Historically, most colleges in New England and around the country featured a chapel for students, as many were religious and far from home.
The original chapel of Wellesley College was housed in College Hall from 1875. In 1887 a fund was established by the students to build a separate chapel that would hold the entire student body, which was rapidly growing from the 350 students in Wellesley College’s first graduating Class of 1879 to nearly 700 students in 1890.
At this same time, William S. Houghton, a businessman in Boston and a trustee to Wellesley College took notice and updated his will to provide funds to the students desire for a chapel. Just before his death, uncertain events occurred which caused him to alter his will, having most money go to his family. After his death, with his children understanding his desire to help Wellesley College, gave a $100,000 gift was for a chapel to be built on the College grounds, in memory of their father. The chapel was to be used only for religious and academic purposes for the succeeding twenty years. The Board of Trustee s appointed a Chapel Committee immediately to choose a site and run a competition for the design of the Chapel .
The architectural firm of Heins & LaFarge, of New York were later selected to design the new student chapel, in the Gothic Revival style to blend with existing 1890s structures on Norumbega Hill in the center of campus. Heins & LaFarge were Philadelphia-born architects, who located their office in New York, and are most notable for their collaboration with Ralph Adams Cram on the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in Manhattan.
The chapel was dedicated in 1899 and is constructed of Amherst stone in the Greek cross plan. The structure is constructed upon a granite foundation, which is a harder stone that holds up to weathering at the water table.
The interior is notable for its open spaces with stained glass windows designed by John LaFarge and Louis Comfort Tiffany. There is also a bass relief inside designed by Daniel Chester French in memory of Alice Freeman Palmer, the first president of Wellesley College.