Go With The Overflow
During much of the 1950s, some students at the University of Kansas colloquially referred to a three-story wood-frame house located at 1115 Louisiana Street as “the mysterious disappearing hall.”
Officially, this small undergraduate women’s residence was named in honor of Frank Heywood Hodder, a longtime KU professor of history who once owned the home and lived there with his family. Its informal moniker derived from the dormitory’s functional designation as an “overflow hall.”
In this capacity, Hodder Hall housed an “overflow” population – approximately two-dozen KU women who had not been able to secure rooms in the University’s larger residence and scholarship halls for the fall semester. By the start of each spring term, however, enough space had opened up elsewhere on campus to enable all of Hodder’s residents to move into KU’s conventional dorms. Hodder would then cease to be an operating residence hall for the rest of the school year, remaining vacant until the coming fall, when the process would start all over again.
By the time Hodder Hall started fulfilling this function, the house and the land on which it was located had already chalked up a serious Jayhawk pedigree. Originally, what was to become 1115 Louisiana was part of a larger holding owned by Charles Robinson. An agent of the New England Emigrant Aid Company and a leader of the free-state faction during the Bleeding Kansas period of the mid-1850s, Robinson would go on to become the first governor of Kansas (1861-63) and a leading proponent of establishing the state university in Lawrence. During the “Sack of Lawrence” in May 1856, proslavery sympathizers led by Sheriff Samuel Jones destroyed a house Robinson had built on this property.
In 1890-91, Olin Templin, then just starting out on his lengthy KU career as mathematics instructor, philosophy professor, college dean, and head of both the Kansas Alumni Association and the KU Endowment Association, acquired much of this tract as a personal investment. After engaging in what appears to have been some profitable subdividing of what was then unimproved land comprising portions of several lots, Templin sold the remainder of the property to Professor Hodder and his wife Florence in 1893. Some ten years after that, the Hodders constructed their family home at 1115 Louisiana.
They would remain there for more than three decades, having two daughters, both of whom lived at 1115 Louisiana while they earned their KU degrees. Additionally, a Hodder granddaughter named Peggy Davis also went to KU and became the first president of the All Student Council, the immediate predecessor student government organization to the present-day Student Senate. During her childhood, she too spent much time at 1115 Louisiana.
As for Professor Hodder himself, he was, as KU Chancellor Ernest H. Lindley once put it, “an unabridged edition of a man.” With degrees from the University of Michigan and teaching experience at Cornell, plus further study in Germany and a brief stint as a federal employee in Washington, DC, Hodder began his 44 years of service to the University of Kansas in 1891 as an associate professor of American history. According to most sources, Hodder rose to full professor in 1893, a promotion that apparently dovetailed with the decision he and his wife made to acquire the parcel at 1115 Louisiana.
Hodder became chair of the KU History Department in 1908. He retained this position until his death at age 75 in 1935. During these years, as the Kansas City Times once put it, “the wide front porch at 1115 Louisiana” became a venue where “students, faculty members, and others who were fortunate enough to sit with [Professor Hodder]” shared “good cigars” and “the privilege to give and take of good conversation.”
In the classroom, Hodder’s goal was to make students “historically-minded.” His most outstanding teaching, according to colleagues and generations of undergraduates, was in a course he regularly gave on the history of US presidential administrations. A clue to the popularity of this class and the value students accorded it might be gleaned from the fact that the course was always full, even though it was limited to seniors and began at 1:30 p.m. The time period is significant because in those days, fourth year students at KU were “not required to enroll in afternoon classes.”
Hodder was known as “a salty man” who was “strikingly independent,” and “meticulously regular in his habits,” one of which was apparently a tendency for thumb sucking “when he became excited or preoccupied.” He was also “bold and fearless” and “one of the staunchest defenders of academic freedom.” In 1919, shortly after the end of the First World War, Hodder publicly denounced Theodore Roosevelt for being “a militarist of the worst type,” and contended the former US President was an American version of a Prussian.
As a scholar, perhaps Hodder’s most provocative thesis was that Illinois US Senator Stephen A. Douglas championed the Kansas-Nebraska Act – which organized the territories of Kansas and Nebraska in 1854 – primarily for the ulterior motive of ensuring that Chicago would become the hub of the contemplated transcontinental railroad. Hodder published an article to this effect in the June 1925 edition of the Mississippi Valley Historical Review, a leading academic journal. He also authored several American history textbooks.
