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The Houses of Williamstown: Beta Theta Pi … (Originally published 8 Oct. 2009)

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#1 Comment By frank uible On October 8, 2009 @ 10:18 am

Currently Bascom House is used as the Admission Office, not as lodging for students.

#2 Comment By Jr. Mom On October 8, 2009 @ 11:33 am

Apparently, Bascom House is named after Florence (Flora) Bascom. I would have assumed John Bascom, but a trivia question that popped up set me straight.

Both of them are interesting characters. Flora, a geologist, has a crater on Venus named for her. Her father, John, although conservative in nature, believed women should have been admitted to the campus a century before it happened. And, he supported prohibiiton, and was against fraternities!

#3 Comment By Parent ’12 On October 8, 2009 @ 11:41 am

Jr. M- That’s interesting about the family.

I assume Bascom as in Bascom Lodge on Greylock.

And, Frank- Would you know if what looks to be a conservatory or solarium on the south side of the house is still there?

To all & anyone- The house seems small. How many would have lived there?

#4 Comment By hwc On October 8, 2009 @ 11:50 am

It was converted to Admissions in 2003, according to the Facilities website.

Again, going way back in the memory banks, I have some vague recollection (could be wrong) that Bascam House may have been used to house women in the early days of co-education. Anybody remember?

Sage was the freshman dorm for women. Williams, Morgan, and Lehman for men.

Some of the current co-op houses (for example, Lambert House) were used for women.

#5 Comment By hwc On October 8, 2009 @ 11:55 am

OK, Bascam House as the original row house for women would make sense if they dug through the dusty archives of to actually find a woman with a (tenuous) connection to Williams to name it after.

#6 Comment By hwc On October 8, 2009 @ 12:06 pm

Parent ’12

Here’s how it looks to the satellite today — well, actually several years ago, since the ’62 Theater is not yet started in this photo.

Link to Bing satellite view of Williams

#7 Comment By frank uible On October 8, 2009 @ 12:14 pm

My impeccable source for woodsy lore has it that roughly in the 40s a corpse was found in the attic of the Beta House, and the College and the Williamstown PD covered up the incident.

#8 Comment By Jr. Mom On October 8, 2009 @ 12:17 pm

I assume Bascom as in Bascom Lodge on Greylock.

Click on the link @2. I think you’ll enjoy it. (I thought of LG when I found it.)

@7: Ewww.

#9 Comment By Ronit On October 8, 2009 @ 12:20 pm

@frank uible: I remember hearing from an alum about a similar coverup (of a suicide?) in West during the 70s

#10 Comment By Sam On October 8, 2009 @ 1:36 pm

Notice the Williams-Wisconsin connection with both Bascom and Chadbourne. There are, at UW-Madison, a Bascom Hall, a Bascom Hill and a Chadbourne Hall.

#11 Comment By Jr. Mom On October 8, 2009 @ 1:55 pm


Interesting, Sam. And Flora, though born in Williamstown, was about 12 when her father became president at UW-Mad., and so spent her teens on that campus.

Is Bascom buried in Williamstown, I wonder? It could mean even more of a link for her to the area and the school.

#12 Comment By Jr. Mom On October 8, 2009 @ 2:02 pm

Ah, look what I found. Flora retired to Williamstown and was there until she died. And, looks like the the whole family is buried there.

#13 Comment By Sam On October 8, 2009 @ 2:09 pm

@12, Jr. Mom: it says Charles Vise Hise, who later became another president of UW, was Florence’s mentor.

And here is yet another UW-Williams connection: Edward Asahel Birge graduated from Williams in 1873 and went on to do two terms as president of UW. He was president there just before and just after Van Hise…

I have an interest in this because I am a Badger…

#14 Comment By kthomas On October 8, 2009 @ 2:40 pm

Wait– who is buried behind Bascom House?

#15 Comment By hwc On October 8, 2009 @ 2:58 pm

Jimmy Hoffa

#16 Comment By Ken Thomas ’93 On October 8, 2009 @ 3:08 pm

LOL, hwc. That’s not what the headstone says, at least, and I think it may have been there before Hoffa. It was a *cold* night about 4:52 am, and a somewhat annoying (depending on how you look at it) hour bonus given that one had to find graves and call them in, successfully, in order, before receiving the next clue.

