More Than Lore

Chapter 6: New Homes for Old

Marion Talbot

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AT THE time the University was organized, women were just beginning to feel the shackles loosen which had been fettering them. The recently established women's colleges were showing signs of revolt. The confiscation of the score of a Gilbert and Sullivan opera or the refusal of a request to see Edwin Booth act in Hamlet were typical illustrations of the kind of discipline which could not fetter much longer the eager and adventurous young spirits who had chosen the pioneers' pathway to higher scholarship. To the world in general, and the college world in particular, the situation was confusing. No formulation of the principles which should guide the new freedom had been worked out to take the place of the old restrictions and taboos. That was the first problem Mrs. Palmer

(102) and I had to solve. When I expressed my doubt as to whether I had had sufficient experience to justify my undertaking the new responsibilities and duties of the deanship, Mrs. Palmer said quite simply, "All that you need to remember is that you will be an older student among younger ones and an older woman with more experience among younger ones eager to learn." Mrs. Palmer sounded the keynote for the new life. The organization and conduct of the Women's Houses of the new University, as well as the social life in general of the University, should be based on principles of unity, liberty, and social responsibility. Certain phases of these principles I later worked out more in detail.

The practical application of these principles began at once. No time was to be lost; no conflicting event could be allowed to pass unnoticed lest it crystallize into a fixed attitude or custom and pass beyond the reach of suggestion or influence.

The practice field was immediately available. The Hotel Beatrice, an unfinished, six-story "flat building" bearing the words "World Fair Rooms To Let" painted high up on its outside wall, with

(103) a small two-story aNoex; placed in a section of Chicago in transition from country to city, with here and there the marks of once prosperous farms and buildings boldly attempting to be strictly urban in architecture; neighboring streets not yet paved, sidewalks for the most part merely plank walks—this was the first, and fortunately temporary, home of the University women which Mrs. Palmer and I found the morning after our arrival. Even though long months had been given to preliminary preparations, the University did not open its doors with provision for every contingency, especially the housing.

Essential articles of bedroom furniture had been ordered and were begiNoing to arrive—beds, mattresses, chairs—but evidently the "amenities were to wait," as Virginia Woolf, in A Room of One's Own, said was the case in the women's colleges of England. Our decision was immediate that the wait must not be long. An environment of comfort and of as much beauty as possible was essential to our plan. Fortunately, Mrs. Martin A. Ryerson and Mrs. Charles L. Hutchinson, with their special interest in the University through their husbands and with their exquisite

(104) taste, came to the rescue and chose modest but attractive draperies and pieces of furniture for my living-room and the two tiny rooms to be used for social purposes. But there were the piles of mattresses to be distributed and frames of bedsteads to be put together and, even so, not enough to accommodate all the students who were piling in on us, to say nothing of the members of the Faculty and their families who were to make their temporary homes under our roof. The challenge of the professor in the Divinity School that his bed springs had to be taken up to the sixth floor was met in his absence by some plucky American girls. Another head professor, Mr. Laughlin, a man of sensitive spirit and known as a stickler for good form, seeing them struggling with their load, lent a hand, thinking he was securing a good night's rest for some woman student. His dismay, when he discovered that he was doing a porter's work for a huskier man than himself, well repaid the girls for their part in the incident. Then there was the distinguished professor from England who put his "boots" outside his bedroom door to be cleaned, not realizing that the establishment was as yet

(105) without a single"menial." The same adventurous young members of the University saw to it that he was not disappointed, and he never suspected how it happened! And he had to be given help when he asked where he could get some "spirits" —not meaning the high kind that was about him on every side, but something with which he could "brew a cup." It was incidents like these that kept our spirits up and that made the close of the day —perhaps an hour well into the night—when Mrs. Palmer and I met after our various academic, domestic, and social duties and prepared ourselves for our well-earned slumbers, a time of genuine recreation. We would recount to each other what had been our experiences, and be convulsed with laughter as we realized the humor of the situation in which we found ourselves. I really believe we could not have done our day's work if it had not been for these periods of hilarity.

When we discovered that the lighting fixtures had not been put in, another friend came to our rescue. Dean Harry Pratt Judson produced some candles and beer bottles in a maNoer so friendly and winsome that we made no inquiries as to their source. After a couple of days of picnicking

(106) and generally "roughing it" in the matter of food, he took a large party of us to the Hyde Park Hotel for diNoer. I think china and glass never seemed so shiny, or linen whiter, or black waiters so magnificent, as they did to us after our short taste of life removed from civilization.

As no arrangements had been made for a housekeeper, or even a cook, that was another matter for immediate attack. The business authorities of the University seemed somewhat surprised when the two deans said they could not do the work, especially when one of them was in Cambridge; and in a few days we had both helpers installed. Meanwhile, Mrs. Palmer and I got together some breakfasts very much in the way that boys camping out often do, scrambled eggs proving the staple dish. This menu was in part due to the almost complete lack of kitchen equipment, for we were really quite skilled cooks. But the cook who came proved a will-o'-the-wisp, not always on the job in the morning or even at diNoer time. When we remonstrated, he said, "Ladies, you see it is this way. I have a girl; and when it is a choice between love and dooty, love

(107) wins." We soon had a successor who was free from such an encumbrance.

But even a cook could not attend to all the details of providing for a family of sixty, with thirty more coming in from outside quarters. Again the Business Department came to our relief and sent word that they had found an exceptionally skilled man who could not only do the buying and keep the accounts but would see that nice touches were put on the dining-room service. Mrs. Palmer and I were asked to interview him and tell him our wishes. After a conference, which left us with the belief that we must at least give the man a trial, Mr. Benbow turned, on leaving the room, and said, Oh, ladies! There is one point I forgot—would you prefer to have the toothpicks on the different tables or on a stand by the door?" It is needless to say that his reign was brief.

It must be remembered that all these little events and scores of similar ones were purely incidental. Our real business, our most absorbing interest, was, of course, helping to get the academic program of the University under way. Meetings and conferences, consultations with students, questions of policy to be determined at

(108) once—all of these by themselves would have filled the days. The University was insisting on entrance examinations; and the students were working themselves up into the conventional frenzy and had to be given sympathy, as well as not too conscious restraint. At last, however, the memorable day came, October 1, 1892, when the exercises were held which formally opened the University and made our pulses throb as we realized what those readings from the Scriptures and hymns and prayers might signify to the educational world.

We were then ready to settle down to our work as students, for that we all were. In spite of the many difficulties in the new situation, the principles which Mrs. Palmer and I had recognized as fundamental in the rational organization of the social and domestic life. of University women became a part of the conscious life of the group. Too great credit caNoot be given to those students who co-operated in evolving from their experiences very real contributions to the richness of the common life. My young secretary, Antoinette Cary, who had been a student at Wellesley College, and who became, in June, 1893, the

(109) first student to take the degree of Bachelor of Science from the University of Chicago, served as a kind of liaison officer and smoothed over many rough places. Under the influence of young women of fine ideals, generous social attitudes, and high scholarship, there arose gradually, and in accord with the principles which had been recognized, a set of unformulated customs.

All through the winter of 1892-93 the little community at the Hotel Beatrice realized that they were transients and would have to vacate by April 15 in order that the building might be made ready for World's Fair tenants. It was a merry and a motley company that made a continuous procession to Snell Hall during those moving days. Lamps and vases, dustpans and brooms, party dresses and overshoes, toilet articles and perfumery, all the articles which were difficult to pack, were carried without hesitation in the open.

And, again, it was an unfinished building. Again no lighting fixtures; no entrance steps, but a plank to walk; no front door; only one tap from which water could be drawn, and sixty women needing toilet facilities. But everybody was in

(110) good spirits, as I had occasion to learn from the complaints which came to me about the noisy gatherings which made sleep impossible until morning hours, and about which something had to be done. The situation was difficult, for one of the most prominent leaders was an intimate personal friend and college mate of mine, who, after some years of teaching, had come to the University as a graduate student and was enjoying the sense of freedom from routine and responsibility. Then was sown the seed whose fruitage soon became a distinguishing and greatly admired characteristic of the University of Chicago. I called together all the residents and explained what our objectives should be in such a domestic community, and asked that the occupants of each floor should meet and choose three of their number to serve as their representatives in conducting the affairs of the group. Pending their action, I appointed a temporary committee and placed my friend upon it. The result was as I expected. Although without much experience in dealing with groups of people, I had already begun to realize that comparatively few people fail to measure up to responsibilities which are placed upon them.


This belief was amply confirmed as the years passed, and led to the conviction that most of the objectionable conduct of young people is due to the fact that they are not given duties and responsibilities worthy of their intelligence and energy.

