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'Neath the Oaks

This Stepsinging song has roots in another school- Trinity College. Their alma mater, "Neath the Elms," was written in 1882 and is said to have been written by Augustus P. Burgwin, a student who borrowed the tune from a song often sung by his butler.

The song traveled to Wellesley where Edith Pingree Sawyer Pettee, a music student, lightly adapted the lyrics to the more fitting "'Neath the Oaks." The song appears in the original Songs of Wellesley Book, making it one of the oldest known College Stepsongs. The arrangement is a hymn-like, solemn air that lends itself to formal events, and the song was often performed to signify a Wellesley presence at multi-school events such as concerts and alumnae meetings. It was notably sung at the conclusion of a Boston congress of the American Association of University Women attended by President Ellen Fitz Pendleton in 1926. 

On campus, the song was popular at Commencement, Stepsinging, and Float Night, a festive class crew competition where the shoreline was decorated with multicolored lanterns and lights. An excerpt from the Wellesley News dated June 26th, 1902, declares "After the singing of 'Lake Waban,' class and crew songs, "''Neath the Oaks" and 'Alma Mater," there followed what is always one of the prettiest features of Float, the parade of crews in colored lights. The background of glowing red, the white search lights from the shore, the white jerseys, the rhythmic motion of oars and rowers, all combine to make a picture not soon to be forgotten." 

The song's Wellesley connection came full circle when Wellesley alumna Joanne Berger-Sweeney '79 became President of Trinity College, and "Neath the Elms" was sung at her inauguration. Though Trinity may have the truest claim to the song, its music and lyrics are well suited to any student who loves the school they call home. 

 

Wellesley's white oaks (quercus alba) are some of the oldest trees on campus, with many of them 
pre-dating the College's founding. Several varieties of oaks, including red, scarlet, and pin oak are among the campus's class trees.  

The Alumnae Achievement Awards' golden Oak leaf

A golden oak leaf pin is awarded to recipients of the WCAA's annual Alumnae Achievement Awards. At the 2011 awards ceremony, President H. Kim Bottomly said, "The oak tree was selected as the symbol of the Achievement Awards because it represents the strength, quality, and durability of the College and her alumnae. The acorn, also represented on the pin, reminds us of our own potential to turn the personal privilege of our time at Wellesley into a catalyst for a life of purpose, meaning, and positive difference in the lives of others." 

Except from the 1914 Wellesley News: In December 1914, the first women's college record included a recording of "'Neath the Oaks"

Click here to return to the Stepsinging home page. 

Click play below to hear a recording of 'Neath the Oaks by the Wellesley College Tupelos

Lyrics

'Neath the oaks of our old Wellesley
'Neath the oaks of our dear old Wellesley
'Tis with pleasure we meet
our old classmates to greet
'Neath the oaks of our old Wellesley

On the hills of our old Wellesley
In the halls of our dear old Wellesley
There is right merry cheer
There are friends true and dear
In the halls of our old Wellesley

College days are from care and sorrow free
And oft will we seek in memory
The days that are past
Far too joyous to last
'Neath the oaks of our old Wellesley

Then we'll sing to our old Wellesley
To our dear old Alma Mater Wellesley
We're together today and tomorrow away
Far away from our old Wellesley

 

In 1911, Mary Rosa wrote to her parents about singing "'Neath the Oaks" in chapel one Saturday in February. It was the first time the song had been sung in chapel that year.

"Yesterday morning in chapel Mr. Dougall played an impromptu on class and college melodies, ending with 'Neath the Oaks. We all stood up and sang it. It hasn't been sung in chapel before this year."

The early days of Stepsinging were taken very seriously....by some! This excerpt from the 1912 Wellesley News indicates that the writer had simply had enough of students' unfamiliarity with the song lyrics.