Dearest of “Homes on the Circling Heights”

IN 1907 THERE appeared on the St. Olaf campus a small volume of one hundred twenty-five pages, unique among college publications and an embryo forerunner, as it were, of the veritable flood of books of a similar type put out by Ladies Aids and other women’s organizations in later years. It was titled “The Phi Kappa Cook Book.” Its story is rather an intriguing one.

Ladies Hall, rebuilt from the original downtown school building which first housed St. Olaf’s School, had served’ as the only dormitory for women since 1879. At most it accommodated twenty-three students. By 1906 the enrollment of women had grown from the twelve of the school’s first year to one hundred thirty-six. The need for more adequate women’s housing had been felt for a long time, but with other needs also pressing for consideration this matter was long deferred. The cause was presented to the annual Church meeting in 1906. Years of halfhearted official efforts towards raising the necessary funds, and heated discussions in the press and at meetings as to whether co-education should be continued at St. Olaf delayed action. The question of a college education for women was still a moot one among a number of supporters of the college. Of the one hundred thirty-six women in attendance in 1905-06 only twenty-five were in the college department. A more basic consideration, however, was the matter of the extra expense that would be involved.

During these years of controversy the young women, of the college and in areas throughout the Church manifested a deep concern about the outcome. Some young women’s organizations began to appropriate funds toward a dormitory for women at St. Olaf. The coeds themselves were eager to make their contribution. At that time the social and extracurricular activities of the college women were in a large measure centered in a literary society, the Phi Kappa Phi. Its membership was composed of all the college women. It was this group that conceived the idea of compiling a cookbook made up of favorite family recipes. The first paragraph of the preface states: “The idea generally prevalent is that the college girl knows or cares little for the art of cooking. This, however, is not the case among the girls of our institution and we hope that a few years of college life will never counteract the good influence or training along those lines which they have received in their Norwegian homes.” With this volume forty-five young college women wanted to disarm any criticism that college training would make them less feminine. But they also hoped that the books would bring in some of the badly needed funds and engender enthusiastic support in the congregations for the erection of a dormitory. Every girl was given books to sell in her home community. When we went home for Christmas we all brought with us an extra piece of luggage, cookbooks to sell.

Some of the recipes are detailed, others very condensed presupposing considerable previous experience or culinary intuition. They run the whole gamut from breads to confectionery. In many a Middle West home you’ll still find well-worn copies of this cookbook. Its real selling point was its last section of twenty-one pages of Norwegian recipes. This little volume went into four editions, the last one in 1920.

Harald Thorson had given a real impetus to the collection of funds when in 1906 he offered to contribute $10,000 if at least twice as much was raised elsewhere, but by and large the campaign went on desultorily. However, at the annual meeting in 1910 the Church convention adopted a resolution to the effect that “a powerful effort be made that the Ladies Hall may be erected and paid for this year, June 1910 to June 1911.”

Such anticipatory excitement and activity as then followed throughout the summer and the next year! The Women’s League, composed of faculty wives and women faculty members, wrote letters to Ladies Aids telling of the needs and asking for contributions for furnishing individual student rooms. The women students intensified their efforts at selling their cookbook, setting up booths at Homecoming, Commencement, and other festival occasions that brought visitors to the campus.

At last, not in 1910 but on May 15th, 1911, the contract was signed for the construction of the new Ladies Hall. Then came the thrilling ceremony when President Kildahl spoke happily and movingly, and the preceptress, Miss Georgina Dieson, now Mrs. Martin Hegland, dug the first shovelful of earth for the new excavation. School was dismissed for the period after chapel so that all faculty members and students could be present for this momentous occasion.

In the annals of St. Olaf, February 12th is historic not only because of the annual recognition of Lincoln’s birthday, but because on that day in 1912 some over a hundred women students living in homes on St. Olaf Avenue, Forest Avenue, and all streets between trekked up the Hill with suitcases and boxes, while Lewis Larson hauled their trunks to their new home.

