Morrill Hall was built in 1900 to serve as the Women's Building.

Morrill Hall was built 4 years after the establishment of the Women's Course in 1896 at the State Agricultural College, as MSU was called at the time. Building Morrill Hall was seen as a necessary step in the continued development of the Women's Course and increasing the number of women enrolled. Women’s presence at the college had been experimental since 1870 and there were not any specific courses for women. Prior to 1900 the college was facing many problems and it believed that creating a Women's Course would be a crucial step in solving some of those problems. This new course gave women a practical and scientific based education tailored to a woman's place in society (with classes in cooking, sewing, sciences, and liberal arts) just as the agricultural and other courses at the college did for men. Also the new course would hopefully increase enrollment overall, make the college appear more modern, and even boost the moral integrity of the school. For this to happen, the college first needed to prove that the women enrolled would be kept safe. Until Morrill Hall was built the school did not provide proper housing for women as they either had to live with extended family nearby or live with faculty. The time between the development of the Women's Course and the building of Morrill Hall, women were housed in a remodeled Abbott Hall.[1] As the Women's Course proved successful during those first few years 95,000 dollars was appropriated from the state for the building of a women's dormitory and construction of Morrill Hall began in 1899.[2]

The facilities in Abbott Hall were inadequate and it was necessary for a new building to be erected. There was a competition in November of 1898 with 300 dollars in prize money to be given away for the best 3 plans for a new women's building.[3] Six months later the money was successfully appropriated with 83,000 dollars for the building and 12,000 dollars for heating and furnishing. It was more money than asked for and Pratt and Koeppe, the 1st prize winning firm, was given the task of constructing the Women’s Building.[4] The new building was to be placed on the Northeast edge of what came to be known as the “Sacred Space” of MSU, the area central to the West Circle section of campus, in which there are no buildings.[5] To the back of the building was an artificial pond (complete with an island and rustic bridge for a time) that was eventually drained and filled in.[6] The surrounding low land was the cause for future occasional flooding of the building and some sources say the pond was actually a natural tamarack swamp.[7] [8] On October 10, 1899 ground was broken for the building’s construction.[9] Most of the buildings prior to the Women’s Building had been built as a cooperative effort by students and faculty. The construction of the Women’s Building was mainly in the hands of hired architects and builders but there was still some work done by students. The engineering department laid out sewers and drains, a student workforce was used to dig the large ditch for the sewer, teams, most likely consisting of students, hauled stone and rubber, and students also dug trenches for the foundation.[10] Construction went smoothly with the exception of an unexpected increase in the cost of building materials which caused part of the North wing to be cut off.[11] Other notable changes included the recommendation of the State Board to add fire escapes and change the ventilation system, which were both carried out.[12] The building was made of Lake Superior red sandstone and pressed brick with a wooden frame.[13]

The Women's Building was ready for occupancy at the start of fall classes in 1900 when 60 women students moved in with the floors yet to be laid.[14] The dedication took place on October 25, 1900 in the armory. Many prominent women from around the state and many prominent at the college, including Mary Mayo, gave speeches for the dedication and a large banquet was held in the dining room of the Women's Building afterwards.[15] It was an impressive building, the largest on campus at the time.[16] It is 255 feet long and 95 feet wide. The main section is four stories high while the wings are 3 stories and there is also a basement. The building was capable of housing 120 women students as well as the Dean of Women and many of the women faculty. There were 73 dorm rooms, faculty offices, a large dining room and kitchen, smaller dining rooms and kitchens, pantries, store rooms, reception rooms, parlors, classrooms, a two story gymnasium, music rooms, kitchen labs, convalescent rooms, and 2 laundry rooms. There were hardwood floors, electric light throughout the building, iron stairways, freight and passenger elevators, toilets and fire escapes for every story, and the building was heated by steam. The Women’s Building succeeded in creating not only a safe haven full of the comforts of a home, but a center for the education of the college’s women. It was full of modern facilities for the time and great care was taken with the decoration of the building to foster feelings of both comfort and learning. Also the women had close connections to their instructors as they lived in such close proximity to each other.[17] There were two women to a room which included a large closet, chairs, washstand and equipment, study table, book case, and for each woman a single bed, mattress, pillow, and dresser.[18]

