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Wells College

Wells College
Official Seal of Wells College
Motto Habere et dispertire (To have and to share)
Established 1868
Type private coeducational liberal arts college
Endowment $27,231,000
President Jonathan Gibralter
Academic staff
Administrative staff
Students 572
Location Aurora, New York, USA
Campus Rural
365 acres (1.48 km2)
Sports NCAA Division III - North Eastern Athletic Conference
Colors red and white          
Nickname The Express
Website .edu.wellswww

Wells College is a private coeducational liberal arts college located in Aurora, Cayuga County, New York, on the eastern shore of Cayuga Lake. The college has cross-enrollment with Cornell University and Ithaca College. It is strengthening its off-campus study programs and has created a business center. Undergraduate students are required to participate in off-campus internships during their time at Wells.

Wells College is located in the Finger Lakes region of New York. It is about an hour from Syracuse and Rochester and a half-hour drive from both Ithaca and Auburn. It is part of the Aurora Village-Wells College Historic District, listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The college has five residence halls, seven academic buildings, and an average student body of 550. The student to faculty ratio is 9:1.

The Wells motto is Habere et Dispertire - To Have and To Share.


  • History 1
    • Co-education 1.1
  • Academics 2
    • Majors with concentrations 2.1
  • Athletics 3
  • Community involvement 4
  • Honor Code 5
  • Traditions 6
    • Institution wide 6.1
    • Class year traditions 6.2
      • First year 6.2.1
      • Sophomore year 6.2.2
      • Junior Year 6.2.3
      • Senior year 6.2.4
    • Programming Board Annual Programs 6.3
    • Club Events 6.4
    • Student Publications 6.5
    • Institutional lore 6.6
  • Points of interest 7
    • The String Room Gallery 7.1
  • Notable alumnae 8
  • Notable faculty past and present 9
  • Notes 10
  • External links 11


Wells College tower

Wells was established as a women's college in 1868 by Henry Wells, founder of Wells Fargo and the American Express Company. Wells had the building for Wells Seminary constructed on property he donated. Not long after its construction, Wells Seminary burnt to the ground. The first building was replaced in 1890 by the current Main Building. Henry Wells' mansion, Glen Park, was later donated to the college for its use. It is now part of the campus as a residence hall for upper class women.

After 1965, Walter Netsch designed the Louis Jefferson Long Library. The design of this award-winning building inspired two other buildings on campus, Barler Music Hall and Campbell Art Building.


After 136 years as a women's college, Wells announced on October 2, 2004 that it would become a co-educational institution in 2005. This drew student protests on campus.[1][2][3] Some parents of students also became involved in the protests.[4] Some of the students said that their protests were patterned after ones at Mills College in the early 1990s.[5] A website called Wells for Women was established[6] After the college's decision to adopt coeducation was approved by its board, students filed a lawsuit, which the courts rejected.[7] The college adopted coeducation in 2005.


Classes at Wells are taught seminar-style by professors — not teaching assistants — and 83%[8] of Wells faculty have doctoral degrees.

The Washington Monthly's "College Rankings" (an alternative college guide to the U.S. News and World Report) ranks Wells College as number thirty among all liberal arts colleges in the United States—as well as the top such college in New York state—in the September 2006 issue.[9]

In 2006, Wells was ranked 12th in the nation by the Princeton Review for being best at encouraging class discussion. In its 2007 rankings, released in August 2006, U.S. News & World Report put it at #24 on the "Great Schools, Great Price" list of best-value schools. It has previously been listed based on the beauty of its campus and frequently makes lists of the nations most-haunted campuses.

U.S. News ranks Wells at 141 among liberal arts colleges.[10]

Wells college tuition along with room and board has now gone from about $29,000 a year to $38–39,000 a year starting with members of the class of 2013. Singles now cost $1000 a year ($500 per semester).

