Anne Dunbar Potts Perkins Letters
- 1895 - 1904
Anne Dunbar Potts Perkins (1835-1922) was a fixture of campus social and intellectual life at Union College. She was born in Natchez, Mississippi, the daughter of a pastor. She spent much of her youth in New York City before the outbreak of the Civil War, during which time she did hospital work. In 1864, she married Maurice Perkins, who a year later would join the Union College faculty as Professor of Chemistry. When they arrived on campus, they moved into the faculty residence at the western end of South Colonnade and there reared their three children, Rose, Alice, and Roger. After Maurice Perkins’ death in 1901, Rose and her husband, Union College professor Edward Everett Hale Jr., moved in with Mrs. Perkins and reared their own three children there. Thus Mrs. Perkins spent her entire life at Union – from 1865 until her death in 1922, a period of nearly 60 years – living at the center of the campus. Although the South Colonnade residence would eventually be named for her son-in-law, it was Mrs. Perkins who was its longest resident.
Mrs. Perkins is best remembered at Union today for establishing a campus garden behind her home that still exists in much modified form on the southern side of Old Chapel. Begun in 1866 as a vegetable patch, it quickly became an extensive flower garden and labor of love for Mrs. Perkins, who tended it personally until 1920. More centrally located though less extensive than Jackson’s Garden on the northern side of campus, Mrs. Perkins’ Garden rivaled its nearby cousin in appeal and featured a wide array of flowers, shrubs, and trees. During the winter, Mrs. Perkins’ gardening efforts shifted indoors, where her “plant room” was also fondly remembered by generations of students.
Mrs. Perkins’ central position on campus extended well beyond the reach of her garden, however. Fluent in French, she acquainted herself with a wide array of subjects, from fine art to the natural sciences, and was actively engaged in the life of the College. She not only supported her husband and son-in-law but herself gave occasional lectures on literature, translated manuals and other documents for the College, participated in charitable activities, held classes on religion for the undergraduates, opened her home in order to read books aloud to students and interested faculty wives, chaperoned College and fraternity dances, and attended numerous public and private events. Opinionated and not one to be intimidated, she earned the nickname “Duchess” from the students and towards the end of her life was freely compared to Queen Victoria in both person and manner. But her imperial style also made her a figure of respect. Charles Waldron, Union College Class of 1906, recalled in the Union Alumni Monthly that seniors would even ask her to co-sign their diplomas before they left campus.
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