Wells College
Official Logo of Wells College
Former names
Wells Seminary (1868–1870)
MottoArrive Curious, Graduate Prepared
TypePrivate liberal arts college
Established1868; 156 years ago (1868)
Endowment$24 million
PresidentDr. Jonathan C. Gibralter
ProvostDr. Susan Henking
Academic staff
Administrative staff
Location, ,
United States

42°44′43″N 76°41′53″W / 42.7452°N 76.6980°W / 42.7452; -76.6980
301 acres (1.22 km2)
AthleticsNCAA Division IIINorth Eastern Athletic Conference
Colorsred and white    
NicknameThe Express

Wells College is a private liberal arts college in Aurora, New York. The college has cross-enrollment with Cornell University and Ithaca College. For much of its history it was a women's college.

Wells College is located in the Finger Lakes region of New York. It is within the Aurora Village–Wells College Historic District, listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


1891 illustration of the Main Building
Wells College bell tower, part of Main Building

The college was established as a women's college in 1868, called Wells Seminary, by Henry Wells, co-founder of Wells Fargo and the American Express Company. Wells had the building for Wells Seminary constructed on property he donated. Two years later, in 1870, the seminary adopted its current name, Wells College. On August 9, 1888, the college's main building burned to the ground. The building was replaced in 1890 by the current Main Building, designed by architect William Henry Miller. In 1906, Henry Wells' 1852 mansion, Glen Park, was purchased by the Alumnae Association and given to the college for its use.[citation needed]

In 1965, Walter Netsch designed the Louis Jefferson Long Library. The design of this award-winning building inspired two other buildings on campus, Barler Music Hall and Campbell Art Building.

In 1886, Frances Folsom, Wells Class of 1885, married President Grover Cleveland and became the youngest First Lady of the United States. She was the only First Lady to have her wedding in the White House, and she was the first First Lady to have graduated from college. Frances Cleveland (later Preston, after her second marriage) served on the college's board of trustees for 50 years.


After 136 years as a women's college, Wells announced on October 2, 2004, that it would become a co-educational institution in 2005. Students protested on campus against the change.[1][2][3] Some parents of students also became involved in the protests.[4] Some of the students said that their protests were patterned after ones at Mills College in the early 1990s.[5] A website called Wells for Women was established to organize support.[6] After the college's decision to adopt coeducation was approved by its board, students filed a lawsuit, which the courts rejected.[7]

Financial difficulties

In 2020 the president of Wells College, Jonathan Gibralter, sent a letter to the college community reporting that financial issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic threatened the college's future, writing, "If New York State continues its mandate that our campus remain closed through all or part of the [2020] fall semester, Wells simply will not receive enough revenue to continue operations."[8][9] Because Wells College receives about 15% of its operating revenue from its Italy-based study abroad program, a COVID-19-related postponement or termination of that program can seriously harm the college's financial standing.[10]


Academic rankings
Liberal arts
U.S. News & World Report[11]124
Washington Monthly[12]159

In 2023, U.S. News ranked Wells at 152(tied) among liberal arts colleges nationally.[14] Additionally, U.S. News ranks Wells at 10(tied) in Top Performers on Social Mobility.[15]

Wells College has several study abroad programs, most notably in Florence, Italy. It has created centers in sustainability, business and entrepreneurship, and book arts. Undergraduate students are required to participate in at least two internships during their time at Wells, one of which must be off campus.


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Wells College Boathouse on the Cayuga Lake

Athletics are offered with half a PE credit earned for each season completed.[16]

A member of the Private College Athletic Conference throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Express sports teams of the college captured four consecutive conference championships in women's tennis (1977–78, 1978–79, 1979–80, 1980–81).[17] They also won titles in women's bowling (1978–79, 1979–80). Wells, which officially became an NCAA Division III institution prior to the 1986–87 athletic season, joined the Atlantic Women's Colleges Conference prior to the 1996–97 athletic season. In 1996, the Wells women's soccer team captured the school's only AWCC championship title. Wells offered six intercollegiate athletic sports: field hockey, softball, women's lacrosse, women's soccer, women's swimming and women's tennis.

As part of the Board of Trustees decision to begin accepting men to the traditionally all-women's college, Wells in 2005 incorporated men's soccer, men's swimming, and men's and women's cross country into their athletic cadre.

