A Look Back: Dorm Rooms Over the Years

As WU students return to campus this August, we welcome the freshman class of 2018 into the “South-40” dorms.  The photographs at University Archives offers a glimpse into dorm rooms of students in decades past.   And while these images span more than nine decades, many similarities remain evident.

Among the first buildings build on the Danforth Campus were three residential halls, Tower Hall  and Liggett Halls (*) for men, and McMillan Hall for women.     The  image below is from McMillan Hall in the 1910s:


(Below) Two students in McMillan Hall, 1958:


In 1958, the University began to build new dorms on the South 40.  The federal government provided much of the funds for this project through Title IV of the Housing Act of 1950.  The dormitories went up in four phases between 1958 – 1964.  The last students to live in McMillan were in 1963-64, after which it was converted to academic use.

Roommates in 1964.  Image taken in one of the original buildings on the South -40:


Study time, 1965, also in a new South-40 building:


(below) Students in 1973:


(below) By 1980, study time included a stereo:



(below) Roommates and bunk-beds, 1981:


(below) Roomates 1995:


In the 1990s, there was the desire to replace dormitories with residential colleges that would foster a sense of community.   Between 1997 and 2000 new four-story residential buildings were construted, including:  the Elizabeth Gray Danforth House, the Ethan A.H. Shepley House, the Burton M. Wheeler House, the Howard Nemerov Residential House, the Arnold J. Lien Residential House, and the Kate M. Gregg Residential House.

(below) Roommates in the Elizabth Gray Danforth House, 2005:



*Note: Tower Hall, constructed in 1902, was renamed Lee Hall (1928-1964) and in 1964 became  Karl D. Umrath Hall.  This building was used for student housing the longest, until November 1964, when about 30 tenants were finally able to move into the completed high-rise dorms on the South-40.

Liggett Hall, constructed in 1901, was renovated into an academic building for the Business School in 1960, and renamed Prince Hall the following year.  The building underwent numerous renovations, and a portion of the lower level was excavated for use as the campus student center.  In 2006 this building was replaced with the Danforth University Center (DUC), and the Liggett name was transferred to the newly constructed John E. Liggett House, on the South-40.

About the author

Miranda Rectenwald is Curator of Local History, Washington University Special Collections. More info.