Brooks Hall and Access to Residential Housing: Creating Men “Fit for Life Here and Hereafter”

By Daniel Schoettmer            

            University residential life has a rich and storied history in the United States.  Colonial colleges, instead of inventing a new American system or duplicating the unique English ideal, adapted the residential models at Oxford and Cambridge universities to specifically match their needs and resources.  A college and its student housing were designed to promote the “collegiate way,” an educational environment in which living and learning were intimately tied.  Harvard College (1963)—among several institutions now claiming to be the oldest college in America—explained the nature of the “collegiate way” as follows: “Students lived together in the college building in constant contact with their teachers.  They worked and played together, creating the very special kind of community which has been characteristic of the American residential college ever since” (as cited in Thelin, 2011, p. 7).  The whole of a student’s life was educational and developmental.

            At the beginning of the twentieth century, however, the increasing influence of new women’s colleges shifted the focus of student housing to the living arrangements of women in particular.  Women’s colleges such as Mount Holyoke and Wellesley were organized on “distinctly residential bases” (Cowley, 1934, p. 761), and deans of women demanded dormitory housing for the safety of their charges.  According to William Harold Cowley (1934), “It might be very well for men’s colleges and coeducational institutions to put students upon their own, but few in those days were willing to allow young women undergraduates to shift for themselves” (p. 761).  In this way, female students experienced the holistic “college life” that residential living distinctively offered.

 Differential Access to Housing for Men

            Baylor joined the women’s colleges of the North in prioritizing the campus housing of women.  Georgia Burleson Hall, the first dormitory for women on the Waco campus, was completed in 1888 (The History of Baylor, 2013).  There, female students lived together, ate together, and studied together in a shared residential environment in which safety was an imperative concern and all of life became part of the educational experience.  Men, meanwhile, were on their own to secure housing, and a large percentage settled in primitive rooming houses scattered throughout Waco.  It was not until the building of Brooks Hall, Baylor’s first dormitory for men, that male students were afforded access to the benefits and conveniences of the residential college experience.  Prior to the completion of Brooks Hall in 1921, access to dormitory life was granted exclusively to female students for practical and protective reasons.  The rapid growth of the student population, however, demanded that attention be paid to the housing of male students, and the residential culture of Brooks Hall resulted in greater campus involvement among the men, increased academic success, and a vision for development into gentlemen.

The Need for Housing for Men

Baylor’s student enrollment exploded in 1923. From The Lariat, 1923, October 3, p. 1. Courtesy of Baylor University Archives.

            Practically speaking, Brooks Hall was a necessary addition.  In the early 1920s, college enrollment was exploding, not only at Baylor but also at universities across the United States.  The pursuit of higher education became financially viable and culturally popular among Americans, and in addition to those factors, large numbers of military men returned from service in World War I to begin or to complete their college degrees.  Statistics in the Baylor Bulletins from the early 1920s clearly demonstrate this spike in enrollment, and, most significantly, in male enrollment.  In 1922, 611 men were enrolled at Baylor as “in residence” students (that is, students living in Waco and not completing correspondence courses).  In 1923 that number grew to 676 men (an 11% yearly increase), and in 1924 it leaped to 848 men (a 25% yearly increase).  According to the 1925 Baylor Bulletin, “Her [Baylor’s] phenomenal growth in numbers of students has been recited.  Especially marked has been the increase in the numbers of those in the upper classes.  Merely to house the increased student body was a problem” (The Baylor Bulletin, 1925, n.p.).  Simply put, Baylor needed a place to house its students, specifically its men, and the construction of Brooks Hall was its solution.

Construction Details

Brooks Hall upon its construction in 1921. From baylor.edu.

