Sesquicentennial Memories

Remembering Mary A. Weber

By Michael Smith

Thirty-eight years ago, the College lost one of its legendary faculty members whose memory continues to be honored in the name of the College’s second residence hall.

According to a profile published by the Providence Evening Bulletin in October 1965, Mary Amalia Weber’s life was strongly influenced by the prairie values of her childhood: self-sufficiency, thrift, and a great love for the land. A native of Pana, Illinois, she was educated at the Illinois State Normal University, the University of Montana, and received her A.B. from the University of Michigan. She conducted her graduate work at the University of Chicago, the University of Wisconsin, New York University, and earned her A.M. from Teacher’s College, Columbia University. Mary A. Weber in 1950 (from the 1951 RICOLED).

She began her teaching career at the age of 18 at elementary and secondary schools in the upper Midwest and also taught at a federal school for Native American children in Montana. Weber came to Providence in 1922 to teach at the Wheeler School prior to joining the faculty of the College in 1924 as a Professor of Mathematics.

Colleagues and students alike described her as a sincere and direct person with rigorous standards. Mary Tucker Thorp, another legendary figure in College lore, was one of Professor Weber’s students. She said of Weber, “She knew her math, was good to her students, and gave them her time and effort.”

Weber’s self-sufficiency and thrift were well noted. She built her own shelves in the basement of her home on Pleasant Valley Parkway to hold the many jars of preserves that she put up every year. When her house -- and even her car – needed painting, she did it herself. During World War II, she took summer jobs at Browne & Sharpe, then located next to the old campus, working a lathe to help with the war effort.

Those who knew her – colleagues and neighbors alike -- professed that they did not know her very well, as Weber was an intensely private person. She was seldom seen at campus social events, and was seen even less often following her retirement in 1952, after 28 years of service to the College.
On April 1, 1965, at the age of 83, Mary Weber passed away, but not before leaving behind one last, very unexpected gift.

At the reading of her will, the College was surprised to learn that it had been named as beneficiary of half her estate, valued at about $280,000. The other half went to her undergraduate institution, the University of Michigan.
The College’s share, after payment of debts and expenses of the estate, was $125,000. To say the least, it was the largest gift the College had ever received up until then; the newly-created Rhode Island College Foundation had at the time just about $5,000 in its coffers. Adjusting for inflation alone, and not reflective of endowment income over the years, the bequest would be worth $726,588 in today’s dollars. As such, Ms. Weber could be considered among the College’s five most generous private benefactors, in the company of Helen Forman, Alan Shawn Feinstein, the Sapinsleys, and the Murray family.

Reflective of her dedicated service to the College and in respect of her thoughtful bequest, President Gaige sought to have the thirteenth building constructed on the Mt. Pleasant campus named in her honor. The new residence hall, appropriately located next to the hall named for her former student, Mary Tucker Thorp, was built to accommodate 140 women and 40 men in 18 suites, comprised of ten rooms surrounding a study/lounge area. The building was the first designed to offer accommodations for male students, although in that era of greater social reserve, College officials were quick to stress that the facilities for men were completely separate from the women’s quarters. An article at the time noted that “an alarm system is attached to doors leading from the men’s suites to the women’s area.” While students had begun living in the new residence hall at the start of the 1965-66 academic year, the official dedication of the building was held on Sunday, December 12, 1965. Theuilding was designed by Lamborghini & Pipka and constructed by M.G. Allen & Associates Builders of Warwick at a cost of approximately $721,000.

In each edition of What’s News at Rhode Island College during the course of the College’s Sesquicentennial observance, Michael Smith, Assistant to the President, presents a brief glimpse of an historic College event that occurred at some point in the institution’s history corresponding to the publication date of that particular edition of What’s News. This is the fourth installment.

top of page