On March 17, 1914, College Hall—the central structure at Wellesley College as Main Building was at Vassar—was destroyed in four hours by a fire that may have begun in a laboratory in the building.  The building's loss, along with its entire contents, left students, faculty, administrators and alumnae with a critical decision. Insurance on the $2million building amounted to some $600,000.

"We are facing a great crisis in the history of our college," said Wellesley President Ellen Fitz Pendelton, in an open letter to the college community. "The future of our alma mater is in our hands." A daunting $750,000 challenge grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, with a deadline for raising the remaining funds set at January 1915, caused the college to seek help from all sources. The goal was met largely through the contributions of colleges nationwide. Vassar students mobilized to raise $1,000 to aid Wellesley students who had lost their belongings in the fire.