#17 Comment By hwc On October 8, 2009 @ 3:10 pm

Oh, my bad. Hoffa is buried in the concrete under Sawyer Library!

#18 Comment By Jr. Mom On October 8, 2009 @ 3:23 pm

What? Is there really a grave behind Bascom House?

#19 Comment By Parent ’12 On October 8, 2009 @ 5:35 pm

Jr. Mom- great links!

hwc (@6)- Nice aerial shot. Bascom/Admissions is much larger than I expected. I don’t remember the extension at the back.

BUT, the Alpha Delta Phi (Perry) house (1st in the series) is enormous!

At least based on their website, “one of the most distinguished of the original American college fraternities,” it seems to have higher status than Beta Theta Pi.

(And, they have very different tastes in website design.)

According to Wikipedia, HR Haldeman & Stephen Sondheim were/are Beta Theta Pi brothers.




#20 Comment By Jr. Mom On October 9, 2009 @ 12:03 am


This thread has been in the back of my mind all day, pleasantly so, weaving it’s way in and out of my thoughts. All based on just a few small details, and…a very active imagination.

I noted in one of the bios on John Bascom, that his experience at U of W was not wholly pleasant, there was some sort of problem or disagreement that caused him to leave. And yet it became his daughter’s alma mater, which must have been immensely satisfying for a man who worked so hard to promote coeducation.

Things were so different then, as evidenced by this tidbit about Flora’s extended education at Johns Hopkins, which only agreed to accept her as a student under special circumstances:

The Johns Hopkins, however, had not yet allowed a woman to officially complete a degree program. Bascom applied for admission to the Geology Department in September of 1890. Seven months later, the executive committee concluded that Bascom could attend without being officially enrolled as a student, and charged only for her laboratory fees. During classes, [Florence] Bascom’s seat was located in the corner of the classroom – and hidden behind a screen.

Nevertheless, Flora got her education. And made her mark:

She was the first woman to receive a Ph.D. in geology from an American university, the first female to receive a Ph.D. of any kind from the Johns Hopkins University (1893), and the first woman to join the United States Geological Survey (1896).

The U of W connections are pretty interesting, I grant you. And what a blessing that you will be yet one more part of that history, and those links, perhaps to be remarked upon on a future date by other curious souls.

But, I am also happy to have learned about Flora…and grateful for the father who urged her on to her accomplishments (no small feat at that time), so that we could acknowledge here on the pages of EB, that for very good reason, Bascom House is named for her.

#21 Comment By hwc On October 9, 2009 @ 1:56 am

No Williams connection, but there’s a strong Massachusetts connection to another female pioneer, Helen Magill.

She was the first female student at the Boston Public Latin School, beginning in 1859 and the first female to graduate from Boston Latin. In 1877, she became the first female to receive a PhD in the United States, receiving her doctorate in Greek Classics from Boston University. She later studied at Cambridge in the UK.

Academics ran in her family. She was the daughter of a college President and married the retired President of Cornell University.

#22 Comment By hwc On October 9, 2009 @ 2:06 am

A Photo of Helen Magill

And, an article on co-education from sometime in the late 1850s by her father who was then the “submaster” at Boston Latin

#23 Comment By Jr. Mom On October 9, 2009 @ 11:27 am


Thanks for the links on Magill. She was also quite accomplished, multiple degrees [in fact, you left out one of her schools ;-)]. She and Bascom must have known each other.

And her Quaker roots played such an important role. I noted the tribute her father makes to “Friends”; their earlier recognition that it should not be “a shame for a woman to speak in the church”. Which all makes me wonder why Helen opposed the suffrage movement?

#24 Comment By hwc On October 10, 2009 @ 11:59 am

jr mom:

I didn’t want you to think I was ignoring you. I lost a respose to the server monster yesterday.

As near as I can tell, Magill’s objection was to the highly militant turn the women’s suffrage movement took, first in England around 1910, with suffragists breaking windows, throwing themselves in front of the king’s horses at derbies, and so forth. She seems to have not shied away from her views in this 1913 NYTIMES letter:

Helen Magill White letter (PDF)

White almost certainly would have personally known and been strongly influenced by Lucretia Mott, who had organized the first women’s rights convention at Senaca Falls. When the women’s rights movement splitered over the issue of whether black men should be given the right to vote while women were still not considered citizens, Mott founded the American Equal Rights Association.

