40 Westhampton Way
Architect, Ralph Adams Cram
The dorm with the mysterious “Rat Hole”
The University of Richmond’s roots extend back to the mid-nineteenth century and the establishment of Richmond College, an all-male institution. During the early twentieth century, as Richmond College expanded and prepared to relocate to a new campus, college officials began considering the creation of a women’s college. The new campus was located in suburban Richmond and its name, Westhampton, was derived from a nearby real estate development.
In 1914, the women’s college took the same name. Richmond College and Westhampton College combined to become the University of Richmond in 1920. Originally, Westhampton College was housed entirely in the building now known as North Court. The building included dormitory, classroom, administrative, and dining facilities.
Higher education opportunities for women at the University of Richmond extend back to the late nineteenth century. Almost immediately after being appointed Richmond College president in 1895, Frederic W. Boatwright advocated expanding the school to include women students. He had witnessed the level of inequality between men’s and women’s higher education in his time as a professor at the Woman’s College, a junior college in Richmond, and publicly supported quality education for women throughout his career. Boatwright allowed non-matriculating female students to attend classes at Richmond College during the late 1890s and urged the Board of Trustees to allow women to pursue degrees. The Board of Trustees hesitated, as many people found higher education for women to be controversial.
Boatwright, however, was not alone in his opinion of the value of women’s education. In 1903, the Baptist General Association of Virginia adopted a resolution instructing the newly created Baptist Education Commission to begin planning for the establishment of a women’s college. In 1904, the Education Commission conducted a campaign for $250,000 which the Commission would use to establish a college for women and give financial relief to existing Baptist schools. Many schools put in offers, including Rawlings Institute in Charlottesville and Bristol’s campus of Southwest Virginia Institute, but Richmond College’s proposal was the one selected by the Education Commission in 1906.
With the addition of a women’s college, Boatwright saw an opportunity both to expand women’s education and to enhance Richmond College. During planning for the new campus at Westhampton, Boatwright traveled through the Midwest looking for a model college that educated both men and women. In the process, he was exposed to the Gothic Revival architectural style, which would later be adopted for the Westhampton campus.
Gothic Revival style (also referred to as Collegiate Gothic) had its roots in British schools such as Oxford and Cambridge. Of the many colleges Boatwright visited, he favored the suburban campus of Western Reserve University, now Case Western University, in Cleveland, Ohio. He found that the women’s and men’s colleges shared several buildings, such as the library, auditorium, and science laboratories, but each also retained its own buildings and identity as a separate college. In addition to the coeducational campus organization, Boatwright may have been attracted to the Gothic style architecture of the women’s college, which was housed in a large, multi-purpose Gothic building.
Boatwright and the Board of Trustees enlisted prominent architect Ralph Adams Cram of the Boston and New York-based firm Cram, Goodhue, and Ferguson to design the Westhampton campus. After his conversion to Anglo-Catholicism in 1887, Cram asserted that the Gothic style, and its inherent moral truths, had been lost and needed restoring. The Collegiate Gothic style allowed him to correlate the architecture and values of the medieval past to the campus architecture of the twentieth century. Using the Gothic style in his campus designs also allowed Cram to create a unified aesthetic for a collection of buildings that differed in use.
Groundbreaking for the women’s college and Richmond College began in July 1911, and construction of the main building was completed in the summer of 1913. The two schools were separated by Westhampton Lake, which continues to be a prominent landscape feature. The name Westhampton College officially was adopted on March 8, 1914. North Court was constructed in accordance with the architect’s specifications, which included handmade dark red brick with blue, gold, and black tile inlays and the finest quality marble and slate. Substantially constructed with a framework of steel set in concrete, the building boasted floors built of reinforced concrete.
The Tower stood as the dividing line between the residential and academic wings. In the residential wing, the “Blue Room” corridor was the location of reception rooms, rooms for college organizations, and the offices of the Dean of Westhampton College. The dormitory section included the structure around the court, which was turfed with sod removed from the campus. The dining hall and kitchen were in the wing across from the arch. The dining room was English style with vaulted ceilings of dark wood. The balcony which overlooked the dining room was used as a passage for the kitchen workers, who were housed upstairs in what later became known as the “Rat Hole.” The third floors were left unfinished.
Although the intent for a complete campus was demonstrated in Cram’s plans, the building campaign was plagued by lack of funds and resulted in a scaled-down 1914 plan with many buildings reduced in size or eliminated completely. Cram’s seven original buildings at the Westhampton campus nevertheless came to define Collegiate Gothic as a style for the campus architecture as a whole. North Court, completed in the summer of 1913, was the closest approximation of Cram’s monastic cloister ideal. The wings of the building formed a partially enclosed cloister around an English courtyard.
