Wheaton’s commission of Walker Evans came at a time when the college was at a crossroads between traditional practice and modernization.The first Modernist structure, the Student Alumnae Building (SAB), which can be seen on the bottom right, had been built in 1940, just prior to Evans' visit. In the foreword of Wheaton CollegePhotographs, President J. Edgar Park notes that Wheaton “broke with colonial tradition” in building SAB “only when it saw its way clear to give encouragement to the creative forces of our time."
Wheaton’s Board of Trustees employed Evans during the summer of 1940 and he made four visits to the campus over the course of the following year. Wheaton does not have legal documentation of the commission and cannot prove that it paid Evans for the photographs, but the excerpts from the Trustees minutes during 1940 and 1941 describe its intent to pay Evans for the commission. Walker Evans left his estate to The Metropolitan Museum of Art and so the institution maintains its rights to the images and possesses the negatives.
Nonetheless, the college published the series of photographs in a book, Wheaton College Photographs, to celebrate the buildings at Wheaton and to demonstrate that all styles of architecture on the campus coexisted harmoniously. In the words of President Park, Evans' photographs visually express the manner in which the college has “tried to find its way out of the old, remembering its greatness, into the new, curiously interested to find it as noble as the past.”