Medieval England held obvious appeal for America’s growing universities. Ambitious to rival England’s ancient seats of learning, American universities built up their campuses with Gothic architecture and turned medievalism into the look of higher education in the US. Interest in the Gothic style was spiritual as well as aesthetic. In their winning design proposal for the campus of Washington University, the architecture firm Cope & Stewardson (1885–1912) championed Gothic architecture as the expression of the principles of aspiration, growth, and development at the core of the mission of America’s great universities: “The Gothic says to the beholder: Reach higher—Spread outward and upward—There are no limitations.” Cope & Stewardson drew inspiration from the colleges at Oxford and Cambridge, which they viewed as relics of the “great period of English scholarship” that anticipated the flowering of “freedom of thought and modern democracy” in Gilded Age America.[64]  

Cope & Stewardson’s lofty towers, piercing arches, and lush quadrangles for the Danforth campus of Washington University epitomize the Collegiate Gothic style. Included here are the original building section of the main administration building Brookings Hall; a sketch of the vaulted “Reading Room of the Washington University Law School” by the firm’s head draftsman James P. Jamieson (later of Jamieson and Spearl); and a sketchbook with 156 designs for architectural bosses and grotesques for buildings across campus. The design of a horned monster strangling a terrified boy, later carved into the stonework of Brookings Hall, seems to satirize the teacher-student relationship. Students may recognize the design for the reading owl on North Brookings archway, which was based on an ancient emblem of wisdom and now serves as the logo for Washington University’s Center of the Humanities.[65]

Image credits:
Joseph Pennell (American, 1860–1926), St. John’s College, Oxford, c. 1890. Etching, 10 3/8 x 14 1/8 in. Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Washington University in St. Louis. University acquisition; George Washington Wilson (Scottish, 1823–1893), Merton College, Oxford, from the Fields, c. 1853–1903; James Valentine (Scottish, 1815–1879), King’s Parade, South Cambridge, c. 1870–80; and Unknown, Oxford, Christchurch College, Main Stairs, n.d. Mounted albumen prints. Russell Sturgis Photograph Collection, University Archives, Washington University Libraries.

Cope & Stewardson (American architectural firm, 1885–1912), Competition entry: Brookings building section, 1899. Blueprint, 11 3/4 x 26 in. Washington University Architectural Plans, University Archives, Washington University Libraries; James P. Jamieson (American, b. Scotland, 1867–1941), Reading Room of the Washington University Law School, c. 1914. Pencil and ink on illustration board. Fred R. Hammond Collection, University Archives, Washington University Libraries; Byrnes Photographic Company (American, active 1900s), View from Brookings Hall arch, looking east toward World’s Fair construction, 1903. Black-and-white photograph. Washington University Photographic Services Collection, University Archives, Washington University Libraries; Sketches of bosses and grotesques, early 1900s. Pencil and ink on paper, cut and affixed to notebook pages. Fred R. Hammond Collection, University Archives, Washington University Libraries.