Building Community through Shared History - A KU Memorial Union Program

A Short Stay for Tipperary

World War II still raged in Europe and Asia by the time the regular fall semester began at the University of Kansas in mid-September 1944. Although it appeared the tide was turning in favor of the United States and its Allies, it was generally understood that much hard fighting was yet to come.

On the home front, wartime rationing remained in effect, and had become a way of life. What was perhaps in shortest supply in Lawrence, though, was not eggs, butter or gasoline. It was housing for KU students.

Military service had more or less drained the University of its regular complement of men students, but their places had been essentially taken by hundreds of soldiers and sailors undergoing specialized Army and Navy training programs at KU. And with women – who were not subject to the draft – still attending the University as well, securing adequate living quarters for everyone was a demanding task.

Forward-thinking KU Chancellor Deane Malott possessed the type of executive temperament that thrived on logistical and administrative challenges. Malott and other KU administrators dealt with the housing situation facing the incoming members of the class of ’48 by playing to KU’s strengths. In other words, they improvised. Among their many ad hoc solutions was the temporary use of two large fraternity houses that were standing idle because most of the male residents had left for the war.

As a result, by the time classes started at KU on September 18, 1944, the Delta Upsilon fraternity house at 1025 West Hills Road became a women’s residence known as Locksley Hall. The Kappa Sigma fraternity house right next door at 1045 West Hills Road was transformed into the abode for another 50 or so female freshmen.

Located just beyond the west edge of campus, the four-story house at 1045 West Hills Road was designed by architect Charles A. Smith of Kansas City for the Alpha Xi Delta sorority in 1928. In 1934, the Gamma Omicron chapter of Kappa Sigma acquired the Tudor-style building after a horrendous fire – at the time, the biggest blaze in KU’s history – destroyed the fraternity’s original house at 1537 Tennessee Street.

Approximately 60 Kappa Sigma members lived at 1045 West Hills Road until America’s entry into the Second World War emptied the fraternity of its residents. (One of them was an undergraduate by the name of Robert J. Dole, of Russell, Kansas, who after being wounded in Italy would go to become a congressman, senator, and the 1996 Republican Party presidential nominee.)

To many of its new women occupants, 1045 West Hills Road apparently seemed a bit of a distance from the center of Mount Oread. “We thought West Hills was a long way from campus,” recalled Josephine Barney Harkness in a written reminiscence that was part of a series of retrospectives collected by the KU Department of Student Housing in August 2001. “It was a long way to the campus,” echoed Ruth Cawood Kalbfleisch, further explaining that “wartime meant no cars – we walked.”

This distance of about a mile became the catalyst for the name 1045 West Hills would take during its two-year run as a women’s dormitory. According to several former residents, it was Anita Landrum Isaac who suggested the name “Tipperary” from the World War I marching song and its reference to “a long way to go.” And with apparently no more planning than that, the frat house turned temporary women’s residence became anointed Tipperary Hall.

Another oddity connected with the brief history of Tipperary Hall was that many of its initial residents had gone through Rush Week, but had decided not to pledge a sorority, as attested to in the reminiscences from both Dorothy Higginbottom Flottman and Eunice Carlson Rolfs. Ironically, despite their choice to opt out of Greek life, they found themselves deep in the heart of the KU Greek experience, safely ensconced in the stately Kappa Sigma house.

Accounts of the women’s time there do not differ dramatically from other wartime housing units at the University. Most speak of the Spartan accommodations that were typical of KU group housing at the time. At Tipperary, as elsewhere, there were group meals, a group sleeping porch with metal-framed bunk beds, and a temperamental old heating system, which was something of a problem during the winter months.

“It was very cold in the winter,” according to Alice Goldsworth Brownlee. Ruth Cawood Kalbfleisch “wore long underwear to keep warm.” For Barbara Meyer Kiskadden, a window near the head of her bed that would not close further exacerbated the chilly conditions. “I wore flannel pajamas, a scarf on my head and my neck, and socks on my feet,” she remembered. “I tucked the layers of covers in tightly and carefully slid in from the top trying not to pull the covers out. Occasionally, I would wake up in the morning with a dusting of snow on my bed.”

In the bathroom, certain elements of the plumbing came as a distinct surprise to Tipperary’s initial female occupants. “The bathroom fixtures were still appropriate for the fraternity brothers who owned the house,” as Josephine Barney Harkness described the situation. “I recall a friend from the dorm I lived in before Tipperary going into hysterical laughter when she saw the urinals. None of us had seen such things before. Needless to say, the university sent some carpenters over there quickly and built a box around those offending appliances.”

Yet another bathroom upgrade, recalled Barbara Meyer Kiskadden, took place when “partitions [were] put in around the commodes. However, she added, concessions to privacy only went so far. “There was only one shower room. It was quite large, with about six showerheads. You were seldom alone, unless you showered in the middle of the night.”

Tipperary residents also had to share their study spaces. In most cases, this meant “two students in a small room with enough furniture to exist – a desk and chair, bookcase, and an occasional chair,” noted Alice Goldsworth Brownlee. “We were not allowed to make any changes in the room, such as hanging pictures on the wall.” Ruth Cawood Kalbfleisch also remembered that six Tipperary residents used the fraternity house’s chapter room for a work and study area. “We had six desks and six chairs and the rest of the decorating was up to us. We put in at least one couch and curtains and various throw rugs.”

