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.
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.