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Mrs. Perkins' Union College 1895-1904: Walking Tour Vantage Points: Vantage Point 4

This guide includes information organized for an historic tour of Union College that may be accessed via a mobile device and QR codes. See the Mrs. Perkins’ Union College site on the library’s home page for more information about this project.

Vantage Point 4: Philosophical Hall (now the Visual Arts Building)

Philosophical Hall (now the Visual Arts Building) is the fourth of ten vantage points on a self-guided tour of Mrs. Perkins’ Union College, 1895-1904.  Mrs. Perkins, the wife of Professor of Chemistry Maurice Perkins, lived on campus for nearly sixty years and wrote vivid letters to her son Roger about her life at Union at the turn of the 20th century. These letters were recently donated to the College by a Perkins descendent.  An interactive map of the entire campus in Mrs. Perkins’ day is posted on the Schaffer Library website at a map of all ten vantage points is available here [insert?] The library’s website also includes excerpts from Mrs. Perkins’ letters and additional pictorial, historical, and biographical material as well as further information about this Schaffer Library Digital Project. 


The classroom buildings at the time of Mrs. Perkins’ letters included North Colonnade, Geological Hall (now Old Chapel), Washburn Hall, and Philosophical Hall (now the Visual Arts building).  Professor Perkins’ chemistry lab would have been here in Philosophical Hall; one of the pictures on the library’s website shows him standing in his lab coat in front of the green door at the corner of this building with his students. Mrs. Perkins’ letters confirm that the classrooms, like so many other buildings on campus, were difficult to heat in the winter.  Sometimes they were even so cold, she wrote, that classes had to be canceled.  Still, Philosophical Hall and North Colonnade may have been better than most.  At his own initiative, Maurice Perkins set up a three-room infirmary in North Colonnade in the 1880s to house students with contagious diseases, and the chemistry lab itself provided options not available elsewhere.  Mrs. Perkins wrote, for example, that her daughter Rose had some chicken eggs that she was trying unsuccessfully to hatch in an incubator, so Professor Perkins brought them to his lab to try to hatch them there.  The Perkins’ animals were not always welcome, however. On another occasion Mrs. Perkins wrote that her cat Momo got out of her house and into a classroom and was thrown out of the window by the professor – one hopes and assumes from a first floor, as Momo appears to have survived unharmed.


Mrs. Perkins’ letters also chronicle the College’s consideration in 1895-96 of moving entirely from its present location to Albany, where the idea was that it would join other parts of Union University such as the Albany Law School and Albany Medical College in a more integrated geographical area. Mrs. Perkins saw the possible advantages of the move for Union but wasn’t particularly anxious to move herself.  At the last moment, however, the state funding for the relocation fell through, so the College stayed in Schenectady.


Map links: Philosophical Hall; Lab (North Colonnade)


Walk north towards Vantage Point 5, Outside Jackson’s Garden