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Mrs. Perkins' Union College 1895-1904: Walking Tour Vantage Points: Vantage Point 1

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 1: Old Chapel

What is now known as Old Chapel is the starting place for a self-guided tour of ten vantage points that re-imagine Mrs. Perkins’ Union College, 1895-1904. An interactive map of the entire campus in Mrs. Perkins’ day is posted on the Schaffer Library website at  The library’s website also includes additional pictorial, historical, and biographical material as well as further information about this Schaffer Library Digital Project. 


Anne Dunbar Potts Perkins (1835-1922) was the wife of Maurice Perkins, Professor of Chemistry at Union College from 1865 until 1901. During much of Union’s history it was typical for faculty members to live and raise their families on campus, and the Perkins lived in the same faculty apartment in what is now known as Hale House throughout their entire lives at Union. Mrs. Perkins herself, who continued to live in Hale House for another 20 years after her husband’s death, resided on campus for nearly 60 years.


The recent donation to Union College’s Schaffer Library of more than 700 letters written by Mrs. Perkins to her son Roger from 1895-1904 has provided important and enlightening new insights into life on campus a century ago.  Mrs. Perkins, nicknamed “The Duchess” by the students, had decided opinions about nearly everyone and everything at Union, and was not afraid to express those opinions in her letters.   It was an extraordinary time in Union’s history.  Although the College’s financial situation was precarious, it was also a time of opportunity, when Union’s extensive pastoral campus began to assume a shape more like the one it has today.  Additionally, Mrs. Perkins’ letters reveal that while the College may only have admitted male students during her time here, the wives and daughters of the families who resided on campus were observant and lively participants in Union’s social and intellectual life. 


This walking tour is based upon information gleaned from Mrs. Perkins letters as well as Wayne Somers’ Encyclopedia of Union College History, published in 2003. It is intended to help you imagine what life was like at Union during the last decade of the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th.  The basic shape of the central portion of campus has remained the same, but many structures are new or have been repurposed. When Mrs. Perkins lived on campus, for example, the “Old Chapel” building was called Geological Hall.  It not only contained the chapel, which students were required to attend daily, but science classrooms and other offices.  The chapel was one of several rooms on campus also used for public lectures, which Mrs. Perkins often attended.  She sometimes gave lectures herself on the subject of literature, but her interests and intellectual curiosity were as broad as her observations about the day-to-day life of the College.  In 1902, for example, she attended a lecture that the recently hired Charles Proteus Steinmetz gave on “Rontgen rays,” or x-rays. She also reported that Steinmetz’s classes were popular with students and that he experimented with the lights on campus, varying their colors from yellow to green to purple.


Map link: Chapel-Geological Hall


Walk west towards Vantage Point 2, Hale House, where Mrs. Perkins lived with her family from 1865 to 1922.