On opening in the fall of 1914, Westhampton College enrolled 82 women: 38 residential and 44 commuting. The building was designed to accommodate 135 students, meaning that enough residential space was available in the college for a number of faculty members to live there as well. The presence of faculty members living in the dormitory helped establish the friendly relationship between students and faculty, an important part of life at Westhampton College. The women’s student body increased steadily, however, and more space soon was needed. The third floor of the building was finished as dormitory rooms, and dormer windows were added.
Women’s sports arrived in 1916 at Westhampton College under the supervision of Dean Mary L. Keller and Fanny G. Crenshaw. Initially, the Tower in North Court was used by students for indoor exercises, although some students claimed they got all the exercise they needed by racing to catch the “old black bus,” a cart drawn by two mules that transported Westhampton College students to the Number 9 streetcar that brought students downtown. No gym was planned for the women. Keller and Crenshaw, after surveying likely spots, decided that the top Tower room would do for calisthenics. When that proved less than satisfactory, the following year they used the barn below the power house.
The United States entered World War I in 1917. The following June, the federal government leased the entire Westhampton campus for use as an evacuation hospital for 13 months. Wounded soldiers who had been transported from France by ship to the naval facility at Norfolk were then sent by train to Richmond. North Court was designated General Hospital #2. Cots lined every room and hallway. Other rooms were used as diet kitchens, store rooms and offices. The parlors and reading rooms were turned into wards. The chapel and old Latin classroom became operating rooms. The dining room and kitchen retained their purposes.
Meanwhile, during the 1918-1919 academic year, Westhampton College’s operations returned to Richmond College’s old campus within the City of Richmond. Students were housed in rented quarters in St. Luke’s Hospital at Harrison and Grace Streets and in residences on Franklin Street and Monumental Avenue. Their classes were held at the campus on Broad and Lombardy streets. Richmond College and Westhampton College returned to the Westhampton campus for the opening of the academic year in the fall of 1919.
In 1920, after an amendment to the charter, the name “University of Richmond” was extended to cover Westhampton College, Richmond College, and the affiliated T.C. Williams School of Law.
The men’s and women’s colleges were not fully integrated, however, for a number of years. For example, the library in Ryland Hall on the men’s campus could be used by first and second year Westhampton College students, but only at certain hours. Thus, a reading room was established in North Court.
At first, the reading room was located in the office of the Dean’s secretary, but by the second year, more space was needed, and it was moved to the third floor of the Tower. Elizabeth Gaines, a 1919 graduate of Westhampton College, was appointed the reading room’s first librarian. Along with academics, Westhampton College students maintained academic, social, and service organizations separately from those at Richmond College.
During the 1930s with the onset of the Great Depression, the student enrollment dropped at Westhampton College. High prices caused students to transition to enrolling as day students. Lowered residential enrollment meant less money for the school to accommodate its students. Funds for student programs and publications also became scarce. The University of Richmond was, however, able to proceed with several construction projects for which funds already were in place, including a third science laboratory building and a gymnasium. Enrollment at Westhampton and Richmond Colleges began to rebound by the late 1930s.
Improved economic circumstances meant enrollment at Westhampton College almost doubled during the war years, and plans for construction of a new women’s dormitory were announced in December 1944. Located south of the original Westhampton College building, this new facility was named South Court upon its completion in 1948.
At that time, the original building assumed its present name, North Court. North Court continued to house many of Westhampton College’s functions, including dormitories, classrooms, offices, a dining hall, and a refectory. Academics at Westhampton College subsequently evolved in keeping with rapidly changing educational trends in the nation at large.
Use of spaces within North Court changed with the times as well. The women’s dining hall remained in use until the early 1980s, when a new central dining hall was constructed that brought together male and female students together for all their daily meals. The former dining hall in North Court continues to be used for special gatherings. Meanwhile, the space that had been the women’s chapel when the building was completed in 1914, and then served as a refectory starting in 1919, was converted into a recital hall, a use that continues today. (VDHR)
A handsome building on a campus filled with them, and a worthy addition to the Richmond historic registry.
On a somewhat related note, Selden Richardson of The Shockoe Examiner wrote a fascinating piece on Dr. Wilmer Amos Hadley in 2017, a surgeon and anesthesiologist at General Hospital #2. It covers one of Richmond’s more sordid tales, the murderous Dr. Hadley’s drowning of his wife Sue, and subsequent trip to the electric chair. Morbid, sad, and well worth reading.
(North Court is part of the Atlas RVA! Project)
Must-See RVA! is a regular series
appearing on rocket werks – check it out!
Pamunkey Indian Tribe Announces Plans for Casino in Manchester
Are you feeling lucky? If all goes according to plan you’ll be able to test that luck in Manchester.
