Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project


Cowles Hall

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Institution Name: Elmira College
Original/Historic Place Name: Elmira Female College
Location on Campus:
Date(s) of Construction:
1854original construction on July 6 Farrar, Ward B.
Designer: Ward B. Farrar
Type of Place: Individual building
Style: Romanesque revival, Victorian (Glossary)
Significance: education
Narrative: see below
References: see below
Walls: brick
ca. 1854-1891old main (residence hall, classrooms, auditorium, etc.)
ca. 1891-present (2006)other (storage)
ca. 1891-present (2006)other (offices)

Cowles Hall is most significant for its role as the principal college edifice for the first women's college in the country that granted degrees to women equivalent to those granted to men. The college and Cowles Hall (the college's first building) thus played a key role in the advancement of rights of women in the US.

Cowles Hall is featured in the college seal, recognizing its significance to the history of the college, and was the only college building for Elmira's first 37 years. Cowles Hall features an octagonal belvedere (cupola) at its top evocative of French design of the 1850s.

Because Elmira College is the "Mother of All Women's Colleges" and Cowles its first building, the cultural impact of the building is quite noteworthy. The growth of the college from this building has made life better for thousands of women (and now, men) due of the foresight of the Founding Trustees. If the physical facilities of Cowles Hall were not superior, the college would not have prospered. The building is currently in need of renovation.


Barber, William Charles. Elmira College: The First Hundred Years. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1955.

Elmira College Archives. Gannett-Tripp Library, Elmira College, Elmira, NY.

Johnstone, Janette. Elmira College Old Campus. National Register of Historic Places designation report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior/National Park Service, 1984.

McCown, Susan. Cowles Hall [Elmira College]. Historic American Buildings Survey report and photos. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior/National Park Service, 1986.

Turner, Paul Venable. Campus: An American Planning Tradition. New York: Architectural History Foundation; Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1984.


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Last update: November 2006