The Buildings Themselves
The land that Parsons House stands on was purchased from Native Americans in 1645 by Cornet Joseph Parsons, who would later be one of the founders of Northampton in 1654. The Parsons family lived on the land until Miss Bessie Capen bought it in 1902 to build Faunce House, a dormitory, library and recitation hall for her school, the Capen School. This building was bought by Smith College in 1921 to house students, and was renamed Parsons House in 1929 or 1930.
Parsons has always had an Annex, a smaller house that functions as a part of Parsons community. The first Annex, which was initially called Faunce Annex, was located across Henshaw Avenue from the House and was also originally part of the Capen School. In 1968, the Annex was relocated to its current location behind Parsons House, in the Round Hill neighborhood. This building, which was built in 1896, was a private residence belonging to the Walker family until 1966. It was then briefly a part of a private girls’ boarding school, the Mary Burnham School, until it was purchased by the college in 1968. In 1977, the Annex was changed into a co-op called Hover House, but it once again became the Parsons Annex in 1984.
A freshman handbook from the summer of 1959 lists Parsons’ “peeling paint and barn-like exterior” as a few of its many charms, and Parsons residents today agree that these continue to be some of Parsons’ unique attributes. In the 1950s, Parsons residents eagerly awaited and planned mixers with men from neighboring colleges like Amherst, Williams, Dartmouth and Yale. Other forms of entertainment in those days included the house “octet,” called the “Parsons Preachers,” which won the house octet competition in the spring of 1959, and the precursor to today’s Crapapella, the “Nasal Drips.” The Nasal Drips had a repertoire of one song and came together spontaneously with their out-of-tune voices.
The house mother was integral to Parsons. She helped to govern the house, enforce rules and council students. One house mother, Miss MacArthur, who lived in Parsons in the early 1950s, had a student write a humorous “House History” which was read at Christmas dinner each year. There were many rules in early Parsons life. Every student, aside from seniors and house council members, had a job which varied from waiting tables at mealtimes to answering the house phone. A dress code was enforced, which slowly became less strict, mandating skirts at certain meals and eventually allowing curlers and bathrobes to be worn to breakfast. Quiet hours were enforced at almost all times except for the periods immediately before and after meals and on weekends. A Social Chair’s notebook from the late 1950s or early 1960s lists the rules for house dances, which included: absolutely no dancing with anyone else’s date; the maintenance of a one foot dancing distance; the reservation of the bushes in front of the House for house council members; a complete set of undergarments to be worn at all times.
Today Parsonites pride themselves in their house community and have several traditions, including the “Pantsless Parsons” theme at convocation, dressing up in costume for the first house meeting of the year, and a skit put on by the first years at senior banquet.