            According to The Daily Lariat from September 29, 1923—an edition of the newspaper devoting an entire page to S.P. Brooks Hall—men had been promised that, upon its construction, the newly built dormitory would be a “real home for men” (The Lariat, p. 7).  Its construction began at 600 Dutton Avenue in February 1920, but issues with funding caused severe delays in its completion.  Waco citizens finally shouldered $200,000 of the $365,530 building cost, and the new men’s dormitory (at that time nameless, but eventually to be named after President Samuel Palmer Brooks) was finished in September 1921.  The five-story, fireproof building was labeled “the finest college home for young men to be found in Texas, if not the entire South” (The Lariat, 1923, September 29, p. 7).  Amenities included steam heat, hot water, electric lights, a dormitory dining room, and a large club room, perks that, according to dormitory superintendent Edwin B. Mersereau, would cause potential residents to “laugh at the occupants of the Hotel Raleigh,” one of the less-equipped rooming houses for men on campus (The Lariat, 1921, December 20, p. 5).  Mersereau added years later: “Brooks Hall is not like the University boarding houses.  We are a big friendly family here” (The Lariat, 1925, September 29, p. 1).

From The Lariat, 1923, September 29, p. 7. Courtesy of Baylor University Archives.

The Demand for Housing for Men

            Accounts in The Daily Lariat disagree on the occupancy of the men’s dormitory when it partially opened in the fall of 1921, but anywhere between fifty-five and seventy-five boys made it their home that first session (The Lariat, 1923, September 29, p. 1; The Lariat, 1924, February 27, p. 1).  Occupancy numbers only grew from there.  In its second year (1922), Brooks Hall housed more than 150 men, and in 1923, after “a wild scramble for rooms,” 251 men claimed a spot in the dormitory.  It was filled two days before opening, and for the first time ever several students were placed on the waiting list (The Lariat, 1923, September 29, p. 1).  According to Superintendent Mersereau:

This increase is due to a real need in Baylor—a place where Baylor men can be together, live together, play together, and associate with each other in the intimate way of members of the same family.  Family life brings unity to its members, unity of thought, notion, and purpose.  We hope that will be the function of the S.P. Brooks Hall. (The Lariat, 1923, September 29, p. 7)

            More than just the fulfillment of a practical housing need in the form of a series of rooms, access to Brooks Hall fostered a positive Baylor experience among college men that encouraged personal development and created more and more demand.

The Results of Housing for Men

Academic Success

            A 1934 dissertation at the University of Chicago examined the relationship between the housing of students and academic success in a university.  E.T. Walker surveyed the scholastic records and living arrangements of 2,574 students from 1926 to 1930, and his simple conclusion carried profound implications for the organization of colleges: “the residence hall [has] the highest correlation to success in the university” (Walker, 1934, as cited in August, 2003, p. 148).  Research like Walker’s encouraged college administrators to consider the environment as a contributor to student learning, and the academic success of the men living in Brooks Hall added credibility to the truthfulness of such research.

From The Lariat, 1925, December 31, p. 1. Courtesy of Baylor University Archives.

            A front page headline of The Daily Lariat from December 31, 1925, celebrated in all capital letters that there were “ONLY TWO FLUNKOUTS IN [THE] MEN’S DORMITORY FOR [THE] FALL SEMESTER.”  There was, in fact, reason to be proud of the dormitory men’s academic progress.  Two years prior, there had been fifteen flunkouts, and the previous year there had been ten (The Lariat, 1925, December 31, p. 1).  The hall culture promoted by Superintendent Mersereau was beginning to take hold and develop roots.  He enlisted the help of the upperclassman residents, charging them with the responsibility of exemplifying academic discipline and holding the freshmen accountable to the completion of their studies.  Mersereau explained his academic mentor system in The Daily Lariat report:

[The low number of flunkouts] is good indication of the existing spirit in Brooks Hall.  The figures will show that scholarship is on the increase in Brooks Hall.  The mentor system which was inaugurated two years ago helps both the Freshmen and the Juniors in scholarship.  The Junior will see to it that his Freshman studies; and he will study hard himself in order to be an example.  I am highly gratified that there were so few flunkouts last term.  (The Lariat, 1925, December 31, p. 1)

            The article continued to boast that seniors made the most A’s, juniors made the most B’s, and the dormitory as a whole averaged an above-average B.  Although a comparison of academic records between Brooks Hall residents and non-residents from this term was not available, it is evident that the culture of the men’s dormitory cultivated academic excellence among the residents and increased scholarship in its consecutive early years.  Brooks Hall and its men would have been a fine case study for Walker’s dissertation at the University of Chicago, supporting his conclusion that living in a residence hall was highly predictive of academic success.