Prior to the 2007–08 academic year, the Express teams were invited to join the North Eastern Athletic Conference and compete against 14 other schools in the East Region. By joining the NEAC, Wells can compete for conference championships with the added benefit of receiving an automatic qualifier in select sports to participate in the NCAA tournament.

Since joining the NEAC, Wells has captured six separate conference championships. Men's swimming won the first league title in 2009–10,[18] and earned a second title in 2012–13. Women's swimming have won three consecutive conference championships, during the 2011–12, 2012–13, and 2013–14 seasons.[19] Men's basketball, who won the NEAC championship in 2010–11, was the first team from Wells to participate in the NCAA Tournament.

As of the 2021–22 athletic season, Wells offers 15 NCAA Division III varsity sports, including field hockey, men's and women's basketball, men's and women's lacrosse, men's and women's soccer, men's and women's swimming, men's and women's volleyball, men's and women's cross country, softball, and baseball.[20]

In the 2018–2019 season the Wells Men's Volleyball team made it to the Elite 8 (Quarterfinals) in the NCAA Division III Men's Volleyball Tournament before falling to Stevens Institute of Technology.

In the 2019–2020 season, the Wells College Women's swim team won first place in the NEAC swimming championships.

Honor Code

Wells has an honor code to which all students subscribe. By signing the Honor Code, Wells students pledge "not to lie, cheat, steal, deceive, or conceal in the conduct of their collegiate life".[21] Wells allows students to have take-home exams and to work in their residence hall rooms, at the library, or on the dock by the lake rather than only in classrooms.

Notable alumnae

This article's list of alumni may not follow Wikipedia's verifiability policy. Please improve this article by removing names that do not have independent reliable sources showing they merit inclusion in this article AND are alumni, or by incorporating the relevant publications into the body of the article through appropriate citations. (August 2022)

Notable faculty


  1. ^ Tarby, Russ (2002-06-14). "Trustees greeted by angry students". AuburnPub.com. Retrieved 2011-08-13.
  2. ^ Spohr, George (2002-06-14). "Students stage sit-in to protest". AuburnPub.com. Retrieved 2011-08-13.
  3. ^ Barton, Noelle (2002-06-14). "Wells students not going home". AuburnPub.com. Retrieved 2011-08-13.
  4. ^ Barton, Noelle (2002-06-14). "Angered Wells parents feel left out". AuburnPub.com. Retrieved 2011-08-13.
  5. ^ Spohr, George (2002-06-14). "Wells students' sit-in patterned after Mills". AuburnPub.com. Retrieved 2011-08-13.
  6. ^ "Wells for Women". 2009-10-27. Archived from the original on October 27, 2009. Retrieved 2011-08-13.
  7. ^ Wogan, Lisa. "When Wells Run Dry: Another women's college opens the door to men". Ms. Retrieved 2011-08-13.
  8. ^ Rocheleau, Kelly (2020-05-08). "Wells College in Aurora warns it may close if students can't return in fall 2020". Ithaca Journal. Retrieved 2020-05-28.
  9. ^ Brean, Berkeley (2020-05-26). "Wells College president: Without students on campus we 'cannot afford to reopen'". News 10 WHEC. Retrieved 2020-05-28.
  10. ^ Whitford, Emma (2020-05-15). "Frank Assessment From a Private College". Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved 2020-05-28.
  11. ^ "Best Colleges 2024: National Liberal Arts Colleges". U.S. News & World Report. Retrieved September 20, 2023.
  12. ^ "2023 Liberal Arts Rankings". Washington Monthly. Retrieved September 25, 2023.
  13. ^ "Forbes America's Top Colleges List 2023". Forbes. Retrieved September 22, 2023.
  14. ^ "Wells College Rankings". U.S. News & World Report. Retrieved 2023-11-26.
  15. ^ "Wells College Rankings". U.S. News & World Report. Retrieved 2023-11-26.
  16. ^ "Wells College Athletics - Wells". Wells Express.
  17. ^ "Wells College Athletics History". Wells Express.
  18. ^ "Wells College swimming" (PDF). Wells Express. Retrieved 16 September 2021.
  19. ^ "Women's swimming records" (PDF). Wells Express. Retrieved 16 September 2021.
  20. ^ "Wells athletics". Wells Express. Retrieved 16 September 2021.
  21. ^ Wells Computer Services (2010-06-15). "Honor Code". Wells.edu. Retrieved 2011-08-13.

Further reading