Magill White may have also known Alice Paul, who followed the militancy of the women’s movement as a grad student at the London School of Economics in 1910, returning to the US to join — and then splinter off in a new organization — from the NAWSA that White complained about. Paul formed the very radical National Women’s Party and began leading radical protests such as chaining herself to the gates of the White House, getting arrested, leading hunger strikes, and so forth. Magill White’s letter was a reaction to this radical (and in some ways, non-Quaker) turn — although Paul was a Quaker herself.

BTW, it looks like Florence Bascom’s mom, Emma Curtis Bascom, was involved in the women’s movement, becoming a charter member and officer of the association for advancement of women in Massachusetts while her husband was at Williams:

Link to Emma Bascom reference

#25 Comment By Jr. Mom On October 10, 2009 @ 2:19 pm


Oh, wow. Some great stuff here. That Magill letter! It is a bold rebuke. I can only imagine the reaction and confusion it must have incited. It is gorgeous in the way that it illustrates a very complex woman. There is so much that struck me. This, for example:

“…if women were given better things to think of they would surely rise to a higher intellectual plane and a lower angle of heel.”

Heh…I would love to see some of the responses, but the letter alone, could launch a great discussion.

And Alice Paul, and her stance on abortion. Nowadays, abortion has become part of the argument for many of the same reasons that Paul seemed to cite for not wanting it included then.

Wonderful links. Thanks for posting them. I plan to take more time to explore them further.

#26 Comment By hwc On October 10, 2009 @ 3:29 pm

Lucretia Mott is the heavy-hitter. She was a major figure in the split of the Quakers into the tradtional Quakers and the Hicksites. She and her husband were also major players in the underground railroad and anti-slavery movements. Her involvement in the women’s movement started when she travelled to the Anti-Slavery Convention in London in 1840 as an invited speaker, but was not allowed to sit in convention room during the rest of the proceedings because she was a woman. Needless to say, she didn’t take well to that and became an early organizer of the Seneca Falls Convention.

She and her family, the Coffins, had strong Massachusetts ties. The earliest Quakers, including her family, settled around the mouth of the Merrimac River in Amesbury/Newburyport, Massachusetts and down the coast in Salem and then spread to over-run Nantucket Island. Before long, there were too many Coffins to fit on Nantucket, so they began spreading around the country. Lucretia was born on Nantucket, then ended up marrying and setting in Philadelphia. Other Coffins ended up in North Carolina (see Guilford College) and in Richmond, Indiana (see Earlham College). The Coffins were all major players in the underground railroad and these Quaker enclave towns were hotspots along the underground railroad.

There was a huge rift over the issue of voting rights for black men and voting rights for women. Major parts of the women’s suffrage movement were furious that the 14th and 15th amdendments gave voting rights to black men while still specfically excluding women. For this reason, many of the suffragists refused to support voting rights for black men. These were also the more “militant” wings of the women’s movement. With strong connections to the underground railroad, anti-slavery movement and to the women’s movements, it easy to see how Quakers like Mott and Helen Magill were caught in the middle.

#27 Comment By hwc On October 10, 2009 @ 3:38 pm

Paul remains a controversial figure. The first time a building was named after her at Swarthmore (what is now the Womens’ Resource Center — in one of the old frat lodges!), the name was quietly dropped after a brouhahaa over her refusal to advocate for voting rights for black Americans (at the height of Jim Crow). She just took the position that she wasn’t going to help anybody vote until women got the right to vote.

Recently, an anonymous donor settled the issue by buying the naming rights to one of the two new dorms and naming it Alice Paul Hall.

#28 Comment By Jr. Mom On October 10, 2009 @ 9:23 pm

I have really enjoyed this discussion. Who would have thought that a post about a fraternity house could lead to an informed discussion on the empowerment of women? I would feel a bit guilty about hijacking the thread if it hadn’t been for Flora. Great twist.

#29 Comment By kthomas On October 11, 2009 @ 10:56 am

Where is Flora buried, specifically?

#30 Comment By Jr. Mom On October 11, 2009 @ 1:53 pm


From the link @12:

She died of cerebral hemorrhage in Williams-town, Massachusetts, on June 18, 1945, and was buried next to her family in a small Williams College cemetery