Within These Walls

The truth is going to come out at some point, so I may as well state it sooner rather than later – strange things happen in Thurston Hall. It is an accepted part of GW life. Whether you are a resident or a visitor, you will see, do or smell something you wish you wouldn’t have. (This goes for you too parents). It’s what everyone calls the “Thurston experience.”

Cleaning my room at the end of freshman year, I found a folder of photographs left there by a previous resident, stuck underneath my clothes drawers. I never found out how old the pictures were, but it did provide a bit of history of the infamous residence hall. It just goes to show that everyone’s freshman year is pretty similar – you meet tons of new people and party too much, and in the end, you had a good time.

GW’s residence halls each have a history, from the money provided to build Strong Hall to the name controversy over Lafayette Hall. While Thurston remains the University’s largest all-freshmen residence hall, this year’s freshman class will be also be living in Fulbright, Lafayette, Mitchell and Strong halls, the Hall on Virginia Avenue and be the sole residents of the Mount Vernon Campus.

But before have your own “(insert you hall here) experience,” here is look at the history of GW’s freshman residence halls.

Thurston Hall
1900 F St.

Since 1930, a large building has dominated the corner of 19th and F streets. Formerly the Park Central apartments, GW purchased the building in 1963 to make it an all-female residence hall called the Superdorm. From 1964 to 1972, the hall housed all of the University’s female residents. It provided beds for over 900 students.

The first residents of the Superdorm had to comply with the University’s dress code for women. Not only were “girls not to be in the lounge or lobby in shorts, jeans, slacks or similar attire,” but the campus provided a chart that clearly listed what women could and could not wear, according to a 1964 pamphlet put out by the Office of the Dean of Women. Informal dances – better known as fraternity parties – required a tailored dress or sweater and skirt, while cultural events mandated a tailored suit or date dress, gloves, optional hat and heels.

The building was officially named Mabel Nelson Thurston Hall in 1967, after GW’s first female undergraduate. Thurston was admitted to the then-named Columbian University in 1888, but she didn’t take classes with other students because she was considered a distraction to the male students, according to University archives. Instead, she had to see her professors for her assignments.

The 1972-73 school year marked the introduction of coed housing for GW, with Thurston, Mitchell, Madison and Crawford halls housing men and women. But even before the mixing of the sexes, Thurston was a place of scandal and controversy.

On September 30, 1968, a group of student protesters staged a “love-in” in one of the lounges to protest the enforcement of the University’s midnight curfew for males and non-residents, according to the book “From Strength to Strength.” The book highlights the history of the University, including interesting events at Thurston. The students posted a sign that read, “This lounge has been liberated.”

In 1971, Thurston residents hung a banner outside the residence that featured a picture of a penis to protest the war in Vietnam. The banner was just one of the frequent disputes between Thurston residents and the neighboring Embassy of Uruguay – now home of the University Club.

Lafayette Hall
2100 I St.

Lafayette Hall has undergone three name changes in the past 40 years. John C. Calhoun Hall first offered housing for male students in the 1963-1964 school year. Calhoun, a native of South Carolina, served as vice president under John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson, in addition to being a member of Congress. However, Calhoun was a defender of slavery. During the Civil Rights movement, the building’s name was changed to John Quincy Adams Hall because of Calhoun’s background. Adams was the nation’s sixth president and one of the first supporters of the Columbian College.

In 1998, Adams Hall became Lafayette Hall to recognize the Marquis de Lafayette’s connection to the University and George Washington. Lafayette attended the Columbian College’s first Commencement in 1824, where he shook the hand of every graduate.

Mitchell Hall
514 19th St.

Mitchell Hall received its name from revered General Billy Mitchell. Although he was supposed to graduate from the Columbian College in 1899, Mitchell dropped out to fight in the Spanish-American War, and subsequently in World War I. University history books state that while Mitchell completed his degree in 1919, his diploma reads, “Class of 1899.”

An early supporter of U.S. military air power, Mitchell’s life was brought to the silver screen in the 1955 movie, “The Court Martial of Billy Mitchell.”

Fulbright Hall
2223 H St.

A large portrait of Fulbright Hall’s namesake William J. Fulbright greets students as they enter the hall. Fulbright served as a United States senator from 1945 to 1974, in addition to earning a law degree from GW in 1934.

Before Fulbright became a residence hall in 1981, the Everglades Apartment for Nurses occupied the space.

Hall on Virginia Avenue
2601 Virginia Ave.

Two of you may become the lucky residents of one of the most infamous hotel rooms in American history, room 723. Before the University purchased HOVA in 1999, the building was the Howard Johnson and more recently, the Premier Hotel. Anyway, back in 1972, room 723 was used by the Watergate burglars as a lookout because it faced the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate office building across the street. While the room was occupied by hotel guests after the break-in, GW filled it with Watergate memorabilia and created a living and learning community focused on the Watergate scandal right after its purchase. Photographs and newspaper clippings adorned the walls of the room.

But in 2001, the University made room 723 available for student housing. The memorabilia in the room was removed, which HOVA residents disputed.

Despite being one of the farther residence halls from campus, HOVA includes plush accommodations, a diner and a convenient location across the street from Watergate shopping.

Strong Hall
620 21st St.

In 1934, Alvah Strong, a D.C. resident and University trustee, gave GW $200,000 to construct an all- women’s residence hall. Strong Hall was the first residence hall built by the University, as all others were previously occupied.

During the 1950s and 1960s, Strong Hall was advertised as “a beautiful, red brick colonial structure, reminiscent of the early beginning of the University, designed to give students a restful home in the stimulating environment of the Capital City.” Women under the age of 21 had to have “late slips approved by the hostess when they (were) to be out after 10:30 p.m.”

Today, Strong Hall remains the only all-female residence hall on the Foggy Bottom Campus.

Mount Vernon Campus
2100 Foxhall Road

The Mount Vernon College affiliated with GW in 1998, after 121 years as an all-women’s college. While University administrators suggested shortly thereafter that the Foxhall Road campus should become coed, the first male students did not move in until 2001. In another first, the Mount Vernon campus will house only freshmen – 400 of them – this year.

The Mount Vernon Seminary preceded the establishment of the Mount Vernon College, opening in 1875. But the college did not move to its current location until 1945. In 1945, Clark Hall and Somers Hall were built. Merriweather Hall was built in 1969 through a gift from alumnae Majorie Merriweather Post. Pelham Hall was built in 1971 and received its name in 1991. An addition to Somers Hall was completed in 2001.

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