How spacious the rooms seemed and how lovely the living room with its oak-beamed ceiling and two attractive side parlors! It is said that it took a bit of shrewdness on the part of Miss Agnes Mellby, preceptress at the time, to get these two side parlors included in the plans. There was a dearth of space for music studios and practice rooms. She suggested that side parlors adjoining the central parlors could be used for studios during the school days and double as social rooms on weekends. So they were included. Their service as studios was brief, however, and they shortly came into their own.

The furniture in the living room and side parlors was the gift of Mr. William B. Ingvoldstad of Decorah, Iowa, substantial mission furniture then at the height of its popularity. But it was the women students who through the sale of their cookbooks provided the curtains, draperies, and rugs for these rooms.

As the college grew in number, additional literary societies were formed among the women and a Women’s Student Government Association (now the Associated Women Students) including all the women of the college was instituted. Since at the time the cookbook was put out, the Phi Kappa membership had included all the women of the college, it was decided to transfer the responsibility for the sale of and the income from whatever further sales there might be to the W.S.G.A. so that it could continue to be a project of all the college women and accrue to their benefit.

While under construction the building was generally spoken of as the new Ladies Hall bringing into sharp contrast the old Ladies Hall, whose residents were rather sensitive as to where the emphasis was placed. November 6th, 1912, however, the building was officially dedicated and named Mohn Hall in honor of St. Olaf’s first president, Thorbjörn N. Mohn, who during the twenty-five years of his presidency championed the cause of co-education at St. Olaf.

Mohn Hall accommodated one hundred eight students. It was a considerably smaller building than originally projected. The first plan included a fourth story and wings on both east and west sides, altogether providing accommodations for a total of two hundred students. Largely for financial reasons and probably partly because some members of the building committee could not foresee any great number of young women going to college, the building was reduced in size by the simple procedure of eliminating the fourth story and cutting of the two wings. The result was a rather blunt, boxlike structure of no architectural distinction, relieved only by the commodious porch. But it had wide corridors, spacious, airy rooms, splendid washroom facilities, and attractive parlors. For all the plainess of its exterior, it has always provided for its residents an intimacy and warmth often lacking in larger but at the same time more constricted structures. Its residents have loved Mohn Hall, even though for some in periods of homesickness or academic pressure, it may have more fittingly been spelled “Moan Hall.

In more recent years there were those that wished there might have been a fireplace in the living room as is the case in the more recently constructed dormitories. But that was not the style when Ytterboe Hall and Mohn Hall were built. Central heating was still new and who wanted to bother with a fireplace when one could have all the conveniences and comforts of steam heat?

What a varied picture of St. Olaf life and St. Olaf growing pains Mohn Hall presents during its fifty-five years of service! Except for Old Main during its first twenty-five years, and in some respects the Gymnasium, no other college building was used so hard and served in so many capacities. It literally became the heart of the campus. As a result its primary purpose as a residence for women almost seemed overshadowed by the many other services it was called upon to render.

The home economics department occupied the west end of the ground floor. It had for its day a nice-sized foods laboratory and two smaller rooms for the textile and arts courses. The major portion of the ground floor had been planned for dining facilities. However, at the time Mohn Hall was taken into use, the college dining room in Ytterboe accommodated the greater number of the students, while a few, particularly of the men living off-campus, ate in private boarding clubs. The facilities in Mohn Hall were therefore not equipped for dining purposes, but the dining room became a recreational center instead. The first big social affair held in Mohn Hall was the housewarming in the spring of 1912, when an invitation was extended to the entire Northfield community. There was a program, but very few either heard or saw it because the building was so crowded with visitors. But an exuberant festive spirit pervaded the group as the enthusiastic visitors went on their tours of inspection.

