What’s in a name? Sumner Hall, Denison Library, Benson Hall, Platt Campus Center, Pitzer College — there are many names of places heard by students every day. Yet, few know the meaning behind the names or the original intent behind these buildings.
Sumner Hall is deeply connected with the college’s history, though its original purpose wasn’t collegiate.
“Built in 1887 … the Claremont Hotel (now known as Sumner Hall) was an ill-fated project that never truly served as a hotel,” according to the Pomona College Timeline. However, it was well-suited for a new college in search of land and “the primary reason the institution ended up (in Claremont).”
The name itself speaks to Pomona’s Protestant past. Charles Burt Sumner was the first pastor of Pilgrim Congregational Church in Pomona and a founding trustee for the College.
Connections to that particular church extend beyond Sumner Hall. In 1929, with the school in need of a dining hall for the men (women ate at the Claremont Inn, a now-demolished local landmark), Frary Hall was constructed, funded “by Trustee George W. Marston, who insisted on anonymity at the time,” the Timeline states. Marston “suggested the hall be named for Lucien Frary, a Congregational minister who had taken over as pastor,” according to the Timeline.
Mudd-Blaisdell is named, in part, after Pomona’s fourth President, James A. Blaisdell. Described by the Timeline as “one of the most influential and best remembered presidents in Pomona’s history,” he greatly expanded the school’s land and economic resources with his “Million Dollar Campaign.” Most importantly, he played a “key leadership role in founding the consortium known as The Claremont Colleges,” according to the website.
Though it shares its name with a county of the Holy Roman Empire and an important Scandinavian dynasty, Oldenborg Center was not named after a king but rather a generous businessman whose background inspired his philanthropy.
“He had been a world traveler whose goal as a philanthropist was to ‘strengthen communication and understanding among nations and thereby contribute to world peace,’” according to the Timeline.
It is typically assumed that donors have a strong personal connection with the institution they are donating to, but this was not the case with the donor for the Rains Center. In an unexpected gesture, Liliore Green Rains bequeathed $240 million to four schools, including Pomona, and two hospitals upon her death in 1986, according to The New York Times. While she was not an alumna of Pomona, one of her nephews had attended the school.
Scripps College was named after its founder, Ellen Browning Scripps, described by the school’s website as “a reporter, global suffragist, businesswoman, and philanthropist … an early and ardent supporter of women’s suffrage.” She was also integral to helping acquire the land for the other colleges beyond Pomona and setting up the consortium, alongside Blaisdell.
The residence hall Susan Miller Dorsey was named in honor of “the first woman superintendent of schools in Los Angeles and one of the first trustees selected,” the Scripps College Timeline states.
Typically, art is commissioned to fill a space, yet the opposite was the case with the Denison Library, which was made to display a specific piece of art.
“A desire by the donor, a Denver philanthropist, to place a stained glass window on the Scripps College campus led to the building of the Ella Strong Denison Library in 1931,” the History of Denison Library reads. The beautiful Gutenberg displays “the evolution of the written word and is dedicated ‘to the greater wisdom of women.’”
Claremont McKenna College
Originally known as Claremont Men’s College when it opened in 1947, Claremont McKenna College did not receive its current name until 1981, five years after it had become coeducational. It honors “the role of the founding benefactor and trustee Donald McKenna,” according to CMC’s college history. It also had the benefit of keeping the CMC acronym intact.
Benson Hall was named after the first president of CMC, George Benson, a veteran of World War II, and his wife, Mabel Benson.
Harvey Mudd College
Harvey Mudd College honors Harvey Seeley Mudd, who died the same year the college was founded. He was a mining engineer who co-founded Cyprus Mines Corp, an L.A.-based company that began with the development of copper mines on the island of Cyprus, according to the HMC website.
Joseph B. Platt, after whom HMC’s campus center was named, was the founding president of HMC.
“At the University of Rochester, he taught physics and helped develop night vision optical devices for use during World War II. He spent most of World War II at the radiation laboratory at The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he put his knowledge of radar devices to practical use for the United States Air Force,” according to his obituary on HMC’s website.
Besides serving as HMC’s president for twenty years and increasing both faculty numbers and student enrollment, he was notable for his quirky physics classes.
“Platt, who took up the guitar as a child, often played and sang short ditties laced with technical terminology to entertain his students and to teach scientific principles,” according to HMC’s website.
Not only is the name, but the very occupational industry of the honored man who named Pitzer College evident in the school’s logo and signature color.
“Pitzer College was named for noted philanthropist and orange grower Russell K. Pitzer,” according to Pitzer College’s official history.
In these and many other ways, each of the 5C colleges honors the enduring history of impactful individuals, waiting to be rediscovered each generation.
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