Campus Involvement

            Abbott Lawrence Lowell, in his inaugural address as the president of Harvard University in 1909, completely neglected the topics of research and scholarship.  Instead, his first words as president espoused the idea of a uniquely developmental “college life” resulting from student residence in dormitories.  This “college life” was to produce “all-round” students whose growth into adults and into men occurred inside as well as outside the formal classroom.  That is, a student’s involvement in campus activities and events could prove just as formative as the time he spent studying his discipline.  According to William Harold Cowley, Lowell “urged that dormitories, especially for freshmen, be built and that everything within reason be done to develop undergraduates as people as well as students” (Cowley, 1934, p. 760).  Quoting directly from Lowell’s address:

The object of the undergraduate department is not to produce hermits each imprisoned in the cell of his own intellectual pursuits, but men fitted to take their places in the community and live in contact with their fellow men.  (Cowley, 1934, pp. 760-761)

            Baylor men living in Brooks Hall invested themselves in the “college life” by pairing their academic performance with extensive involvement in campus activities and organizations.  Consciously, this involvement resulted in a rich and active social experience for residents of Brooks, and perhaps unconsciously, it resulted in the holistic development of residents into men who learned to relate well in community and contribute to society.

            With its “well-lighted lawn and large club room” (The Lariat, 1923, September 29, p. 7), the men’s dormitory quickly solidified itself as the social hub of campus.  Among the social affairs held at Brooks was a masquerade jubilee, an outdoor fete (festival) on the lawn, a “stunt nite” with skits and song and dance, as well as the annual freshman reception that always proved a “slick affair” (The Lariat, 1923, September 29, p. 7).  Baylor students came to expect that the Brooks would provide a extensive social calendar each term, and Superintendent Mersereau was compelled to issue a public apology in The Daily Lariat on behalf of his residents if events were cancelled or the boys were behind in their planning (i.e. The Lariat, 1924, May 17, p. 1).  A large student-run social committee was elected yearly to arrange all social events, and events ranged in size from 100 to 1000 people and attracted attendees from Baylor faculty to female dates from Georgia Burleson Hall (The Lariat, 1924, October 2, p. 1).  Brooks Hall, to be sure, was a social institution, much more than just a place for the men to eat, sleep, and study.

            The involvement of students, however, extended well beyond the dormitory’s club room and lawn.  According to The Daily Lariat, “Brooks Hall men [had] the reputation of entering whole-heartedly into every worthwhile phase of the University life” (The Lariat, 1924, February 27, p. 3), and these worthwhile phases included religious activities, athletic participation, and student employment within the dormitory.

            Religious activities.  Brooks Hall did not have its own religious group, but its residents were committed to a variety of campus-wide religious organizations.  In 1920, the same year that construction began on Brooks Hall, several separate religious organizations merged to form the new Baylor Baptist Student Union (The History of Baylor, 2013), a central coordinating body of student religious activities.  Dormitory men were quick to contribute as leaders within the BSU; in the spring of 1924, five of the fourteen representatives to the general Baptist Student Union Council were Brooks Hall men, including the President and Secretary (The Lariat, 1924, February 27, p. 3).  Brooks residents also served as the presidents of men’s Sunday school classes at First Church and Seventh and James Church.  A large number of the officers of those classes were Brooks residents, and a large majority of dormitory men attended the classes (The Lariat, 1924, February 27, p. 3).  Baylor was entering into a new, exciting time in the Christian development of its students, and instead of being passive recipients, residents of the men’s dormitory actively participated to the point of standing out among all other groups on campus.  According to The Daily Lariat, “Baylor has always stood for developing religious life and character service and the residents of Brooks Hall are doing their part in maintaining this standard which Baylor has set for herself” (The Lariat, 1924, February 27, p. 3).

From The Lariat, 1924, February 27, p. 3. Courtesy of Baylor University Archives.

