Wellesley’s Antique Microscopes Move to New Home in President’s Office

May 17, 2019

As Wellesley prepares to welcome a brand-new, state-of-the-art Science Center, students and faculty are rediscovering vintage science equipment dating back to the College’s earliest years. Among these historical touchstones are a dozen brass microscopes, the oldest of which date back to 1878, not long after the College was formed.

Founder Henry Durant acquired the microscopes as he sought to bolster Wellesley’s collection of instruments and materials to enliven students’ lab work. At the time, the scientific curriculum for undergraduates across the United States consisted largely of lectures. Wellesley was one of the first institutions to incorporate lab work into its undergraduate curriculum.

On May 15, student scientists brought a dozen of these instruments to President Paula Johnson’s office, where they will remain on display as a reminder of Wellesley’s path-breaking past. 

A tight shot of four microscopes on a shelf.

Henry Durant traveled across the United States and Europe to purchase not only microscopes, like those pictured, but also models, charts, instruments, and specimens to bring back to the College for use in student labs. Aspiring scientists, Durant believed, should be exposed not only to lectures, but also to lab work.

A line of students walk though the basement of the science building wearing purple gloves and holding brass microscopes.

Naudia (AJ) Johnson ’22 leads the student procession through the basement of Sage Hall. These microscopes were almost all originally purchased for the botany and zoology departments, which merged in 1964 to form the biological sciences department.

A group of students walk from the science complex to Green Hall holding the microscopes.

The procession approaches Green Hall, where the students will present the microscopes to President Johnson. The microscopes will eventually be placed on display in her office.

Four students stand in President Johnson's office, holding microscopes and chatting.

Julia Leslie ’19, Jolina Marie Dimen ’22, Jacqueline López ’19, and Daniela Kreimerman Arroyo ’19 (L to R) exchange highlights from the spring semester while waiting to present the microscopes. Not long after its founding, Wellesley established the second undergraduate physics lab in the country, and the first to which women had access. Wellesley’s founding zoologist, Mary Alice Willcox, established one of the very first undergraduate labs in comparative anatomy.

President Johnson and the students pose for a group photo in the President's Office.

Students hold the treasured microscopes as they gather with President Johnson. Wellesley continues to build on its legacy as a leader in the sciences: Alumnae are awarded more science and engineering doctorates than female graduates of any other liberal arts college in the nation. 

(Back Row L to R): Jacqueline López ’19, Meliza Perez ’22, Nallely Esparza ’21, Esther Jaffee ’19, Julia Leslie ’19, Maria Gonzalez ’19, Jolina Marie Dimen ’22. (Front Row L to R): Naudia (AJ) Johnson ’22, Daniela Kreimerman Arroyo ’19