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Currier celebrates 100 years of history

BY MITCH MCANDREW | NOVEMBER 14, 2014 5:00 AM

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When Currier was built, living in a residence hall on campus cost just $70 a semester (approximately $1,666 in today’s money). A century later, while the price may be somewhat more, little else has changed about the distinguished building.

Currier, the University of Iowa’s first dorm, turned 100 years old this week, and a Centennial Celebration has been held in its honor.

The building’s history is one full of progress. It was one of the first state-sanctioned housing units for women, and it was also a pioneering sight in integration, UI archivist David McCartney said.

After five years of planning and construction, the building was completed in 1914 for $150,000, roughly equivalent to $3.5 million today. The building met a growing housing shortage that McCartney described as “very urgent.”

“There were no residence halls at the university at that time,” McCartney said. “All of the students either lived in fraternities or sororities or found off-campus housing.”

This housing shortage was especially pronounced for women, because there were fewer sororities than fraternities on campus at the time, McCartney said.

“[The hall] was critical to meet the needs of UI women,” he said.

Slightly more than 30 years later, Currier cemented its progressive reputation when it admitted five African American women as residents in 1946.

“These five remarkable women really challenged what was kind of a de facto practice at the time,” McCartney said.

While segregation in housing at universities may have been a de facto practice across the country at the time, it became the subject of growing dissatisfaction in the 1940s.

No Big Ten schools had explicit segregation policies, and most had admitted several African American students. These students, however, were at a distinct disadvantage when it came to locating housing.

Many Big Ten schools began desegregating housing policies to accommodate students on the GI Bill, Jackie Esposito, Penn State University archivist, wrote in an email.

Many schools in the ’40s, including Penn State, Indiana, Illinois, and Purdue, began to open university housing to all people, a practice that was still fairly ahead of its time relative to the national civil-rights movement.

“Keep in mind, this occurred eight years before Brown v. Board of Education,” McCartney noted. “It was a very early time for that.”

McCartney lauded those five women, saying what they went through is tough to even imagine today.

“They were very, very brave people,” he said.

Currier remained women-only until the 1970-71 school year, when the state Board of Regents allowed co-ed housing.

To pay tribute to Currier Hall’s rich history, five events were held throughout the week in Currier Multipurpose Room.

The festivities included an ice-cream social, a “fireside chat” featuring several historians and artists as well as the family of Amos and Celia Currier, Bingo, a sock hop, and a formal birthday celebration.

“We tried to look at what events might have been at Currier over the years,” said Carolyn Kiser-Wacker, the assistant to the senior director for UI Housing and Dining.

She said the events served as a sort of time travel, showcasing all the movements, fads, and time periods Currier has been though.

“There were a lot of really interesting things to plan around,” said Lance Heady, the president of the Organized Stanley Currier Associated Residence, which put on the ice-cream social Sunday night.

Kiser-Wacker said the sock hop and the fireside chat were particularly effective at providing a retro feel.

“It’s a throwback to a different time,” she said.

Overall, the Centennial Celebration saluted Currier for its century of service, Kiser-Wacker said.

“On most campuses, residence halls just don’t last for 100 years,” Kiser-Wacker said.


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