Building Community through Shared History - A KU Memorial Union Program

“The House With Five Roofs”

Officially it was called Locksley Hall, but during its heyday, some of its residents called it “the house with five roofs.”

Named after the stately manor in a famous contemplative poem by Alfred Tennyson, KU’s version of Locksley was far less grand – an aggregation of five modest wood frame houses, close by Memorial Stadium, that was supervised by one housemother.

This almost forgotten women’s residence hall was one of many makeshift responses to the housing crisis that gripped the University of Kansas in the years following the Second World War.

For many of its residents, Locksley offered an economical cooperative living arrangement. But for everyone who lived there, the working concept was “making do.”

Much of the hall’s furniture – and even its silverware – came from the Great Lakes Naval Station. Locksley’s narrow bunk beds, stacked barracks-style in large drafty rooms called “sleeping porches,” originally were designed for sailors. Storage space was at a premium; typically, two or three residents shared a single closet.

It was an era in which few KU students owned cars and virtually all students were known for their distinctive “KU stride”…a broad-stepped, confident walk born from the necessity of vigorously propelling oneself up Mount Oread each day. Even with that kind of competition, Locksley women were especially renowned for their “well-toned calves,” a result of their daily trudge up The Hill.

When first conceived, the Locksley experiment with multiple dwellings functioning as a single residence hall was intended to be a “temporary” solution to the post-World War II housing shortage at KU.

Instead, this short-term fix ended up lasting well into the presidential administration of Dwight Eisenhower. Gertrude Sellards Pearson residence hall had opened in 1955, and women were moved out of Locksley at that time.

Then, for at least one year in the late 1950s, men took up residence in Locksley. But, by the beginning of the1959-60 school year, the Joseph R. Pearson residence hall for men was ready for occupancy and Locksley Hall was no longer needed. On August 13, 1959, KU confirmed that the Locksley houses would be demolished within a few weeks.

Technically, the Locksley legacy – or more precisely, the Locksley name – pre-dates the end of WWII. The University of Kansas was an active participant in the war effort, hosting training programs for more than a thousand soldiers and sailors. Regular classes on an accelerated schedule were also underway, making Mount Oread a beehive of activity. As a result, KU simply did not have the facilities to house all of its students.

There were no easy options to address these problems. Money was tight. Building materials were considered “defense articles” and were difficult to obtain for nonessential projects. Rooms in private Lawrence residences had been exhausted, and independent halls and cooperative living arrangements were full.

University administrators found themselves dealing with increasingly desperate students and parents. Finally, KU Chancellor Deane Malott appointed a committee to solve what had become a dire campus housing situation.

Locksley Hall was one of these responses. The Locksley name was first applied to an improvised women’s housing arrangement that was opened in the fall of 1944, at the former Delta Upsilon fraternity house at 1025 West Hills Road. The house had been vacated when a large number of DU men had gone to war. In 1945, the Locksley name migrated to another vacant fraternity house, this one on West 10th Street, which had been the quarters for Sigma Nu.

Though not ideal, conditions there were far from primitive. Locksley Hall employed a cook, in addition to the housemother and the hall’s proctors and wait staff. Residents turned over their wartime ration cards for sugar and meat to the housemother, pooling their resources so that everyone in the hall could share, as alumna Betty Mae Brooker recalled.

But the fraternity house had been designed for men. Bathrooms were scarce, and the women found the building’s drafty, cold library an unpleasant place to study and congregate. Of course, “life during wartime” required sacrifices, even from undergraduates.

Unfortunately, campus life immediately following the war would prove to be little different. A mass influx of new students flooded the University. Prior to World War II, the historic high enrollment at KU had come in the 1930-1931 academic year, when there were 5,896 students at KU.

That record was topped in the 1945-46 school year, when enrollment increased to 6,300, according to KU historian Clifford Griffin. In 1946-1947, as even more veterans began to take advantage of the GI Bill, 10,400 students enrolled. And by 1948-1949, some 11,000 students were taking classes at the University.

In January of 1946, KU obtained a federal grant of $93,000 to help address the rising demand for student housing. While deciding how to best utilize these funds, the University hit upon an innovative idea: why not organize a living arrangement to house students under many roofs?

Shortly thereafter, three tidy little houses at 712, 714 and 716 McCook Street that at one time had housed US Army personnel were renovated and pressed into service for the Locksley women. Another house at 1112 Illinois Street also was added to the complex, and in the early 1950s, a much larger house around the corner at 1125 Mississippi Street was appended to the group.

It is this constellation of buildings that most KU alumni from the period remember as “Locksley Hall.” At its height, approximately 35 women called this residence home every year. While the Locksley Hall in the Tennyson poem “overlook(ed) the sandy tracts, And the hollow ocean-ridges roaring into cataracts,” KU’s version offered somewhat more prosaic views: a strawberry patch, Memorial Stadium and what’s now referred to as Campanile Hill.

