An Article for Wellesley, on their President Caroline Hazard, 1899-1910, of Rhode Island

A century ago, President Hazard retired. She was a fine student, a canny businesswoman and a romantic.

Your Chapel’s iridescent marble relief by Daniel Chester French commemorates Alice Freeman Palmer, “in the heart of the college she loved” upon her death in 1902. President Palmer brought Miss Hazard to Wellesley; she cherished the love that required Miss Freeman’s retirement.

President Angell of Michigan supplied Henry Durant excellent graduates for his faculty. In 1879, Miss Freeman arrived, only twenty-four years old, to teach history.

Angell was the closest of college friends of Rowland Hazard, whose father established the first American woolen manufactury. His daughter Caroline, born in 1856, was stringently educated. German was spoken in her nursery; she attended Providence’s best “classes”. At fifteen, was taken en famille on a glorious four-month tour of Europe, crossing to Liverpool on the Scotia, the last ocean-going side-wheeler. In Florence, a winter of piano teachers, a singing coach for her brothers and lectures amongst the galleries, palaces and museums awaited.

In Providence, Mrs. Hazard arranged for Caroline and her friends to be tutored by J. Lewis Diman, Brown’s distinguished professor of history. He died, mid-career. Such was Caroline’s grief, that Mrs. Hazard suggested she com-pose his biography. Horace Scudder (whose wife taught at Wellesley) published the memoir for Houghton Mifflin, and then brought out her Rhode Island history and ballads. Soon, she was established in Boston intellectual circles. President Freeman invited her to join a visiting committee.

In 1887, Alice Freeman resigned to marry a Harvard professor of Greek, George Herbert Palmer. Despite weak health, she travelled widely, as a senior academic. Upon Julia Irvine’s 1899 resignation, she and her husband nominated Miss Hazard, and courted her (and Rowland, her business-man brother) for months, bringing success.

Miss Hazard dedicated ten buildings in ten years. Some have, of course, gone, among them the Hemenway Gymnasium, so much ahead of its time. The four Elizabethan dormitories of your “Hazard Quadrangle”; your white marble library; and “Oakwoods”, an outright gift as the president’s house, recently converted for admissions use stand. The library graces “Rhododendron Hollow”, enhanced by President Hazard, whose estate in Rhode Island boasted a species, early introduced to America.

Miss Hazard treasured your landscape. She contracted with Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. and “when the time came”, according to your fine survey, The Landscape and Architecture of Wellesley College, “she sent her personal check”. She led the buildings and grounds committee into the 1920s.

Her friendships, with George Herbert Palmer who presented rare books to Wellesley upon each anniversary of his wife’s death and with Katherine Lee Bates, with whom she shared her 1906 sabbatical in the Holy Land, enrich Wellesley today.

Her introduction to An Academic Romance, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1940 pairs the Palmers’ letters with the Brownings’. Caroline Hazard bought those, including the “caskets in which they were kept” on the New York market in 1930, for your college.

Other treasures arrived: a Florentine manuscript, bearing its book-sellers stamp, indicating it was bought by President’s mother on that glorious family venture is one. The royal-white caparisoned ceramic elephant, reputed to be one of four minister’s seats in the court of Cathy stood guard in the foyer of her Santa Barbara home, “Mission Hill”.

Miss Hazard’s pilgrim’s scallop shell of St. James of Compestela appears on the cornerstone of her library and in her quadrangle. It formerly graced the mantel in the president’s house. The faith she had in Wellesley, sustained by Alice and George Herbert Palmer’s lives and of all the college scholars she admired enriches us now.

October 1, 2009

Supported by the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities