Building Community through Shared History - A KU Memorial Union Program

“An Old Friend”

During its six decades atop Mount Oread, the small red brick mansion at 1345 Louisiana Street designed by noted Kansas City architect Henry van Brunt and completed in 1893 lived four distinct residential existences.

Originally, it was the first official home of the chancellor of the University of Kansas, a purpose it served for almost 46 years during the tenures of three KU chief executives. In the 1939-40 academic year, this “ideally located and venerably inviting” abode entered a short second life when it was rented out for the use of a “semi-organized” group of non-fraternity male undergraduates known as the “Men of 1011,” an appellation drawn from their previous digs at 1011 Indiana Street.

This student housing function for the stately structure was formalized in early June 1940, when KU Chancellor Deane W. Malott announced that 1345 Louisiana would become a men’s scholarship hall. For this third life, the building was named in honor of Dr. William H. Carruth, an almost legendary KU professor of languages who had died in 1924. On June 26, 1940, refurbishment work commenced on the newly re-christened Carruth Hall. By the time fall semester classes rolled around a few months later, the reconfigured residence was open for business, ready to welcome its inaugural 25-man complement.

Intended to provide economical accommodations for worthy young scholars who otherwise might not have been able to afford a college education, Carruth Hall was an apt honor for its namesake. During his 33-year professorial tenure, the KU- and Harvard-educated Carruth reportedly “did much to aid underprivileged students.” He was also an acclaimed poet, perhaps best remembered for his authorship of “Each in His Own Tongue” – an attempt in rhyme to try to square the differences between scientific and traditional religious interpretations of the origins of life on Earth. He was also a popular pedagogue, a man of deep, inspiring intellect, and a dedicated University servant.

Starting in 1946-47, the house began its fourth and final life as a regular KU undergraduate women’s residence, a change made owing to University concerns that the massive post-World War II influx of male veterans on the GI Bill would create a shortage of women’s housing. Carruth Hall helped alleviate this problem until 1953 when it was demolished to make way for present-day Douthart Hall, an undergraduate women’s dormitory.

With the passing of 1345 Louisiana, eulogized the University Daily Kansan, generations of Jayhawks bid sorrowful adieu to “an old friend.” Yet for Carruth Hall’s former residents, both male and female alike, their fond memories of their respective stays remained vivid even after more than a half-century.

As old and dear a friend to the University of Kansas as the home that would later bear his name, William Herbert Carruth was born in Osawatomie, Kansas, on April 5, 1859. He earned his AB degree in modern languages from KU in 1880, and upon graduation was hired as an instructor in German language and literature. Within two years, Carruth was elevated to assistant professor, by which time he had also become a married man, having wed Frances Schlegel of Lawrence. A former KU faculty member who gave classes in French, German and drawing, Schlegel had been Carruth’s teacher during his undergraduate years.

“As a scholar,” wrote KU historian Clifford Griffin, “Carruth was more than a Germanicist. He wrote in his field … but he was also the coauthor of a book on woman suffrage in Kansas, a student of Kansas dialects, a historian … of early Kansas, and an analyst and propagandist of the state’s literature.” As Griffin further observed, “these subjects bespoke the idea that a man with broad interests should follow wherever they led him; and that notion, in turn, arose from Carruth’s emphasis on the whole man and man’s relation to the whole of existence.”

Considering that Carruth “affirmed the unity of all being” in his writings and diverse scholarly pursuits, it was perhaps only fitting that he would seek the same among his fellow KU alumni as well. To this end, he played a leading role in the founding of the Kansas Alumni Association in 1882, and even consented to serve as its first chairman. The following year, Carruth himself became a two-time KU alumnus when he completed his MA degree in modern languages. (In time, he would earn two more advanced languages degrees – a second MA in 1889, and a PhD in 1893 – both from Harvard.)

If the early 1890s were significant to Carruth’s professional development, they were even more momentous to KU’s physical development. In 1891, the University had received a generous $91,618 bequest from the estate of William B. Spooner, a successful Boston leather merchant and philanthropist. Spooner, the uncle of then-KU Chancellor Francis Huntington Snow, had placed no restrictions on the use of his donation. The bulk of these funds, approximately $80,000, thus went to fill a desperate University need, that being a new freestanding library. Completed in 1894 and named in honor of its benefactor, the Henry van Brunt-designed Spooner Library – now known as Spooner Hall – stands today as Mount Oread’s oldest continually used academic structure.

