Friday, August 23, 2019

Greet the World from the Hill with a…Bell?

View of the Dartmouth Hall Belfry with bell rope, circa 1880
As we mentioned in a previous post, a visit to Dartmouth isn’t quite complete until you’ve heard the Alma Mater ringing across campus from the majestic bells of Baker Tower. Baker’s bells have served as the heartbeat of the College on the Hill for 91 years, chiming the hours and announcing other events on campus since the famous library was constructed in 1928. But long before the casting of Baker’s bells, an arguably more famous, or at least more notorious, bell greeted Dartmouth students, professors, and visitors from atop another iconic building on the eastern side of the Green - Dartmouth Hall.

The story of Dartmouth Hall’s bell begins with the initial founding of the College. Realizing the need to announce church services, meetings, and class periods in addition to instituting a “town clock” in the woods of New Hampshire, Eleazar Wheelock, Dartmouth’s first president, pleaded with his financial supporters in England to help him raise funds to purchase a bronze bell. At the time, quality bells (i.e., bells that did not crack under heavy use) were extremely expensive, and as such Eleazar was forced to rely upon a large conch shell, which he and undergraduate students blew into, to announce class periods and to call worshipers to prayer.

The first College bell was found to be broken upon its arrival from Whitefield, NH, in 1789, thus marking the beginning of the long line of short-lived Dartmouth Hall bells. On August 8, 1790, then Dartmouth senior William Eaton, who would later become famous Army General William Eaton and Consul General to Tunis during the First Barbary War, was dispatched by Dartmouth President John Wheelock to procure a bell cast at Messrs Doolittle and Goodyear in Hartford, CT, for commencement. The 282-pound bell was hung on August 24, 1790, in the new belfry of Dartmouth Hall, marking the beginning of 138 years of Dartmouth Hall bells ringing across campus. In 1819, during the famous Dartmouth College Case, Dartmouth College and Dartmouth University argued over ownership of the bell, given that its chiming symbolized control over class and religious service schedules. Eventually, the bell was appropriated along with other pieces of college property to the short-lived University, but was relinquished back to the College following Daniel Webster’s successful case.

In October 1819, the Dartmouth Hall bell broke and was replaced by a 299-pound Revere bell (one of only 398 bells produced by Paul Revere’s foundry between 1792 and 1828) brought from Boston. This bell was then traded for a larger 512-pound bell, also from Revere’s foundry, in February, 1821. In 1829, following renovations to Dartmouth Hall, a deeper-toned bell of 726 pounds was installed, where it rang for over 40 years until it cracked in 1867. During the 1850s-1880s, one of the favorite pranks of Dartmouth students was to “steal the clapper off the bell, or ring it before the recitation period was fully over” (pg. 20, A Social & Architectural History of Dartmouth Hall). By the 1870s, the eagerness of students to climb Dartmouth Hall to ring the largest bell before the end of class periods and before sunrise had grown problematic. To prevent this practice, the disgruntled faculty gradually boarded up entrances to the Dartmouth Hall belfry and even posted a guard. Many ingenious devices were thus invented to ring the bell from a distance, one sophomore going so far as to climb the lightning rod with a long stick in hand, having fastened a rope to the eaves as a means of escape. Unfortunately, the rope was discovered by faculty and cut off about 3 feet below the eaves, so that upon using it, the boy dropped three stories to the ground. Our records indicate that the student limped away before the faculty could catch him.

As both the size and reputation of Dartmouth College grew, so did the size and reputation of Dartmouth Hall’s bell. From 1867-1885, Dartmouth Hall went through a succession of four bells which had an uncanny tendency to break shortly after their warranty periods had expired, all the while more than doubling in size from 512 to 1,237 pounds. Despite their growth and the continued importance of Dartmouth Hall as a recitation hall, dormitory, chapel, library, and medical school, the building which supported the Dartmouth Hall bells had fallen into neglect. In 1887, President Bartlett praised the “harmony of the bell” which called him to work in the morning, but described Dartmouth Hall as a “menace” due to its dilapidated state and the infamous “bedbug alley” dorms which occupied the top-most floor. Renovations to the belfry proved short lived however, as the bells melted in the famous 1904 fire which consumed most of Dartmouth Hall.

Mass of melted bronze salvaged from the remains of the 1904 fire.
Dartmouth students and alumni had grown so fond of the Dartmouth Hall bells that after melted remnants of the bell were found amid the smoldering timbers following the 1904 fire, hundreds of small replica bells were made from the hunk of bronze. These small souvenir bells were used as watch fobs; given as gifts to alumni, trustees of the college, and local families, often labelled with the inscription: “made from fragments from the eight ancient bells of Dartmouth Hall which called the students together from 1786-1904.” Today, several of these beautiful Dartmouth Hall bell replicas can be heard chiming here at Rauner Special Collections Library, where they are housed in our realia room.
Small Dartmouth Hall replica bell owned by President William J. Tucker
After the 1904 fire, Joshua W. Pierce (class of 1905) gifted the college with a 1,184 pound bell also from Meneely & Co., which was installed on September 27, 1905. The bell continued chiming the hour and signaling class schedules until the construction of Baker Library in 1928, after its role in signaling church services had been passed in 1888 to Rollins Chapel. In a stroke of luck, the Dartmouth Hall bell survived the 1935 fire which consumed the roof of the building, but has remained largely unused.