Those spring months at Snell Hall were an exciting experience for us all. The rapid developments of the University first of all kept us on the qui vive. Kent Chemical Laboratory, within a few rods of Snell Hall, was rapidly taking form. We were greatly distressed early one morning when a teamster, working over hours because of financial distress, was thrown from his lumber-laden wagon, which was upset in the rain-soaked, soft ground. He was brought into Snell Hall and found to be seriously injured. We cared for him until medical services could be secured and he could be removed by ambulance.

All the time there was the excitement of preparations for the opening of the Columbian Exposition. The University Council, the highest administrative body of the University, had its dignity upset at a certain session when a member, looking out of the window, exclaimed, "The Ferris

(112) Wheel is moving!" All business was stopped so that the long-anticipated sight could be admired.

The neighborhood rapidly took on the characteristics of a locality dominated by a great public attraction. Prices rose steadily day by day. Students found it difficult to find suitable eating places. Even the accommodations furnished in the dark and damp basements of the divinity halls and the Hungarian goulash and corned beef and cabbage served there were not very alluring, so little groups of students were organized to furnish their food in their own rooms. One group took turns in doing the marketing. It was reported that lamb chops, which everybody wanted, cost altogether too much. One day the market woman said she had found some at a reasonable price, and the group proceeded to cook and enjoy them and .voted to have more very soon. But alas! the next buyer returned with a sad tale. The relished chops had been pork, not lamb! Previously each one had declared that never, under any circumstances, could she eat pork!

My room was on the first floor near the entrance. One night I was much disturbed by a

(113) man and woman who lingered, talking and laughing in such a maNoer that all the sleepers on that side of the hall could but be kept awake. At 2:00 Α.Μ. I thought the limit had been reached, and so, clad in my wrapper, I went to the door and requested the woman to come in. She was very indignant—quite furious, in fact. It interested me some years later, on meeting her casually, to have her tell me that she had realized how thoughtless she had been that night and that I had been more than justified in putting a stop to her conduct. I thought it was fine of her, and after that I always had a high opinion of her.

Finally the Spring Quarter closed and our experiences in roughing it were theoretically ended. The permanent Women's Halls were to be occupied when the University reopened October, 1893.

The procedure which had been followed at Snell Hall formed the basis of the House plan which was adopted by the Trustees in June, 1893. The general rules were as follows:

1. Composition of a House:

a) Members of the University entitled to continuous residence in a particular Hall shall constitute a House.

(114) b) Residence in a Hall is limited to students in attendance on courses in the University, and officers of the University.

2. Officers:

Each House shall have a Head, appointed by the President of the University; a Councilor, chosen from a Faculty of the University by the members of the House; a House Committee, elected by members of the House, of which House Committee the Head of the House shall be chairman and the Councilor a member ex-officio; and a Secretary and Treasurer elected by members of the House. Each House, through its Committee, shall make a quarterly report to the President. Α House may select, with the approval of the Board of Student Organizations, one or more persons not directly coNoected with the University as patrons or patronesses.

3. Membership: The residents in a Hall shall be members or guests.

a) Membership shall be determined by election under the respective House By-laws. Election of members shall take place not earlier than the end of the sixth week, nor later than the tenth week.

b) In cases of vacancies, the Registrar shall have power to assign applicants to rooms in the order of application. Students thus assigned shall be considered guests, and if these guests are not elected to membership during the first quarter of residence, they shall have no further claim upon the rooms occupied. The room rents will be fixed and collected by the University. The privilege of membership in a House may

(115) be withdrawn by the Board of Student Organizations, on recommendation of the Head and Councilor.

4. Rules:

Each House shall be governed by a body of rules adopted by a two-thirds vote of the members of the House and approved by the Board of Student Organizations.

The "rules" provided for were merely a mode of procedure and were called "House Customs." The following were those approved by the Council, June 23, 1893:

1. As much quiet should be maintained in the corridors and rooms as is practicable, especially in the evenings.

2. The House shall be closed at 10:15 P.M.; all who wish to enter later than that hour should make arrangements in advance with the Head of the House.

3. Academic students wishing to be away from the House in t the evening shall consult with the Head of the House in advance, and provide for suitable chaperonage.

4. As far as possible, Friday and Saturday evenings only shall be considered as reception evenings. It is preferred that callers, especially callers from the Quadrangles, should not be received on Sunday.

5. Guests caNoot be entertained over night in the students' rooms, but other rooms will be furnished if practicable. Gentlemen may be taken to students' rooms only by permission of the Head of the House.