Adequate library space was hardly the only thing the not yet 30-year-old University of Kansas lacked at this time. Also missing was an official chancellor’s residence, which forced KU’s early chief executives to keep their own private homes in town. Perhaps it was only fitting, then – considering the Spooner endowment’s familial origins – that when KU decided to spend the remaining $12,000 to construct a proper chancellor’s quarters, Chancellor Snow should be the first one to benefit.

Another van Brunt creation, the three-story, early Prairie Style home located at 1345 Louisiana Street welcomed the Snow family in December 1893, and continued as their abode until the chancellor’s resignation in May 1901.

Snow’s successor, of course, would enjoy the same residential perk. And, in fact, among the candidates considered for the job was none other than William Carruth himself, who had the support of many fellow faculty members. Unfortunately for Carruth, he had apparently run afoul of his prospective predecessor, who had been at KU since the first day of classes in 1866 and remained a professor of natural history. As Griffin explained, “Carruth and Snow had long led factions at odds about the relative position of the sciences and humanities in the University, and without Snow’s acquiescence” – which, incidentally, was not forthcoming – “Carruth had no chance” to become KU’s sixth chancellor.

That title ultimately went to former University of Oregon president and Yale alumnus Frank Strong, who took office – and moved into 1345 Louisiana Street – in the fall of 1902. Denied promotion to the top slot, Carruth continued teaching languages and literature at KU until 1913, when he left to accept a professorship at Stanford University.

Strong’s immediate successor as chancellor, Ernest H. Lindley (1920-39), also called 1345 Louisiana Street home. However, by the time Lindley’s KU tenure ended, the distinction one bequest had bestowed was about to be taken away by another.

In June 1939, following the death of longtime KU benefactress Elizabeth M. Watkins, the University received her 26-room, 6,000-plus square foot Lilac Lane mansion, which both she and KU administrators had intended to become the new permanent chancellor’s home. Known as “The Outlook,” it was ready to welcome Chancellor Deane W. Malott (1939-51) and his family by the time the fall 1939 semester began.

This move freed up 1345 Louisiana. The “Men of 1011,” a group of male undergraduates that had established the first so-called “semi-organized house” at 1011 Indiana in 1933, had been “eagerly eyeing” the Louisiana Street property for some time. When it became available, they petitioned the University to rent the home to their housemother, Mrs. M.J. Wallace, during the 1939-40 academic year. KU agreed and the 18 “Men of 1011” promptly moved in.

While there’s no evidence that the “Men of 1011” were anything but model tenants, University officials had specific, long-term plans for 1345 Louisiana. Encouraged by the success of KU’s Watkins and Miller scholarship halls for women (which had been established by Mrs. Watkins in 1926 and 1937, respectively), KU administrators intended to expand this comparatively unique experiment in student housing by transforming the former chancellor’s residence into one of three new men’s scholarship halls. They believed some 25-30 men – selected on the basis of character, academic ability and financial need – would be able to live cheaply and comfortably in the now-vacant mansion.

On June 10, 1940, Chancellor Malott announced that 1345 Louisiana would be dubbed Carruth Hall in posthumous tribute to Dr. Carruth. The time had come, Malott declared, to memorialize the man whose “great interest in young men” had compelled countless acts of private charity during his 33-year tenure on Mount Oread. Organizing a home that would enable needy but deserving male students to afford a college education would be an appropriate honor indeed.

To prepare Carruth Hall to receive its first contingent of 25 male scholarship students during 1940-41, the University authorized extensive interior refurbishments to the now 47-year-old structure. Begun on June 26, 1940, the work included a complete overhaul of the home’s basement, which was made into a large combination recreation and study room; the installation of additional closet space and electrical outlets; a general revamping of the second-floor into a communal sleeping porch; and furnishing the residence as a whole with extra desks and study tables. By September, the improvements were finished and Carruth Hall opened on schedule in time for fall semester classes.

Although Carruth’s residents initially could live there for less than $20 a month – an economy made possible by the group living environment in which all chores and household expenses were equally shared – one key amenity it lacked were kitchen and dining facilities big enough to accommodate the hall’s inhabitants. Thus, for all their meals, the men had to walk over to neighboring Templin Hall (located on the present-day site of Sprague Apartments) at the corner of Jayhawk Boulevard and Fourteenth Street. This original Templin, in many ways akin to Carruth, was the second of three men’s scholarship halls to open in 1940, the third being the original Battenfeld Hall.

