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A Brief History of the El Campanil Bells

The bells of El Campanil. (Photo by Emily Mibach)
The bells of El Campanil. (Photo by Emily Mibach)

Originally cast sometime around 1893 for the Columbian International Exposition in Chicago, the bells in Mills’ El Campanil bell tower did not have a home until after a visit to the 1894 Midwinter Fair in San Francisco. David Hewes then bought the bells and donated them to Mills College in 1902.

From “Four Score and Ten,” a book about Mills history on the donation of the bells:

“When  [Hewes] told me of his purpose,” said President Mills, “I replied at once that we had no funds to erect a suitable tower for such a chime and he had best bestow them elsewhere. But the bells arrived and found a quiet resting place near Lisser Hall, and there, amidst the stir and merry life of our young people, they alone were silent. Our silent ten, we called them.”

Julia Morgan was then commissioned by private contributions through the college to design a suitable bell tower for Mills’ “silent ten.”

El Campanil was completed in April 1904, 110 years ago, and still houses all 10 bells.

Today the bells are once again silent. It’s not the bells that you hear throughout campus every quarter hour—it’s a speaker.

The bells’ combined weight is five tons, with the smallest weighing two hundred and fifty pounds and the largest weighing nearly two thousand pounds.

Each bell has a name, as was the custom at the time; the donor of the bells suggested names for the bells. Hewes suggested that they be named after the graces of the spirit in Saint Paul’s letter to the Galatians. The largest bell is called Love and the smallest is Meekness. The other eight are Faith, Hope, Peace, Joy, Gentleness, Self-Control and Long Suffering. The names of the bells are carved above each bell.

All ten bells have survived the 1906 and 1989 earthquakes and have remained untouched during numerous redesign efforts throughout the Mills campus. El Campanil and its bells have remained unbothered besides the periodical cleaning and maintenance for 110 years.

[info for this has been collected from “Four Score and Ten: a History of Mills College” by Rosalind Keep, “Celebrating the Cultural Landscape Heritage of Mills College compiled by Vonn Marie May, Robert Sabbatini and Karen Fiene. Additional help and information was provided by Vala Burnett.]

A Campanil illustration.
A Campanil illustration.

For more graduation-related posts, check out The Campanil‘s designated 2014 Commencement webpage here or click on the “Commencement” link in the upper right hand corner of the header.