The Illinois house served as the dining hall, with the complex’s only full kitchen. 712 McCook was entirely occupied by sleeping dormitories. 714 McCook was home to the Locksley housemother, a few sleeping rooms, and the complex’s washing machine. 716 McCook held six residents, and was the location of the Locksley meeting and study rooms, along with a living room and what they called a “Pullman” or galley kitchen. 716 McCook was also the only house that would regularly admit men, though it seems this news was not always communicated to prospective gentlemen callers.

For example, a 1946 article in the University Daily Kansan reported that a boy seeking to pick up his date at Locksley was often playing a strange game that one might call Jayhawk Roulette. Just trying to find her could mean spinning frantically between the houses. He might arrive at the 1112 Illinois house to meet his girl, only to be told she was in the study room at 716 McCook. Arriving there, he might learn that she had left to get ready at 712 or 714 McCook or at the Illinois Street house. And upon arriving at one of these dwellings, he might discover that she had gone back to wait for him at the 716 McCook reception room.

Men could also attend dinner at the Illinois Street house, with prior approval from the housemother. In the earliest years of Locksley’s existence, women were expected to dress up for Sunday’s noon meal as well as Wednesday’s dinner. Sweaters and skirts were fine for other nights, but on these special occasions, women got out their “best bib and tucker” and had a more formal, sit-down dinner, served by other hall residents. Vivian Christian, the Locksley housemother for 1946-1947, would call the waitresses by ringing a silver bell.

These dinners apparently became well known around KU and Lawrence for their style and their quality. Even Archduke Otto of Austria came to a Locksley Wednesday Night dinner when he visited the KU campus in the late 1940s. Part of the renown of these repasts was due to the Locksley cook, a woman remembered by many residents only as “Ruby,” rumored to be the best in Lawrence.

Another reason, at least in some years according to the recollections of various residents, was that the student waitresses were all gifted with exceptional singing voices, and often would sing as entertainment, either while serving or after dinner.

Waitress work was also one of the opportunities Locksley offered its residents as a way to defray living expenses. Women who took these positions received their meals for free. Other selected women also could serve as hall proctors. In return for taking care of routine, day-to-day house governance matters, these Locksley residents were exempted from paying rent.

Otherwise, the operation of Locksley Hall was much like any that of any other dormitory. Proctors, wait staff, and all the other residents were required to attend monthly dorm meetings with the Dean of Women and the housemother. Alumna Barbara Beers Spainhour, herself a proctor from 1952-1954, remembered that the meetings were designed to encourage hall unity and fellowship, but that often they were used to lodge complaints.

Most seemed to concern the hall’s strict curfew (10:30 on school nights) and meal-related issues, particularly the practice of “serving only one selection of entrée and side dish accompaniment” at lunch and dinner. “Did we ever get sick of fruit cocktail!” recalled Dana Hild, a 1958 Locksley resident. “I swore I would never eat it again (but, of course, I have).”

A good proportion of the women of Locksley Hall were native Kansans. However, there were also a fair number of residents from other parts of the United States as well as several foreign countries. For those who hailed from elsewhere, the culture shock of coming to the Sunflower State could be intense – and occasionally surprising. Such was the case with New Yorker Patricia McFadden Schwarz.

She had decided to attend KU because of its physical therapy curriculum, one of the few such programs in the nation. Her bemused parents agreed to let her go, but her grandparents – lifelong residents of Brooklyn who believed that the whole of the livable United States was nestled between the Atlantic Ocean and the Hudson River – warned her about the “dangerous and uncivilized territory” of Kansas.

Undeterred, young Patricia took the train to Lawrence, and just by happenstance, arrived on the day the city was holding a commemoration of an anniversary of William Clarke Quantrill’s famous August 1863 raid. Many of the townspeople were dressed in period clothing – women in prairie dresses and sunbonnets, men in Civil War-era uniforms and long beards. It was all part of the event, but she was unaware of this. “Omigod!” the newly arrived Jayhawk thought to herself as she stepped off the train and looked around. “My grandparents were right!”

On nearly every other day of the year, however, Lawrence – and KU in particular – was slowly trying to find its way toward the color-blind future the Union Army’s victory had made possible. It appears that in the early 1950s, the University was quietly integrating all the housing complexes it directly controlled even prior to the landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka lawsuit.

Locksley Hall was no exception. Several African-American women ended up moving there, and written accounts indicate that for many of the white residents, Locksley provided their first experience of living with people of color.

Not that the “house with five roofs” offered any place to hide. In the McCook Street houses, girls studied two or three to a study room, with only one closet for all the residents sharing the room. Locksley Hall’s sleeping quarters were especially cramped. Many of the women slept in what were called “sleeping porches,” large rooms with numerous bunk beds and virtually nothing else.

This was a comparatively commonplace sleeping arrangement for the University’s collective living groups, since it maximized the number of students that could be housed in any given structure. But there were downsides to this set-up. There was very little privacy, and few chances to sleep in late given the multiplicity of alarm clock bells and buzzers.

However, it was the extreme draftiness and chill mentioned in many of the remembrances by Locksley Hall alumni that seem to have been the biggest detriment. “It was unheated!! “ wrote Carol Shaffer. “I nearly froze to death that winter (of 1954).”