While there was no shortage of gripes about having to leave home to eat, especially in the dead of winter, many former Carruth Hall denizens fondly recalled at least one aspect of their thrice-daily treks. When at Templin, the men of Carruth had a chance to visit with their housemother, Miss Carlotta Nellis, who lived at Templin due to its larger size, but was also responsible for Carruth. Described as “a wonderful and tolerant” person, “Mother Nellis” was “a patient, efficient lady,” remembered Gerald T. “Jerry” Dick, “who did an excellent job of managing the two halls and had the love and respect of all the residents. Under her supervision,” he added, “we shared the cooking and housecleaning chores and, as I recall, managed to do a fair job of it.”

What the Carruth complement also apparently excelled at – and not surprisingly considering the rigorous selection criteria – was academics. “Since its opening in 1940,” reported Kenneth Johnson in the March 11, 1946, edition of the University Daily Kansan, “Carruth Hall residents consistently have been near the top in grades among organized houses.” Perhaps owing to the bookish atmosphere that pervaded 1345 Louisiana Street, the University also picked Carruth Hall to house its Alberta Linton Corbin Memorial Library. This was a gift from Dr. Alberta Corbin, a former KU professor of German and one of William Carruth’s departmental colleagues who had gone on to become dean of women at KU, a Kansas suffragette leader, and namesake of the present-day Corbin Hall women’s dormitory.

In a 2001 retrospective, Thomas Dale Ewing, who lived in Carruth from 1940-43, sought to explain the secret of his hall’s scholastic success. “The group of men who lived there … was exceptional and I know I was lucky to live with them. We were all in a way products of the ‘Dirty Thirties’ and the Depression and the opportunity for an education meant a lot to us.” Decades later, he noted, “Somebody at the reunion said our group had more advanced degrees” than any other similar Oread-area housing arrangement during the mid-twentieth century.

Whether this claim is technically accurate or not, Jerry Dick agreed with Ewing on one score. “We had a great bunch of guys at Carruth,” recalled Dick. “The friendliness of our little group,” added Donald L. Jarboe, “was a real asset to me, a small town guy who was away from home for the first time.” Jimmie R. Bowden heartily seconded this sentiment, writing that his year at 1345 Louisiana “was a great transition from living at home. I was pretty young and green and needed the healthy environment that Carruth provided.” “I was surely rewarded,” James Earl Barney declared, “by this wonderful group of men.”

That didn’t necessarily mean, however, that they were always perfect angels. Barney, in fact, also remembered “those interminable card games … where everyone cheated,” while Ted Joyce painfully recalled what happened to freshmen residents who failed to answer the shared single hall phone fast enough. “If the phone rang more than three times,” he said, “one lick with the wooden paddle would be applied for each infraction at the next house meeting.” Needless to say, “We developed the habit of promptness.”

In other situations, though, Carruth’s underclassmen rejected subservience and boldly retaliated. Tormented by the older “fresh air nuts” who insisted the home’s windows be kept open at night – even during wintertime, when small snowdrifts might be the result – Joyce related one particular measure of revenge.

“One night,” he wrote in his reminiscence, “we freshmen went to bed with kitchen pots and pans, spoons and ladles, concealed under our covers. At a prearranged signal, after our oppressors were asleep, we sat up and beat on the pans. With windows open,” he continued, “we alarmed the [whole] neighborhood. The fire department and the police showed up to investigate. I don’t recall that we received any discipline for that activity,” Joyce added. In those days, “The town was lenient with the University population.”

This leniency – or perhaps a lack of oversight on the University’s part due to the absence of an on-site housemother – extended to a certain cabinet hidden behind one of the panels in the home’s grand oak stairway. This “secret compartment,” Tom Haney plainly explained, contained “booze,” which was then patently prohibited by University regulations.

By 1946, amid the mass influx of discharged servicemen taking advantage of the GI Bill to get or complete their college educations, KU feared that there would be a critical housing shortage for female students. As such, the University decided to reorganize Carruth Hall as a regular women’s dormitory in time for the start of fall 1946 semester classes. Consequently, for the remaining seven years of its existence, approximately 25 coeds would annually call 1345 Louisiana Street home.

The original Templin also was converted to a women’s residence at this time. As such, the women of Carruth had to make the same mealtime treks to Templin – and made the same complaints – as their male predecessors.

Eleanor Bradford Taylor spoke for many of the distaff Carruth residents when she exclaimed some 50 years after the fact that she positively “hated getting up in the cold mornings to go across the street to eat breakfast.” “Rain, shine, snow or ice,” added Olive Selfridge Bloom, “we walked to the meals.” And sometimes, Vera Hodges Wilson remembered, “the street was so slippery [that we] crawled across on hands and knees!”

Adequate heat also remained a problem at the admittedly “beautiful old home.” Phyllis Oliver McMahon found a way to address this problem while walking back from campus. “I picked up pieces of wood,” she recalled, “and built a fire each weekend.”

