Mercy College Way Back When

A look at the school’s rich, impressive history.

Published earlier this year, Mercy College: Yesterday and Today looks back on the founding, by the Sisters of Mercy in 1950, and evolution of Dobbs Ferry’s private, not-for-profit Mercy College up until the present, including significant changes in leadership, as well as student life and athletics. 

Co-authored by School of Education Assistant Professor Eric Martone and School of Liberal Arts Assistant Professor Michael Perrota, the book explores the college’s 1969 metamorphosis into an independent, coeducational, and nonsectarian institute of higher learning, now with undergrad and graduate programs in five schools at campuses around the metropolitan area.

“Mercy’s history is rich and engaging,” said Martone in a statement about the title. “During the course of working on this book, I became especially fascinated by how the College’s history intertwined not only with that of the local community, but also with major events and figures in broader American and global history.” Here, he shares some insight on a few key images that appear in Yesterday and Today:  

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“During the 1970s and 1980s,” Martone says, “Mercy College expanded dramatically, establishing branch campuses and extension centers throughout the New York metropolitan region. Mercy still didn’t have dorms and, as a result, remained a locally focused institution and was often involved in community service and events, like in this photo,” which depicts students marching in a Westchester Columbus Day parade in the ’70s. 

“As the College began to grow in the 1970s and early 1980s, it wanted to develop a campus to go with the College Building [now known as Main Hall],” Martone says. “It then moved into Irvington and began to purchase piece-by-piece the buildings that comprised the former Mount Mercy complex; as the Sisters of Mercy declined in numbers, they began to periodically sell off parcels of property. By the time of this photo in the late 1980s, the Dobbs Ferry campus had almost reached the size that it is today.”

“This early-1960s photo of Main Hall was used for the cover,” Martone says. Mercy, which “began as a junior college to educate younger members of [the founders’] religious order,” was relaunched by the Sisters as a four-year private liberal arts college for women in 1961, moving from Tarrytown to Dobbs Ferry—property once owned by Jay Gould heir Edwin Gould. The move was facilitated by the Rockefellers, who “bought the Sisters’ property and gave them an additional $1.6 million to construct a new complex,” says Martone. “The complex, known as Mount Mercy-on-the-Hudson, served as the order’s residence and administrative center, as well as the site of ‘Mercy College’—then only one building. Main Hall is still the primary building on Mercy’s main campus.” 

“This is the Sisters of Mercy’s original site in Tarrytown—next door to the Rockefeller family’s Kykuit estate—is where the College was founded in 1950,” Martone says. At the time, “There was no formal building devoted to the College. Mercy College’s first classes were held in the Sisters’ residence in the back-right area of the house, which was, incidentally, the former home of Ambrose Kingsland, former mayor of New York City who launched the creation of Central Park.”

All photos from Mercy College: Yesterday and Today, available for purchase at local stores and online at and

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