The Founding Years of HCC

George Frost next to Holyoke Junior College sign.

In the early twentieth century, when few people continued their education beyond the elementary grades, the Holyoke public schools were offering an evening school program in order for adults to access a high school education (Ashley, 14). In 1945, when a proposal for a junior college to be established in the Pioneer Valley was circulated among public school superintendents, it was no surprise that Holyoke’s superintendent, Dr. William Peck, jumped at the idea to take up the proposal. Along with the stimulus provided from the GI Bill and legislation permitting cities in Massachusetts to establish municipal programs to provide higher education, the Holyoke School Committee voted on September 9, 1946 to established Holyoke Graduate School. Classes began at the Holyoke High School on the evening of October 1, 1946 with fifteen part-time faculty and eighty-five students (Ashley, 15).

On April 7, 1947, the Holyoke School Committee voted to rename the Holyoke Graduate School, Holyoke Junior College, following legislation that permitted municipal higher education programs to be called junior colleges. The first commencement of Holyoke Junior College occurred in June of 1948, encompassing the class that began their studies at the graduate school in 1946.

Ten years later, in 1958, the Massachusetts Board of Regional Community Colleges (MBRCC) was established with a goal of founding a dozen state-funded, two year, nonresidential colleges to provide inexpensive higher education. HJC began talks with MBRCC to join this system in 1961, but had to meet some state requirements before being accepted. One such requirement was that the city of Holyoke had to provide HJC with a building that could be used exclusively as a college campus at all hours of the day; as well as a future (20-30 year projection) site of at least 100 acres on which a permanent campus could be built. On September 11, 1961, HJC began the academic year in its very own building at the Elmwood School on South Street in Holyoke. This would be the college’s home from 1961-1967.

On July 1, 1964, HJC officially joined the State Community College System and was renamed, Holyoke Community College. Under the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ higher education structure, day classes during the two academic semesters were separated from evening and summer classes, thus creating the Day Division, Evening Division, and Summer Division at HCC (Ashley, 47). In December 1964, the city of Holyoke turned over the former Holyoke High School building, along with the Annex across the street, to HCC. Between 1965 and 1966, these two buildings were reconstructed and refurbished. The Annex was the home of the science building with lecture halls, laboratories, and faculty offices. The two story auditorium in the Holyoke High School was converted to accommodate a cafeteria on the main floor and a library on the second floor. Classes were held on this new “campus” for the first time in September 1967. HCC had circled back to Sargeant Street, the place where it all began in 1946 as Holyoke Graduate School.

Over the course of twenty years, HCC grew from the small night-time Holyoke Graduate School into a state community college with 1,561 students, more than 60 full-time faculty members, and an array of liberal arts and career programs (Ashley, 50). Together with the support of the city of Holyoke and the Holyoke Public Schools, HCC garnered an excellent reputation throughout the region. 

Ashley, George H. (2005) History of Holyoke Community College Volume 1: 1946-1975. Amherst, MA.

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1946: The Massachusetts General Court passes an act allowing temporary instruction of students beyond the regular high school course of instruction, if the school committee of a city or town determines that it is necessary.

In September of 1946, as a result of this act, the Holyoke School Committee voted in favor of establishing Holyoke Graduate School. This school would provide night classes to returning WWII veterans and other adults. Classes began on the evening of October 1st and were located in the Holyoke High School.

George Frost next to Holyoke Junior College sign. Holyoke Junior College faculty

1947: In March, the Massachusetts General Court enacts legislation allowing municipal higher education programs (like Holyoke Graduate School) to be called Junior Colleges.

In April, the Holyoke School committee voted in favor of renaming Holyoke Graduate School, Holyoke Junior College.  

HJC celebrates 10 year anniversary Letter to HJC Alumni

1956: Holyoke Junior College celebrates its 10 year anniversary.

Letter to Holyoke city Mayor Elmwood Elementary School Holyoke Jr. College Acquires Building Schedule of Junior College Classes Map of HJC

1961: Holyoke Junior College begins talks with the MBRCC to have HJC join the state Community College system. In November, their petition to join was granted, with a few conditions.

1961: In September, HJC begins its academic year in a new building. The city of Holyoke turned over the old Elmwood Elementary school building to the college, and after a little refurbishing HJC could finally call this building its own. Classes would be held in this building until 1967.

Press Release- Holyoke Community College named Holyoke High School - Annex

1964: In July, Holyoke Junior College officially joins the state Community College system, and changes its name to Holyoke Community College.

1966-1967: HCC begins renovations on the Holyoke High School building (the same building where classes were originally offered at Holyoke Graduate School), as well as a second building across the street. This second building, called the Annex, would become the home of the science building with lecture halls, laboratories, and faculty offices. The two story auditorium in the Holyoke High School building was converted to accommodate a cafeteria on the main floor and a library on the second floor.

The Founding Years of HCC