Kumler Memorial Chapel: A legacy of Western College for Women

By Claudia Zaunz


Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of photo essays about interesting and historic buildings around Oxford and on the Miami campus.

Kumler Memorial Chapel was once part of Western College for Women, a women’s college in Oxford from 1855 to 1974, now known as Miami University’s Western Campus. The Chapel was a gift of two sisters, Anna Kumler Wight and Ella Kumler McKelvy, both alumni of Western College, in memory of their parents and grandfather.

The ties between the Kumler family and Western College for Women were strong. Anna and Ella’s father, Reverend J. P. E. Kumler was a member of the college’s Board of Trustees from 1977 to 1897; their mother, Abigail Goulding Kumler was a member of the first faculty and their grandfather, Elias Kumler, was one of the founders of the college and a member of the Board of Trustees from 1854 to 1872. 

Architect Thomas Hastings built the chapel in a transitional Gothic style, with both Gothic and Romanesque influences. According to the Ohio Historic Inventory, the chapel is a copy of Église Saint-Pierre, a church in Bazoches-au-Houlme, Normandy. 

The cost of Kumler Chapel was never revealed, but was divided between the Kumler sisters and the architect. 

Kumler was dedicated in 1918 and is built of native fieldstone. The chapel consists of a long gabled sanctuary with entrance porch at its south end and circular apse with conical roof at its north end. 

The five stained-glass windows were designed especially for the college. Three of them depict Biblical symbols and two depict symbols of the arts and sciences. 

The warm wood interior and stunning arches create a solemn and peaceful atmosphere. According to Miami University, the chapel seats 235 people. It is now mostly a venue for special church services, events, concerts and weddings. 

On the hillside to its south is the Freedom Summer ‘64 memorial amphitheater, which honors three civil rights workers — James Chaney, 21; Andrew Goodman, 20; and Michael Schwerner, 24 — who were murdered in Mississippi while registering black voters.