Ladies Of The Clubhouse
The fall semester of 1945 was a frantic time for both students and administrators at the University of Kansas. Enrollment had soared to 6,300, up from 4,000 the previous year. The increase was due almost entirely to the arrival of more than 2,200 veterans who had served in the military during World War II and were now attending college on the GI Bill. In the resulting scramble to secure enough housing for this flood of new students, KU had to make all sorts of temporary arrangements that ultimately would stash enrollees in such unlikely spots as Memorial Stadium, the basement of the University’s art museum, and a former church building in downtown Lawrence.
The shortage of living quarters during the immediate postwar era was worse for women than for men. One reason for this, alleged an editorial in the University Daily Kansan, was that the federal government was focusing on new construction and building alterations to projects that would directly serve war veterans. Women’s housing needs were not ignored entirely, but the options were limited. Indeed, there were reports in the fall of 1945 that parents of female students were going door to door in Lawrence residential neighborhoods trying to find places for their daughters to live.
Lawrence business and civic leaders did their part to help out in this effort. One example of this town and gown cooperation came to fruition on September 24, 1945, when the University announced that the Lawrence Women’s Club had agreed to allow its imposing pillared mansion at 1941 Massachusetts to house 20 female students. The initial one-year lease with the University also enabled the club to retain certain rooms on the first floor for meetings and other activities. Ultimately, the Women’s Club would end up extending its landlord-tenant relationship with the University through the 1948-49 school year.
During a house meeting sometime in fall 1945, student residents christened the mansion at 1941 Massachusetts Street “Briar Manor” for reasons that are lost to history. As Patricia James Baker, one of the original occupants of Briar Manor recalled in a series of reminiscences collected by Fred McElhenie of the KU Department of Student Housing in August 2001, “I don’t know who named the place, but it was an unfortunate title suggesting thorns and pain.”
Whatever the derivation of the hall’s nomenclature – let alone any possible deeper meaning attached to it – the large house that became Briar Manor had already undergone a major change of function before becoming a student residence. The home had been built around 1917 by George K. Mackie, an immigrant from Scotland who had worked his way up from office boy to bank president and owner of two coal mines in southeast Kansas. His reasons for building in Lawrence are unknown, although they may have included a desire to provide his five children local access to a college education.
In 1937 ownership of the Mackie house and its spacious grounds passed to the Lawrence Women’s Club for a price of about $8,000, according to an article in the Lawrence Daily Journal-World from February 1975. This group had first organized in 1883 with the stated purpose of promoting the study of literature, education, science and the fine arts, and aiding in “benevolences and the betterment of humanity.” For some time, the group met at the Eldridge Hotel in downtown Lawrence. The Women’s Club incorporated in the mid-1930s in preparation for purchasing the Mackie house, situated on six lots between Massachusetts and Vermont along 20th Street. The structure must have been a busy place, as club membership by the 1940s had risen to around 350 women. In addition to club activities, the building housed a popular eatery open to the public known as “Evans Hearth” from 1937 to 1942.
Once 1941 Massachusetts Street began serving as a KU residence hall, it appears to have provided a pleasant if somewhat improvised living environment. In her reminiscence of life at Briar Manor, Virginia Scheuber Studt wrote that the upper floors were furnished with army beds and very little else. She went on, however, to state that “The house was great and we all enjoyed the back upstairs porch. It faced west and the evening sunsets were always beautiful.” Phyllis Noah Englert, too, remembered the sun porch, where “we spent many hours sunbathing and studying. We even ice skated out there and also in the front yard.”
As in other ad hoc KU residence halls during the immediate post-World War II period, the population of Briar Manor varied in age and experience. Virginia Scheuber Studt recalled that two of her neighbors on the third floor had served as nurses during the war. Darlene Burton Wheeler mentioned that she had come to KU and Briar Manor after taking a semester off from Kansas City, Kansas, Junior College to work for the phone company. There was also a young man – and sometimes two of them – living in a basement apartment. Darlene Burton Wheeler recalled two boys named Doug and Bob who were “sort of custodians” while Virginia Scheuber Studt remembered one male student who lived in the basement. “He was supposed to be our guardian. He had a large boxer dog,” she wrote.
During Briar Manor’s first year, Mrs. J. W. Whipple supervised the residence hall. Remembered as a “tolerant housemother” by Patricia James Baker, Mrs. Whipple’s forbearance even extended to the occasional failure to return home on time – at least if there was a good reason. Patricia James Baker learned this first-hand when, after going to a movie to celebrate her birthday, she realized it was past closing time at Briar Manor, and “I then ran most of the way back to the hall. … Mother had brought in my favorite cake (white layers with raisin filling from the country—I was always a farm girl), and Mrs. Whipple with nary a criticism [of the late return] presided over the serving of the cake to all residents.”
Due to the building’s location some ten blocks distant from the campus, a number of the Briar Manor women later recalled feeling isolated from student activity, much of which took place at the north end of campus, around the Kansas Union and the concentration of student housing on the 1200, 1300 and 1400 blocks of Oread, Louisiana, and Ohio Streets. As Patricia James Baker observed, “Student life was much more centralized and Briar Hall was not within the center.” Erma Handke Bolick, too, remembered feeling that the house “was so removed from campus that we did not feel like a part of ‘campus’, or on-campus activities.” Others, however, including Darlene Burton Wheeler, reported that the residence did not seem too far from the University.
