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Elmira College Old Campus Historic District


Cowles Hall Elmira College's Cowles Hall, built in 1855.
Photograph courtesy of the Elmira College Archives.

Tea Party A tea party in Cowles Hall
Photograph courtesy of the Elmira College Archives.

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The nine brick and stone buildings of the Elmira College Old Campus represent an important milestone in the history of women's struggle for equality. Before the rise of female-centered institutions such as Elmira and Vassar, seminaries were the standard-and only-access women had to higher education. Lack of resources and an emphasis on male educational facilities weakened the quality of a seminarian education, with esteemed facilities such as Mt. Holyoke still below the standards of men's schools. Evolving out of the Elmira Female Seminary, the Elmira Female College was granted its charter in April 1855 and became the first educational institution in the United States to have admission and degree requirements for women that were equal to those of men's colleges. Clarissa Thurston was one of New York's leading advocates of higher education for women and her Elmira Female Seminary was an important precursor to Elmira College. Elmira College-the word "female" was removed from the school's name in 1856 after being deemed vulgar-occupies the site of the seminary and was a manifestation of the reformist zeal begun by Thurston and accepted by the citizens of Elmira. The College also houses Mark Twain's personal study, designed to resemble a Mississippi steamboat's pilot house and moved to the campus in 1952. Twain produced several of his most famous works here, including the Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Life on the Mississippi.

The Elmira College Old Campus is located in Elmira, NY at Washington Ave. and Main St. The grounds are open to the public.

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Last Modified: Monday, 30-Mar-98 15:42:58EST