Another alumna mentioned sleeping with mufflers around the neck and socks on her feet. These conditions were only somewhat ameliorated with seniority. Proctors and upperclassmen in Locksley generally were moved to smaller suite-like rooms housing a smaller number of girls.

The location of the houses virtually cheek-by-jowl with Memorial Stadium also made for some unusual wake-up calls, especially during football season. In the 1950s, the Jayhawks practiced in the empty field across from the Locksley buildings. “If they had not played well on Saturday, the team was always out for early morning Sunday practice,” recalled Locksley resident Elizabeth Duckers. “The language could be profane.”

Of course, there were advantages to this proximity as well. “The girls at Locksley became good friends with the players as they stopped to visit on the front porches after the evening meal,” she added. “Game days were fun. Everyone going to the game on the east side of the stadium had to walk by the houses.”

But by the late 1950s, time was also passing by Locksley. The make-do attitude that had sustained this makeshift housing arrangement was no longer enough to make a go of it. Indeed, several years earlier, the Locksley complex figured in a University Daily Kansan investigation of sub-standard housing for students on campus and throughout Lawrence.

The newspaper’s reporters pointed out that Locksley’s sleeping porches did not have fire escapes, and that the hall’s emergency plans – which rested largely on a collection of knotted ropes that would be thrown out of windows and then climbed down – were somewhat less than failsafe. (Fortunately, this procedure never had to be tested in a real fire.)

Today, no physical traces of Locksley Hall remain. Its former location is now part of the fields on the northeastern side of Memorial Stadium, where one will find the “throws cage” for KU track and field athletes. But if the remembrances of its residents are an accurate guide, the trials of living an endless dance between the houses paled in comparison to the benefits of the college experience Locksley enabled them to obtain.

In this view, Locksley’s namesake poem could not have been more apt. “For I dipt into the future, far as human eye could see,” as Tennyson wrote, “Saw the Vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be.”

Laura Lorson
Kansas Public Radio
University of Kansas

Source Notes

[Source notes: The August 13, 1959 Lawrence Journal-World story “Razing Near End on Locksley Halls” provided the date for this story. Details on the Great Knotted Rope Emergency Evacuation Plan came from “Fire Escapes Mean Ropes at Locksley.” University Daily Kansan editorial, 1954-1955 school year, provided to the author courtesy of Elizabeth Wohlgemuth Duckers, personal collection.
Information about the provenance of the Locksley Hall name was taken from Jayhawker Yearbook, 1949-1950, Fall Edition, Vol. 61, p.166. Quotations from the poem “Locksley Hall” are from Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Poems, (Boston: W.D. Ticknor, 1842). Also of interest is the poem “Locksley Hall, Sixty Years After,” Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1886. Original publication in Ballads and Other Poems, Vol. VI of The Works of Tennyson, ed. Hallam Lord Tennyson, annotated by Alfred Lord Tennyson (London: Macmillan, 1908): 279-304.
Much of the background information in this article came from Locksley Hall: “Five Separate Roofs,” an unpublished manuscript by Fred McElhenie, August 2001.The federal grant money statistic came from “Making Progress on Housing Job,” Lawrence Journal-World newspaper, January 25, 1946; Specifics about the hall and quotes attributed to alumnae are contained in: personal interview with Locksley alumna Elizabeth Brooker, April 8, 2004; University Housing surveys completed by Elizabeth Wohlgemuth Duckers, Dana Hild, Hortense Bedell McDuffie, Patricia McFadden Schwarz, Carol Shaffer, and Barbara Beers Spainhour, 2001, courtesy of the University of Kansas Department of Student Housing prepared and collected under the direction of Fred McElhenie.
Statistics on enrollment and the effect of World War II on the University came from The University of Kansas: A History, Clifford Griffin, University Press of Kansas, 1974, pp. 502-503 and much of chapter 26: The Beginnings of Reconstruction. The “Jayhawk Roulette” story was explained in the article “Where Do You Live, Pretty Maid? Four Houses at Once, She Said.” University Daily Kansan, volume 43, no. 81, February 15, 1946, p. 3.
Locksley Hall dinner guest Archduke Otto of Austria formally renounced his title on May 31, 1961, and gave up both his rights to the Austrian throne and his membership in the House of Habsburg-Lorraine, becoming, by his own declaration, simply a citizen of Austria. For more information, see Les Manuscrits du C.E.D.R.E.: L'Empire d'Autriche, volume III, 1991, page 69.
Much of the background on Locksley Hall material may be found in a file kept by the KU Department of Student Housing, compiled by Fred McElhenie. Source materials from KU scrapbooks are also archived on microfilm at the University Archives, located on the fourth floor of the Spencer Research Library, Lawrence, KS, which also houses a complete collection of Jayhawker yearbooks and extensive documentation on enrollment statistics in its special collections. Detailed notes from the author’s personal interview with Elizabeth Brooker are included in the files at the Kansas Union.]