Wells was established as a women's college in 1868 by Henry Wells, founder of Wells Fargo and the American Express Company. Wells had the building for Wells Seminary constructed on property he donated. On August 9, 1888, the College's main building burned to the ground. The building was replaced in 1890 by the current Main Building, designed by architect William Henry Miller. Henry Wells' 1852 mansion, Glen Park, was purchased by the Alumnae Association in 1906 and given to the College for its use. It is now part of the campus as a residence hall for upper class women.
In 1965, Walter Netsch designed the Louis Jefferson Long Library. The design of this award-winning building inspired two other buildings on campus, Barler Music Hall and Campbell Art Building.
In 1886, Frances Folsom Cleveland Preston, Wells Class of 1885, became the youngest First Lady of the United States when she married Grover Cleveland. She was the first First Lady to be a college graduate and the only First Lady to be wed in the White House. She served on the College's Board of Trustees for 50 years and brought the College to national prominence.
After 136 years as a women's college, Wells announced on October 2, 2004 that it would become a co-educational institution in 2005. This drew student protests on campus. Some parents of students also became involved in the protests. Some of the students said that their protests were patterned after ones at Mills College in the early 1990s. A website called Wells for Women was established After the college's decision to adopt coeducation was approved by its board, students filed a lawsuit, which the courts rejected. The college adopted coeducation in 2005.
Classes at Wells are taught seminar-style by professors — not teaching assistants — and 83% of Wells faculty have doctoral degrees.
The Washington Monthly's "College Rankings" (an alternative college guide to the U.S. News and World Report) ranks Wells College as #30 among all liberal arts colleges in the United States—as well as the top such college in New York state—in the September 2006 issue.
In 2006, Wells was ranked 12th in the nation by the Princeton Review for being best at encouraging class discussion. In its 2007 rankings, released in August 2006, U.S. News & World Report put it at #24 on the "Great Schools, Great Price" list of best-value schools. It has previously been listed based on the beauty of its campus and frequently makes lists of the nations most-haunted campuses. Best College Reviews ranked Wells as the #1 most historically notable college in the U.S.
U.S. News ranks Wells at 174 (tied) among liberal arts colleges.
Wells college tuition along with room and board has now gone from about $29,000 a year to $38–39,000 a year starting with members of the class of 2013. Singles now cost $1000 a year ($500 per semester).
Cost for 2016-2017 Academic YearTuition & Fees - $38,530
Room & Board - $13,360
Athletics has been a key component of the Wells College experience for each student dating back to the institution's establishment in 1868. Traditions and rituals at Wells involving athletics are an important part of the collegiate experience for incoming students. The school's annual Odd/Even basketball game, annually drawing large crowds of current students and alumnae/i alike, was first played in 1898.
A member of the Private College Athletic Conference throughout the late-1970s and early-1980s, the Express captured four consecutive conference championships in tennis (1977–78, 1978–79, 1979–80, 1980–81) while also winning back-to-back titles in bowling (1978–79, 1979–80). Wells, who officially became an NCAA Division III institution prior to the 1986–87 athletic season, joined the Atlantic Women's Colleges Conference prior to the 1996–97 athletic season. In 1996, the Wells soccer team captured the school's only AWCC championship title.
As part of the Board of Trustees decision to begin accepting men to the traditionally all-women's college, Wells incorporated men's soccer, men's swimming and men's and women's cross country into their athletic cadre. Prior to 2005, the Express offered only six intercollegiate athletic sports - field hockey, softball, women's lacrosse, women's soccer, women's swimming and women's tennis.
Prior to the 2007–08 academic year, the Express were invited to join the North Eastern Athletic Conference and compete against 14 other schools in the East Region. In joining the NEAC, Wells was able to compete for conference championships with the added benefit of receiving an automatic qualifier in select sports to participate in the NCAA tournament.
Since joining the NEAC, Wells has captured six separate conference championships - men's swimming laid claim to the first league title in 2009–10 and earned their second title in 2012–13. Women's swimming have won conference championships during the 2011–12, 2012–13, and 2013–14 seasons. Men's basketball, who won the NEAC championship in 2010–11, was the first team from Wells to participate in the NCAA Tournament.
As of the 2015–16 athletic season, Wells offers 16 NCAA Division III varsity sports, including field hockey, men's and women's basketball, men's and women's lacrosse, men's and women's soccer, men's and women's swimming, men's and women's volleyball, men's and women's cross country, softball, baseball, and women's tennis.In September 2000, Wells held a festival, Return to Chonodote, honoring the area's Haudenosaunee past and present. The event was co-sponsored by SHARE, members of the Cayuga Nation and Onondaga Nation, and Ithaca College.