These complaints notwithstanding, the good apparently far outweighed the bad for the majority of Carruth’s women residents. “I only lived one year in Carruth Hall,” wrote Nancy Cale Fischer in 2001, “but I have fond memories of that year and the friendships I made. Since it was so small we all were friends. It was a great introduction to college life for me.” Olive Bloom also enjoyed the “good fellowship” that came from “being a part of a small group of women. I was fortunate to be in college,” she added, “and am very grateful for [my] two years at KU.” Beverly Jennings Logan remembered the “great times with late night parties, which often began at the [nearby] Jayhawk Café.”

The women also apparently found the same secret staircase hideaway discovered by the men in previous years. As Delores Stritesky Sorrick described it, on one of the staircase panels “there appeared to be a splinter, but if you pressed on the splinter, another [panel] would open revealing the secret compartment.” Remarkably, Sorrick added, “Another was found [by the women] when a person opened a particular window and lifted up the sill to reveal a space between the walls. I think there was a third secret compartment hidden in one of the fireplaces, but I don’t recall the details on it.”

What Sorrick did recall, though, was one particular occasion when she and her fellow Carruth residents would have been well advised to make use of the clandestine alcoves. Immediately following the KU men’s basketball victory in the 1952 NCAA tournament, “The campus went wild,” she remembered, so much that “we smuggled liquor” into Carruth Hall. But by deciding not to keep the booze hidden, she and her friends ended up getting caught by the “house proctor [who] turned us in to the Dean of Women. We were all ‘campused’ (early closing hours – no privileges – for a stated time),” Sorrick confessed, “but the worst was that our parents all received a letter telling them of our misdeed.”

For Grace Bogart Lewin, 1952 was noteworthy in other, far more sobering ways. “I came to KU from a county with few black residents,” she wrote. “There were none in my hometown.” There were, however, three African American students that year at Carruth Hall, which, like all women’s dorms, had recently been integrated. The city of Lawrence was a different story. As Lewin explained, with the “Student Union cafeteria closed on Sunday nights, several of us would go out to eat at a hamburger joint. After the three black girls got to know my roommate and me, they would ask us to bring home food for them as they were not permitted to enter local cafés, and the dorm had no refrigeration facilities for students. I was shocked,” she added, “to learn about Jim Crow.”

According to Fred McElhenie, KU’s associate director of student housing, beyond evocative personal reminiscences such as these, frustratingly little information “has been found about Carruth Hall in the newspapers or other local publications during the time that it was open.” Thus, it is perhaps ironic that quite a lot was said about the home’s impending demolition.

“Carruth is completely unsatisfactory as a dormitory,” explained Chancellor Franklin D. Murphy to the April 13, 1953, edition of the University Daily Kansan, “and because of its age is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain.” In place of the nearly 60-year-old Louisiana Street residence, Murphy reported, the Kansas Board of Regents had recently approved plans to erect Douthart Hall, a modern facility that would become the University’s fourth women’s scholarship dorm. Once completed, the chancellor added, this “new hall will house more than twice as many students as Carruth and will eliminate expensive maintenance costs.”

“Carruth Hall Has Served Many Students, Chancellors,” observed the May 12, 1953, edition of the UDK, adding that, for all its structural defects, the University was about to lose “an old friend.” This occurred roughly two months later when the wrecking ball arrived and the home’s “familiar red bricks” were reduced to rubble.

While Carruth Hall as originally constituted no longer remains atop Mount Oread, a memoriam to Dr. William H. Carruth, still endures. Since 1954, his name – along with that of his friend and longtime colleague, KU English professor Raphael Dorman O’Leary – has graced Carruth-O’Leary Hall, originally a men’s, and later a women’s, dormitory, and now an administrative office building for the University on West Campus Road.

John H. McCool
Department of History
University of Kansas

Source Notes

[Source Notes Much of the content of this article was made possible by the sizable and invaluable collection of reminiscences compiled by Fred McElhenie of the KU Department of Student Housing for his Carruth Hall Retrospectives project (2001). Other sources consulted are as follows: Jayhawker yearbook (1940), pp. 18, 81; KU News Bureau press release (June 10, 1940); University Daily Kansan (March 11, 1946); University Daily Kansan (April 13, 1953); University Daily Kansan (April 20, 1953); University Daily Kansan (May 12, 1953); University Daily Kansan (June 16, 1953). See also Clifford Griffin, The University of Kansas: A History (University of Kansas Press, 1974), pp. 68-69, 109, 144-158, 203, 221, 312 and 350.]