The Essentials of Campus, Part I

10 04 2009

I decided to do a blog piece on some of the more important assets to our campus because I was working on a project yesterday and discovered that I had no entry that really discussed Bailey Hall. I figured I might fix that now.


Liberty Hyde Bailey Hall. The building was designed by Edward M. Green, Class of 1878 [1]. The building was first opened in June 1913 and intended for use by state college students, and for Farmer’s Week gatherings. It’s namesake, L.H. Bailey (1856-1954) was the first dean of the College of Agriculture at Cornell [2].

One if the original centerpieces of the building was a luxurious organ that was paid for largely by Andrew Carnegie, the industrialist [1]. The organ was mostly a gift for A.D. White’s 80th birthday in 1912.

One story from Bishop’s work concerning the history of the building might strike a note with some passionate politicos today. Back during WWI, an Austrian violinist named Fritz Kreisler played at Bailey. Unfortunately for him, the citizens of Ithaca weren’t as willing as the university to let him play a performance:

“The Hill prided itself on its broad-mindedness, its humanity above all nations and nationalisms. Fritz Kreisler, the Austrian violinist (who had played in Bailey Hall in October 1917, before an enthusiastic capacity audience), was again invited for a concert on 11 December 1919. But downtown a fervid patriotism reigned. The American Legion had condemned in national convention the appearance of any German or Austrian performer. Ithaca’s Mayor called on all patriotic citizens to stay away from the concert. Nevertheless Bailey Hall was packed, the front seats being conspicuously occupied by the football team. In mid-concert about eighty hoodlums, as the Sun termed them, cut the lighting circuit and tried to invade the hall. The students rose and fought. A large band returning from a basketball game took the invaders in the rear. Kreisler, unperturbed, played on in the din of the Battle of Bailey Hall. President Schurman took his stand beside the performer. A volunteer leaped to the stage with a flashlight for the accompanist. The invaders were magnificantly repelled, to the strains of Viotti’s Concerto in A minor. No tumult since Nero’s time has had such a fine violin accompaniment.” (433-34) [1 , 2]

The building has also had some other uses apart from an auditorium. Plant pathology was taught in the basement in the 1920s [2]. A CFCU branch used to be located in the back of the building. Today, since it’s the only academic building that has the size to host it, Prof. Maas’s PSYCH 101 is taught within its vast walls.

As originally configured, Bailey seated 1,948 people. However, as a result of wider seats and handicap access was installed during the renovation, that number shrank to 1,324 [3].

The plaza was installed only about a year and a half ago, a nice complement to the building. Originally, the Minns Garden was up here, and then that was replaced with a full parking lot towards the mid 20th century.



Yes, both photos are mine…taken about five months apart. That tells you how hesitant I was to write up the history of Sage Hall. For this, much of the information will be pulled from Bishop’s history of Cornell, with page citations in parentheses.

The best place to start, of course, is at the beginning. The building was originally known as Sage College, and it was an all women’s dorm. The building was the architectural pride of campus when it was completed in 1875 (98), designed by Charles Babcock, an architecture professor at Cornell. Prior to that, campus was the Old Stone Row, Casca and West Sibley; gray stone buildings that, while imposing, were utilitarian; Goldwin Smith once remarked “nothing can redeem them but dynamite”.  The proposal for the building came while A.D. White was debating whether or not to accept a government post in Greece; the plan for Sage to endow this grandiose structure led him to reconsider (103).

The original endowment by Sage was in the amount of $250,000. The building’s design allowed for all the living needs of 150 to 200 lady students (148). Originally, the Botany and Horticulture department were to be housed here as well, since they were a subject that was “so suitable for young ladies”. The proposal for Sage was formally launched on February 13, 1872. Also that fall, sixteen women applied to Cornell, and our first female graduate, Emma S. Eastman, graduated in June 1873 (she married a classmate and went on to become a famous suffrage lecturer). By 1874, there were 37 women.

Meanwhile, in May 1873, the cornerstone was laid for Sage College by Mrs. Sage. The cornerstone is particularly interesting because of a commotion caused during Sage’s renovation in 1997. Workers were renovating near the cornerstone when they discovered  a heavy metal box with letter placed inside it, bearing Ezra Cornell’s opinion on the status and future of coeducation [4]. Naturally, this discovery, while somehwat expected, raised quite a commotion on the campus, because no one had ever read the letter except Ezra Cornell himself. The full text of the letter can be found in the link. Long story short, he supported women’s education.  Cornell had never shared his opinions about educating women before he passed away in 1874, so no one ever knew how he particularly felt until that letter was opened 124 years later.

To quote Morris Bishop (who wrote his book in 1962): “When at length the day of Sage College is done, may some historian remember these words and rescue the tin box from the demolishers!” (149)

Sage opened in 1875 to about 30 female occupants. The building rented out to fifty male boarders its first year, who often ate with the women, striing up trouble in the process (the Sage College manager makes special note of the extremely demanding gentlemen boarders from Psi Upsilon). Between 60 and 70 women live there for each year for the rest of the decade (208), and dropped back down to 30 by the early 1880s (246). Sage closed its doors to visitors at 10 PM, and flirtatious dances were highly frowned upon. The first panty raid took place in 1878, when men broke into the Sage laundry, snatched the ladies’ underclothing and threw it from the steeple of nearby Sage Chapel (209).

By 1881, the decline in numbers at the ladies’ dorm had caused Sage to doubt whether it should continue to exist. In letters to A.D, White, he floated the idea of turning it into an art museum, libary, or engineering building (247). Fortunately for women, Sage was completely full by 1891 (300), and women were no longer required to live in Sage. Many of our sororities, such as Delta Gamma and Kappa Alpha Theta, had their starts in Sage College.

Alas, by the mid 1990s the building had worn down with time. The last dorm residents (co-ed since the 1930s) moved out in 1995, and the building was given to the Johnson School for renovation in 1996. The renovation and addition was desinged by Alan Chimacoff, a Cornell alumnus [5]. The $38 million renovation was completed in August 1998.

Today, The Johnson Graduate School of Management resides in the building, with an atrium, class space, meeting areas, and Sphinx Head’s meeting room (supposedly).




[1] History of Cornell, Morris Bishop, P. 362







One response

10 04 2009

Interesting piece. Though the plaza in front of Bailey has grown on me, I figured I’d lament the loss of parking, but since the transplanted lot has seemingly found a semi-permanent home in the center of the Ag Quad, I suppose I can’t complain. You gain some and lose some.

Finally, “Sage opened in 1975 to about 30 female occupants.” … not to nitpick, but I’m guessing you mean 1875. 🙂

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