The junior-senior banquet put on by the class of 1913 was the first of such functions to be held in the dining room for the next few years. For regular daytime use it served as the women’s gymnasium (the men’s was the present Drama Studio in Ytterboe Hall), where in white middies and full black bloomers the women students did their calisthenics, swung Indian clubs and dumb-bells, performed their wand drills, and marched. Apparently the cement floor had not been too substantially constructed and there were complaints that the cement dust raised by marching feet counteracted any good that might be derived from physical exercise. This was in time corrected, and when the present gymnasium was completed in 1920 the women’s physical education activities, hitherto very limited, were transferred to the new gymnasium which provided facilities for both men and women. The dining room continued to be used by societies, classes, and other groups for parties and social gatherings of various kinds. It even served as a little theater on occasion. Notable among the plays presented in

this room were “She Stoops to Conquer” and “The League of Youth.” Then came an abrupt change when, with the establishment of the Student Army Training Corps in 1918, this area was equipped to serve its original purpose of providing dining service for the women. With Armistice declared on November 11, the S.A.T.C. was disbanded the latter part of December, and when school re-opened after the Christmas holidays the college returned to its normal routine. Mohn Hall dining room was discontinued and all the food services were again provided in Ytterboe Hall.

Now the women students became interested in converting this area into an attractive recreation and social room. They had begun to consult about furniture and draperies and even toyed with the idea of investigating the possibility of including a fireplace in the plans. But none of this was to be. With the after-the-war rush of young people to college more dining space was needed. In the fall of 1920 the dining facilities were again taken into use, this time with cafeteria service open to students, faculty, and visitors. The freshmen, who were the largest class, ate at Ytterboe Hall (the college Boarding Club) where meals were served family style, while the three upper classes took their meals at the Mohn Hall cafeteria. With this influx of students and faculty three times a day, Mohn Hall took on the air of a Grand Central Station. It took some time to provide the auxiliary facilities necessary to take care of these crowds. To begin with, the Mohn Hall parlors looked like a huge cloakroom at noon and at night with wraps and books belonging to off-campus students on every chair and table and hazardously lining the stairways to the ground floor. Later installations of shelves and hooks along the walls of the entire ground floor corridor corrected this annoyance. With these facilities provided, the large sliding doors opening on to the entrance could be closed as a reminder that these were the Mohn Hall parlors. It was later that the term living room or lounge came into use.

With the completion of Holland Hall, the home economics department was moved from its limited quarters in Mohn Hall to the new Science and Administration building. The former foods laboratory was converted into a little dining room accommodating up to fifty people. This became very popular for meetings of student organizations, committees, departmental conferences, for dinners and luncheons honoring college guests, and speakers, or commemorating some special occasion. Between being awakened at five o’clock in the morning by the milkman, the clatter of pans and dishes in the kitchen, the throngs in the lower corridor from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., 3:00 to 4:00 p.m. and from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m., with the Toastmasters’ club or some other group in the little dining room holding forth even later at times, Mohn Hall was involved in an almost constant hubbub of activity, a coming-and-going of students and workers from dawn till after dark. Likewise when musical organizations were going on trips, or busses were to take groups of students to a concert in Minneapolis or a play, or they were to go on a field trip, the busses loaded and unloaded at Mohn Hall while the students waited inside the entrance or on the rather spacious porch until time to embark. Perhaps at times Mohn Hall became a bit weary of all these intrusions on her privacy in spite of the glamorous prestige of being the center of so much of college life, for she might wonder how well she was fulfilling her role as a home and workshop for her women residents when so many other, sometimes distracting claims; were made upon her limited facilities.

At no time was the place more festive than during the four days of the annual Christmas commemoration. The corridor leading into the dining room was often filled with lines literally four deep of people who came to enjoy Mohn Hall’s famous Norwegian suppers before the concert. It was terribly crowded, but it was jolly, too. One saw many people one knew down one line and up another, and there was helloing and visiting all the way until one finally reached the counter line in the dining room. It had been worth all the crowding and treading the zigzag trail. The soft light of the candles on counter and tables, the glowing Christmas tree, and the bewreathed windows magically transformed this every-day bustling room into a place apart upon which rested the hush and serenity of Christmas.

Except for a few years when the old Ladies Hall was still in use and for Manitou Cottage, formerly the residence of the President of the college and his family, Mohn Hall was for twenty-five years the only women’s dormitory. Mohn was, therefore, not only a college center but until World War II also in a special sense the center for all the women students and their activities.

