Dormitory Darlings

The 2012-13 school year marks the first time UT dorms  have officially allowed members of the opposite sex to stay in each other’s rooms overnight—a far cry from the way things used to be.

Dormitory Darlings

These days, if you mention “curfews” or “signing out” to students living in UT dorms, they’ll probably give you a funny look. They may take their freedom for granted, but it wasn’t so long ago that living situations on campus were much more buttoned-up.

Though UT was founded as a coed university in 1883—a time when many colleges in the country didn’t even admit women—the campus’ early layout reflected a prevailing attitude of the time: women were fragile beings who had to be guarded and protected, both physically and morally.

The women’s residence halls had all the perks: elevators, air conditioning, and large living areas with fireplaces and pianos. “If the University is to be open to women, their delicate and refined physical organisms should be cared for,” reads a Board of Regents report from 1897. The first women’s dorm, aptly named the Woman’s Building, had an elevator—a rarity at the time—when it opened in 1903.

Male students were not so lucky. Common areas were virtually nonexistent in their dorms, and they slept in barracks-style open-air “sleeping porches.” Only one men’s dorm, Simkins (now Creekside), offered air conditioning.

Though UT was struggling financially at the time, the Woman’s Building had a gym, the school’s first swimming pool, an infirmary, and a large living room with a coffered cypress ceiling and leather armchairs. Subsequent women’s halls followed the same pattern for decades and strove to provide residents with every comfort. Kinsolving took amenities to a new level when it was constructed in 1958 with extra-large living and dining rooms, air conditioning, and later with salon-style hairdryers and sewing stations on all floors.

“I think a lot of us thought, ‘My God, they thought of everything!’” says Suzann Seidel Jones, BA ’60, a resident of Kinsolving the year it opened. “It was modern and everything was so efficient.”

Former Kinsolving resident Lynda Johnson Robb, BA ’66, Life Member, daughter of then-vice president Lyndon Baines Johnson, remembers the vending machines downstairs as the dorm’s most revolutionary feature.

“When we lived in Washington, Daddy had a friend who was with Dr. Pepper, and in the summer we would get a case of Dr. Pepper and we held onto them like gold,” she says. “Those were not diet; they were full-calorie. So when I went to UT and they had Diet Dr. Pepper in the machines, and you could come down and get it all hours of the day or night—that was very exciting.”

Robb says that even her Secret Service agents weren’t allowed to stay on the female-only resident floors. They had to set up shop in a glass room downstairs across from the front desk.

Back then female students had curfews and had to sign out if they left the dorm to go anywhere other than class. Men could visit the women’s dorms, but were confined to the living areas downstairs and had to leave at a certain time.

When guys arrived to pick up their dates, they used a phone bank near the front desk to call the ladies upstairs. Women did not typically visit the men’s dorms. To keep it that way, the gender-specific buildings were intentionally sequestered geographically. The “Woman’s Campus,” as it was called, was the area north of the original Forty Acres (north of 24th Street), while the men’s domain was the area southeast of the Tower. All the men’s dorms save B Hall, which stood where “The West” sculpture now sits, were clustered around 21st Street.

Jester broke the mold when it opened as the first coed dorm in 1969. Initially it separated the sexes by tower, then floor, and eventually by room. Jester’s evolution mirrored the gradual disappearance of the idea that women needed more amenities and protections than men. “The amenities for men and women were more the same in Jester than they had been in the past,” says Richard Cleary, an architecture professor at UT, “and that was a big change.”

Even after Jester, most men on campus had it pretty rough for years to come. The majority of male-only dorms didn’t get air conditioning until the mid-’90s—and they only had it installed after the dorms became coed.

Male students call their dates from Kinsolving’s reception hall in 1959. Photo courtesy the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History.


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