Briar Manor was at least connected to campus by the city bus system. Even traveling to campus by bus, however, involved either a six-block walk to 17th and Tennessee, or riding up Massachusetts to 8th Street and transferring to the campus bus, which ran every ten minutes. Virginia Scheuber Studt wrote in her reminiscence “I was an Art Major and had night classes. It was a struggle to get home at 9:00 p.m. as I had to take the bus and a transfer.”
The furnishings at Briar Manor were rather spare, as apparently was the food, at least in the beginning. During the first year of operations, there was neither a cook nor the opportunity to use the kitchen, and only a continental breakfast was served at the house. As related by former resident Patricia James Baker, “At our ‘breakfasts’, I half remember eating sweet rolls with coffee (which I had learned to drink in college black).”
The women most often ate lunch at the Kansas Union, as did many students who lived in residence halls that were either far from campus or without formal dining facilities. Where they had dinner during the 1945-46 school year is unclear, although the Union was also open for that meal. The University Daily Kansan reported at the time that eating breakfast, lunch and dinner at the Union cafeteria there would cost only about $1.25 per day, but even that modest expense may have been prohibitive for some. In addition to on-campus dining, there were some 35 or 40 commercial eating establishments in Lawrence, mostly around the north end of campus and in the downtown area.
In the summer of 1946, the board of the Women’s Club announced that it had voted to continue renting the building to the University for the next academic year as housing for 22 female students. The original intention had been to lease the building for only one year, but the club voted to extend the lease in the “interest of civic betterment.” As with the initial lease, the Women’s Club continued to use certain rooms on the first floor of 1941 Massachusetts for meetings and other club purposes.
With the new lease came a new housemother, Fannie Pearl DeLozier, known to the residents as “Mother DeLozier” or “Mother Dee.” As Nancy J. Kastman-Scott told it, the housemother was “an elderly Southern Belle from Midland, Texas,” who expected to be escorted to the table for dinner and to the Episcopal Church downtown for Sunday services. “That was my assignment,” she continued, “because she was an Episcopalian; and having been a soloist in the Episcopal cathedral in Kansas City, Missouri, I knew when to stand, sit, or kneel.” Virginia Scheuber Studt and Phyllis Noah Englert remembered liking Mother Dee quite well. Darlene Burton Wheeler sent with her written reminiscences a photo of the housemother holding their house mascot, Duffy, a puppy that met an untimely end by colliding with an automobile.
At this period in KU history, the lives of female students were strictly circumscribed by the Women's Executive Council, the governing body that set rules for all women enrolled in the University. The Council’s rules included strictly-enforced closing hours and quiet hours; set limits for male callers, whose visits were to be well-chaperoned at all times; and even covered scheduling and approval of the popular “dancing parties,” which were never allowed on Sundays.
Nancy J. Kastman-Scott, who moved into Briar Manor in the fall of 1947 as a junior, recalled being appointed during her first week there “to attend a meeting on the hill at which the ‘Rules and Regs’ for women’s dorms would be handed out. That made me ‘the messenger’ who conveyed the restrictions which had not been anticipated by the mostly freshmen girls. Oh well, their negative attitude didn’t last long, and I only lived there one semester.”
Although living outside the social whirl of the sororities, the women of Briar Manor attended and hosted their share of social events. Occasionally they worked with other women’s halls to put on dances. Phyllis Noah Englert recalled having “some really great parties” at the house. Not all get-togethers were happy times, at least for some. “We once had a tea that I did not enjoy,” remembered one former Briar Manor resident, “because my social skills were not well advanced.”
Evidence indicates that Briar Manor living arrangements improved somewhat after the first year. Dinner at the hall became part of the program; with cod fish the featured entree on Fridays. The menu apparently became a matter of concern, as Darlene Burton Wheeler tells it. She recalled that the Women’s Club members “demanded that on their meeting days the cook … not be cooking something like liver and onions. They did not want certain smells.”
Pungent kitchen odors were not the only thing that piqued certain club members by the end of the 1948-49 school year, by which time the University had managed to solve some of its overcrowding issues and no longer needed Briar Manor for student housing. This was fortunate, as there had been growing ill feeling within the club about the building’s continuing double-duty as a residence hall. As early as 1947, seven members of the Lawrence Women’s Club had petitioned for an injunction to set aside the lease with the University, claiming that their board had made the arrangement without proper authority. The petitioners wanted the entire building to be available for club use, not just the few rooms the lease reserved for club meetings. In February 1948, a judge denied their petition, but dissension continued.
After the initial lawsuit over the University’s lease, the club’s membership seemed to delight in doing battle both with others and among themselves. About the time the students departed, the members went to court again, this time to determine whether their organization would have to pay personal property taxes on the mansion.
Another brouhaha erupted over a club vote to sell one of the lots on Vermont Street. Some members favored the move, but others felt that the club’s by-laws had been violated and sought court action to block the sale. Various judges – all the way to the Kansas Supreme Court – agreed that the vote to sell had been legal. The matter was finally settled when the prospective buyer of the lot lost interest and built his new house elsewhere.
In the 1950s and 60s members clashed twice over whether to abolish the Women’s Club and liquidate the property. No decision could be reached, yet membership had declined to the point where upkeep on the house was increasingly difficult. Finally, in 1975 – after two more lawsuits – the dwindling membership that by then numbered less than 20 reached an agreement to sell the house and land and invest in community betterment by donating the proceeds to Lawrence Memorial Hospital. Since that time, the property at 1941 Massachusetts has reverted to its original use as a private residence.