East Campus residence hall
namesakes' ties bridge the years
April 13, 1998
Although they were built nearly 50 years apart, the first and last dormitories built in East Campus have a connection through their names.
When it was built in 1922, the first dormitory in East Campus was known simply as "the Women's Building." It was built to replace Grove Cottage, the first women's dorm, which burned down on July 8, 1919.
The destruction of the wooden structure was "a severe blow. Registration in home economics was increasing rapidly and the fire left the instituion without laboratories or housing accommodations for young women," wrote Walter Stemmons in his early history of the University.
The proposal to build a new women's dorm actually came before the Grove Cottage burned - It was part of an appropriations bill that included several campus buildings and projects. And in an odd twist of history, the dormitory came to be named for the governor who vetoed that appropriations bill.
Gov. Marcus H. Holcomb (1844-1932) used his veto power because he believed the legislation appropriating funds for the dormitory was illegal. Later, "the bill was reintroduced legally, passed, and (was) signed," says Evan Hill in his manuscript centennial history. Holcomb, a lawyer, had also served as a judge, state attorney general (1906-1907) and was governor from 1917 to 1921.
Holcomb was the first dormitory along Route 195 in what is now called East Campus. It has an attic that once served as the practice area for the women's archery team, which won several national championships in the 1950s.
Whitney Hall, built in 1939, is named for Edwina Whitney, whose story was told in an earlier article in this series. She was librarian from 1900 to 1934, and was the first woman to receive an honorary degree (master of letters) from Connecticut State College in the year she retired.
Sprague Hall was added in 1942, and was named for M. Estella Sprague, dean of the Division of Home Economics (now known as the School of Family Studies) and dean of women from 1920 to 1926. Sprague (1870-1940) had been a professor of home economics since 1917. The first woman extension worker in Connecticut, she served during World War I as the state director of home economics for the Federal Food Administration.
Grange and Hicks Halls, both built in 1950, were originally built as dormitories for agriculture students. Grange Hall is named for the Connecticut State Grange - a strong supporter of the University, especially in its early years. Originally an organization for farm families, the Grange expanded its membership and continued to grow until the 1950s. More recently, local chapters in Connecticut have folded, as membership has waned.
Hicks Hall is named for Elizabeth Hicks (1894-1974), a painter, philanthropist, and friend of the University. She served as a consultant on the establishment of the Ratcliffe Hicks School of Agriculture, which - like the Ratcliffe Hicks Building - is named for her father (1843-1906). The Tolland-born lawyer and industrialist left a quarter of his estate to create an agriculture school.
Shippee Hall is named for Lester E. Shippee (born in 1894), a banker who was chairman of the board of Connecticut Bank and Trust in the 1960s. He was a member of the UConn Board of Trustees from 1946 to 1959, serving as chair from 1953 to 1959. Shippee also was the first president of the UConn Foundation.
The last dormitory of East Campus, Buckley Hall, built in 1969, has a direct tie to the first dorm of the campus complex, Holcomb. It is named for John Buckley (1885-1959), a trustee of the University from 1926 to 1940, who was a U.S. District Attorney in Connecticut from 1924 to 1927. Buckley served as executive secretary to Gov. Holcomb from 1917 to 1921.
Mark J. Roy
Sources: Connecticut Agricultural College: A History, 1931, Walter Stemmons; unpublished manuscript, 1981, Evan Hill. These and other materials on the history of the University are available in the University Archives of the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center.