Aurora Village-Wells College Historic District is considered a historic place.
Like a number of other liberal arts colleges, Wells has an honor code to which all students subscribe. By signing the Honor Code, Wells students pledge "not to lie, cheat, steal, deceive, or conceal in the conduct of their collegiate life". Wells prides itself on its honor code, which permits it to maintain an environment where students are able to have take-home exams, and to work in their dorm rooms, at the library, or on the dock by the lake, rather than in classrooms.
Traditions and rituals at Wells College are often described as the backbone of student life.
Upon entering, first-year students are assigned to one of two traditional lines. The Evenline, whose colors are blue and green, consist of students who will graduate in even-numbered years. The Oddline, whose colors are purple and gold, consists of students who will graduate in odd-numbered years. Each line also has its own mascot. Evens have Cleo (the elephant), and Odds have Oddwina (the bear). During the first week of this tradition, tryouts take place and teams are picked for the annual basketball game and sing-off. Each team then selects its song leaders, who then carry the responsibility of preparing the teams for the sing-off competition the day before the basketball game.
The song leaders also supervise the creation of the class banners, as well as the writing of the class song. After two weeks of practice and songs in the dining hall, the first-year and sophomore teams meet in the gym (in front of a packed audience) for the famed game. The victors get first dibs on a side of the "smoke pit," which they paint over. The other team shares this experience and paints the other side of the smoke pit. The very first Odd/Even game was played in 1898 and won by the Oddline.
In the Spring of 2008, the tradition expanded to include a men's tradition. The competitive primary event is a Dodgeball game, which is made up of teams consisting of Freshmen and Sophomores. The competitive secondary event was originally established to be chosen yearly by the Senior coaches. In 2008, the secondary event was a chili cook off. In 2009, the secondary event was a cook out, and in 2010 a dance off was held. The Dance Off was such a success that this event has been continually held every year as part of the tradition. Thus far, the teams are tied in wins in Dodgeball, with 3 each. Evenline won in 2008, 2010, and 2012. Oddline won in 2009, 2011, and 2013. The Dance Off is currently in favor of Evenline, having won in 2011, 2012, and 2013. Oddline won the inaugural Dance Off in 2010.
Each first-year student is teamed up with a Wells student from each class to form a branch of the Wells tree. This provides each first-year the opportunity to know a unique group of students from each class year, who often do recreational activities together. Wells families are revealed in the fall by the Traditions Committee. The Traditions Committee also then plans out a designated day to host its annual Wells Families Day. During this time, each family is reunited and joined by its new family members. In the spirit of the Sycamore tree, Wells alumnae/i form the base of the tree and current Wells students are the branches — each part of the Wells family.
Tea and coffee are served every Wednesday afternoon in Macmillan Hall’s Art Exhibit Room (as of 2016, in The Grind, Wells's student-run coffee shop). Though the long dresses and china cups have long since disappeared, this break from afternoon seminars is still a great time to get together with friends and professors. Students, Faculty & Staff are encouraged to participate in Wells Wednesdays and wear red clothing/accessories or Wells College gear to show their Spirit on Wednesdays. Students participating are often rewarded at Tea Time with giveaways and special treats from the Office of Student Activities & Leadership.
Opening Convocation celebrates the beginning of the academic year and is the seniors’ first chance to wear academic gowns. A traditional part of this convocation is the candlelight ceremony. Symbolized by a candle flame, the spirit of the Wells connection is passed from alumnae/i to students, signifying the support that Wells students give one another throughout their lives. The Collegiate Cabinet plans the Convocation that opens the spring semester and welcomes students, faculty and staff back to campus after the intersession. Honors Convocation is held at the end of the year where most annual award presentations for student’s achievements are made.
To celebrate the holiday spirit that sweeps through campus each winter, the Freshmen Class organizes a traditional holiday show for all of the community to enjoy. Village residents and their children, students, faculty and staff engage in the activities that take place on the first Monday night of December. The main attractions of the night are holiday skits that are put on by the resident advisors, administrators and elves. Senior elves try to remember and re-create their first-year skit, and the new student elves work the crowd by performing theirs. Singing groups on campus such as Henry’s VIII, Appointed, and the Whirligigs are invited to sing. At the end of the evening, first-year elves introduce Santa Claus and everyone participates in singing carols over cookies and hot chocolate.
"May Day, May Day, May First coming!" May Day is a ceremony organized by the senior and first-year classes and celebrates the "Royal Senior Court." Held on or around May 1st, the ceremony includes announcing and crowning of the Senior Royalties. The College held its first official May Day celebration in 1923. Traditionally, the May Queen came from the junior class. Elected by the student body, she was crowned by her predecessor. During the celebration poetry is read, songs are sung, and the first-year student dancers, usually dressed in white, perform a dance while wrapping the May pole.
