Pembroke Hall was the first building erected for the use of the Women’s College. President Andrews had appealed to the Corporation which had appealed to others for funds to erect a building for the Women’s College with recitation rooms and dormitory accommodations for students beyond the local communities. In time Andrews took matters into his own hands, and with the assistance of Miss Sarah E. Doyle, principal of the girl’s high school in Providence, assembled a group of influential and interested women, who were invited to tea with Mrs. Andrews on January 31, 1895. The women formed a college fund committee to raise $75,000 for a building and published “An Appeal to the Friends of Higher Education for Women.” Jesse H. Metcalf donated five thousand dollars, and by February of 1896 there was enough money to begin. At this point the fund committee was dissolved and the Rhode Island Society for the Collegiate Education of Women was incorporated. Miss Doyle chaired the building committee, which had the advice of three men, Professor John Howard Appleton, Andrew Comstock, and Israel Bates. The plans by architect Alfred Stone were accepted by the Corporation in April. There was a slight problem when the construction started without the word from the Corporation and brought forth a vote of censure by the Advisory and Executive Committee. The building was nearly completed by the target date of Commencement in 1897, and the seniors were able to hold Ivy Day exercises there, but only with the contractors’ permission, as the building awaited the payment of an additional six hundred dollars before it could be transferred to the University. At the dedication of the building on November 22, 1897, Sarah E. Doyle delivered an address tracing the history of the movement for collegiate education for women at Brown University from 1885 when a society of women asked the Corporation to modify its laws to admit women. On the day of dedication she said, “To-day marks an era in the education of women in this State. No longer need they stand at the door of the temple of knowledge, but may enter and be ministered unto at its shrines.” The name of the building commemorated the college which Roger Williams attended at Cambridge University in England. That Pembroke College was founded by a woman, Maria de St. Pol, widow of the Earl of Pembroke, in 1347.
The library was furnished through the munificence of Amelia E. Knight, treasurer of the Rhode Island Society for the Collegiate Education of Women. At her suggestion a frieze for the walls was executed by Hippolyte L. Hubert. The theme of the frieze was “Education,” and the central panel over the fireplace shows the beginning of education in the form of a mother surrounded by her children. Around the room are a procession of figures, depicting Genius, Sculpture, Architecture, Agriculture, Engineering, Navigation, Crafts, and Commerce. The figures of Tragedy and Comedy were placed above the doorway.
The all-purpose building served the social, religious, academic, and athletic needs of the Women’s College. The multiple purposes that a room in Pembroke Hall might serve were illustrated by a tongue-in-cheek description of the facilities in the Ivy Day issue of the Sepiad in 1903.
“The gymnasium of the Women’s College is a long, wide room, well lighted by many windows. The walls are delicately tinted; and at each end of the hall stands a fine old fire-place. A handsome reproduction of Raphael’s Madonna hangs upon the south wall, and forms a most appropriate decoration.... The chapel of the Women’s College is a long, wide room, well lighted by many windows. The walls are delicately tinted; and at each end of the hall stands a fine old fire place. Cases of dumb-bells and Indian clubs accentuate the contrast between the strenuous world without and this quiet spot, and form a most appropriate decoration.... The reception hall of the Women’s College is a long, wide room, well lighted by many windows. The walls are delicately tinted; and at each end of the hall stands a fine old fire-place. A handsomely carved reading-desk stands at one side of the hall, and forms a most appropriate decoration.”
After the opening of Sayles Gymnasium in 1907 and Alumnae Hall in 1927, Pembroke Hall was renovated for academic purposes, and the growing library moved to more spacious quarters on the top floor. In time Pembroke Hall became the administrative building of the College, and after the merger of Brown and Pembroke, began to house University offices. The Pembroke Library continued to be a haven for scholars on the top floor.