The freedom implied in these "Customs" was in marked contrast to the elaborate code of

(116) “rules" which prevailed in other institutions, and its practicability was seriously questioned by other deans. After explaining its meaning at a conference, I heard a dean say, on leaving the room, "She may be able to do it with her girls; I couldn't with mine." She did not realize how alike girls are the world around.

In accordance with the House plan, the students who had been in residence in 1892-93 and who returned after the Summer Quarter, during which the University buildings had been given over largely to Columbian Exposition visitors, were organized into three Houses and took possession of the three new "residence halls" (the approved substitute term for "dormitories")—Kelly Hall, Nancy Foster Hall, and Beecher Hall. Green Hall was not opened until November, 1898. Miss Myra Reynolds and I were the Heads, respectively, of Nancy Foster Hall and Green Hall; and Miss Elizabeth Wallace and Miss Fanny C. Brown were joint Heads of Beecher House. One of the characteristics of the system was that the social direction of the Houses should be by women of academic position.

It is interesting to note that the rental of rooms

(117) was from $25.00 a quarter up to an average of about $40.00, and the initial charge for table board was $3.50 a week. And there were complaints about the high charges, as there have been continuously ever since and doubtless always will be.

Even after two experiences, pioneering days were not yet over. Unfurnished, and even unfinished, buildings were again tó be academic homes. Nancy Foster Hall was so far from completed that its residents were obliged to go to Kelly Hall for several weeks and seek the hospitality of its dining-room. The open fireplaces in certain sleeping-rooms seemed to present undue advantages; but when it was found that the flues would not draw and masonry had to be torn down in the walls of the newly furnished rooms in order to remove the obstacles in the flues, the envious residents retired to their quiet and clean quarters with a feeling that there were compensations for them.

The Halls presented certain common features of physical and domestic accommodation as well as similar forms of business administration. Each had its separate dining-room, its own rooms for

(118) social intercourse, and each provided, in the main, single bedrooms.

Mrs. Ellen H. Richards, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a close friend and adviser of mine, suggested that the University should try some improved methods of feeding students. She transferred to the University the equipment of the Rumford Kitchen which she had established at the Columbian Exposition as a means of showing scientific and economical methods of preparing food. She gave what was still more valuable. Her generous contribution of experience and time made a success of the experiment of a central kitchen, although it was conducted under very unfavorable conditions. Aided by Miss Sarah E. Wentworth, she showed that the system promised results in efficiency and economy; and the experience paved the way to the establishment of the University Commons.

In spite of optimistic anticipations, complaints about the food were not infrequent. Differences in eating habits, overwork, eating between meals, late hours, and other factors made the problem of giving satisfaction to everybody almost insoluble. Time and experience brought gains; but it seems

(119) probable that there will always be individuals, usually not of cosmopolitan experience, who will complain that their peculiar tastes are not gratified. It proved not difficult to substitute fruit and cereals for meat and potatoes at breakfast, but the process of making soups and salads (oil! bah!) acceptable was a slower one. I remember distinctly an interview I had with a woman fellow who was making much trouble with her complaints. I learned gradually that she was enrolled for more than the approved number of courses, was working on her Doctor's thesis, never took any exercise beyond the limits of the Quadrangles, slept poorly, was under extreme financial pressure, and—worst of all—was carrying on her work in defiance of her family's expressed wishes. I then took up the matter of trying to give her satisfaction in regard to food and told her that she would have to change practically all the other conditions before it would be probable that we or anybody else could provide food which she would enjoy.

The new groups proceeded at once to organize under the House plan. It was understood that each House should have its own traditions and

(120) customs and cultivate an individual spirit, bearing in mind the principles on which they were founded, viz., unity, liberty, and social responsibility. The different Houses immediately took on individual characteristics. Special note may be taken of Miss Reynolds' leadership during a long period of years. She gathered about her personal friends of distinction and charm. Strangers of eminence visiting the University were frequently entertained. There was created a social atmosphere which was much enjoyed and appreciated by the students. The effect upon them was noticeable. In spite of the fact that many of them had had but limited social experience, many observers might be found to corroborate the opinion of a certain guest that she had never met, in any part of the world, young women who had more agreeable social manners and at the same time such marked mental alertness and serious purpose. In a similar way Miss Wallace in Beecher Hall and I in Kelly Hall were devising ways and means of enriching the House life and at the same time showing how personal freedom could be harmonized with the best social standards.