Since the first graduation activities were held in 1869, Wells has hosted a distinguished Commencement ceremony accompanied by many festivities. A reception on Friday evening is held with a special concert by one of the College’s student singing groups. On the morning of Commencement, seniors ride with their families in the original Wells Fargo stagecoach to the ceremony where degrees are awarded. In the early days, essays (sometimes amusing) were delivered by the graduates on Commencement day, with musical interludes by the students; a dignitary gave the keynote address. Commencement speakers are selected by the senior class.
On or around Halloween night, the first-year class officers are given the task of organizing a hayride for local children and community members. Weather permitting, a hayride carries groups of students around campus where rehearsed skits are performed outside the residence halls and other buildings portraying ghost stories from Wells. After the hayride, the children are invited to walk around the campus supervised by parents or students and go trick-or-treating at each of the residence halls. Students who wish to hand out candy to the children will be asked to make a small sign to put on the door to let the supervisors know where to bring the kids.
During the Winter holiday season, a few days before the start of J-Term
(short for January Term), the first-year class officers organize Winter holiday events. The officers gather volunteers who wish to go caroling around the village of Aurora and through the residence halls.
Near the end of the Fall Semester, the first-year class officers gather volunteers or "elves" who, on a designated day, go to each residence hall and decorate the lobbies and common areas in the winter spirit. During Weihnachten
, the elves are responsible for creating a skit to perform at the Sommer Center amongst all the other class skits. This gathering is open to the entire Wells community.
During Spring Week, first-years and sophomore students star in a talent show, showing off their talents to Wells and to the community. The event is hosted by the sophomore class.
To welcome in the warm weather the sophomore class hosts an annual Spring Dance for Wells students and their guests. This event usually takes place in the Sommer Center in March.
This annual event is run by the FARGO Board (Friends And Recent Graduates Organization). They throw an appreciation and bonding event during the first semester. Also, sophomores receive their Wells ivy plant which is symbolic of their growth, time and success at Wells.
On the last day of classes, seniors (in their robes) are joined by fellow students and administration on the front lawn of Main where they dance and sing around the old Sycamore tree. After all the excitement, the sophomores present the seniors with roses to commend them on their accomplishments.
At the end of sophomore year, students receive their personalized ceramic mugs in celebration of being juniors. These mugs are christened at Junior Blast and then used for champagne breakfast during their senior year and other traditions.
In the spring, the junior class throws themselves a party—Junior Blast! During the party, the first-year students secretly sneak a junior’s mattress out of her or his room and leave it in a hidden place to be found with clues. Depending on the bribing tactics of each junior to first-years, finding the wanted mattress may prove to be a difficult but always a fun task.
At the end of each spring semester, the junior class creates skits making fun of the seniors. The hilarity is open for the entire student body to watch.
At the end of the spring semester, seniors compile a list of individual attributes that they auction off to their fellow students. The basis of this tradition is to exchange an item or a service to raise funds that will benefit the senior class. Some services include cleaning dorm rooms, holding study sessions, and possibly making home-cooked meals.
Seniors wear academic gowns on the first and last day of classes each semester, at champagne breakfast, convocations, Odd/Even game and singoff, 20 Days, and at Moving Up Day.
Outside of Main, the College’s first building, sits the statue of the Roman Goddess Minerva. Symbolizing wisdom, craft, wit and intellect, the senior class decorates Minerva at the beginning of the fall semester. Minerva remains decorated throughout the school year; then during the morning of the last day of classes and after singing around the Sycamore tree, the senior class takes turns kissing the feet of Minerva, believed to be good luck and bring success and prosperity to all graduation seniors.
Seniors are served champagne in their Junior Mugs (big beer steins) during breakfast on the first and last days of classes each semester of their senior year.
This annual event was formerly held in the lounge of Dodge Residence Hall early in the fall semester. It is now hosted in the Sommer Center and run by Programming Board. Wells students and their guests dance the night away to 1970s music and compete for best costume.
In late November, students and their guests participate in an elegant soirée with the chance to dress in formal attire and enjoy a candlelit dinner. Following dinner, a performance by one of the singing groups is held in the Chapel. After the performance, students head to the dining hall or Sommer Center to dance the night away.
Mainly ’80s is the perfect chance to break out the spandex and funky hairstyles and dance the night away. Held in the basement of Main Building (or in the Sommer Center), Mainly ’80s is the time where students dress in their best ’80s attire and cut "footloose" to live tunes of the ’80s (which also branches out from the 70's to last week!)! The night is also filled with hula-hoops, break dancing, and costume contests.