Majors with concentrations

  • American Studies
  • American Studies: American Cultures
  • Biological and Chemical Sciences: Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
  • Biological and Chemical Sciences: Biology
  • Biological and Chemical Sciences: Chemistry
  • Economics and Management: Economics
  • Economics and Management: Management
  • English: Creative Writing
  • English: Literature
  • Environmental Studies: Environmental Policies and Values
  • Environmental Studies: Environmental Sciences
  • Film and Media Studies
  • Foreign Languages, Literatures and Cultures: Spanish
  • Foreign Language Education: Spanish
  • History
  • International Studies
  • Mathematical and Physical Sciences: Computer Science
  • Mathematical and Physical Sciences: Mathematics
  • Mathematical and Physical Sciences: Physics
  • Performing Arts: Theatre and Dance
  • Philosophy
  • Political Science
  • Psychology
  • Sociology and Anthropology: Sociology
  • Sociology and Anthropology: Anthropology/Cross-Cultural Sociology
  • Visual Arts: Art History
  • Visual Arts: Studio Art
  • Women's Studies
  • Individualized Major: where students design an alternative major of special interest

A new major "Book Arts," previously only available as a minor, became a major in fall 2009. Wells College is ranked #1 in the nation for Book Arts.


Athletics has been a key component of the Wells College experience for each student dating back to the institution's establishment in 1868. Traditions and rituals at Wells involving athletics are an important part of the collegiate experience for incoming students. The school's annual Odd/Even basketball game, annually drawing large crowds of current students and alumnae/i alike, was first played in 1898.

A member of the Private College Athletic Conference throughout the late-1970s and early-1980s, the Express captured four consecutive conference championships in tennis (1977–78, 1978–79, 1979–80, 1980–81) while also winning back-to-back titles in bowling (1978–79, 1979–80). Wells, who officially became an NCAA Division III institution prior to the 1986–87 athletic season, joined the Atlantic Women's Collegiate Conference prior to the 1996–97 athletic season. In 1996, the Wells soccer team captured the school's only AWCC championship title.

As part of the Board of Trustees decision to begin accepting men to the traditionally all-women's college, Wells incorporated men's soccer, men's swimming and men's and women's cross country into their athletic cadre. Prior to 2005, the Express offered only six intercollegiate athletic sports - field hockey, softball, women's lacrosse, women's soccer, women's swimming and women's tennis.

Prior to the 2007–08 academic year, the Express were invited to join the North Eastern Athletic Conference and compete against 14 other schools in the East Region. In joining the NEAC, Wells was able to compete for conference championships with the added benefit of receiving an automatic qualifier in select sports to participate in the NCAA tournament.

Since joining the NEAC, Wells has captured six separate conference championships - men's swimming laid claim to the first league title in 2009–10 and earned their second title in 2012–13. Women's swimming have won conference championships during the 2011–12, 2012–13, and 2013–14 seasons. Men's basketball, who won the NEAC championship in 2010–11, was the first team from Wells to participate in the NCAA Tournament.

As of the 2015–16 athletic season, Wells offers 16 NCAA Division III varsity sports, including field hockey, men's and women's basketball, men's and women's lacrosse, men's and women's soccer, men's and women's swimming, men's and women's volleyball, men's and women's cross country, softball, baseball, and women's tennis.

Community involvement

Honor Code

Like a number of other liberal arts colleges, Wells has an honor code to which all students subscribe. By signing the Honor Code, Wells students pledge "not to lie, cheat, steal, deceive, or conceal in the conduct of their collegiate life".[11] Wells prides itself on its honor code, which permits it to maintain an environment where students are able to have take-home exams, and to work in their dorm rooms, at the library, or on the dock by the lake, rather than in classrooms.


Traditions and rituals at Wells College are often described as the backbone of student life.

Institution wide

  • Odd/Even
Upon entering, first-year students are assigned to one of two traditional lines. The Evenline, whose colors are blue and green, consist of students who will graduate in even-numbered years. The Oddline, whose colors are purple and gold, consists of students who will graduate in odd-numbered years. Each line also has its own mascot. Evens have Cleo (the elephant), and Odds have Oddwina (the bear). During the first week of this tradition, tryouts take place and teams are picked for the annual basketball game and sing-off. Each team then selects its song leaders, who then carry the responsibility of preparing the teams for the sing-off competition the day before the basketball game.

The song leaders also supervise the creation of the class banners, as well as the writing of the class song. After two weeks of practice and songs in the dining hall, the first-year and sophomore teams meet in the gym (in front of a packed audience) for the famed game. The victors get first dibs on a side of the "smoke pit," which they paint over. The other team shares this experience and paints the other side of the smoke pit. The very first Odd/Even game was played in 1898 and won by the Oddline.

