When alum Jonathan Frank 76F passed his Division III after much effort, he felt the college needed a way for students to celebrate such a momentous event. After graduation, he found an old brass bell, formerly belonging to a ship named the Olinda, and donated it to the college in 1981 with the request that it be hung outside the library and rung to celebrate the passing of divisional exams. After some fundraising and planning, the bell was hung in the library portico and first rung in 1982.
Although the terms of the gift don't specify that it be rung only for passing Div III, over the years a distinct mythology has grown up around the bell: A strong belief that it's extremely unlucky to ring the Div Free Bell before you've passed your Div III. Some even say that if you do, you'll never ring it for Div III because you will not graduate. At first the bell was kept locked, and the key could be checked out from Central Records when a student submitted the necessary paperwork, but the superstition is now so strong that this control is not needed.
Often, students make their bell ringing into a major celebration, complete with invitations and champagne. And so it should be: passing Division III at Hampshire is a major accomplishment. The ringing represents the successful completion of all the work involved in earning an undergraduate degree in one of the most personalized, rigorous, and deeply rewarding programs in higher education, as well as the beginning of a division-free life after Hampshire.
In 2003, the original bell developed a crack, and a fund was created that supported its replacement with a newer, larger one in April 2004. The tradition endures, as does Hampshire College, nearing its 50th year of celebrating its div-free graduates.