For centuries now, the college experience has long been associated with living in dormitories. From the first university in the United States the modern colleges and universities of today, students have had the opportunity and experience of living with one another at a pivotal time in their lives. All students in dorms are relatively young, typically between 18 and 23 years old, and all of them have a goal of getting a degree in mind. It's an experience that defines those first moments in an adult life, and that helps students learn the importance of responsibility, the benefit of independence and the joys of student camaraderie. However, while the general experience has remained the same, the dorms themselves have changed a lot over the years. From the archaic and cold buildings that were built hundreds of years ago to the modern dorms of today that more closely resemble resorts, the style and feel of college dorms has continued to change over time.
The Very First Dorm
Harvard University, the oldest institution of higher education in the United States, also is home to the oldest dormitory in the United States. Massachusetts Hall, which still houses freshmen students to this day, was built between 1718 and 1720 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It sits on Harvard Yard, and was home to many famous American leaders during the Colonial age. Some of those famed residents include John Adams, John Hancock and James Otis, among others.
The purpose of this dorm was to provide students a place to escape from the outside world. Windows and doors faced Harvard Yard, and did not offer a glimpse into the rest of the colony. Cold, brash and often described as monastic, this dorm was designed to give students privacy and motivation to take their studies seriously.
College of William and Mary, the oldest public university in the United States which is still operating in Williamsburg, Virginia, first built a dormitory to house the master and the president of the university in 1693. It wasn't for 30 more years that a dormitory would be built on the college campus, located in the heart of Colonial Williamsburg. Brafferton Hall was built in 1723 and became another of the first dormitories for students in the United States.
It was a simple building with two floors. It contained an apartment for the master, who was a Native American, and a large room that was likely used as a classroom. The students, all male Native Americans, would have slept and lived on the second floor. There was no dining hall in this building, meals were served in the original campus building — the Wren Building.
19th Century Dorms
Ivy League institutions. The majority of dormitories housed only male residents, and they were forced to report to dorm mothers who watched over them and ensured that they obeyed the strict rules and regulations. During the 19th century, dorms were not a place to relax, party and hang out with the guys. There was a dress code, a strict curfew, designated meal times and often even a fitness regime the men had to adhere to. It has even been reported that Harvard students had to chop their own fire wood and haul it back to the dorms themselves in order to heat the building that they were living in.
Early 20th Century Dorms
Still in the early decades of the 20th century, most dormitories in the United States were exclusively for men. However, at this time, restrictions were beginning to lift and dorm rooms began to resemble a little bit more like fraternity houses and bachelor pads. Pin ups and posters of women slowly but surely managed to cover the walls of the boy's living quarters, a way for the men to make up for the lack of women around.
Dorms of the 1960s and 1970s
As women were beginning to be admitted to universities, the concept of the dormitory was forced to change. Since the early 20th century, universities began building dormitories specifically for women. For instance, the University of Michigan opened the Martha Cook Building, which was designed at first to hold 115 women. It was a sign of the university's commitment to attracting women students and giving women the opportunity for an education that was equal to that of a man's education.
There were guidelines often put in place for women in their dorms, and most women's buildings had handbooks. At the University of Oregon in 1960, women had to not only sign out with the dorm mother in order to leave but also had to pay her with a specific fee of a 2-cent postcard. Bedtime was 11 p.m. and shorts were not permitted — except when attending gym class and even then shorts had to be covered by a long coat.
As dorm rooms began popping up left and right at college dormitories, the buildings were less architecturally elegant and more functional. There were bathrooms included in some of the dorm rooms themselves, and cafeterias were often located right in the building. Study lounges accompanied dorms that were getting bigger in size and including more comfortable furniture and longer dorm beds.
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