The Women’s Building served as a girl’s dormitory for the next 37 years when it was renovated to become the liberal arts building. The 1930’s at the college was a time of extensive new construction on campus including the construction of many new dormitories including Williams Hall, the new women’s dormitory. The Women’s Building had become more suited for an academic building, especially since It was becoming a fire hazard as a dormitory and the liberal arts departments could be brought together within the building rather than be scattered across campus.[19] The name was changed to Morrill Hall at this time as well.[20] The name Morrill Hall was originally considered for the building and was adamantly supported by Dr. Kedzie, a prominent professor in 1900, but somehow the name never stuck until the building’s use was changed. Dr. Kedzie had wanted to perpetuate Senator Justin Morrill’s name due to his passing right around the time the Women’s Building was being constructed.[21] It was because of Senator Morrill that the Morrill Act of 1862 passed that appropriated land for the creation of agricultural colleges across the country. These colleges were to promote a practical education mostly related to agriculture but that also included other sciences and a liberal education all directed towards the working class.[22] MSU’s Morrill Hall is just one of many Morrill Halls in the country. Most land grant universities have commemorated the importance of Senator Morrill’s congressional act by naming one of their first buildings “Morrill Hall” as well. Another name Morrill Hall was once referred to as was “The Coop” referencing the “chicks” living and studying in the building while it was a dormitory.[23] According to a State News article from 2007 the building is today sometimes referred to as either “Mr. Crumbly” or “the ugliest building ever” referencing its old age and out dated appearance.[24]

Today the building is used as a classroom and office building and houses several academic departments. The History, English and Religious Studies departments as well as many smaller departments are housed in Morrill Hall. Starting in the 1990’s there have been many questions raised about the building’s safety. In 1990 there was a stir with the removal of asbestos in order to install a new elevator.[25] On February 6, 1991 a 12 by 40 foot section of ceiling collapsed in the basement of Morrill Hall. The original plaster was one inch thick and hidden by a more recent drop ceiling. Thousands of pounds of plaster fell severing emergency sprinkler system pipes which flooded the basement with two inches of water. No one was injured in the collapse and the entire ceiling was replaced.[26] Talk of the building’s demise began in 1998 when concern over the buildings safety started to grow. It became clear that maintenance was being deferred due to lack of funds and the possibility of its future demolition. Faculty and staff that worked in the building both shared their admiration of the building yet complained about its neglected conditions and safety concerns despite Morrill Hall regularly passing all its safety checks conducted by the university.[27] In the 2000’s the issue continued to grow as concerns over its structural stability and University official’s claims that the structure is beyond repair.[28] In 2008 the plan to demolition Morrill Hall became official with the Board of Trustees approval in September of 2008. It has been asserted that repairing the building will be too costly and almost impossible due to deterioration of the wood frame, problems with the foundation, and cracks in the brick. The replacement project is to cost 36 million dollars and to take place in 2012. To make up for the loss of space an addition will be made to Wells Hall.[29] Many are concerned by the loss of this culturally and historically significant building and hope that the university is taking steps to preserve its sentimental value.

Beal:
"This fine edifice was built of red brick, in 1899-1900, ready for the "coeds" for the opening of the fall term of 1900. The appropriation was $95,000.

It stands about half way between Howard Terrace and the horticultural laboratory. One corner of the building stands towards the highway, thus obscuring the view of parts of campus. it was set at one edge of a tamarack swamp, three to six feet to low, as has since been shown during excessive wet weather.

Originally planned, the building was to be symmetrical with regard to the central entrance; but the sudden rise in the price of materials made it necessary to lop off the north wing, that the appropriations need not run shot.

In the cut shown ( a cut appears on page 149) a group of evergreens conceals the spot of them missing wing, possibly reminding the paleontologist of the reason for representing the Dinotherium, an immense extinct animal related to the elephant, as lying down because no one knew what kind of legs and feet the animal possessed, the fossil bones not having been found.

It contains the offices and private rooms of the dean and of various women instructors; a suite of four pleasant rooms for work in domestic art; also a room for wood work; a cooking laboratory, with adjacent small dining room and pantry; large recitation room, gymnasium, music rooms parlors and reception rooms; large dining room; toilet and bath rooms, laundry, and living rooms for 120 young women.