A cook who “lived in a little room near the kitchen” in Tipperary Hall prepared the meals, which were served in the building’s dining room at a set time. “We had nice meals served to the seated residents and the housemother,” recalled Josephine Barney Harkness, including a special dinner every Thursday night when all of the women dressed up. “We wore a good dress, no jeans or slacks, hose and heels and usually a string of pearls or other nice jewelry. This was to help us learn to be ‘proper young ladies.’”

Some of the Tipperary women, including Harkness, also worked at the hall as waitresses and servers to earn a little extra money. “It took about three hours of work for us each day,” she reported in her written reminiscence. “It was a nice job as long as each one did her job, but we had one girl who never seemed to get up in the morning and who stayed at the Union playing bridge too late. That made it hard for the rest of us.” The Tipperary women also learned about a particular type of sun-dried fruit, added Harkness, since “we had one housemother who seemed to have an unusual fondness for dried peaches, and we ate a lot of them one semester.”

One thing the residents didn’t seem to have much of was a social life. “There weren’t many men on campus then, so we spent lots of time together playing cards and in gab sessions,” remembered Betty Myers Stanley. “We didn’t have many dates,” added Barbara Meyer Kiskadden. “We wrote daily letters to our boyfriends who were in the service.” As Rosemary Alderman Nagle summed it up, there was “lots of study, very little social life” in a hall she found “to be a somber, foreboding place to live.”

Not that there was no entertainment for Tipperary residents. Several of the reminiscences fondly recall impromptu piano duets and “hour” dances attended by what few men were available. At one of these dances, or perhaps a house party, Tipperary’s interim housemother sashayed around in a grass skirt.

There was also a time when a little bit of parlor magic almost got out of hand. “One of the girls on our floor said she had watched an act of hypnotism and thought she could hypnotize someone,” recalled Barbara Meyer Kiskadden. “With a volunteer, we gathered around to watch. Sure enough, the volunteer went ‘under’ and could answer questions about her early childhood. It was amazing. But when she didn’t awaken, at the snap of the fingers, that’s when it became scary. It took a little while, but she finally woke up. We decided that it was not the thing to do.”

During the first year of Tipperary’s existence, reminders of the Second World War were never very far away. Rosemary Alderman Nagle never forgot that “four of [her] classmates had died in the war, and others were still active.” Alice Goldsworth Brownlee remembered being “expected to bring our food rationing stamps” to assist in purchases for the group meals.

And Barbara Meyer Kiskadden had an experience that brought the reality of war right before her eyes. She and her friend Patricia Dye were painting campus scenes in front of Watson Library for their final in a watercolor class when several young German prisoners of war, who regularly were brought to the KU campus to do gardening and landscaping, “started clipping the shrubs behind us while speaking in German, grinning at us and whacking their clippers together. With great anxiety, we finished our paintings in record time and got out of there.”

After the 1945-46 school year, the women got out of Tipperary Hall as well. World War II was over and veterans taking advantage of the GI Bill flooded the University of Kansas. The residence at 1045 West Hills Road ceased its temporary function as a women’s dormitory and was reoccupied by members of the Kappa Sigma fraternity in time for the start of the fall 1946 term. Tipperary’s role in “the battle of housing,” as a press release issued by the KU News Bureau put it on August 16, 1946, was at an end.

As for the Tipperary women themselves, most seemed to split off in one of two directions. In both cases, they ended up much closer to the center of campus than had been the case during their time at 1045 West Hills Road.

A number of the ex-Tipperary residents petitioned the national Delta Delta Delta sorority to establish a KU chapter. This became a reality in fall 1946 when the Tri-Delts took possession of 1115 Louisiana Street. (The building later became a KU women’s dormitory called Hodder Hall.) About three-quarters of the remaining Tipperary women, according to anecdotal evidence, moved to the original Templin Hall, which had been a KU men’s dormitory since its opening in 1940. (This former mansion was located on the site of the present-day Sprague Apartments, a residence for retired KU faculty members.)

Tipperary Hall existed for just two years during a period of time that was anything but normal. This tenuous tenure almost guaranteed that little in the way of hard documentation about this KU women’s residence would survive. Indeed, outside of a few stray references in a handful of issues of the University Daily Kansan and two half-page entries in the Jayhawker yearbooks of 1944-45 and 1945-46, the KU archival record is exceedingly thin. Kappa Sigma also lacks anything in the way of an institutional memory of the women who once lived there.

It is chiefly through the reminiscences of the women of Tipperary Hall, collected and compiled by Fred McElhenie of the KU Department of Student Housing when these former residents were in their seventies, that we know of this uncommon sisterhood. True to the spirit of their almost-forgotten hall, it seems they took the long way home.

Laura Lorson
Kansas Public Radio
University of Kansas

Source Notes

[Source notes: Much of the content of this article comes from the invaluable collection of alumnae reminiscences collected by Fred McElhenie of the KU Department of Student Housing. Other sources include: The University Daily Kansan, March 28, 1946; The University Daily Kansan, April 28, 1987; Reminiscences of Housing Committee Director Irvin Youngberg, located in the Housing File at the University Archives, Spencer Research Library; Housing news releases from the Housing File at the University Archives, Spencer Research Library; The Jayhawker Yearbook, years 1945 and 1946; The University of Kansas Graduate Magazine, volume 44, 1946; personal interviews with Fred K. Green, president and chief operating officer of the Gamma Omicron chapter of Kappa Sigma Fraternity Alumni Association, July 12 and 18, 2005.]