The office of the Dean of Women, as well as her personal suite of rooms, was on the first floor of Mohn Hall next to the entrance. It was a busy place with individual student conferences, with meetings of student committees planning programs for all the rich variety of student activities-the beginnings of the area of service later assigned to a director of student activities, in which capacity Miss Evelyn Jerdee has served long and efficiently. Here was located the housing bureau at commencement time. And in these rooms were initiated the informal cocoa parties that became a dormitory tradition.

When Mohn Hall was first occupied, a constitution for its government was drawn up by a representative group of women students and the preceptress, Miss Agnes Glasoe. The first president of Mohn Hall was Miss Inga Holen of the class of 1912.

Perhaps one of the most exciting events that Mohn Hall has witnessed from the point of view of dormitory administration was the initiation of the junior counsellor program. To begin with, Mohn Hall residents comprised members from all of the college classes as well as Academy students. The president was always a senior and the corridor proctors usually seniors or juniors. By 1917 the Academy was discontinued. The college enrollment kept increasing far beyond the possibility of housing the students on the campus. By 1920 the number of women students had increased to over four hundred. That meant that only about one-fourth of them could be accommodated in Mohn Hall. The others were housed in private homes all over the west side of town. Many of the larger houses accommodating ten to twelve, and one even fourteen students became veritable small dormitories and were most popular. Such names as Blue Goose, Wayside Inn, Brown Gables, Lazy Manshun, Lincoln Inn, and the like will bring back many cherished and delightful memories to their former residents. Under these circumstances Mohn Hall became purely a freshman dormitory with the exception of the very few who for health or physical reasons were not able to live off-campus. This made student cooperative government in Mohn Hall very difficult since the residents were strangers to each other, to the college, and to dormitory group life.

In the spring of 1937 after several meetings of the officers of the W.S.G.A. (which had been organized in 1915) and the Dean of Women, the idea of having selected seniors live in Mohn Hall with the freshmen to serve as guides and counsellors was agreed upon as an experiment. This would mean breaking up congenial groups of senior women who had looked forward to living together in some of the larger and more popular off-campus houses. It was with almost bated breath that we awaited the decision of the first two roommates interviewed. They accepted the challenge and so did the twelve others selected. These fourteen, two for each corridor in Mohn Hall, pioneered our student counsellor service. On the basis of their recommendation at the end of the year, it was decided to have juniors serve in this capacity instead of seniors and the junior counsellor program became a regular feature of the W.S.G.A. organization. Mohn Hall was an excellent proving ground for a system that has developed into one of the finest of our college avenues for student service, personal growth, student recognition.

Mohn Hall parlors! Not only did you serve your residents but you supplemented and in a large part supplanted Ytterboe Hall parlors as a center for the social life of the college. There were receptions and teas honoring distinguished guests, the annual receptions of the Women’s League for the freshman and senior women, special faculty gatherings recognizing some significant anniversary or honor received or some similar event One of the most unusual was the wedding of Paul Bollenbacher, professor of German, and La Rue Sheean, for whom Dr. and Mrs. Carl Mellby served as parents of the bride. The marriage ceremony itself as well as the reception took place in Mohn Hall parlors. For years the Northfield branch of the A.A.U.W. held its October meeting in Mohn Hall.

It was quite a day when the W.S.G.A. installed a beautiful cabinet record player in Mohn Hall. Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons found large groups of boys and girls enjoying this new acquisition. The women’s societies and many of the departmental clubs made use of the parlors for special events. It was in Mohn Hall, too, that the traditional Dean of Women’s spring party for the senior class was initiated and continued until the more adequate facilities in Agnes Mellby Hall became available. For this occasion the first floor corridor was transformed into a lounge with rugs, furniture, and lamps, thus providing seating space for more people. The office and the living quarters of the Dean of Women were also pressed into service. The refreshments were served in the candlelit cafeteria dining room at festively decorated tables.

