A Home Away from Home

President Harper believed the ideal college was possible only when students lived together, rather than being isolated and separated from the life of the University. In the early decades, however, the University was unable to house all of its entering students. In the process of opening a university, the construction of residence halls had not been the first priority, leaving many of the original students with bags in hand but no place to check in. As a stopgap measure, the University rented the Beatrice apartment building at 57th Street and Dorchester Avenue for faculty and students. Before long, Beecher, Kelly, Green, and Foster Halls were finished to accommodate female students, while Snell Hall and what were later to be named Gates, Blake, and Goodspeed halls provided quarters for men. This housing system, President Harper was proud to say, was the foundation of student social life.

Indeed the residence halls became known for their intimate and sometimes spirited environment. "Snellites" were especially conspicuous. In addition to sponsoring quarterly dances and regular socials, the male residents of Snell Hall reveled in their reputation for boisterous conviviality and crude practical jokes. Meanwhile the more reserved graduate students of Gates Hall were teased for using their residence for, of all things, sleep and study.

Harper had hoped that the University could provide accommodations for all students, except for those who preferred to live at home. In the years after Hitchcock Hall was built in 1903, however, a majority of the University's capital expenditures were applied to the construction of academic facilities and laboratories. By 1923 only 13.5 percent of all students and an even smaller percentage of undergraduates lived in the residence halls, while the majority of the women students chose to live at home. Although students found adequate living arrangements, they were not always as closely integrated with the campus environment as Harper had hoped. By the mid-1920s, President Ernest D. Burton, Dean of the Colleges Ernest H. Wilkins, and Vice-President Frederic Woodward launched an ambitious program to improve facilities for undergraduate education, including plans for major additions to the residence hall system. Burton's death in 1925 and the onset of the Depression prevented full realization of these plans, but substantial improvements in the housing system were achieved. The Burton-Judson residence hall was built in 1931, and International House was added in 1932. In the 1950s, as the Hyde Park area was undergoing urban renewal,the University began to purchase apartment buildings in the neighborhood for married and graduate students. Two new residence halls were also constructed: Woodward Court in 1958 and Pierce Hall in 1960.

Marion Talbot to William R. Harper, November 14, 1896

Among the issues facing the President and the Dean of Women in the early years were apples and potatoes.

Luncheon in the Ida Noyes refectory

Photograph, undated

The growth of the residence hall system and its increasing dispersal away from the Quadrangles prompted the University to take steps in the 1960s to improve the community life of students. Harkening back to the original house system under President Harper, the larger residence halls were divided by floors into "houses" of forty to sixty students, each with its own resident head and student council. Beginning in the fall of 1970, the administration of President Edward H. Levi invited senior faculty members and their spouses to move into the halls as resident masters. Living in close proximity to students, the resident masters encouraged the development of cultural and social activities in the halls and arranged visits by other faculty members and guests to the campus.

Today there are thirty-nine houses in twelve residence halls (all co-ed) for which seven senior faculty or administrators serve as resident masters. Over two-thirds of the undergraduates live in the residence hall system. The co-ed environment, which the University began to offer in 1970, would have surprised Harper, but he would be pleased that the University has continued to provide students with a common social experience.

Relaxing in the residence hall

Photograph, undated

John M. Rise (Ex 1920) to his parents, March 28, 1919

John Rise's letters home included a drawing of the room he shared with another student in Middle Divinity (now Blake) Hall.