Wednesday, March 11, 2015

You know Jesse Hall, but do you know who Jesse was?

This post is the first in a series that will highlight the iconic buildings of the University of Missouri campus and their namesakes. Names from the past become associated not with a person who lived but the building that lives on in our daily travels. This series strives to remind us of our everyday connection to Mizzou’s history through the names and faces of our extraordinary campus.

Photograph of Jesse Hall and Francis Quad with Columns ca.1973
(courtesy of the Missouri Cultural Resource Inventory)

Jesse Hall and Richard Henry Jesse

Hopefully, every student of the University of Missouri, past and present, can recognize the iconic red brick and white domed building at the heart of our adopted home. This landmark is a symbol of Mizzou's traditions and values, overseeing the freshmen and seniors in their annual walks through the Columns that bookend their lives as college students. Jesse Hall has anchored MU's campus since 1895, when this  rose from the ashes of the old Academic Hall which had been destroyed in a fire on January 9, 1892.  For 120 years, this stalwart campus matron has been the public face of the University of Missouri.
After the famous fire of 1892 destroyed the original building leaving only the Columns to anchor the university, the current structure was erected and retained the name of Academic Hall. The multipurpose building housed the Auditorium, the College of Arts & Sciences faculty offices, the library and other classrooms and student spaces. In 1922, after his death, the building was dedicated in honor of Dr. Jesse.

Dr. Richard Henry Jesse, ca. 1890

A candid photo of Dr. Jesse, looking weary in front of his overloaded desk, gives us a glimpse of the working life of a modern university president at the beginning of the twentieth century. (1903 Savitar)

Richard Henry Jesse (1853-1921)
A Virginian by birth, Richard Henry Jesse found professional success at the University of Missouri as its eighth president.  Dr. Jesse was described as “a very far-sighted man of great vigor and high ideals,” who “made a powerful impression on the University.”[1]
A Latin professor by training, Dr. Jesse embarked on his career at MU in 1891.  During the first year of his presidency, Academic Hall burned on January 9, 1892, leaving only the six columns that graced its portico.   The loss was devastating, given that Academic Hall and Switzler Hall were the only buildings that comprised the campus at that time.  Supported by the Board of Curators, Dr. Jesse embarked on a rebuilding and expansion campaign.  At the time of his death in 1921, the campus consisted of fourteen buildings including the red brick buildings that surround Francis Quadrangle: Pickard Hall, Swallow Hall, Neff Hall, and the Engineering building.  The White Campus was born during Jesse’s tenure with the construction of Eckles Hall, Read Hall, Whitten Hall, Waters Hall and Rothwell Gymnasium.
Dr. Jesse expanded the university in other ways as well. During his term, the number of faculty increased from 40 to 188, the Graduate School and School of Journalism were both established and the number of academic departments greatly expanded.  An article in the Missouri Alumnus, written on the occasion of Dr. Jesse’s death, noted that the university “came to be looked upon, not as a local institution, but as the head of the education system of the state.”[2]
Throughout his career, Dr. Jesse maintained a student-oriented focus.   Under his leadership, the university’s enrollment increased, triggered in part by Jesse’s modernization of the curriculum from a classical method to a system based on electives (one we still use today).  In the course of his seventeen-year tenure as president, undergraduate enrollment increased from less than 500 to 2,500.  Dr. Jesse also raised the standards for admission, which helped to increase the standard of education provided in Missouri high schools.
Students revered Dr. Jesse and showed their adoration on many occasions.  In 1905, when Dr. Jesse left for Europe, the student body “accompanied him to the train cheering him.”[3] They continued to honor Dr. Jesse by including his portrait in the Savitar yearbook long after his retirement in 1908.   In recognition of his contributions to the university, Academic Hall was officially renamed in honor of Dr. Richard Henry Jesse on January 2, 1922.

[1] Miller, M.F. “Missouri College of Agriculture: Through a Half-Century in Retrospect,” Bulletin of University of Missouri Agricultural Experiment Station, no. 769 (July, 1961), 4.
[2] Missouri Alumnus (Jan. 1921) 93.
[3] Ibid.

 Jesse Hall in Pictures

Interior of Jesse Hall Auditorium (Savitar, 1898)

Women's athletics activities were segregated from male students for many decades after women were admitted to the university in 1871.  Here, the 1900 women's basketball team is shown in their practice space on the third floor of Jesse Hall. (Savitar, 1900)

Dr. Jesse oversaw the awarding of honorary degrees to Mark Twain and others in 1908. (C:6/35/7 Courtesy of University Archives)

Tiger fans met in Jesse Auditorium to boost their team to victory over Nebraska. Unfortunately, the 1924 squad managed a hard-fought tie against the Huskers with the teams only scoring 7 points each.  (Savitar, 1924)

Students walked through the corridors of Jesse Hall when the College of Arts and Sciences held classes in the building. (Savitar, 1924)

  The 120-piece University Band often performed in the newly modernized Jesse Auditorium.  (Savitar,1956)

For more information, visit the MU Space Planning and Management's online exhibition, "MU in Bricks and Mortar" here

Blog authored by Sarah S. Jones, Ph.D. Candidate in art history and Curator of Public Arts, Missouri Student Unions.