            Athletic participation.  Brooks men were social, they were religious, and they were also quite athletic.  The dormitory housed many of the varsity athletes at Baylor, and more than that, it began to offer “athletic games” for non-varsity residents, similar to what we would now call intramural sports.  “Brooks Hall,” The Daily Lariat reads on February 27, 1924, “already acknowledged by all as the center of activities among the men of the University, is also coming to be the popular home of Baylor athletes,” including six varsity lettermen (The Lariat, p. 3).  Physical fitness and the development of a competitive spirit were important for all residents.  The Brooks All-Stars, as the dormitory team was called, competed against other groups of men on campus in a number of athletic events at the city league park on Eighth Street, the most popular contest being baseball.  In the spring of 1924, for example, the Brooks baseball team defeated both the men of Greer House (a rooming house on campus) and the Cafeteria Ptomainers (likely a group of men employed in the cafeteria) in order to maintain a perfect record (The Lariat, 1924, May 17, p. 1).  Living in Brooks Hall among hundreds of other men encouraged a student’s involvement in sporting contests—or at the very least made it much easier to form or to join a team—and the togetherness of team competition likely strengthened the men’s group identification and community.

            Student employment.  In the 1920s, though the price of university tuition was moderate, Baylor students were not equally able to shoulder the cost of a college education.  Many boys came from families of modest means, but even if the room costs at Brooks Hall (ranging from $23 to $60 per quarter) were slightly higher than those at rooming houses, these young men in financial need could perform the daily tasks of the dormitory in order to pay for their education (The Lariat, 1921, December 20, p. 5).  In many ways, this system in Brooks Hall was comparable to current work-study programs.  In the fall of 1923, 28 men were working for the dormitory on a salary basis.  Some of the residents worked in the dining room, while others took up janitorial tasks like cleaning the bathrooms, tending to the dormitory lawn, and doing carpentry work.  According to The Daily Lariat, “The dormitory employees are an efficient corps of workers.  The system used is very desirable, since it affords an opportunity for students to work their way and still give the best of service to the residents” (The Lariat, 1923, September 29, p. 5).   Again, at the surface level, the benefit to men employed by Brooks Hall is clear—a way was made for them to pay for and to obtain a college education.  Deeper than that, however, employment in Brooks stimulated the “all-round” development of these residents into, as Lowell had put it, “men fitted to take their places in the community and live in contact with their fellow men” (Cowley, 1934, pp. 760-761).

From The Lariat, 1923, September 29, p. 5. Courtesy of Baylor University Archives.

            Baylor men undoubtedly entered into “college life” to greater degrees as a result of having access to a men’s dormitory like Brooks Hall.  As Cowley (1934) put it in his essay, “To many graduates the contributions to their education from athletics and from extracurricular activities in general appeared to them to be more important and more lasting than their classroom and laboratory work” (p. 762).  Brooks Hall provided just the environment for such important and lasting changes.

Development into Gentlemen

E.B. Mersereau. From The Lariat, 1925, April 14, p. 1. Courtesy of Baylor University Archives.

            In April of 1925, Baylor held a contest whose purpose was to find the young man who, in the opinion of the majority of the student body, was most deserving of the title “Gentleman of Baylor” (The Lariat, 1925, April 6, p. 1).  During the week that voting took place, The Daily Lariat published a series of op-ed articles from distinguished southern educators who issued their beliefs about what qualified a man as a gentleman.  Among these educators were the presidents of Southern Methodist University and Texas A&M, President Samuel Palmer Brooks of Baylor, and Brooks Hall’s own Superintendent Mersereau.  According to the Lariat, “Mr. Mersereau [was] a close observer of the men in the dormitory” and was therefore “well versed on the qualities of a gentleman” (The Lariat, 1925, April 14, p. 1).  His article, “My Idea of a Gentleman” included the following assessment:

My idea of a gentleman is embodied in the description of a certain man I know.  Because he has the rare ability of imagining himself in the other fellow’s place, he is thoughtful of others; this makes him courteous, and good manners naturally follow. (The Lariat, 1925, April 14, pp. 1-2)

