Caroline Hazard

Inducted: 2010
Born: 1856
Died: 1945

Caroline Hazard, educator, philanthropist, artist, and author was born in Peace Dale, Rhode Island, on June 10, 1856. She was the second of five children of industrialist Rowland Hazard II and Margaret A. (Rood) Hazard of Peace Dale. Caroline grew up with all the privileges her prominent family could afford – private tutors, European vacations, and a house full of servants. She attended Miss Mary A. Shaw’s School in Providence, was tutored privately by Brown University professor Lewis Diman for ten years, and received private lessons as she traveled through Europe. A talented painter, writer, and musician, she floundered in ill health through her teens and twenties until she began writing. Her first volume, a memoir of her Brown teacher, J. Lewis Diman, was published by Houghton Mifflin and Co. in 1886.

After completing a European trip, she returned to “Oakwood,” the family home in Peace Dale, where she conducted welfare programs, especially for the children of her father’s Peace Dale Manufacturing Company employees. She also wrote poetry, biographies, and works relating to her family history. She became known as an authority on the history of Rhode Island. Her interest in her family’s history led her to write Thomas Hazard, Son of Robert (1893), Narragansett Ballads (1894), The Narragansetts Friends Meeting (1899, and the four-volume The Works of Rowland G. Hazard (1899).

She also learned the family business and participated in the workers’ communities. She established a social center in Peace Dale, teaching sewing and other domestic skills. Like other intellectual women of her time, she experienced personal uncertainty. In an autobiographical essay, “At Eight and Twenty,” she described the unease of a woman who, unmarried and without a vocation, sees “Her own social and intellectual usefulness limited.” That changed in 1889 when Alice Freeman Palmer, president of Wellesley College, invited her to serve on the Board of Visitors. Ten years later, Hazard succeeded Freeman as president of Wellesley College. Hazard took the position reluctantly, feeling that she was not qualified to run a college without a college degree. Although she was the fifth Wellesley president, she was the first to have a formal inauguration. In her inaugural address, she spoke about the changing role of women in society, the necessity of balancing emotion and intellect, and her new responsibilities.

As president, Hazard took an active role in constructing new buildings. She solicited suggestions from architect Frederick Law Olmstead on the design of residence halls. She oversaw the construction of the Observatory, Observatory House, Hazard Quadrangle, and Library and personally contributed funds for some of these projects. These buildings, as well as Hazard’s house in Peace Dale, were marked with a scallop shell, a personal symbol she adopted in reference to a poem by Sir Walter Raleigh.

In her first days at Wellesley, she had to deal with divisions within the faculty concerning a recent purge of some professors. Her deep commitment to learning, however, endeared her to the faculty. Hazard abolished compulsory chapel and instituted student self-government. Caroline Hazard was a new type of women’s college president – an upper-class lady with a business background and a wealth of social and financial connections to build her institution’s base. Hazard was the first president of Wellesley to emphasize fundraising. She raised money from alumnae, friends, and major donors for endowed chairs, departments, and scholarship funds and five dormitories, academic buildings, a new library, and a heating plant. She gave $95,000 to Wellesley and built, with her own funds, the home subsequently occupied by Wellesley College presidents. During her tenure, enrollment doubled, as did the faculty. She oversaw the establishment of astronomy, economics, English, hygiene, and physical education departments. Music, a special interest of Hazard’s, received its own endowed department. She also helped launch the college choir. She erased the college’s debt and began an endowment that reached $1.3 million by 1910.

Illness forced her to take leaves of absence in 1906-1907 and again in 1908-1909. In 1910, she resigned as Wellesley president but continued as a Wellesley College trustee until 1927. She returned to Rhode Island to resume her writing career. She participated in war work during World War I, chairing the South Kingston County Women’s Committee for National Defense. She sat on the Liberty Committee (1916) and the World War Savings Corporation (1917.) After the war, she spent her summers in Santa Barbara, California, participating in local history and cultural efforts. While she never received a college degree, she received honorary degrees from six colleges, including Brown University.

One of her books, From College Gates, contained significant material about her educational ideas and experiences as Wellesley’s president. Her concept of “knowledge for service” in women’s education brought together both older beliefs about women’s proper role and the new claims for women’s higher education. Her most incredible legacy was to make college for women more acceptable to those still unsure of its merits or its relation to more traditional home and family roles for women.

At a time when many women of her social class confined their activities to garden parties and bridge socials, Caroline Hazard continued to be a dynamic public presence in the community. She supported her mother’s legacy by funding Steppingstones Kindergarten in Peace Dale. She also remained active in the church founded by her father, Peace Dale Congregational Church. She supported cultural activities such as lectures, plays, and musicals. She also founded South County Cottage Hospital, a sorely needed institution that opened on Kenyon Avenue in Wakefield. At an age when she would be forgiven for “taking it easy,” she fought to remain physically vigorous and mentally creative. Indeed, much living lay ahead of her – in the coming decades, she would write or edit 16 books, write a weekly column for the Providence Evening Bulletin, become the driving force behind the preservation of the Gilbert Stuart Birthplace in North Kingstown, and donate the Elizabeth Barrett-Robert Browning love letters to Wellesley. She also continued to sketch and paint watercolors until 1943, two years before her death at age 88.

She moved between Peace Dale and Santa Barbara until her death on March 19, 1945. Caroline Hazard was inducted into The Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame in 2010. She joined her father, Rowland G. Hazard, who was inducted in 2003.

For additional reading:

  • Caroline Hazard Papers, 1871-1939, University of Rhode Island Library.
  • Hazard, Caroline, 1856-1945: Anchors of tradition; a presentment of some little known facts and persons in a small corner of colonial New England called Narragansett, to which are added certain weavings of fancy from the thread of life upon the loom of time (Yale University Press, 1924)
  • Hazard, Caroline, 1856-1945: A brief pilgrimage in the Holy Land recounted in a series of addresses delivered in Wellesley college chapel by the president, Caroline Hazard. (Houghton Mifflin company, 1909).
  • Hazard, Caroline, 1856-1945: Causation and freedom in willing (Houghton, Mifflin and company, 1889),
  • Hazard, Caroline, 1856-1945: The college year; vesper addresses in Wellesley college chapel (Houghton Mifflin company, 1910).
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