In the Spring of 2008, the tradition expanded to include a men's tradition. The competitive primary event is a Dodgeball game, which is made up of teams consisting of Freshmen and Sophomores. The competitive secondary event was originally established to be chosen yearly by the Senior coaches. In 2008, the secondary event was a chili cook off. In 2009, the secondary event was a cook out, and in 2010 a dance off was held. The Dance Off was such a success that this event has been continually held every year as part of the tradition. Thus far, the teams are tied in wins in Dodgeball, with 3 each. Evenline won in 2008, 2010, and 2012. Oddline won in 2009, 2011, and 2013. The Dance Off is currently in favor of Evenline, having won in 2011, 2012, and 2013. Oddline won the inaugural Dance Off in 2010.

  • Wells Families
Each first-year student is teamed up with a Wells student from each class to form a branch of the Wells tree. This provides each first-year the opportunity to know a unique group of students from each class year, who often do recreational activities together. Wells families are revealed in the fall by the Traditions Committee. The Traditions Committee also then plans out a designated day to host its annual Wells Families Day. During this time, each family is reunited and joined by its new family members. In the spirit of the Sycamore tree, Wells alumnae/i form the base of the tree and current Wells students are the branches — each part of the Wells family.
  • Tea Time
Tea and coffee are served every Wednesday afternoon in Macmillan Hall’s Art Exhibit Room. Though the long dresses and china cups have long since disappeared, this break from afternoon seminars is still a great time to get together with friends and professors. Students, Faculty & Staff are encouraged to participate in Wells Wednesdays and wear red clothing/accessories or Wells College gear to show their Spirit on Wednesdays. Students participating are often rewarded at Tea Time with giveaways and special treats from the Office of Student Activities & Leadership.
  • Convocations
Opening Convocation celebrates the beginning of the academic year and is the seniors’ first chance to wear academic gowns. A traditional part of this convocation is the candlelight ceremony. Symbolized by a candle flame, the spirit of the Wells connection is passed from alumnae/i to students, signifying the support that Wells students give one another throughout their lives. The Collegiate Cabinet plans the Convocation that opens the spring semester and welcomes students, faculty and staff back to campus after the intersession. Honors Convocation is held at the end of the year where most annual award presentations for student’s achievements are made.
  • Weihnachten
To celebrate the holiday spirit that sweeps through campus each winter, the Freshmen Class organizes a traditional holiday show for all of the community to enjoy. Village residents and their children, students, faculty and staff engage in the activities that take place on the first Monday night of December. The main attractions of the night are holiday skits that are put on by the resident advisors, administrators and elves. Senior elves try to remember and re-create their first-year skit, and the new student elves work the crowd by performing theirs. Singing groups on campus such as Henry’s VIII, Appointed, and the Whirligigs are invited to sing. At the end of the evening, first-year elves introduce Santa Claus and everyone participates in singing carols over cookies and hot chocolate.
  • May Day
"May Day, May Day, May First coming!" May Day is a ceremony organized by the senior and first-year classes and celebrates the "Royal Senior Court." Held on or around May 1st, the ceremony includes announcing and crowning of the Senior Royalties. The College held its first official May Day celebration in 1923. Traditionally, the May Queen came from the junior class. Elected by the student body, she was crowned by her predecessor. During the celebration poetry is read, songs are sung, and the first-year student dancers, usually dressed in white, perform a dance while wrapping the May pole.
  • Commencement
Since the first graduation activities were held in 1869, Wells has hosted a distinguished Commencement ceremony accompanied by many festivities. A reception on Friday evening is held with a special concert by one of the College’s student singing groups. On the morning of Commencement, seniors ride with their families in the original Wells Fargo stagecoach to the ceremony where degrees are awarded. In the early days, essays (sometimes amusing) were delivered by the graduates on Commencement day, with musical interludes by the students; a dignitary gave the keynote address. Commencement speakers are selected by the senior class.

