new building.
Fortunately, the students produced the first yearbook that year (called Sub Turri, "under the tower") so we have pictures of all the seniors. It will be fun to put names to the students arriving with such energy for their first look at the long-awaited building. They finished their senior year at the buildings in the South End, but they held their commencement exercises on University Heights.
David Horn, Head Librarian of Archives and Manuscripts, Burns Library