            Mersereau was intentional about creating a culture within Brooks Hall that would be conducive to the formation of such thoughtful and courteous gentlemen.  Notably, the hall was self-governed by its residents, and Mersereau, in a letter to potential residents, explained his desire for as few rules as possible (The Lariat, 1921, December 20, p. 5).  The Brooks Hall Court was formed in 1924 as a demand of returning residents and not as an action by the faculty; it kept disciplinary action within the dormitory and prevented any outside jurisdiction.  Mersereau favored the resident government, since it was “not often [his] duty to act as a disciplinarian” (The Lariat, 1925, September 29, p. 1), and the boys’ infractions were quite few.  The student court only met when necessary, and those meetings mostly involved rare cases of noise late at night.  In the fall of 1925, student judge F.L Kuykendall reported that “no man [had] been brought before the grand jury of Brooks Hall [that] year,” and Superintendent Mersereau raved that the dormitory rules had been followed better than ever before (The Lariat, 1925, November 6, p. 1).  The structure, community standards, and peer accountability that Mersereau instituted within Brooks Hall produced young men with good manners that were on their way to becoming gentlemen.

            In his essay, Mersereau stated that these good manners were a function of the thoughtful ability to take the perspective of others and to understand them.  With hundreds of men packed into a single building, there was sure to be the kind of diversity that would force the residents to interact with peers different than themselves.  Mersereau himself pointed out that Brooks Hall was “a place where character is formed every day and where each boy living there comes into contact with other boys from all parts of the country” (The Lariat, 1924, February 27, p. 1).  Young men from Maine to California housed there, as well as men of nearly every academic discipline—lawyers, preachers, teachers, and pre-meds (The Lariat, 1924, February 27, p. 1).  In addition, there was somewhat of an even distribution of academic class; in the fall of 1923 Brooks Hall was home to 40 seniors, 50 juniors, 70 sophomores, and 100 freshmen (The Lariat, 1923, September 29, p. 7).  Men were surely learning how to understand people different than themselves during their stay in the dormitory, and these gentlemanly qualities were tied at least indirectly to their access to a residential experience in Brooks Hall beginning in 1921.

Conclusion

The Legacy of Brooks Hall

            Brooks Hall, the “most modern of buildings” and “the scene of many social events since its opening” (The Lariat, 1924, February 27, p. 1), quickly became the standard of residential life at Baylor University.  Importantly, its influence in the lives of men at Baylor was predicated upon the decision to build a men’s dormitory that offered men the same residential access that women had enjoyed for 33 years.  Brooks Hall was a popular addition to campus, so popular that upperclassmen began to stay from year to year, holding over their leases from the previous session.  Vacancies were few, waiting lists were necessary, and each term a large number of boys were turned away (i.e. The Lariat, 1925, May 27, p. 1).  It was a place where boys grew up into men, and its benefits to the young men’s academic success, campus involvement, and character cannot be overstated.

The New Brooks Residential College

The original portrait of S.P. Brooks. From The Lariat, 1925, May 18, p. 1. Courtesy of Baylor University Archives.

            The original Brooks Hall was demolished in 2006 after Baylor administrators determined that it was not feasible to restore or renovate the 85-year-old building (Baylor University Campus Living & Learning, 2013a).  Rather than being completely lost, however, the old dormitory was replaced by the new Brooks Residential College, a 700-bed, $42.8-million-dollar complex that retains the holistic vision and many of the structural features of the old Brooks Hall, along with Samuel Palmer Brooks as its namesake.  The residential college incorporates a central quadrangle typified by the universities at Oxford and Cambridge as well as a new Brooks Arch (Baylor University Media Communications, 2006a). The original portrait of S.P. Brooks that the dormitory men unveiled in a grand ceremony on Tuesday, May 19, 1925, now hangs conspicuously in the Great Dining Hall, linking the past to the present (The Lariat, 1925, May 18, p. 1).  A Faculty Master residing within the college is the contemporary counterpart of E.B. Mersereau, the old dormitory superintendent (Baylor University Campus Living & Learning, 2013b).

Brooks demolition. From baylorreview.blogspot.com.