The building is a favorite one for holding receptions, and for banquets. In the Wolverine, prepared by the class of 1911, the editor refers to the great number of rules which govern the machinery of this building. Surveying squads also say that it is harder to survey in the vicinity of the "Coop" than anywhere else on campus because the local attraction is so very strong." [30] [31]

  1. ^ Koch, Carol R. “Domesticity Institutionalized: The Establishment of the Woman's Course at the Michigan Agricultural College, 1896" MSU Archives and Historical Collections.
  2. ^ "General Equipment: Dormitories" Catalogue 1899-1900. MSU Archives and Historical Collections
  3. ^ "Plans for a New Women's Building" MAC Record, November 1, 1898. MSU Archives and Historical Collections.
  4. ^ "Meeting of the State Board of Agriculture, November 29, 1898" MAC Record. November 29, 1898. MSU Archives and Historical Collections.
  5. ^ Dewhurst, Linda O. Stanford and C. Kurt. MSU Campus Building, Places, Spaces. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press, 2002.
  6. ^ Gilchrist, Maude. The First Three Decades of Home Economics at Michigan State College, 1896-1926.
  7. ^ www.kevinforsyth.net/ELMI/morrill-hall.htm
  8. ^ From a printed email in currently unsorted box at MSU Archives and Historical Collections.
  9. ^ "Work on the Women's Building Will Be Rushed" MAC Record Vol. 5 October 10, 1899. MSU Archives and Historical Collections.
  10. ^ "The New Building To Be" MAC Record Vol. 5. October 17, 1899. MSU Archives and Historical Collections.
  11. ^ "Work on the Women's Building Will Be Rushed" MAC Record October 10, 1899. MSU Archives and Historical Collections.
  12. ^ Letter from State of Michigan Board of Corrections and Charities to State Board of Agriculture. Morrill Hall building information folder, MSU Archives and Historical Collections.
  13. ^ State Board of Agriculture Annual Report 1899-1900. MSU Records and Historical Collections.
  14. ^ Allen, Mary Kyes. "When The Women's Building Was New" MAC Record May 1938. MSU Archives and Historical Collections.
  15. ^ Gilchrist, Maude. The First Three Decades of Home Economics at Michigan State College, 1896-1926.
    MSU Archives and Historical Collections.
  16. ^ "General Equipment: Dormitories" Catalogue 1899-1900. MSU Archives and Historical Collections.
  17. ^ "The New Building for Young Women" MAC Record. May 30, 1899. MSU Archives and Historical Collections.
  18. ^ "General Equipment: Dormitories" Catalogue 1899-1900. MSU Archives and Historical Collections.
  19. ^ "Why a College Building Program" February 25,1937. M.S.C. Record vol. 41-44 1935-1939. MSU Archives and Historical Collections.
  20. ^ "College Dedicates New Girls' Dormitory" M.S.C. Record. October 1937. MSU Archives and Historical Collections;
  21. ^ Kedzie, Dr. R.C. "A Memorial Tribute to the Father of Industrial Education in America" January 24, 1899. MAC Record.
  22. ^ Dewhurst, Linda O. Stanford and C. Kurt. MSU Campus Building, Places, Spaces. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press, 2002.
  23. ^ Woods, Sharon. "Morrill Hall Once Hen Cooped" The State News. April 13, 1956
  24. ^ Kayko, Missy. "The Real MSU: Campus Map; Learn the vocabulary that's said on the streets" The State News. Wednesday August 22, 2007. MSU Archives and Historical Collections.
  25. ^ Yuhn, Amy. "Officials: asbestos removal is safe" The State News. April 12, 1990. MSU Archives and Historical Collections.
  26. ^ Flake, Jennifer. "Morrill ceiling crashes" The State News. February 1991. MSU Archives and Historical Collections.
  27. ^ Swiatecki, Chad. "Morrill Hall employees decry structure's poor condition" The State News. July 20, 1998. MSU Archives and Historical Collections.
  28. ^ "Landmarks in jeopardy; budget squeeze threatens future of historic building" Lansing State Journal. March 3, 2003. MSU Archives and Historical Collections.
  29. ^ Harris, Justin. "Trustees approve demolition of 108-year-old Morrill Hall" The State News. September 14, 2008.
  30. ^ ^ Beal, "A History of Michigan Agricultural College," Pg 276. Lansing Michigan, Wynkoop Hallenbeck Crawford Co. 1915
  31. ^ Photo in Beal pg 149