Completed in the summer of 1913 by architect Ralph Adams Cram, North Court stands as a symbol of progress for women’s higher education. Formerly called Westhampton, North Court housed everything for the first women enrolled in the women’s college affiliated with Richmond College. The building marked the beginning of the Collegiate Gothic style of architecture, but instead of the traditional limestone, local red clay bricks formed the facades of the building.
Backstory and Context
President Frederic W. Boatwright pioneered the idea for a women’s college to accompany Richmond College. The Board of Trustees, after some hesitation, agreed to the forward-thinking proposition and decided to move the campus of Richmond College to the Westhampton neighborhood in 1910. Here the campus of Westhampton College began with the construction of North Court. Women had enrolled in classes in Richmond College without matriculating for years, but the women now had a college of their own under the deanship of Dr. May Lansfield Keller, the first woman dean of a Virginia college.
North Court had the capacity to house 135 women. In its first year, Westhampton College enrolled 82 women, 38 residential and 44 commuting. The excess space accommodated many faculty members and their families, which created a close-knit campus community. The building included a refectory (dining hall), library, calisthenic center, recital hall, reception hall, and classrooms. Cram, the architect, modeled the building on the colleges of Cambridge and Oxford with an enclosed English courtyard. The original rules for first-years even stated, “for the cultivation of social graces and for the properness of thy conduct thou shalt not receive callers (if thou are lucky enough to have any) save in the blue room.” Thus North Court housed both academic and daily activities for the women.
During the First World War the students of Westhampton College evacuated North Court to move downtown to rented facilities at St. Luke’s Hospital. They took their classes in the old building of Richmond College at Broad and Lombardy Streets. North Court acted as a hospital for wounded soldiers shipped into Norfolk and then brought to Richmond by train. The women collected books and magazines for the soldiers to enjoy. Cots lined the halls and rooms of North Court until the beginning of the academic year in the fall of 1919.
With the opening of the T.C. Williams School of Law in 1920, the charter for the colleges changed to encompass all three institutions under one name—the University of Richmond. The completion of Heilman Dining Center and Tyler Haynes Commons in the mid-20th century combined the two colleges structurally, permanently intertwining their futures.
North Court no longer holds a refectory, but the room still houses functions occasionally. A lounge and study area replaced the library in the tower between the academic and residential wings of the building. The auditorium was renovated in 1989 and now holds the name of the Perkinson Recital Hall after Byrd Boissaeu Perkinson and William Boyd Perkinson. The building underwent a renovation in 1988 in which a recreation room was built in the basement.
The academic wing of North Court houses the classics, philosophy, and education departments, as well as the Collegian offices and a small exhibit of ancient artifacts and a mummy. The residential wing is currently under construction and should be completed by the spring of 2017.
Although North Court has transitioned from a catchall of college academics and leisure to an academic and residential continuation of the modern campus, the spirit of Westhampton has continued. North Court bridges together the daily lives of students with their academics seamlessly, just as the building has for a century before.
Allen, Anna. “Perfecting the Refectory.” University of Richmond Magazine, 15 January, 2016.
Kappatos, Nicole. “From the Archives: Westhampton College.” Richmond Times-Dispatch, 9 September 1962.
United States. Department of the Interior. National Park Service. National Register of Historic Place Registration Form. Richmond, VA: Virginia Department of Historic Resources, 2013. 1-66. Accessed November 6, 2016. https://www.nps.gov/NR/feature/places/13000260.htm.
"University History." History of the University of Richmond: Architecture. Accessed November 01, 2016. http://urhistory.richmond.edu/architecture/.
"University History." History of the University of Richmond: Milestones. Accessed November 06, 2016. http://urhistory.richmond.edu/milestones/index.html.