Frank Heywood Hodder died suddenly of a heart attack and pneumonia two days after Christmas 1935. His widow Florence subsequently sold 1115 Louisiana to a Wichita family that had a daughter attending KU. The house remained a private residence for the next ten years.
In spring 1946, 1115 Louisiana became the home for the newly formed KU chapter of the Delta Delta Delta sorority. In early November of that year, members of the Tri-Delts celebrated when one of their own – a 19-year-old junior from Concordia, Kansas, named Eunice Carlson – learned that her father Frank Carlson had just been elected governor of the Sunflower State. (During his term, Carlson would merit another KU connection when he signed the landmark Rural Health Program for Kansas legislation that funneled millions of dollars to the KU School of Medicine in return for a variety of initiatives aimed at alleviating the critical shortage of physicians and other medical personnel then plaguing many rural Kansas communities.)
The Kansas Board of Regents authorized KU to purchase 1115 Louisiana from the Tri-Delts in January 1950 for $22,000, a sum agreed on after four Lawrence realtors appraised the property and arrived at a composite price. Once the Tri-Delts moved out and took possession of their new quarters in West Hills, 1115 Louisiana was leased to the Acacia fraternity for the spring 1951 semester.
This was an emergency short-term rental made necessary by a fire that had severely damaged Acacia’s chapter house during the winter recess. The Acacia men departed at the end of the spring term. On June 12, 1951, the Summer Session Kansan reported that 1115 Louisiana would be named Hodder Hall and begin serving as an undergraduate women’s residence in time for the start of the fall 1951 semester.
For the first half of the 1950s, Hodder Hall was a regular women’s dormitory operated throughout the school year. Starting in the mid-1950s, Hodder took on its status as an “overflow hall.” Finally, during the 1961-62 school year, increased enrollment at KU once again caused Hodder to be used for two consecutive semesters as a women’s residence.
In whatever iteration, life in “this “nice comfortable old house” meant several commonalities. On the second floor, women lived four to a room in two bunk beds. Each occupant had a personal desk and a chest. The floor was configured in such a way that every two bedrooms adjoined each other and shared a single bathroom. The third floor attic was an open area that housed an additional seven or eight women, with another bathroom just for them. There was a single hall phone on the first floor for all hall residents.
Since Hodder lacked dining facilities, its residents had to take their meals elsewhere. Typically, freshman women would eat in Corbin Hall, a half-block to the north. All others would dine at Foster Hall; a since-demolished residence located a stone’s throw to the south at 1200 Louisiana.
The Hodder experience seems to have been generally agreeable for many of the women who roomed there. As documented by a collection of retrospectives from former Hodder residents gathered by the KU Department of Student Housing in spring 2001, the dormitory at 1115 Louisiana proved a venue where “fun loving yet extremely intelligent young women” could bond, play, study, and mature.
In fact, an emphasis on learning “in the house in which one lives” seems to have been one of the reasons why Hodder Hall was originally established. In September 1951, a new KU directive went into effect. It required all “incoming freshman women… to live in University residence halls for one year,” as an article in the Graduate Magazine put it at the time. In a corollary move, these women were off-limits to sororities and could “neither be rushed nor pledged during the first year.”
This initiative represented what amounted to a sea change in terms of how KU viewed its responsibilities to freshman women, and was in line with similar reforms that “proved successful at numerous colleges and universities across the country.” Leading the charge was Margaret Habein, dean of women at KU. “It is where one lives that one learns to get along with people, adjusts to being away from home [and] sets standards about life in general,” Habein pronounced. “Here one learns about budgeting time and how to study…”
By these measures, the Hodder women appear to have fulfilled many of the broad outlines of Habein’s objectives. In terms of learning to live with others, for example, Janet Holt Wurtz recalled a 10 p.m. lights out policy that she dealt with by “going into the closet to do any additional reading.” Added Neola Kinkel Roberts, who lived in the attic area, “Our room had a ‘lights out and radios off’ at 10 p.m. Anyone needing to stay up later had to go to another part of the house.” And Mary Ethlyn House Schondelmaier, who had come to KU from “a small high school in western Kansas,” remembered Hodder fondly as “a small residence hall where I felt it was easier to make friends.”