Despite hanging in silence, Dartmouth Hall’s bell continued to make headlines when news broke in October of 1954 that a group of undergraduates had stolen the 70-pound clapper. The self-declared “Clapper-Nappers” left a ransom note with the college newspaper, stating:
Here are the facts on why the late bell doesn’t ring anymore. We have stolen the clapper from the top of Dartmouth Hall. It is now hidden within two miles of Hanover… we will return the clapper when Dartmouth becomes coeducational.
Aside from using the bell clapper heist as a gesture of frustration over the administration’s inability to move toward coeducation, the Clapper-Nappers also ended their ransom letter on a lighter note, saying “We hope unpunctual students... appreciate our efforts to revive the old College tradition (of stealing the Dartmouth Hall bell clapper).”

1935 New York Times article titled 'Dartmouth's Bell Rings, Surviving Fire in Old Hall"
Today, the bell remains atop Dartmouth Hall; now a silent reminder of Dartmouth’s past. “But can the bell still be rung?” you may ask. The answer appears to be yes and no, depending on to what lengths you are willing to go to ring it. A note in our collection from Dartmouth's events manager dated July 18, 1990, explains that the "Dartmouth Hall bell cannot be rung as there is no rope to pull it… (but) about 15 years ago students attached a rope to the bell and dropped it to the ground and rang the bell from the ground.” Perhaps after nearly 140 years of use and many mishaps, Dartmouth Hall’s bell deserves a well-earned rest.
To learn more about the Dartmouth Hall bells, ask for the vertical file "Dartmouth Hall - Bells", or ask to see our parts and replicas of the Dartmouth Hall bell by asking for Realia Box 26. More images of the various iterations of Dartmouth Hall and the Dartmouth Hall belfry can also be found in the photo file "Dartmouth Hall - Old."

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Vigilantism at Dartmouth: Dartmouth Women’s Response to Sexual Assault

Front page of "The Shit You Don't Hear About..." flyer
Twenty-two years ago, a flyer was posted all around Dartmouth’s campus with a shocking message. On the flyer, titled The Shit You Don’t Hear About, are articles airing out the transgressions of Dartmouth organizations and members of the community. The flyer was published anonymously, for fear of social and physical retaliation. Its biggest story is a poem performed at Beta Theta Pi (de-recognized by the College following this incident) in its fraternity meetings in the summer of 1995. The poem boasts about the sexual exploits of brothers of Beta Theta Pi. The poem includes racist comments against Native Americans, lewd objectification of the female body, body-shaming, and boasting about rape. Names of real Dartmouth students were used in the poem, as characters with dialogue and descriptions. The publishers of The Shit You Don’t Hear About redacted these names before posting the document. It also includes an article about Alpha Chi Alpha’s “Pledge Banquet Skit,” which features “mastectomy jokes, as well as material sure to be offensive to all women, and Asian/Asian-American students,” an article about intimidation and harassment tactics by the Alpha Delta Fraternity (de-recognized in 2015), and articles about the racist and sexist exploits of other members of the Dartmouth community.

Second page of the flyerWhile it is the only flyer (that I know of) published by this particular group, The Shit You Don’t Hear About does not stand alone. Dartmouth College has a history of women standing up when they feel the administration and community have failed them. Before the flyer went public, its publishers had littered the lawns of Alpha Chi Alpha and Beta Theta Phi with manure in retaliation. In 1989, a rally and campaign were held by an estimated 100 students in response to Dartmouth’s refusal to bring a male student, Kevin Acker, before the Committee on Standards after being accused by two female students of sexual assault. Posters were circulated with Acker’s face on it, warning students to stay away from him. (While not tried before the COS in relation to accusations from these two women, Acker was found guilty of “sexual misconduct” against a different woman at a later date.) In 1996, again posters of a student accused of sexual assault were again circulated around campus, this time anonymously.

In my research of sexual assault at Dartmouth College, again and again I have come across evidence of brave women who take justice in their own hands, not only to punish the accused, but to protect their fellow Dartmouth students. When Dartmouth denies a hearing with the Committee on Standards, or ignores a survivor’s report, or fails to adequately discipline those convicted, a sexual assaulter runs free and the Dartmouth community is put in danger. This type of vigilantism was an effort to curb that danger. Every person who saw one of those posters knew that the person depicted was not safe to hang around, and that sexual assault was not tolerated by this part of the community. That is an important and noble message, even and especially today.

It is sad that so many people, for good reason, have little faith in the judicial procedures concerning sexual assault on campus. It is, however, nice to know that even when Dartmouth does not step up, there are people on campus who do.

To look at the flyer, come to Special Collections and ask to see the Sexual Harassment Vertical File.

Posted for Faydra Richardson ’20, recipient of a Historical Accountability Student Research Fellowship for the 2019 Summer term. The Historical Accountability Student Research Program provides funding for Dartmouth students to conduct research with primary sources on a topic related to issues of inclusivity and diversity in the college's past. For more information, visit the program's website.