Bell History

The bells were dedicated in 1908 in memory of Alice Freeman Palmer, the first Dean of Women at the University of Chicago.

Alice Freeman Palmer portrait

Alice Freeman Palmer

Born in 1855 in rural New York, Palmer was a notable figure in the history of American academia. She attended the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, one of only eleven women in a class of seventy five graduates. After graduation she becamse the principal of a high school in Michigan at age twenty-two. She continued her studies in Michigan, earning her PhD in 1882. In 1879 at the age of twenty-four she became head of the history department at Wellesley College. When the president of Wellesley passed away in 1881 the Trustees held a meeting and elected Palmer as vice-president of the college and acting president for the year. She was twenty-six.

Chimes dedication overview

Dedication of the bells, 1908. Image courtesy of the University of Chicago Special Collections and Archives.


In 1892 the University of Chicago was founded, and President William Rainey Harper made an offer to Alice Freeman Palmer to be Professor of History and Dean of Women. Her pioneering spirit overcame her initial misgivings at being so far from her home in Cambridge (her husband was a professor of philosophy at Harvard), and she eventually accepted the position of Dean of Women. Between 1892 and 1895 she helped to oversee the establishment of strong programs for women at the new university, handing off her duties to a new Dean and resigning in 1895.

She continued to forge new paths for women in academia before falling ill and succumbing to intussusception of the intestine in 1902 at the age of 47. At her memorial service, then-President of Wellesley College remarked that Palmer “[W]as in the best sense a pioneer all through her life.”

Alice Palmer Chimes

Dedication of the bells, 1908. Image courtesy of the University of Chicago Special Collections and Archives.

There are ten bells in the Alice Freeman Palmer memorial peal at the University of Chicago. The Alice Freeman Palmer bells at the University of Chicago are in the key of E-flat and range in weight from 564 lbs to 2443 lbs. They were cast in 1908 by the London foundry Whitechapel. It’s traditional for change ringing bells to have names or inscriptions. Typically these refer to Biblical figures, royalty (in Britain), or are in honor of the bells’ donors. Our bells’ inscriptions all refer to Alice Freeman Palmer–perhaps referencing the qualities that exemplified her career as a rolemodel and pioneer for women in academia.

Bell # Note Weight Name/Inscription
Treble G 564 lbs A gracious woman retaining honor
2 F 629 lbs Rooted and grounded in love
3 E-flat 712 lbs Easy to be entreated
4 D 727 lbs Fervent in spirit
5 C 812 lbs Always rejoicing
6 B-flat 990 lbs Given to hospitality
7 A-flat 1193 lbs Making the lame to walk, the blind to see
8 G 1340 lbs The sweetness of her lips increasing learning
9 F 1820 lbs Great in counsel and mighty in work
Tenor E-flat 2443 lbs In God’s law meditating day and night

The largest bell in a group is known as the Tenor. Our Tenor weighs 2443 pounds and is the heaviest bell in the tower. Advanced ringers are invited to take The Tenor Challenge: raising this bell from the down position to the up position. That’s a lot of inertia! Michael Tartell and Kevin Farthing are the most recent members of the Tenor Challenge club, and certificates of their achievement are mounted on the peal wall.

Biographical information on this page is summarized from: Palmer, George Herbert, “The Life of Alice Freeman Palmer” (1908). Wellesley Histories. Book 4.


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