Practice House (now part of the University Club)

Title

Practice House (now part of the University Club)

Subject

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Description

150 years after the Massachusetts Agricultural College acquired the Cowles’ house in 1864, the building still stands on what is now the University of Massachusetts at Amherst campus. Much has been changed, however, in the three centuries since its construction as a colonial New England farmhouse. Oliver Cowles settled in Amherst during the early 18th-century, and built a farmhouse for his family around 1731. Just over a century later, this home and the surrounding property was sold by the Cowles descendants to the state of Massachusetts. Both became part of the new Massachusetts Agricultural College, a land-grant institution whose original focus was experimental farming, where it was eventually put to use as a Practice House for the Home Economics Departement.

Starting in 1864, the Cowles house served as residence for the farmer in charge of MAC’s experimental program. The structure remained much the same during these years. An Italianate-style porch was added then removed between 1900 and 1930, but the Cowles’ home – eventually known as the Homestead – otherwise maintained its 18th-century appearance. In 1929, as the country sunk into economic depression, the Massachusetts Agricultural College realized a need to expand its mission as the nation and the world became increasingly more industrialized. Just two years later, in 1931, the institution renamed itself the Massachusetts State College – a clear symbol of change.

With this expansion came an experimental major in home economics. Women had been attending MAC since the late 1800s, but this program of practical homemaking was new to the Depression era. Just before the crash, in early October of 1929, a Springfield Republican article announced the opening of a “Practice House, Where Students Learn Fine Points of Household Economics” at the Massachusetts Agricultural College. The Cowles’ home was updated in a Colonial-revival style and became the Practice House, where, supervised by a faculty mentor, groups of female students lived together and learned how to keep house on a moderate budget. The Republican article recognized that this sort of program already existed at similar New England institutions, but the experimental nature of the system was well aligned with the philosophy of the original Massachusetts Agricultural College. A similar program remained in place in the Homestead for almost fifty years.

Groups of women lived in the Homestead until 1964, and the building was used by the Home Economics Department until 1972. The Lederle Graduate Research Center was planned for the site of Oliver Cowles’ home in the early 1970s, and the 1730s farmhouse would necessarily be displaced. Rather than demolition, however, the University of Massachusetts chose to relocate the Homestead beside the Boltwood-Stockbridge house, which was serving as the University Club and Restaurant. The Boltwood-Stockbridge house was the oldest in Amherst, a 1728 farmhouse which had also been owned by a member of the extended Cowles family. Like the Cowles’, it had been sold to the Massachusetts Agricultural College in 1864 but has remained on its original site. The two buildings were attached by a modern structure and combined to serve staff, faculty, and alumni of the University of Massachusetts. The story of the Cowles’ house, the Homestead, or the Practice House, is both a story of positive preservation on the UMass campus, and one that speaks to the ever-changing nature of the landscape of a growing university. The Home Economics major no longer exists at UMass. It has perhaps evolved in the Department of Nutrition, but these students – male and female – certainly do not live and work together in a colonial Amherst farmhouse, as those early classes did.

Creator

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Source

UMass Special Collections and University Archives

Publisher

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Date

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Contributor

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Rights

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Relation

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Format

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Language

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Type

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Identifier

RG150-0003323, RG150-0003321, RG150-0004573, RG150-0004557

Coverage

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Original Format

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Files

RG150-0003323.png
RG150-0003321.png
RG150-0004573.png
RG150-0004557.png
Date Added
August 29, 2012
Collection
North Pleasant Street
Item Type
Still Image
Citation
“Practice House (now part of the University Club),” Lost UMass, accessed July 29, 2017, http://lostumass.omeka.net/items/show/17.