After acquiring the Chestnut Hill land in 1907, Boston College faced several years of difficult fundraising to pay for the construction of buildings on the new campus. Although enthusiasm for the college’s expansion was prevalent among Boston Catholics, this section of the population tended not to have the financial resources to support such an ambitious building project. Consequently, the first two campus buildings took about a decade to complete, with Gasson Hall opening in 1913 and St. Mary’s Hall in 1917.
On June 14, 1910, Archbishop O’Connell wrote to Father Gasson about what burden he could reasonably expect the Catholic community of Boston to bear in a letter now preserved in the University Archives:
The people, especially the people of Boston, are, thank God, generous to a wonderful degree. There is not a religious purpose for which aid is asked that they do not respond generously to the appeal. But not for this reason are we to impose on their generosity, and we must never forget that, after all, it is really upon the poor that we are depending to carry on these works.
This sense that the community would be generous within their limited means was reflected in the public announcement of the first contribution. On December 23, 1907, just a few days after Boston College’s land purchase was made known, the Boston Globe ran the following article:
From a Poor Widow.
First Subscription, $1, for the New Boston College Buildings
Rev Thomas I. Gasson, SJ, president of Boston college, announced yesterday that the first subscription to the fund for the new college buildings was made Saturday. It was only $1, and it came from a poor widow, who refused to disclose her identity.
Active efforts to raise funds for University Heights, then, would require many public events, particularly mass meetings and garden parties, to bring together supporters from the greater Boston area.
The first mass meeting was held on January 20, 1908, and was attended by students, alumni, and other supporters. Michael J. O’Keeffe wrote an account of the evening for the February 1908 issue of the Stylus. Here are some excerpts from his article:
Never before in the history of Boston College has there been such a meeting, such enthusiasm, such genuine love manifested for Alma Mater.
From every side, from every corner of the large hall did the noble project receive support, financial as well as moral. Here was gathered a body of men of sound moral life and principle giving their hearts and souls to the furthering of one magnificent cause, Christian education.
During the period of open forum many pledges were announced from the floor and one of the motions passed was to the effect that another mass meeting be held a month hence to find out what had been accomplished during the intervening period.
When all was added up the pledges showed that $50,000 had been promised, but we have only started.
O’Keeffe also recounts part of Father Gasson’s speech at that event:
Since the days when this college was started, the Church has grown beyond the fairest dreams and the consequence is that we all feel the need of enlarging the fortifications, that is, of expanding the college. We must have more room, we must have other surroundings, if we wish to do justice to the system of training for which the Catholic Church stands.
Gentlemen, I am giving my life to the building of this new college. Every bone in my body, every drop of my blood, every nerve and fibre is given to the making of a more resplendent Boston College.
Indeed, the extent of Father Gasson’s efforts is manifest in his papers, which are held at the Burns Library and include a financial ledger pertaining to the new college site.
The second mass meeting indicated the growing interest in Boston College’s building project; attendees pledged an additional $137,000 at that gathering on February 17, 1908.
Although Boston College granted degrees to men only at the time, many Boston women participated in garnering publicity and support for the building fund. For instance, women took responsibility for organizing garden parties, such as the one held at the Chestnut Hill grounds on June 20, 1908. The Boston Globe reports on the planning meeting for that event:
There was a large number of women at the meeting who are interested in the development of the new college, and these women were divided into committees which will take charge of the tables.
The wives, mothers and sisters of the alumni association will meet at the college next Wednesday evening to outline the work which they will do in preparation for the great outdoor reunion of the friends of the college.
Many of these women participated in the Second Annual Garden Party as well, which was held on June 19, 1909. As many as 35,000 people attended that event, according to the report printed in the Boston Globe the following day.
Some of these same individuals went on to establish the Philomatheia Club, an organization of women in support of Boston College founded in 1915. The name of the group means “love of learning,” and the members’ activities helped raise much-needed funds to advance the education of local young men. Further information regarding the role of the Philomatheia Club can be found in “Making Our Place: A History of Women at Boston College,” a DVD made by the BC Women’s History Project, which is available for viewing at the Burns Library.
- Trista Doyle, Burns Library Research Assistant & B. C. Doctoral Candidate in the Department of English