As for the imperative for developing good study habits, this too was accomplished, at least to some extent. “I spent a lot of time at the library on campus, as the hall was not always the quietest place,” reported Margaret Lachman. “But by the second semester I was more acquainted [with other Hodder residents] and spent less time studying.”
This admission notwithstanding, there is evidence the Hodder women realized their place of residence put an extra requirement on them to hit the books. “We live on faculty ground,” explained an unnamed resident of 1115 Louisiana in the 1959 Jayhawker yearbook. “Hodder was the home of Professor Hodder, formerly of the History Department. So to save face we have to look halfway studious.” This theoretical requirement may have had a particular effect on Elinor Hadley Stillman. “My mother was pleased by Hodder because she had been a history major at KU, and Professor Hodder had been a favorite professor of hers.”
And even though Doris Gaie Bunn McDermott recalled that “it was a very innocent time for most of us,” some of the Hodder women weren’t afraid to be a tad rambunctious. “When we answered the telephone, we’d announce, ‘Hodder, who in the hall do you want?’” recalled Sharon Jeffers Ingersoll. “Who said that 50s students were not rebellious? Once the assistant dean of women called up and didn’t think our phone response [was] very funny. And of course, no one ever owned up to answering the phone this way.” The residents also seemed to good-naturedly tolerate the occasional panty raid conducted by members of the neighboring Triangle Fraternity.
There were sunbathing opportunities on the fire escape on the south side of the house, and Margaret Lachman’s recollection of a 21-year-old graduate student from France, remembered only as “Bridget.” Her age “allowed her to have a key to the front door” of Hodder, and “she did not have to observe ‘closing’ hours like the rest of us.” There was also another distinction that apparently set her apart from the rest of the Hodder residents in an era when a bare female midriff was a rarity at the beach, let alone on the street and in the classroom. “Her tan line,” remembered Lackman almost half a century later, “indicated she wore a bikini!!”
This brush with unconventionality notwithstanding, many of the Hodder Hall reminiscences suggest the residents were active in upholding KU traditions.
Hodder women regularly participated in Homecoming. In 1952, they even saw one of their own – Mary Lou Lavy – chosen as Homecoming Queen. This “big event…was very exciting,” reported Phyllis Beach Blackwood. “All of the girls were pleased to have her represent Hodder Hall,” added Mary Ethlyn House Schondelmaier, who was one of the queen’s roommates. And in 1959 at least, according to the Jayhawker yearbook, Hodder residents “held open house after every [foot]ball game.”
Another “annual event at the University”, as related by Hodder resident Doris Gaie Bunn McDermott, was “the fall cleanup of the grounds.” This activity “involved everyone raking leaves for hours and later building a big bonfire…which was also used to bake potatoes which we all consumed. I still remember how wonderful they tasted…with absolutely nothing on them.”
However, a different memory of fire and smoke left McDermott with a bitter taste in her mouth. “A woman who represented a cigarette company …came to Hodder Hall and gave the girls a lesson on the correct and ladylike methods of smoking cigarettes. She also gave us all sample packs of cigarettes, and my three roommates and I immediately started smoking – almost choking to death in the process.”
In 1961-62, according to an entry in the Jayhawker yearbook, Hodder Hall “survived for two whole semesters.” The combination of “increased enrollment” and “no new housing facilities for upper class women” made the use of Hodder necessary for a full year school. During this final incarnation of the small dormitory at 1115 Louisiana Street, it was “primarily made up of transfer students.”
But Hodder’s time as a dormitory was coming to an end. As Fred McElhenie, associate director of the KU Department of Student Housing has noted, “Building of large residence halls continued in the mid-1960s and soon ample space was available for students needing housing.” Finding room for “overflow” students ceased to be a problem and halls like Hodder were pressed into alternative service. In this case, 1115 Louisiana became the location for the University’s Special Education Instructional Materials Center.
By 1978, “poor old Hodder” had “reached the end of the road,” as Lawrence resident Dan Broyles lamented in a letter to the editor of the Lawrence Journal-World in December of that year. The house at 1115 Louisiana that had lasted for more than three-quarters of a century was scheduled for imminent demolition, and Broyles sarcastically urged local residents to watch the bulldozing for “cheap thrills.”
Once razed, the site of Hodder Hall initially remained vacant. In the late 1980s, the KU Endowment Association sold the property to a private owner. Present-day 1115 Louisiana is the address of a garden apartment complex of late twentieth century vintage.