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Severance Hall is part of the residential Tower Court complex, planned in 1915 to replace living quarters in College Hall, which had burned in March 1914. The architectural firm of Coolidge and Carlson designed a group of three buildings situated on the edges of College Hall Hill.
Two of those buildings, Tower Court and Claflin, were financed by Ellen Stebbins James, and were built to her stipulation around the brow of the hill in a quadrangle form open to the Lake. The college lacked financing for the third (east) dormitory, which was to resemble Claflin, until 1924, when a challenge gift of $100,000 was committed by Edward S. Harkness if the college could raise $300,000 by April 1925. Elizabeth Severance Prentiss, a Wellesley student in the 1880s gave the largest donation. The hall was named after her and the entire Severance family, longtime benefactors of the College.
Built with full recognition of and attention to the irregular topography of its site, Severance Hall does not echo Claflin as originally planned. The unusual design is a long, low building, domestic in scale when juxtaposed to the height of Tower Court. Severance Hall's height is achieved through the use of varying planes with cross gables, parapeted dormers jutting above the main roof line, and a high retaining wall wrapping the terrace and court on the east and northeast sides of the building. Gothic details are found throughout the building, including a main entrance with a pointed-arched door, parapeted gables and dormers, and several lancet windows near the top of the gable peaks.
See also Tower Court.
Fergusson, Peter, James F. O'Gorman, and John Rhodes. The Landscape & Architecture of Wellesley College. Wellesley, MA: Wellesley College, 2000.
Horowitz, Helen Lefkowitz. Alma Mater: Design and Experience in the Women's Colleges from Their Nineteenth-Century Beginnings to the 1930s. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1984.
Klauder, Charles Z., and Herbert C. Wise. College Architecture in America and Its Part in the Development of the Campus. New York and London: C. Scribner's Sons, 1929.
"Wellesley College," in "University Buildings Reference Number." Architectural Forum 54 (June 1931): 719-22.