“Religion helps us to find the meaning of life. It speaks to the dignity of the individual. It proclaims the undeveloped potential that is in us. It bids us take courage and move forward with confidence.”
– Helen Hills Hills at the dedication of the chapel in 1955
The Helen Hills Hills Chapel is impossible to miss. Its prominent white steeple ensures Smithies can spot it from a mile away. The chapel hosts many activities, providing spaces for the religious and community groups at Smith College. But just who is this Helen Hills Hills? Is that really her last name? What’s the history of the chapel and the story behind its creation?
Originally, Smith College did not have a chapel, as its founders wanted Smithies to attend local churches in Northampton. In 1953, Helen Hills Hills (her maiden name was Hills and then she married a man with the surname Hills—it all makes sense now!) and an alumna from the class of 1908 offered funds for a college chapel. Helen’s one requirement: the building must follow the design of the traditional New England meeting houses, like the Congregational churches in Norwalk, Connecticut and Falmouth, Massachusetts, of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Designed by William and Geoffrey Platt of New York, the nondenominational Helen Hills Hills Chapel was completed in 1955.
In 2009, as facilities management personnel were installing the new air conditioning system, a compartment signed for a time capsule was discovered. The compartment had been noted on the chapel’s blueprints and the cornerstone marks the chapel’s entrance with an engraved “1955,” the year the building was completed (photo gallery; requires Flash). Inside, a 3-foot-tall metal canister was a message from the past, in the form of artifacts from the year of the chapel’s construction. The time capsule included a note from Helen Hills Hills, a copy of her remarks at the opening ceremony of the chapel, a framed picture of Helen Hills Hills with her husband, photographs of the buildings’ construction, copies of the Sophian from April 1954 and May 1955, and a Holy Bible.
The time capsule was not only a way to celebrate the opening of the chapel, but was also a way for those in the present to reflect on the history that went into creating such a space, appreciating the commemorations of the past.
Indeed, the Helen Hills Hills Chapel is more than a mere religious structure. It’s an important historic establishment that has and will continue to provide a space for the Smith community to gather, connect, and relate to each other.
[I hope] that it will give a faith to live by to all future generations of Smith students, whatever their religious beliefs or creeds.
—Helen Hills Hills, remarking at the dedication of the Chapel where the Center for Religious and Spiritual Life resides
In 2014, the Chapel underwent a major shift: the mid-1900s wooden pews were removed to make the space more flexible for students of various faiths. Check out this article celebrating our 2014 redesign! See more details about the process here.