Carlson Hall, built in 1937-38, is historically significant as the first women’s residence hall at the University of Utah as well as the first dormitory built on the university campus. It was the result of a three-decade long struggle to have a women’s dormitory constructed. The building served as a
women’s residence hall as well as social center for female university students for 33 years. Carlson Hall is one of only two historic women’s residence halls built in Utah. The building also represents part of a national trend, from the teens through the 1930s, to provide better opportunities for women in higher education. Carlson Hall is also significant as a federally funded public works project. It was built by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) which, along with several other New Deal programs, provided much-needed jobs during the Depression through construction projects such as this. Virtually all of the public buildings constructed in Utah during the 1930s and early 1940s were built under federal programs. Over 240 buildings were constructed statewide, and four were built on the University of Utah campus. (A 1985 thematic nomination of Public Works Buildings documents the significance of this important phase of Utah
and U.S. history.)
Located at 369 S. University St in Salt Lake.
From the time the University of Utah moved to its permanent campus in 1900, there was concern about the lack of housing for students from out of the Salt Lake area and out of state. The need for adequate, safe women’s housing was a national issue, as well as a local one. Responding to the growing number of female students, the university hired its first Dean of Women, Lucy M. Van Cott, in 1907. Her responsibilities included supervision of female students, helping them find university-approved lodging as well as employment (for pay or in exchange for room and board).
The Utah Chronicle reported that acceptable boarding places were difficult to find and “many good places prefer male boarders.”
In December 1911, Dean Van Cott attended a national conference of the Deans of Women in Chicago at which the “gathering voted unanimously for two things: Dormitories on the college campus and student government.” Van Cott pressed continuously for a women’s dormitory throughout her 25-year tenure. In 1912, she and Mrs. W.W. Riter, whose husband was a member of the Board of Regents, rented a house at 1333 East 400 South to be used as a small dormitory. Known as both the Riter Dormitory and the experimental dormitory, the off-campus building was controlled by the university and supervised by a house mother. After remodeling and refurnishing, rooms were rented to twelve women. The Riter Dormitory was in operation only until 1915.
Housing was difficult for male students as well. In 1912, the Episcopal Church of Salt Lake received a gift for the construction of the Emery Memorial Hose. Located at the northwest corner of 200 South and University Street, the Emery Memorial House opened in early 1914 for thirty male students.4 It was used as a training center during World War I and as a youth center in the 1930s. The Catholic Church took over the building in 1947, which has continued to use it to the present as a religious and social center. The building was extensively remodeled in 1985-86 and
is no longer eligible for National Register consideration.
The Utah Federation of Women’s Clubs also was involved in the fight to build a women’s residence hall. They lobbied the Utah Legislature in favor of a bill which would have approved funding its construction, but it was defeated in 1913. Little progress was made for a dormitory after that due
to World War I and the ensuing recession.
George Thomas, who assumed the presidency of the University of Utah in 1921, actively pursued construction of a women’s dormitory. Throughout the 1920s, Thomas sent letters to colleges and universities across the country inquiring about the construction, funding, size, and maintenance of
By the 1926-27 academic year there were 1,311 women registered at the university; 488 were not from Salt Lake City. These statistics were part of a Women’s Legislative Committee report to the 1927 Utah Legislature entitled “A Girls’ Dormitory, Why?” The committee pointed out that dormitory living meant better scholarship, health, school spirit, “higher ideals of citizenship and right living…[and] a democracy of spirit among the rich students and the poor students.” In addition, the committee suggested that the university was losing financial gifts from wealthy Utahns who were forced to send their daughters to out-of-state universities. 7 Statistics in the report showed that 35 state universities, a state college, an agricultural college, and Cornell University all had at least one women’s dormitory.
At a February 1927 meeting, the Board of Regents of the University of Utah carried a motion to approve a Senate bill “providing means for the erection of a Women’s dormitory…if it can be had without burdening the University of Utah.”8 The bill failed, but the next year the Board of Regents sponsored a Dormitory Questionnaire which asked: “If dormitory facilities under university control were available on or near campus, furnishing board and room from $30.00 to $37.50 per month, would you desire to obtain a place in the dormitory?” 9 Of the 896 respondents, 117 answered yes. However, beginning in 1931, the Depression forced the Legislature to reduce appropriations to the university, making no provision for expansion or erection of new buildings.