With so many organizational events scheduled for the parlors, it was necessary to have more seating facilities than were provided by the regular furnishings. The Lutheran Daughters of the Reformation (L.D.R.), the women’s religious organization which met in the parlors every Wednesday evening, bought five dozen folding chairs which were stored in a small room on first floor. Originally it had been planned to have an elevator in the building. The shaft was there but no lift had ever been installed. So a floor was built in the shaft and a storeroom created. It was the duty of the chair committee of the L.D.R. to put up the chairs for each meeting and return them to the storeroom afterwards. Once it was found that the attendance for a couple of meetings was noticeably smaller than usual. Upon inquiry it was learned that one of the new members of the chair committee for that month found the task rather arduous, but hesitating to say so, requested instead some of the freshmen not to attend the meeting. Then there would not be so many chairs to set up! A more energetic and enthusiastic volunteer was secured.

On Sunday mornings the room was used by the mission study group. The boys in this organization assumed all responsibility for the chairs. A great number of the members of this group lived off-campus. It took a real spirit of dedication as well as stamina for them to trudge up the sometimes long way to the Hill in winter for an eight o’clock Sunday morning meeting. Those few residents of Mohn Hall who complained of having their Sunday morning sleep disturbed received little sympathy.

Then there were the regular evening dormitory devotions planned and carried out by the residents themselves. Some of the most precious memories of college days are centered around evenings when sitting informally on the floor just at bedtime, the students shared in their evening meditations and Mohn Hall family worship.

There was one winter when for several successive weekends Northfield was struck by winds and snow of blizzard proportions. At that time the students attended St. John’s Lutheran Church. (It was not until later that the Student Congregation was organized.) The weather was so severe that President Boe telephoned the dormitory to say no one should attempt to go to St. John’s, but that the residents should gather in the parlors at eleven o’clock and he would come up and conduct services for them. On this and several similar occasions Mohn Hall parlors served as a sanctuary.

One never-to-be-forgotten anxious night in 1916 Mohn Hall even served as an emergency hospital. Up to this time the College Hospital had been used only as an isolation building in case of contagious illnesses and had for a couple of years served as a housing unit for women students. The old frame City Hospital had closed down for about six months. Serious cases needing surgery or hospitalization were taken to Minneapolis hospitals.

One evening a Mohn Hall resident who had been under doctor’s care for about a week and seemed to be consistently improving became violently ill. It was a ruptured appendix. No time to take her to Minneapolis. Her parents were called, Room 51 was cleared of everything except the flat-tapped study table to which another was added to make a long operating table. Walls and floors were washed with lysol, huge lights were put in by the college engineer. Surgical equipment and sterilized sponges from the old City Hospital were taken out of storage; an exceptionally skilled surgical nurse, providentially off duty, was secured and a very serious two-hour operation was performed late at night by two local doctors. That was about fifty years ago. That seriously ill young woman is alive and well today, active in church and community.

Two world wars, as related in other chapters, also made then special demands on Mohn Hall’s facilities. It was in World War II that the character and service of Mohn Hall was radically changed when for two-and-a-half years it housed cadets of the Navy Pre-Flight Training School.

One of the traditions connected with Mohn Hall that will be remembered longest and most happily by faculty members is the “Round Table” conclave during the afternoon lunch hours in the cafeteria. First there was the delicious assortment of pies, cake, cookies, ice cream, together with coffee from which to make one’s selection. But best of all was the sociability at the Round Table. There might be three or four people to begin with, but it was a most expandable table always having room for one more until there would be eight or ten sitting around it. Everything from the last or next basketball game to problems of world import was subjected to analysis. Jokes and stories added to the fun. First-comers after fifteen or twenty minutes gave way to later arrivals and so it went from three to four o clock Mondays through Fridays. This hour was also a favorite one for committee meetings, sometimes all-faculty groups, sometimes students and faculty. It provided a delightful and stimulating break for faculty and students.

There are some events in lives of individuals and institutions that are especially remembered because of their tragi-comic nature. That is also true of Mohn Hall. There was for example that beautiful morning at commencement when the cafeteria workers came to prepare breakfast only to find the dining room completely flooded. There was a hurried S.O.S. to faithful John Berntsen and redoubtable P. O. Holland. They came immediately and went to work while commencement guests were provided a simple buffet breakfast on hurriedly improvised tables out-of-doors. By noon everything was restored to normal and a dinner amazingly complete under the circumstances was served.

