The school now known as Simmons College was the vision of John Simmons (1796-1870), a prominent clothing manufacturer and real estate developer in Boston. His will provided for the founding of an educational institution, to be called Simmons Female College, the purpose of which was to give women an education and thus provide them the means to earn their own livelihood and be financially independent. John Simmons had envisioned an institution that would teach medicine, music, drawing, telegraphy, and other branches of art, science and industry. It was supposed to be founded soon after his death. However, the Great Boston Fire of 1872 burned down many of Simmons’ properties and destroyed a substantial portion of the income on his assets; the rebuilding of this financial base took several years. Finally, in 1899, enough funding was available. On May 24, 1899 the Massachusetts Legislature granted the charter to incorporate the school, and Simmons Female College was founded. No instructions were given in John Simmons’ will about the school other than the broad outline of its purpose and the subjects it would teach, so the organization of the school was a difficult task. On December 6, 1901 Dr. Henry Lefavour (1860-1946), then a professor of physics at Williams College, was elected to be the first president of Simmons Female College. He served as president of the college until 1933, when he retired, but continued on as a member of the Simmons College Corporation.
Simmons Female College, as it was named until 1915, opened to its first 146 students on October 9, 1902 at 45-47 St. Botolph Street. Though not all of the subjects that John Simmons envisioned were taught, the first curriculum offered Bachelor of Science degrees and certificates in Household Economics, Library Studies, Secretarial Studies and General Science.
In 1903 land was purchased on the Fenway, next to Mrs. Gardner’s Fenway Court, which is now the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, for the construction of a building that was to be the permanent home of Simmons Female College. The building, designed and constructed by Peabody & Stearns, was opened for classes for the 1904 fall semester—even if it was not quite finished. Named the Main College Building, it housed classrooms, offices, rooms for typing and shorthand classes, and laboratories for instruction in biology, chemistry and cooking. In 1909 it was enlarged by the addition of the west wing. The residential campus was a short walk away on Bellevue Street (now Pilgrim Road) and Short Street.
In June, 1906, the first Bachelor of Science degrees were conferred upon 32 students during the college’s first commencement exercises. Over 100 certificates for one-year programs were also issued. Daisie Miller Helyar was in the class of 1910, one of the first classes of young women to graduate from Simmons. Her scrapbook contains materials relating to school ceremonies – such as numerous graduation ceremonies – that demonstrate the creation of traditions that would help give Simmons College its identity.
Mark, K. L. (1945). Delayed by fire, Being the early history of Simmons college. [Concord, N.H.]: Priv. Print. [Rumford Press].
Simmons College (2009). Simmons College Archives Historical Resources. Retrieved from http://my.simmons.edu/library/collections/college_archives/history.shtml