Class year traditions

First year

  • First-year student signs
When first-year students arrive on campus, they receive a small piece of cloth, a piece of string and instructions, usually given by their respective resident advisors. The job of the first-year student is to make a sign from the cloth, including their name and hometown. Students are to wear these signs throughout the first week on campus, to aid the faculty and other students in knowing their names. If a student is caught without his/her sign, they can be made to sing on the senior table in the dining hall during the next meal.
  • Halloween Hayride
On or around Halloween night, the freshmen
  • Talent Show
During Spring Week, freshmen and sophomore students star in a talent show, showing off their talents to Wells and to the community. The event is hosted by the sophomore class and usually takes place in Barler.
  • 20 Days
During the last 20 days before the seniors graduate, the freshmen students choose 20 embarrassing things for the seniors to wear, do, say, etc. for the entire day. This is a playful revenge for freshman signs! If a freshman catches a senior not participating, that senior may be made to sing on the senior table in the dining hall.

Sophomore year

  • Spring Dance
To welcome in the warm weather the sophomore class hosts an annual Spring Dance for Wells students and their guests. This event usually takes place in the Sommer Center in March.
  • Sophomore Smash
This annual event is run by the FARGO Board (Friends And Recent Graduates Organization). They throw an appreciation and bonding event during the first semester. Also, sophomores receive their Wells ivy plant which is symbolic of their growth, time and success at Wells.
  • Sycamore Tree
On the last day of classes, seniors (in their robes) are joined by fellow students and administration on the front lawn of Main where they dance and sing around the old Sycamore tree. After all the excitement, the sophomores present the seniors with roses to commend them on their accomplishments.

Junior Year

  • Junior Mugs
At the end of sophomore year, students receive their personalized ceramic mugs in celebration of being juniors. These mugs are christened at Junior Blast and then used for champagne breakfast during their senior year and other traditions.
  • Junior Blast
In the spring, the junior class throws themselves a party—Junior Blast! During the party, the first-year students secretly sneak a junior’s mattress out of her or his room and leave it in a hidden place to be found with clues. Depending on the bribing tactics of each junior to first-years, finding the wanted mattress may prove to be a difficult but always a fun task.
  • Junior Stunt
At the end of each spring semester, the junior class creates skits making fun of the seniors. The hilarity is open for the entire student body to watch.

Senior year

  • Senior Auction
At the end of the spring semester, seniors compile a list of individual attributes that they auction off to their fellow students. The basis of this tradition is to exchange an item or a service to raise funds that will benefit the senior class. Some services include cleaning dorm rooms, holding study sessions, and possibly making home-cooked meals.
  • Caps and Gowns
Seniors wear academic gowns on the first and last day of classes each semester, at champagne breakfast, convocations, Odd/Even game and singoff, 20 Days, and at Moving Up Day.
  • Minerva
Outside of Main, the College’s first building, sits the statue of the Roman Goddess Minerva. Symbolizing wisdom, craft, wit and intellect, the senior class decorates Minerva at the beginning of the fall semester. Minerva remains decorated throughout the school year; then during the morning of the last day of classes and after singing around the Sycamore tree, the senior class takes turns kissing the feet of Minerva, believed to be good luck and bring success and prosperity to all graduation seniors.
  • Champagne Breakfast
Seniors are served champagne in their Junior Mugs (big beer steins) during breakfast on the first and last days of classes each semester of their senior year.

Programming Board Annual Programs

  • Disco Dodge
This annual event was formerly held in the lounge of Dodge Residence Hall early in the fall semester. It is now hosted in the Sommer Center and run by Programming Board. Wells students and their guests dance the night away to 1970s music and compete for best costume.
  • Semi-Formal
In late November, students and their guests participate in an elegant soirée with the chance to dress in formal attire and enjoy a candlelit dinner. Following dinner, a performance by one of the singing groups is held in the Chapel. After the performance, students head to the dining hall or Sommer Center to dance the night away.
  • Mainly ’80s
Mainly ’80s is the perfect chance to break out the spandex and funky hairstyles and dance the night away. Held in the basement of Main Building (or in the Sommer Center), Mainly ’80s is the time where students dress in their best ’80s attire and cut "footloose" to live tunes of the ’80s (which also branches out from the 70's to last week!)! The night is also filled with hula-hoops, break dancing, and costume contests.

