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Ringing Any Bells?

The roof deck of Maxine Frank Singer ’52 Hall—which partially opened to classes this semester—offers sweeping views of Swarthmore’s campus … and its curiosities.

Across the courtyard from the College’s newest building sits one of its oldest: Trotter Hall, home to History (among other departments) and a west-wing bell tower whose history isn’t easy to pin down.

Originally known as Science Hall, Trotter was built in phases starting in 1881, the year of the fire that gutted Parrish. The west wing—and its cupola—opened in 1895, with the east wing following a couple of decades later.

So why the bell?

A 2007 Phoenix article posits a practical theory: that it served as a warning system in the event of another fire, a valid concern considering the modern machinery housed inside the high-tech building.

But College archives recall other reasons for which, or whom, the bell tolled.

The December 1997 Bulletin notes how the fixture “once signaled classes and called students to Quaker meeting.” By the late ’20s, however, its sound marked the end of the “fussing hour,” the post-dinner period when men and women were permitted to spend time with each other, Barbara Pearson Lange Godfrey ’31 recollected in the March 1999 issue.

A September 1958 Phoenix article—itself exploring the relic, which by then had long been silent—described the “good old days” of Swarthmore football, when the bell would chime in honor of Garnet victories. President Courtney Smith had proposed a renewal of the ringing, instead celebrating the start of freshman orientation.

That tradition didn’t last. But Trotter Bell, nevertheless, still reverberates through Swarthmore lore.