This annual event held around in early to mid November is hosted by campus club Sex Collective. Erotic Ball is meant to be a celebration of the sexual- being comfortable in body, with orientation, with the act of sex, and safe sex. The dance is one of the most popular events of the year, well attended by Wells students and their guests. The theme changes every year- past themes being Garden of Eden, Moulin Rouge!
, Medieval Times, Fetish, and Halloween. Common contests include the Fake Orgasm Contest and a Costume Contest. The event has grown so large that it has to be held in the Dining Hall after hours in order to hold everyone.
Wells College's latest publication, a bi-yearly magazine that is available both in print and online.
Student yearbook primarily for seniors, published yearly and shipped to seniors over the summer.
Student literary magazine, published annually.
The bells in Main Building’s tower are rung to announce dinner every night, on the arrival of the first snowflakes, and other special events. Alumnae often request them rung in honor of a wedding, birth of a child, or other momentous life occasion. The bellringers are all students. To ring the bells, one must climb several flights of stairs to reach the belfry which holds a sort of a keyboard consisting of heavy wooden levers (one per bell) which the bellringer either pounds on or pushes downward, depending on the style of the bellringer.
When a Wells student deserves special recognition for an election, birthday, or other accomplishment, friends will often sing the "Wells Congratulation Song" which goes as follows:
Each semester, members of the upper classes may order the traditional onyx and gold Wells College ring. The ring symbolizes the memories that Wells provides. Rumored to have been modeled after Henry Wells’s own signet ring, it traditionally is gold with black onyx. However, students today also have the option of having their rings made in white gold.
Should Cayuga Lake freeze over, no classes are held that day and a formal holiday pronouncement is made. According to Wells College records, this last happened in 1979. However, other sources suggest that the only time the entire lake froze over in the 20th century was in 1912.
The campus is located in the scenic town of Aurora; it is three miles north of Long Point State Park; and Cayuga Lake adds beauty to the scenery year round.
The docks provide a location to swim or just relax and enjoy the weather. Several events at Wells College are held here throughout the year. You may see the floating classroom docked here at various times throughout the year.
The Wells College Golf Course is a publicly accessible nine-hole course that is free for Wells students to play on. Because of its location near the lake, this course is almost always thawed out before any other courses in this region.
The Waterfall is a short hike off of the golf course in the forests that surround campus. The region around the waterfall provides great views of the surrounding trees. In the fall the foliage changing colors provides a great location for photographers.
The String Room Gallery is the main location for Art Exhibits. It is located on the first floor of Main Building and features exhibitions from local and international artists. This space is also the site of two student art shows per year, such as the Student Exhibition and the Senior Thesis Art Exhibit, which is organized and presented each May by graduating Visual Art majors.Frances Folsom Cleveland - First Lady of the United States and wife of President Grover Cleveland
Pleasant Rowland - founder of Pleasant Company and creator of the American Girl brand of dolls, books, and accessories
Laura Nader - Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley. Nader’s areas of interest include comparative ethnography of law and dispute resolution, conflict, comparative family organization, the anthropology of professional mindsets and ethnology of the Middle East, Mexico, Latin America and the contemporary United States.
Margaret Pericak-Vance - Professor of Human Genomics at the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine, and Director of the Miami Institute for Human Genomics. She is best known for identifying the Apolipoprotein E risk gene for Alzheimers, helping to develop genomic convergence, and uncovering risk genes for a number of complex disorders, including Age-Related Macular degeneration, Multiple Sclerosis, Cardiovascular disease, Autism, and many others.
Helen Barolini, Italian-American author of novels and essays
Edith Kinney Gaylord - journalist, philanthropist, founder of Inasmuch Foundation and Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation, and former president of the National Women’s Press Club
Kathleen Lamanna - notable journalist
Mary Beckerle - Ph.D and executive director of the Huntsman Cancer Institute. She is also a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Helen Tracy Lowe-Porter - translator of Thomas Mann's works
Helena Zachos - longtime faculty member at Cooper Union
Jesse Bering - psychologist
Robert P. T. Coffin - poet
Frances "Sissy" Farenthold - Politician and human rights activist, former Wells president
John D. Graham - painter
Victor Hammer - artist
R. Joseph Hoffmann - historian of religion, humanist activist
Robert A. Plane - Wells president and chemist
Thomas J. Preston, Jr. - Wells president pro temp (married Frances Cleveland, widow of Grover Cleveland)
William Stokoe - English professor
Margaret Floy Washburn - psychologist