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ISSUE 115 VOL 16 PUBLISHED 3/22/2002

Back to the days of no boys allowed: Heritage room houses Ladies’ Hall display

By Anonymous
Contributing Writer

Friday, March 22, 2002

In the northeast corner of the second floor of Buntrock Commons, in the Heritage Room, rests a display on the old Ladies’ Hall commemorating the history of women’s living quarters at St. Olaf.

"The Ladies’ Hall is very emblematic of how [St. Olaf] was coeducational from the very beginning," said Assistant Archivist Jeff Sauve.

Autumn Schreiber ‘02 arranged the display with the assistance of Archivist and History Department Professor Gary DeKrey’s clarifying essays.

The Ladies’ Hall was completed on Nov. 6, 1879. It was necessary to accommodate the overflow of female students who had been living in Old Main up until then.

As H. B. Kildahl, brother of second president John Kildahl, wryly noted in Joseph Shaw’s "Dear Old Hill," "while the girls lived on the first floor and the boys on the third floor, there was still always the danger that they might get to look at one another."

The Hall was built almost entirely from the old wooden school buildings that first housed St. Olaf’s School, the infant college.

The building was 48 feet by 38 feet, and appeared on the outside identical to the original buildings, while the interior layout was changed to provide more rooms.

The structure sat approximately 30 feet northwest of where Holland Hall sits today.

Professor and long-time librarian Ole Felland’s family lived in an apartment on the first floor of the Ladies’ Hall for over 18 years, from 1881 to 1899.

The Felland Collection, consisting of the professor’s amateur photographs, provides a scenic history of the Hall and the college from 1875 through the 1920’s.

"He took over 1600 photographs of the campus," said Sauve. "It’s basically all the collection [of photos] that [the Archives] have from that period."

The building wasn’t fully painted until 1880, and didn’t have a water cistern until 1882. It was severely over-crowded as well.

"They had many hardships," said Sauve of the first female students. "The building didn’t have much insulation, so sometimes snow would come right through the boards."

A protest in 1911 helped spur the construction of Mohn Ladies’ Hall in 1912.

Mohn Ladies’ Hall was not the tower that stands today, but a brick building that sat where the Science Center is now. After being Mohn Ladies’ Hall, it became the first music hall, also known as "Agony Hall." It was torn down in 1926, but some of the 2x12s were used to build the steps of the Old Music Hall, which were not replaced by the present concrete stairs until the mid-eighties.

At the time when St. Olaf only had two buildings, there were also fairly dense woods.

They were so thick that actual cases exist of young ladies losing their sense of direction in the forest and spending the entire day finding their way back.

One of the more curious artifacts in the display is a dance card from 1894 – a time when dancing was prohibited at St. Olaf.

The Messenger of the time listed the evening as a "social event," but Sauve guesses that they had a secret soiree of their own.

"Students may be asking … what does this mean to me?" said Sauve. "It’s a look at what changes have occurred to cause the freedom of women today."

There were only a handful of female graduates, "maybe four or five," in the first 15 years of the college.

The display commemorates Women’s History Month.

"[The Ladies’ Hall] represents a part of history that’s forgotten … It’s important to look back at the pioneers of the college," Sauve said.

The display will be up through Alumni Weekend at the end of May.

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