The years passed, bringing their problems and

(121) their interests grave and gay; and experience strengthened the conviction that in the administration of the Halls the break away from the more or less rigid rules and supervision which were in force in other institutions had been fully justified. Mrs. Kelly's gift in memory of her parents enabled the University to fill the gap between Kelly Hall and Beecher Hall, where the foundations for a building had already been laid; and on November 13, 1898, Green Hall was occupied by a small group of students, with me as Head. No other Hall was opened until the summer of 1909, when Greenwood House across the Midway was organized, with Miss Langley as Head. On October II, 1917, Drexel House was formed, and an added element of self-help was introduced. At the beginning of the summer of 1918, Woodlawn House was organized as an experiment in maintaining a residence without facilities for a common table, and in the following year Kenwood Hall was added to the list. The lapse of time has but served to emphasize the demand for more Halls, and confirm the desirability of providing further means for caring for the domestic needs of the women students of the

(122) University in such a way as to make their intellectual resources more effective.

The primary objective of the Residence Halls was naturally to secure physical conditions favorable for the work of students, and incidentally to give them opportunity for social experience and the enrichment of personal relationships. That we were successful in giving University work the first place was proved at least in more than one case, where sisters chose to attend different universities, one basing her decision on the greater academic opportunities offered, while the other preferred the attraction of sororities, social functions, and other forms of social amusement.

Our aims involved: freedom directed by intelligent choice; consideration for others; a determination on the part of each to choose a path not only worthy of the University but conforming to one's own best ideals, rather than to drift heedlessly or to conform to unfitting, but possibly popular, standards. I often had occasion to point out that many students had a desire to do active social service work and that it was doubtful if they would ever find themselves in a community of from forty to seventy persons where there were

(123) so many and constant opportunities for friendly and considerate service. Naturally, a fine spirit of co-operation was necessary and it was in most cases forthcoming; and it was recognized that activities which might interfere with the rights of others, such as the use of musical instruments and typewriters, loud talking and laughing, and visiting back and forth, should not be countenanced. It was often pointed out that failures to co-operate were not really due to the euphemistic term "thoughtlessness" but, in the final analysis, to straight "selfishness."

By various methods the House spirit was maintained and even strengthened; and there were few cases when freedom in the intellectual, as well as in the social, life was abused. But the confusion in social standards which came with the World War, and which still exists, affected the University of Chicago as it did all groups of young people, though much less seriously than it did most college communities. Increasingly late hours, an excessive amount of social life, and various types of failure to appreciate the obligations of membership in the University led President Judson to question whether the time had

(124) not come to place more restrictions upon the students in the Women's Halls. (Parenthetically, it may be noted that again Eve was to be held solely responsible!) I informed the women in the Halls of the action suggested and expressed my profound regret that the system which had brought much satisfaction and commendation was seriously threatened. The women accepted the challenge and worked out a plan by which more positive measures could be taken to inform the fast-succeeding groups of newcomers of the standards of the University. The plan agreed to by representatives of the different Houses at a very solemn conference was acceptable to the President and was put into operation at once. Its essential provisions were the appointment of a social committee in each House to take upon itself the responsibility for interpreting to the new women in each Hall the spirit and traditions of the House and for discussing with all residents social standards and conduct. The result of the system, or perhaps more truly of the agitation caused by the suggested restrictions, was entirely satisfactory, even though there were occasionally found in the student groups individuals who

(125) lacked good breeding and were unwilling to show social consideration for others. The situation is one which calls for constant watchfulness. It is true, indeed, that "eternal vigilance is the price of liberty." In this case the vigilance manifests itself through the general high morale of the group and their appreciation that true freedom comes through self-control.

This account of the salient features of House organization among the women of the University of Chicago and the special features of life in one Hall shows but in part the possibilities of the system. President Harper expressed his opinion of it in the following words: "The time will come when every student of the University will be a member of a University House. The development of the University life is largely dependent on the growth of University Houses."

That this opinion is generally held by the authorities of the University is proved by the fact that every plan for the increase of living accommodations for women students is based on the House system. It is true that those who have lived in the Halls for any considerable period of time can recall difficult and perplexing episodes,

(126) instances of not altogether creditable conduct, and evidences of ill-breeding and selfishness. On the other hand, those who hold the skeins of such memories in their hands have more than enough by far to offset them in the messages and impressions which come from time to time. "It was a turning-point in my life," say the young. "For the first time since I left home to teach was I happy and reaching my ideals of intellectual and social companionship," say the old.


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