Pell Hall

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Pell Hall was a building designated to be built with funds from a bequest by Mary Bogert Pell, widow of John H. Pell Class of 1852. Although the bequest was reported in 1913, and the money was reportedly received in 1928, no building was ever erected.

Pell Bequest

Mary Bogert Pell passed away in May 1913. Her will provided for gifts to be made to the Dutch Reformed Church, Columbia, and Rutgers.[1][2][3] Initial reports valued the bequests at between $500,000 and $1,000,000 per institution.[4] Subsequent estimates would revise the value of the bequest to Columbia down to approximately $272,000.[5] The gift was among the largest the school had received, and the first gift specifically for the construction of a building since Joseph Pultizer's gift to establish the School of Journalism and erect Pulitzer Hall.[6][7]

The gifts to Rutgers and the Reformed Church were intended for buildings honoring Pell's father, Wessel Wessels, while the gift to Columbia was intended to honor her late husband and Columbia alumnus, John Henry Pell, Class of 1852. The bequest was tied up in real estate investments subject to life estates, presumably with the beneficiaries as remainderman. As a result the beneficiaries did not receive the bequests until years after Pell's death. It appears that the Reformed Church constructed their memorial to Wessels in the form of an annex to the Gardner Sage Library at New Brunswick Theological Seminary in 1929.[8][9][10] Rutgers erected Wessels Hall, a dormitory, with Pell's gift by 1930, and also named a companion dormitory after Pell herself.[11][12][13][14]

Columbia on the other hand, never built Pell Hall despite the fact that President Nicholas Murray Butler included the receipt of $269,686.46 from the estate of Mary B. Pell in a list of legacies and bequests received by the University in an October 1928 announcement,[15] and in his annual report delivered to the Trustees in January of 1929 (though this time it was reported to be in the amount of $258,185.82).[16] No mention is made in either report that the Pell gift was intended for a building. In fact, the 1929 report lists the Pell bequest among "additions the general endowment," while gifts for "buildings and grounds" are tallied elsewhere.

It is unclear why Pell Hall was never built. As late as 1920, the Pell bequest was recognized as being towards the construction of a building, with John Pine reproducing the language of the Pell bequest in his 1920 edition of his "Charters, Acts of the Legislature, Official Documents and Records" of Columbia. Yet by 1928, the bequest was considered a general endowment gift. One possibility is that by 1928, the gift was insufficient to fund a building - while Furnald Hall, whose cornerstone was laid in December 1912 shortly before Pell's death, was funded by a similar sized $300,000 gift, John Jay Hall, constructed between 1925-1927, shortly before the bequest was received, was funded by the University itself to the tune of approximately $1.8 million - significantly more than the Pell bequest.[17] Of course, John Jay is a substantially larger building than Furnald.


It appears that Pell Hall was initially intended to be a dormitory constructed immediately south of Furnald Hall - a Wallach to Furnald's Hartley.[18] However, no permanent structure was erected south of Furnald until Ferris Booth Hall, which was completed in 1960. At least one source, describing a proposal for Van Amringe Memorial Quadrangle in 1916, noted that the as-of-yet unbuilt structure opposite Hamilton Hall might one day be Pell Hall.[19] Of course, when a dormitory finally rose in that location in 1927, it was ultimately named after John Jay.


  1. The text of the bequest: "Charters, Acts of the Legislature, Official Documents and Records", Pgs. 607-608. Compiled by John B. Pine in 1920.
  2. "LARGE BEQUESTS TO COLLEGES - Columbia and Rutgers Given Nearly Half a Million in Pell Will", Boston Evening Transcript, 19 May 1914.
  3. "Nearly $400,000,000 In Benefactions Is American Record For Year 1913", The New York Magazine, Part VII, 4 January 1914.
  4. Science, Vol. 37, No. 964, Pg. 939, 20 June 1913; Nature, Vol. 91, Pg. 493, 10 July 1913; The American Education Review, Vol. 34, No. 10, Pg. 513, July 1913; Columbia University Quarterly, Vol. 16, No. 1, Pg. 82
  5. "Columbia Beneficiary Under Pell Will", Columbia Spectator, 20 May 1914
  6. Columbia Alumni News, Vol. 5, No. 36, Pg. 758, 10 July 1914
  7. Ironically, much like Columbia never built Pell Hall, Columbia also ignored the fact that Pulitzer's bequest required that the building bear his name for almost 100 years.
  8. There is a reference to the completion of a "Wessel s Memorial Building" in "A Digest and Index of the Minutes of of the General Synod of the Reformed Church in America", Pg. 190
  9. [1]
  10. [2]
  11. Pell Hall
  12. Wessels Hall
  13. RUMaps - Pell Hall
  14. RUMaps - Wessels Hall
  15. "President Butler Announces the Receipt Of Legacies, Bequests Totaling $500,000", Columbia Spectator, 15 Oct 1928
  16. "Butler Report Shows Prospect of Deficit; Cites List of Achievements of Past Year", Columbia Spectator, 7 Jan 1929
  17. "Furnald Cornerstone Laid", Columbia Alumni News, Vol. 4, No. 14, Pg. 201, 13 December 1913; "Trustees Decide To Build Students Hall As Soon As Weather Conditions Permits; Will Raise University Tuition Fee in July", Columbia Spectator, 4 February 1925
  18. The clearest references to location are with respect to a proposed building for the Philolexian Society, which multiple reports described as to be built between Furnald Hall and the anticipated Pell Hall. The Philolexian building was never constructed. "Two Generations at Philolexian Dinner", Columbia Spectator, 31 May 1915; "Philolexian Holds Annual Banquet", Columbia Spectator, 13 March 1916; Columbia Alumni News, Vol. 7, No. 24, Pg. 744, 17, March 1916; "Launch Campaign for Philo House", Columbia Spectator, 11 May 1916
  19. Columbia Alumni News, Vol. 7 No. 34, Pg. 983, 26 May 1916