            During the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Brooks Residential College, Dr. Dub Oliver, then the interim Vice President for Student life, gave powerful summative remarks regarding the historical impact of the old Brooks Hall on Baylor men:

During its 85 years of service, over 25,000 Baylor men have lived here, serving faithfully in their local communities, our state, the nation, and around the world after learning lessons here that as S.P. Brooks would say, ‘Fit them for life here and hereafter.’  Brooks has been a campus icon for 85 years, and the new Brooks Residential College will be so as well.  The name Samuel Palmer Brooks will forever link the past and the future.” (Baylor University Media Communications, 2006b)

             The impact of Brooks Hall on its residents was profound upon its opening in 1923, and its legacy has stretched decades beyond its dedication.  Thousands of men called the dormitory their home, and though just a brick-and-mortar building, Brooks Hall encompassed leaders and a culture that holistically developed generations of college men.

References

August, Louise. (2003). And a roof over their heads: The history of women’s housing at the University of Michigan through 1940. American Educational History Journal, 30, 143-150.

Baylor Bulletin. 1925. No page. Texas Collection. Baylor University. Waco, TX.

Baylor University (1921, December 20). Baylor University men’s dormitory. The Lariat, p. 5.

Baylor University (1923, September 29). Brooks Hall filled two days before opening. The Lariat, p. 1.

Baylor University (1923, September 29). Twenty eight men now working for dormitory. The Lariat, p. 5.

Baylor University (1923, September 29). Social affairs held at Brooks. The Lariat, p. 7.

Baylor University (1923, September 29). Men’s dormitory fills rapidly as second year approaches. The Lariat, p. 7.

Baylor University (1923, September 29). Brooks Hall is real men’s home. The Lariat, p. 7.

Baylor University (1923, October 3). Unprecedented mark reached in Baylor registration. The Lariat, p. 1.

Baylor University (1924, February 27). Brooks Hall is most modern of buildings. The Lariat, p. 1.

Baylor University (1924, February 27). Every type of student is to be found in Brooks Hall; is place of unity. The Lariat, p. 1.

Baylor University (1924, February 27). Brooks Hall claims many of athletes now in university. The Lariat, p. 3.

Baylor University (1924, February 27). Brooks Hall takes part in university activities especially in religious. The Lariat, p. 3.

Baylor University (1924, May 17). Brooks All-Stars down Ptomainers by 13 to 7 count. The Lariat, p. 1.

Baylor University (1924, October 2). Brooks Hall to have social October 10. The Lariat, p. 1.

Baylor University (1925, April 6). Prominent men to give ideas of gentlemen. The Lariat, p. 1.

Baylor University (1925, April 14). My idea of a gentleman. The Lariat, pp. 1-2.

Baylor University (1925, May 18). Brooks Hall men prepare to care for 1000 visitors at unveiling of portrait. The Lariat, p. 1.

Baylor University (1925, May 27). Brooks Hall men sign for rooms in fall. The Lariat, p. 1.

Baylor University (1925, September 29). Slimes strut stuff in show at Brooks Hall; Mersereau, Derden, Kuykendall speak. The Lariat, p. 1.

Baylor University (1925, November 6). No cases brought up for trial at Brooks. The Lariat, p. 1.

Baylor University (1925, December 31). Only two flunkouts in men’s dormitory for fall semester. The Lariat, p. 1.

Baylor University. (2013). The history of Baylor. Retrieved from http://www.baylor.edu/about/index.php?id=89381

Baylor University Campus Living & Learning. (2013a). Brooks Hall 1923-2006. Retrieved from http://www.baylor.edu/cll/brookscollege/index.php?id=39266

Baylor University Campus Living & Learning (2013b). Welcome to Brooks College. Retrieved from http://www.baylor.edu/cll/brookscollege/

Baylor University Media Communications (2006a, February 3). Brooks Village fact sheet. Retrieved from http://www.baylor.edu/mediacommunications/news.php?action=story&story=38780

Baylor University Media Communications (2006b, May 12). Baylor breaks ground on Brooks Village. Retrieved from www.baylor.edu/mediacommunications/news.php?action=story&story=40704

Cowley, W.H. (1934). The history of student residential housing. School and Society, 40(1040), 705-764.

Thelin, J.R. (2011).  A history of American higher education (2nd ed.). Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press.

Walker, E.T. (1934). The relation of the housing of students to success in a university. (Doctoral dissertation).

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