In 1934 the university received the residual of the Mary P. Carlson estate, appraised at the time at over $121,000. 12 The money was to be used as the Board of Regents saw fit, but Mary Carlson requested that any building erected be named in memory of her husband August W. Carlson, a
former regent. The bequest on its own was not enough to construct a new building so President Thomas suggested that the state try to get the federal government to participate in constructing a women’s dormitory. The state would be responsible for 55% and the federal government 45%. Thomas’ feeling was that “for over twenty-five years the women of the state have been agitating for a dormitory or what may be called a ‘woman’s building’.” Ultimately the Works Progress Administration (WPA) provided the additional $90,000 and construction of Carlson Hall proceeded under Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works Project No. Utah 1045-2-D.
Federal public works programs in the 1930s were very important in Utah, which was one of the states most severely affected by the Great Depression. In 1933, Utah had an unemployment rate of 36 percent, the fourth highest in the country, and for the period 1932-1940 Utah’s unemployment
rate averaged 25 percent. Because the depression hit Utah so hard, federal programs were extensive in the state. Overall, per capita federal spending in Utah during the 1930s was ninth among the 48 states, and the percentage of workers on federal work projects was far above the national average. Building programs were of great importance. During the 1930s virtually every public building constructed in Utah, including county courthouses, city halls, fire stations, national guard armories, public school buildings, and a variety of others, were built under federal programs by one of several agencies, including the Civil Works Administration (CWA), the Federal
Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), the National Youth administration (NYA), the Works Progress Administration (WPA), or the Public Works Administration (PWA), and almost without exception none of the buildings would have been built when they were with out the assistance of the federal government.
Carlson Hall was one of two women’s dormitories built on college campuses in Utah by the WPA. The 1936-37 Women’s Residence Hall at the Utah State Agricultural College (now Utah State University) was also a WPA. building. Carlson Hall and the Women’s Residence Hall are the only historic women’s residence halls built in the state of Utah. The first men’s dormitory, Bailiff Hall, was built on the University of Utah campus in 1954. The second women’s building, Van Cott Hall, was constructed in 1963. Thus, Carlson Hall is the only dormitory from the historic period on the University of Utah campus.
Paul Paulsen was selected as the builder for Carlson Hall, and the local firm of Ashton and Evans was chosen as architect. Prior to their 1923 partnership, Raymond J. Ashton worked as a draftsman and architect, and Raymond L. Evans was an employee of the well-known Utah architecture firm of Ware and Treganza. Ashton and Evans also designed Gardner Hall on the University of Utah campus, and the W.P.A.-funded George Thomas Library (now the Utah Museum of Natural History), Field House at the University of Utah and Utah State Agricultural College Field House, as well as the Utah State Prison located at Point of the Mountain. Ashton was
extensively involved in state and national AIA affairs, serving two terms as national president beginning in 1943, the first and only Utah architect to achieve that distinction.
Upon its completion in 1938 Carlson Hall became the anchor of the university’s southwest boundary. A much larger facility was envisioned, of which this was only one quadrant, but the other sections were never built. The first group of women moved in for autumn quarter 1938. The Board of Regents set rates for room and board at $30.50/month for a double room, and $34.50 for a single. This included three daily meals and housekeeping. The interior was designed in the early American style. When not studying, the women played piano, listened to the radio or sat by the fire in the formal living room. The furniture was moved out of the way when dances were held. Playing shuffleboard or ping pong in the basement were also common pastimes. Men were allowed only in the common areas, never in the bedrooms. Carlson Hall was specifically designated for freshman women from out of the Salt Lake City area. To avoid the forming of cliques, no sororities were allowed in the hall. A strict curfew was enforced to maintain a proper home environment. For every 15 minutes a resident exceeded curfew she was “campused” one night the next weekend. The curfew was still in place, though slightly modified, until well into the 1960s. Although the women of Carlson Hall lived in a fairly controlled environment, residents felt the accommodations were good, the food was excellent and the social life, even better.
Though Carlson Hall’s period of significance extends only to 1946 (due to the 50-year rule for National Register significance), it served as a women’s residence hall and social center until 1971, a total of thirty-three years. In 1971, the bedrooms were converted into faculty offices and the kitchen, dining room, library, and solarium became classrooms. The building now houses the History and Ethnic Studies departments and the Tanner Humanities Center. It also provides additional classroom space for the adjacent Law School.