History’s Foundation: Williston Hall

By Olivia Willoughby

During the early 1900s, this building was for ladies only.

Shevawn Eaton, director of Access to Courses and Careers through Educational Support Services (ACCESS), said Williston Hall was the first women’s residence hall and was dedicated to the university’s first president, John Williston Cook, in 1915.

Eaton said Cook had been a strong advocate for adding normal schools, which were teachers’ colleges.

“He was one of the ones who campaigned for new normal schools and he ended up being selected as our first president,” she said.

Nearly one hundred years later, Williston Hall has kept some of its old feautres, including its nickname.

“All the plumbers and carpenters call it ‘Willy,’” Eaton said.

Admissions Associate Director Michele Stieren said while looking at the way the building’s offices are now, one could visualize them in the past. Even the mailboxes are still the same.

“The mailboxes have been around for a while and the offices all have closets,” Stieren said. “The bathrooms are exactly the same as when the women used to live here. Well, except for the soap dispensers.”

Eaton said many times, the alumnae who used to live in Williston Hall stop by during summers and point out which rooms they lived in.

“We’d walk them around and they would tell us stories about when they lived here,” Eaton said. “At night, the girls would check in and had to be in a certain time. They would ring a doorbell and if they were a minute late, they said they might get kicked out. That’s how serious it was back then.”

Eaton also remembered a story one of the alumnae told her. If one took the dumbwaiter, or elevator lift, they could go down to where the ice cream was stored.

“The girls had stolen a five gallon thing of ice cream and had a little ice cream party,” Eaton said. “When they came into our offices, they just looked like good friends who were wild back in college.”

What is now the Study Abroad Office used to be the attic where extra beds were placed for Williston Hall’s residents.

“Our offices moved up here in 1996 and there was only one bathroom,” said Anne Seitzinger, Study Abroad Office director. “Eventually, they took one of the rooms and made it into a men’s bathroom.”

Seitzinger said their supply closet used to be a closet where the women would store their formal apparel.

Williston Hall was involved in serious issues in the past, like protests over the Vietnam War. In the ’60s, Williston Hall held the ROTC program. However, Eaton said in the past, several campuses were voting against having a ROTC program on campus and it moved out of the second floor in the late ’90s.

“A lot of schools didn’t want the ROTC or military presence on their campus,” Eaton said. “There was a lot of protesting. People came out onto the commons and gathered for the results, and the vote was to keep the ROTC and a riot broke out. Some of them came across the street to over here and some went down to where the VCB is and tore that up. It was a huge mess.”

Although it is the third and one of the oldest buildings on campus, Eaton said she likes working at Williston Hall because of its history.

“It’s an old building with a lot personality,” Eaton said. “It’s full of history and quirky like I am, so it’s a good fit. I also like the arched windows in my office. You don’t see details like the arched windows in newer buildings anymore.”