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Book details
  • Genre:HISTORY
  • SubGenre:Social History
  • Language:English
  • Pages:331
  • eBook ISBN:9781618421647

Sage Hall: Experiments in Coeducation and Preservation at Cornell University

by Jennifer Cleland and Robert P. Stundtner

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Overview

Sage Hall: Experiments in Coeducation and Preservation at Cornell University tells the story of Sage Hall, built as a women's residence in 1874, which made coeducation at Cornell possible. The history of the building, which was financed and endowed by Henry Sage on the condition that the University would provide an education for women equal to that of Cornell men, reflects the early feminist movement in upstate New York, and the social reformism of the founders of the University. The book also relates the controversial 1996-98 renovation of the building that “melon-balled” the structure, completely replacing the dilapidated interior while retaining the historic brick exterior walls, to create a new home for the Johnson Graduate School of Management. The story of the authors' courtship is woven into the narrative of the challenging renovation project, which was managed by the coauthor, and incorporates the entertaining project updates that he sent out to the Cornell community.

Description

Sage Hall: Experiments in Coeducation and Preservation at Cornell University tells the story of Sage Hall, built as a women's residence in 1874, which made coeducation at Cornell possible. The history of the building, which was financed and endowed by Henry Sage on the condition that the University would provide an education for women equal to that of Cornell men, reflects the early feminist movement in upstate New York, and the social reformism of the founders of the University. The book also relates the controversial 1996-98 renovation of the building that “melon-balled” the structure, completely replacing the dilapidated interior while retaining the historic brick exterior walls, to create a new home for the Johnson Graduate School of Management. The story of the authors' courtship is woven into the narrative of the challenging renovation project, which was managed by the coauthor, and incorporates the entertaining project updates that he sent out to the Cornell community. Controversy was not new to Sage Hall, originally built as a residential and dining hall for women students at Cornell. At the inaugural ceremony for the university in 1868, Ezra Cornell, founder of the university, and A.D. White, its first president, had declared their belief in the need for women’s education, but also felt that they did not have the facilities to accommodate women students at that time. Henry Sage, an entrepreneur with a fortune made from logging, was a major benefactor of the university, and a staunch supporter of women’s right to an education, and proposed to donate funds to build a residence hall expressly for women, as well as an endowment for its maintenance. The funding would be contingent on the admission of women to Cornell University, and also stipulated that “instruction shall be afforded to young women, by the Cornell University, as broad and as thorough as that now afforded to young men.” Sage Residential College for Women opened its doors in 1875, a bold move by the young university since only a few other institutions of higher education in the U.S. admitted women at the time. The building, designed by Charles Babcock, Cornell’s first architecture professor, featured state-of-the-art facilities, including a wading pool, gymnasium, botanical conservatory, gas lighting, steam heat and indoor plumbing. Yet the concept of coeducation was not universally embraced by the university community, and the building, while enabling the education of women, also functioned to confine them to a supervised space. In 1980, Bob Stundtner took a position at Cornell as a project coordinator in the Maintenance Management Department, and by 1990 had worked his way up to project management. He led a group of designers and contractors as Cornell’s project manager for the controversial transformation of the historic building, Sage Hall, between 1996 and 1998. The building had gone through many changes in the course of its 120 years, as floor plans and even infrastructure were altered to meet new needs and standards. By the time the university was considering allowing the Johnson School to relocate there, Sage Hall was in sad shape. The building needed the upgrade, but the transformation wasn’t easy. The challenges of the project were many, ranging from the unpredictability inherent in all renovations to the difficult upstate New York climate. The main challenge was to get all the pieces to fit together in a timely fashion when contractors were late or the weather didn’t allow progress. One of the most exciting incidents featured a brick wall adjacent to the interior courtyard that moved 18” in one day during the asbestos removal! But even before the project got under way, the innovative design of the renovation, which retained but gutted the historic brick shell and replaced the dilapidated interior with a brand new floor plan, triggered an assessment review of its impact on a historic structure by the city’s planning board, and legal challenges to the building permit for the project. The Finger Lakes region of New York has been a hotbed of social activism since the Erie Canal opened the western territories to settlement. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, tireless advocates for women’s rights, also shared an upstate New York social environment and sensibility with Ezra Cornell and A.D. White. The optimism and utopianism of the time shaped their lives: each of them took part in the larger project of shaping a new society, and what they believed would be a better future, as human society evolved on its preordained path to perfection. It was the social landscape of upstate New York that made the secular, coeducational institution that is Cornell University a reality.

About the author

Jennifer Cleland was born in Arlington, VA in 1951. Her family moved to Europe in 1962, where they lived in Paris and in Stuttgart, Germany. During the 70’s, Jenny played with the Highwoods Stringband, touring on three continents and receiving a Grammy nomination for an album recorded at Carnegie Hall. She received a Ph.D. in Romance Studies from Cornell University in 1999 with her thesis Cajun Carnival: American Myths and Radical Roots.

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