Club Events

  • Erotic Ball
This annual event held around in early to mid November is hosted by campus club Sex Collective. Erotic Ball is meant to be a celebration of the sexual- being comfortable in body, with orientation, with the act of sex, and safe sex. The dance is one of the most popular events of the year, well attended by Wells students and their guests. The theme changes every year- past themes being Garden of Eden, Moulin Rouge, Medieval Times, Fetish, and Halloween. Common contests include the Fake Orgasm Contest and a Costume Contest. The event has grown so large that it has to be held in the Dining Hall after hours in order to hold everyone.

Student Publications

  • The Sycamore
Wells College's latest publication, a bi-yearly magazine that is available both in print and online.
  • The Onyx
Student newspaper, published monthly.
  • The Cardinal
Student yearbook primarily for seniors, published yearly and shipped to seniors over the summer.
  • The Chronicle
Student literary magazine, published annually.

Institutional lore

  • Bells
The bells in Main Building’s tower are rung to announce dinner every night, on the arrival of the first snowflakes, and other special events. Alumnae often request them rung in honor of a wedding, birth of a child, or other momentous life occasion. The bellringers are all students. To ring the bells, one must climb several flights of stairs to reach the belfry which holds a sort of a keyboard consisting of heavy wooden levers (one per bell) which the bellringer either pounds on or pushes downward, depending on the style of the bellringer.
  • Singing
When a Wells student deserves special recognition for an election, birthday, or other accomplishment, friends will often sing the "Wells Congratulation Song" which goes as follows:

Oh(name of student) we sing to you
You are so good and true
We’ll all be loyal to you
We’ll raise your name
And praise you, too
And so we sing to dear Wells and you, hey!

  • Rings
Each semester, members of the upper classes may order the traditional onyx and gold Wells College ring. The ring symbolizes the memories that Wells provides. Rumored to have been modeled after Henry Wells’s own signet ring, it traditionally is gold with black onyx. However, students today also have the option of having their rings made in white gold.
  • Lake Freezes Over
Should Cayuga Lake freeze over, no classes are held that day and a formal holiday pronouncement is made. According to Wells College records, this last happened in 1979. However, other sources suggest that the only time the entire lake froze over in the 20th century was in 1912.

Points of interest

The campus is located in the scenic town of Aurora; it is three miles north of Long Point State Park; ; and Cayuga lake adds beauty to the scenery year round.
The docks provide a location to swim or just relax and enjoy the weather. Several events at Wells College are held here throughout the year. You may see the floating classroom docked here at various times throughout the year.
The Wells College Golf Course is a publicly accessible nine hole course that is free for Wells students to play on. Because of its location near the lake, this course is almost always thawed out before any other courses in this region.
The Waterfall is a short hike off of the golf course in the forests that surround campus. The region around the waterfall provides great views of the surrounding trees. In the fall the foliage changing colors provides a great location for photographers.

The String Room Gallery

The String Room Gallery is the main location for Art Exhibits. It is located on the first floor of Main Building and features exhibitions from artists. This space is also the site of several student art shows a year, such as the Senior Thesis Art Exhibit, organized and presented each May by graduated studio art majors.

Notable alumnae

Notable faculty past and present


  1. ^ Tarby, Russ (2002-06-14). "Trustees greeted by angry students". Retrieved 2011-08-13. 
  2. ^ Spohr, George (2002-06-14). "Students stage sit-in to protest". Retrieved 2011-08-13. 
  3. ^ Barton, Noelle (2002-06-14). "Wells students not going home". Retrieved 2011-08-13. 
  4. ^ Barton, Noelle (2002-06-14). "Angered Wells parents feel left out". Retrieved 2011-08-13. 
  5. ^ Spohr, George (2002-06-14). "Wells students' sit-in patterned after Mills". Retrieved 2011-08-13. 
  6. ^ "Wells for Women". 2009-10-27. Retrieved 2011-08-13. 
  7. ^ Wogan, Lisa. "When Wells Run Dry: Another women's college opens the door to men". Ms. Magazine. Retrieved 2011-08-13. 
  8. ^ The Princeton Review
  9. ^ The Washington Monthly College Rankings.
  10. ^ "Wells College Rankings". U.S. News. Retrieved 2013-11-10. 
  11. ^ Wells Computer Services (2010-06-15). "Honor Code". Retrieved 2011-08-13. 

External links

  • Wells College website
  • Wells College athletics website
  • Aurora, New York
  • 2008 course catalog
  • String Room Gallery

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