Baldwin House, named for William H. Baldwin, Jr., was built in 1908. Both Baldwin and his wife, Ruth Bowles Baldwin (class of 1887) were quite active in their support of Smith College. Mr. Baldwin gave the school $200,000 to increase the endowment and to aid in the construction of John M. Greene Hall, and Ruth Bowles Baldwin served as President Seelye’s secretary from 1888 to 1889, as the Alumnae Trustee from 1906 to 1927, and then on the Board of Trustees from 1927-1932.
The property Baldwin House now stands on was originally owned by Captain Baker, and was given to Smith College in 1905 by William G. Allen. At that point the future location of Baldwin was only a field.
Baldwin House’s construction was completed in 1908. President Seelye wrote in his President’s report of the time, “[Baldwin House] is one of the most attractive of the college houses…It will accommodate about fifty students.” The report also notes that it was “…built and furnished at an expense of about $68,000.” Indeed, Baldwin House is very attractive, built in the Neo-Georgian style, with a number of charming details including bay windows on the first floor and a porch with balustrades and Ionic columns. These features give it a welcoming, sunny atmosphere.
Very few significant events have occurred in Baldwin, although a small fire occurred in the ‘90s. A letter to First Years written by Elizabeth Joy Rider (Class of 1982) in 1979 gives an idea of what life was like. In it, she discusses such things as the house jobs, meals, general and social rules, social events and the rooms. Of the house jobs, she mentions such things as preparing tea, taking watch shifts in the front hall and cleaning the kitchenettes on each floor (particularly taking empty “coke and Tab” bottles downstairs). Meals were served in the dining room (which remained the case until the college decided to restrict meals service to certain houses). General rules in 1979 were very different from today. According to Rider, quiet hours start at 10:30 P.M. on week days and “[t]yping should not be done in your room after quiet hours have begun. Instead, use the smoker downstairs (nobody knows how it got that name).” As for social rules, men were usually allowed upstairs 24 hours a day. In regards to meeting men, Rider consoles the worried First Year, “If you are worried about coming to a women’s college, relax. Smith is well situated: Amherst, UMass, Hampshire, Dartmouth, Trinity, Williams, Harvard, Yale, etc., are all well within traveling distance.” Of the rooms, she helpfully notes that, “Your room will probably look like a prison cell at first…None of them [wall colors] are very attractive colors (in my own opinion, of course), so watch out for trying to bring matching-color rugs. It’s almost impossible.”
The most well-known Baldwinite was Julie Nixon, daughter of President Nixon. She resided in the house her First and Sophomore years. Popular, but unsubstantiated, rumor has it that the Hungry Ghost Bakery (next to Baldwin House) was where Secret Service agents resided during Ms. Nixon’s time in Baldwin, so as to be in closer proximity to her.
Unquestionably one of the most graceful residences at Smith College, Baldwin House has been a home to many students for the last hundred years, and it will undoubtedly remain so for another hundred more.
References Gilkerson, Ann. Baldwin Papers. Smith College Archive, Northampton, Massachusetts. Lincoln, Eleanor. Baker Property Papers. Smith College Archive, Northampton, Massachusetts. Lincoln, Eleanor T, and John A. Pinto. This, the House We Live In. Northampton: Smith College, 1983. Rider, Elizabeth Joy. Papers. Smith College Archives, Northampton, Massachusetts. Seelye, L. Clark. Smith College Presidents Reports (1896-97, 1909-10). Smith College Archives, Northampton, Massachusetts.