The Y Chapel of Song is unique among college chapels in that it was almost entirely designed and created by the students, faculty, staff, and friends of the University. Today the Chapel not only provides ‘a much needed place for meetings of small religious groups,' as envisioned by President Robinson, but serves as well as a place for quiet and meditation for the entire campus community. It is also a favored site for many student events, recitals, initiations, and weddings. The Y Chapel of Song was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in July of 2001. This recognizes the Y Chapel of Song as a memorial to the hundreds involved in its creation, and honors its artistic and architectural uniqueness.
Windows of the Y-Chapel
When the students met to decide a theme for the windows of the chapel, they elected not to compete with Old World artists who had portrayed the saints and Bible texts in their masterpieces. The students chose to use as their focus the songs that they sang in the services of the time for the 14 stained glass windows. They met with the YMCA and YWCA representatives to select a list of songs that might be represented concretely, and determined that one patriotic song, one folk song, and one fellowship song should also be included. Several of the themes were selected by donors who dedicated windows to family members or friends. Plans were made to design the windows on the south side around a male figure; on the north, a female figure.
Songs relating to a complete life cycle - Infancy, Childhood, Marriage, Maturity, and Immortality - are reflected in the windows on the north side of the chapel. The windows on the south side represent the five fields of activity of the well-balanced male, as envisioned in the 1940s: Labor, Service, Civic Interests, Church Activity, and Intellectual Accomplishment. The three narthex windows reflect the scripture 'I am the vine, ye are the branches.' The classic Rose Window illustrates the song 'Blest be the tie that binds.' Even the doors to the chapel represent popular hymns of the time.
History of Y-Chapel
It was at a meeting of the campus Young Women's Christian Association in April of 1941 that $1,500 was dedicated to the construction of a small chapel on the campus. According to Dr. R. R. Robinson, university president from 1939 to 1948, the purpose of the chapel was 'to provide a much-needed place for meetings of small religious groups.' In addition, Dr. Jessie Ray Newby, Ph.D., Chairman of the Y Chapel Committee, committed it to be 'open to all who have even a moment of time to enjoy its privileges.'
As state funding can not fund the construction of a building devoted to religious purposes, a Work Progress Administration grant was obtained, and Dr. Newby began an extensive fund-raising campaign. The Frank Buttram family provided a matching grant that the University community met and exceeded. Dr. Newby also obtained funding for many of the individual windows, pew carvings, and altar furnishings by providing for the items to be dedicated to family and friends, faculty and staff, and even students who were involved in the project. The outbreak of World War II proved an obstacle to funding, as well as to obtaining the glass and lead materials needed for the windows. Thus, many parts of the project were started, placed on hold, and picked up again when materials became available.
Throughout this, students in the Art Department did not wait for funding before starting the project, and had the windows completed and awaiting installation before the Chapel was even completed. All of the work in the creation of the windows, with the exception of the actual cutting of the imported colored glass, was done by Central students. They made the designs, cut the patterns, did the painting, and fired the pieces.
The colossal project of making the windows for the Chapel was begun by Ms. Beatrice Paschall Stebbing, faculty member in the Art Department , and was continued after her departure by her colleague, Ms. Betty Winston Graham. Students involved in the design, creation and painting of the windows were Shirley McCalla Calkins, Ray Gilliland, Frances Walker, Mary Olive Moran, Mary Elizabeth Brown, Elizabeth Carlson, Ruth Russell, and Virginia Smith. These students were paid 25 cents an hour for their efforts.
Finally, in 1948, completed funding allowed for construction to begin. New and more modest plans centered construction of the chapel around the completed windows and furnishings. The groundbreaking occurred in the fall, but construction was delayed once again, this time by an extremely harsh winter. Dr. Newby hired students to design the windows and cut and paint the glass, with a studio assisting with the firing and leading of the windows. Art students designed and created the tiles covering the low interior walls of the chapel; industrial arts students, the pews and podium; and students in the metalwork department created the iron lace organ grill. April of 1949 finally witnessed the opening of the Y Chapel of Song. And while the official cost is in the range of $30,000, it does not reflect the hundreds of hours of work and dedication provided by the students, faculty, staff, and friends of the university who went beyond the scope of the project to create a lasting gathering place for the campus.
Dr. Jessie Newby Ray, Ph.D., Professor of Latin and YWCA sponsor, was the Chairman of the Y Chapel Committee. Dr. Ray wrote a lengthy article entitled 'Y Chapel of Song' shortly after completion of the project. Detailed descriptions of each window, the iconography, and relevance of the theme, are found in this document. The majority of the information presented here was taken directly from this article.
Ms. Beatrice Paschall Stebbing wrote an article for the Summer 1996 issue of Stained Glass, entitled 'Students Create Chapel Windows (with just a little help from Emil Frei, Jr.)' that details the effort involved in creating the two early examples of stained glass windows in college chapels - the Y Chapel of Song in Edmond, Oklahoma, and the Texas Woman's University Chapel in Denton, Texas.
Ms. Stebbing also contributed an article entitled 'Memories of Stained Glass for the Y Chapel' for the 50th-anniversary celebration of the Y Chapel of Song in 1999. Rich with human interest, this article details the labor involved in the creation of each window.
Credit also must be given to Mr. Emil Frei, Jr., of St. Louis, MO, the only stained glass studio owner who answered Ms. Stebbing's request for assistance in actually cutting the valuable glass for the windows. He brought creativity and skill to the project while encouraging the students and teachers to persevere through many difficulties.
Mr. Bruce Love, with the Edmond Historical Society, first proposed the Y Chapel to the Oklahoma Historical Society for placement on the State Register of Historic Places, which led to placement on the National Register of Historic Places in July 2001.