Housing at Iowa State

Living in Ames while attending Iowa State has changed drastically since women first became students at Iowa State. In 1869 when the first session of classes began, Old Main housed all classes and student rooms. One hundred fifty-eight students lived in Old Main during the first year of classes. These rooms were divided into two separate areas for men and women. According to The First 100 Years of Residential Housing at Iowa State University, 1868-1968, the rooms were sparsely furnished with two wooden chairs, “a wardrobe, a study table, pitcher wash bowl, and waste receptacle.” Students hauled bed ticks filled with fresh straw to their rooms. Lighting was often poor, and the toilets did not always work properly. Room and board were free to Iowa residents during the first year of classes.

The first residence hall that housed only female students was completed in 1895 and named Margaret Hall after the beloved professor and preceptress of Iowa State, Margaret McDonald Stanton. It cost $54,116.50 to build, and was located on the present-day southwest wing of MacKay Hall. It had steam heat, electric lights, and hot and cold running water, a significant improvement to the living conditions in Old Main. Eighty-eight women could live in Margaret Hall, and over four hundred people could enjoy dinner in its massive dining room. For forty years, Margaret Hall provided the living quarters for the female students at Iowa State. On April 9, 1938, a fire destroyed the hall and most of the possessions of the female occupants.

Margaret Hall

Margaret Hall, ca. 1900

By 1910, housing for women who wished to attend Iowa State became virtually impossible to find. In 1912 only freshman women were guaranteed housing in Margaret Hall, while all other female students were required to form clubs and live in off-campus homes. These homes were built south and west of campus and were generally hastily built. The clubs formed during this time became some of Iowa State’s first sororities. Iowa State officials responded to the housing crisis by building Lyon Hall in 1915, Freeman Hall in 1916, Barton Hall in 1918, and Birch Hall in 1922. The next four women’s residence halls—Oak, Elm, Roberts, and sections of Friley-Hughes—were built between 1939 and 1942. These residence halls created a significant increase in housing for both men and women on campus. In addition, the Dormitory Council was created to oversee all activities regarding women’s residence on campus in 1928. It was renamed the Women’s Residence Association in 1953.

Freeman Hall

Women's Room in Freeman Hall, 1916

Family housing came to Iowa State at the conclusion of World War II. Many men took advantage of the GI Bill and enrolled in higher education institutions. Iowa State experienced a wave of new students and responded to another shortage of housing by constructing University Married Housing in 1946. Pammel Court, a series of trailers and demountable houses, Quonset houses, and metal barracks, had a mayor and four council members. By the fall 1968, it was apparent that Pammel Court’s infrastructure was unable to meet a growing student body. Three years earlier, Iowa State purchased land north and east of Pammel Drive. Development of the land into university-owned apartments ensued, and University Village was born.

Pammel Court Trailer

A Married Couple Inspects a Pammel Court Trailer, ca. 1950

The behavior of women in who lived in the residence halls and sororities at Iowa State was closely monitored by hall directors. An excerpt from a 1964 informational packet for women living on campus sheds light on the extent to which women’s daily activities were controlled by the administration:

“Quiet hours begin at 7:30 pm and last until 6:30 am with no break at 10:30 pm…Freshman women must be in their respective halls by 8:45 pm the first four school days of the week.  In freshman student rooms lights must be out by 10:30 pm unless by permission.  All sophomore and junior women must be in their respective halls by 9:45 pm the first four evenings of the week.  Senior women must be in their respective halls and houses by 10:00 pm on the first four evenings of the week.  Women planning to be away for week ends must arrange to be in their halls by 10:30 pm if returning Sunday night.  Dances and other approved social functions may be attended on Friday evenings until 10:30 pm and on Saturday evenings until 11:30 pm…When a woman student is to be away from her hall any evening after 6:00 pm she must “Sign Out” designating the time and place.  Men callers may be entertained in the halls from 4:00 to 6:00 pm the first five school days of the week, and from 4:00 pm Friday and from 12:00 noon Saturday and Sunday afternoons…No food shall be delivered after 7:30 pm on study nights or after closing hours open nights…When a woman is leaving Ames at any time, she must secure an out-of-town permit from the residence director providing the letter of approval has been received from the parents.”

By the late 1960s and early 1970s, liberal attitudes toward on-campus housing allowed most female students the ability to come and go from the residence hall whenever they pleased. Only freshman women were required to be back in their rooms by midnight on week nights.

As the student body’s population has increased since the 1970s, Iowa State has increased its housing capacity. Coeducational residence halls allow men and women to live in the same location, and the Department of Residence boasts a wide range of living communities across campus, including the dormitories at Richardson Court, Union Drive, and Schilletter and University Villages.

Housing at Iowa State has experienced its share of conflicts during its years of change as well. One contemporary issue in particular caught the public’s attention and elicited a response from the president. In 1993, a proposal issued by the Department of Residence would have allowed same-sex couples to live in family housing in the University Student Apartment Community. The proposal was denied, and members of the Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual Alliance wrote to President Martin Jischke in March 1994, asking him why the proposal was rejected. President Jischke responded, stating that “the first priority is given to students who are legally married and student parents with children…under no circumstances do we inquire as to the sexual orientation of students, faculty, or staff. Sexual orientation is not a factor in these housing policies. The only factors that determine eligibility are student status and legal relationship.” He also stated that that there was a shortage of available space in family housing. An investigation into the housing shortage, however, found that in January, 1994, there were thirty-seven vacant apartments in University Village, many of which had been vacant for over a year.

Members of the university community opposed Jischke’s stance on same-sex housing. Ellen Fairchild, Chair of the University Committee on Women, wrote a letter to President Jischke in May, 1994. She noted that same-sex couples were forced to pay nearly twice as much living in off-campus housing than in a university-owned apartment. Newspapers, including the Iowa State Daily, carried many stories about the housing problems same-sex couples faced while attending Iowa State.

Finally, in September, 1995, Iowa State passed a new housing policy. The new policy allowed any student to live in the apartments based on a priority system in which students who lived with other students received housing first. Any remaining housing units were then opened to students who wished to live with non-students, regardless of sexual orientation or legal marital status.

Housing for women at Iowa State has undergone drastic changes since the late-nineteenth century. The separation of men and women into different living quarters slowly gave way to coeducation residence halls and liberal rules regarding women’s ability to enter and leave the residence halls. Living on campus today offers many diverse experiences for the women who chose to attend Iowa State.