On another occasion nature in a frolicsome mood gave us a bit of excitement. On the south side of Mohn Hall overlooking Norway Valley were balconies. In the spring some of the students were permitted to move their beds out on the second and third floor balconies. One spring a twister took a twirl around the campus and when it had passed down the Hill the girls found their beds on the porches bereft of bedding, their mattresses scattered on the ground, their sheets and other bedding waving at them from the treetops.

In spite of its multiform services to the entire college community, Mohn Hall in a certain, sense lived its own life apart from the throng. It was home and workshop for its residents. Their experiences ranged the whole gamut of college dormitory life from the first eager, sometimes a bit fearful arrival, often amid leaden skies and pelting rain, to the reluctant departure in June amid the glory and fragrance of lilacs, spirea, and peonies in full bloom. There were adjustments to be made to group living, to strange roommates, to the stern demands of study hours. For some there was homesickness to contend with. It was exciting to plan the decor of one’s room, in the early days, to decorate the walls with college banners, to decide with one’s roommate on the color of the bedspread. Such decisions usually involved a hike to town together. There were no taxis in those days. Before long everyone was settled, new schedules had become familiar, and the routine of work and play established.

Up to the time of the first World War, Mohn Hall provided a fairly normal dormitory situation for its residents. There were strict regulations as to study hours in the building. They were from 8.00 a.m. to 12:00 noon, 1:30 to 4:00 p.m. and 7:00 to 9:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. Unless you were in class, laboratory, library, or at music practice you were in your room during these times. You did not go downtown or visit during study hours. The young women’s religious organization had also requested that there be a quiet hour on Sundays from 3:00 to 4:00 p.m. This was carefully observed during the first half dozen years. There were no visits from parents or friends by car then. As previously indicated many of the seniors lived in Mohn Hall during its earlier years. One of their special privileges was that unlike the rest of the residents they might have a “spread” in their rooms during afternoon study hours. Furthermore they were free to come and go as they pleased during these hours. These were both highly prized privileges. However, they could not disturb others and were expected to exercise every care to maintain the necessary quiet in their corridor. Any unnecessary noise or activity that infringed upon the study quiet was penalized with a squelch from the proctor.

It was from 1920 until the St. Olaf Center was built in 1960 that Mohn Hall facilities were taxed to the fullest. Then, after forty sometimes tumultuous years, Mohn Hall again became what she was originally planned to be, a dormitory for women. In spite of the varying demands upon her facilities during her fifty-five years of service, the some over six thousand young women who found in her their college home have rich memories of their dormitory life with its corridor parties, birthday celebrations, Sunday afternoon social gatherings, serenades, open houses, Christmas festivities, and the variety of similar events that imaginative, artistic, and efficient young women planned and executed. Here too their religious and spiritual life was nourished and given opportunity for expression. Mohn Hall was also their workshop where sometimes enthusiastically, sometimes painfully, sometimes indifferently, but most often conscientiously, they labored to meet the demands of classroom and laboratory, And they loved Mohn Hall! She was unpretentious but warmhearted. Within her walls they were all one family. Her aim was to contribute as best she could to the physical, intellectual, social, and spiritual development of those entrusted to her and thus to fulfill her share in the great purpose of a Christian liberal arts college, namely, that its students may “grow in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.”

There is much sadness at the thought that she is no more, but deep gratitude for all that she has been to so many.

Manitou Analecta

Chapters:

Introduction and Foreword
Early Contacts
St. Olaf Builders
Loyal and Faithful
Student Life
Ytterboe Hall Boarding Club
War Comes to St. Olaf
When the Chapel Burned
Dearest of “Homes on the Circling Heights”
A Dream Come True
Second World War Years
Getting Back to “Normalcy”
Some Distinguished Campus Visitors
“The Play’s the Thing”
‘Once Upon a Time’ Traditions and Other Miscellany
Our College Songs