The Pamunkey Indian Tribe announced today plans to build a casino resort on 36 acres of land near Ingram and Commerce Avenue. The tribe is in the process of securing all the land necessary. If everything goes according to plan the resort will be the home to a 275-room hotel, 1,000 space parking lot, restaurants and of course gambling. The estimated cost of the project is $350 million.
This announcement follows a similar announcement made on Monday. Monday the tribe signed an agreement with Norfolk on a proposed $700 million casino along the Elizabeth River.
They’ve launched a Facebook page All in for Richmond Casino, that currently only has a rendering of the casino but promises updates.
Last Call for Storm Drain Art Submissions
Local artists you can make a difference in our watershed but your deadline for entries is February 2nd
The deadline for submissions is fast approaching, and we’d love to see YOUR ideas for Richmond’s fifth annual Storm Drain Art Project. Local artists ages 18 and older are invited to submit storm drain designs between now and Sunday, February 2, 2020, at 11:59 p.m.
We’re looking for art that paints a picture of how important it is to keep our river – and our drinking water – clean. All four finalists will receive a $400 stipend and publicity for their artwork on drains in Richmond’s Shockoe Bottom.
- Submit your design using the template on the RVAH2O website.
- Help promote the goals of the City of Richmond’s RVA Clean Water Plan – a five-year roadmap for reducing pollutant discharges into the James River, starting with wastewater, stormwater and the combined sewer system.
St. Gertrude School moving to Benedictine campus in Goochland, two to remain independent
The schools were once 400 feet apart in the Museum District and will soon be a mere 600 feet apart when St. Gertrude’s moves to Benedictine’s 50-acre campus in Goochland in 2021.
St. Gertrude High School in the Museum District, an all-girls Catholic school, will soon join their male counterpart, Benedictine, in Goochland County.
The two schools made the joint announcement on Friday. While the two will remain single-sex and independent, the combined entity will be known as The Benedictine Schools of Richmond.
Full release from the two schools follows:
The future of Richmond Catholic secondary school education just became a lot brighter. Today, after many months of collaborative strategic planning, we are proud to announce:
The Benedictine Schools of Richmond
This newly-formed entity will unify these two pillars of Richmond’s Catholic community — Saint Gertrude High School and Benedictine College Preparatory — on the same campus. Both schools will retain their names and operate distinct, single-sex educational programs. Of equal importance, this formalization places both schools in strong positions for growth and program development.
Beginning in the 2021-22 school year, just in time for its Centennial Celebration, Saint Gertrude will begin relocating to the 50-acre property in Goochland County currently home to Benedictine Prep. The boys’ school will remain in its current facility. For the girls, a new, state-of-the-art academic building is being planned. Together, the schools will share a peaceful, modern, and sprawling campus including the campus’s new, world-class athletic facilities.
Our schools have long been united in our distinct missions and spirit, in our belief in the unique benefit of single-sex education, and in our educational philosophies rooted in the Rule of Saint Benedict. For the better part of a century, our schools even shared a city block. Where the schools were once located 400 feet apart in the Museum District, they’ll soon be just 600 feet apart in Goochland County.
Indeed, this announcement is about much more than a new home for Saint Gertrude. It is about strengthening the foundation of Catholic education for our young men and women, now and well into the future.
As the Sisters and the Monks began to discuss the possibilities of a new, formal partnership and co-location, we considered diligently this opportunity through the lens of our respective values, missions, and visions. Our Orders feel wholeheartedly that such a partnership meets that high bar.
As Benedictine has experienced since its move from downtown (and as Saint Gertrude will experience in the coming years), the Goochland location is ideal not only for reflection and peace, but also for growth and innovation in education. And while single-sex education will always be a cornerstone of our schools, such a partnership will foster an even closer and nurturing community through which we strengthen each other. Proximity will allow the schools to share in their long-standing traditions while maintaining each school’s distinctiveness.
We understand you may have questions about what this exciting announcement means for you and your family. We encourage you to join our Heads of School Sister Cecilia Dwyer, OSB (Saint Gertrude) and Mr. Jesse Grapes (Benedictine) as they welcome our communities for a series of Town Hall meetings.
Tuesday, January 21, 5:30 p.m. at BCP
Wednesday, January 22, 7:30 a.m. at SGHS
Wednesday, January 22, 5:30 p.m. at SGHS
Thursday, January 23, 7:30 a.m. at BCP
Thursday, January 23, 5:30 p.m. at SGHS
Friday, January 24, 7:30 a.m. at BCP
Members of either school community may attend whichever meeting best suits their schedule.
On behalf of the Monks and Sisters of our Benedictine Orders, we look forward to beginning this journey with you and with your beloved children.
Sr. Joanna Burley, OSB
Benedictine Sisters of Virginia
Fr. Jonathan Licari, OSB
Mother Mary of the Church Abbey