Residence Life

Guitars, acoustic or electric, screaming voices of rowdy freshman sick of Calculus 130, section 5.4, and Play station blaring Tiger Woods Golf on the TV screen in front of two dazed roommates.

Today, students lounge around their rooms enjoying the luxuries of air conditioning, refrigerators, microwaves, TVs, and petit bathrooms tucked away in the corner of each room. At three in the morning, the lights are on, the voice of Howie Day is seeping out into the hallway, and late night Kraft macaroni and cheese is becoming gradually overcooked as it is left neglected in the hot pot.

Times have changed since students had to go outside to go to the bathroom, or just over twenty years ago when women were admitted in the school. The dorm rules and regulations have changed drastically as Davidson has adapted as a college to the student’s demands, the different generations, and the standards that other colleges have adopted. Throughout the fifties, students couldn’t play musical instruments in their own rooms or even play records too loudly. Today, if music isn’t played loudly, it isn’t played. Dorm rules and regulations set the pace for residential living and throughout the different eras, especially the sixties, both the rules and the student living has changed.

The most important change that has affected dorm life has been the sequence of dorm supervisors. Superintendents and directors are the fancy terms for faculty who supervised the dorms during the early 1900s. T.P. Harrison, a literature teacher, maintained the first position of Superintendent from 1903 to 1910. The faculty would check to make sure that kids were in bed, that their rooms were clean, and could search any student’s room at any time if there were any suspicions of dorm violations. They were strictly people of discipline, there to enforce rules, say “you may not hang your poster on the wall with tacks,” and monitor the students. The first real amendment to the Resident Life staff evolved with the introduction of housemothers.

Group photo of dormitory housemothers, 1962
Dormitory Housemothers [1962]

DC-19-1011

The transition from faculty to mother figures started with Nancy Smith. Housemothers administered the students and kept their behavior in check, but they also nurtured them. They brought a little bit of home into the dorms and counseled the boys like they would their own children. In 1948, Mrs. Mildred Little’s duty was “to inspect the dormitories and to serve as a buffer between the administration and the student.”

The era of housemothers faded as a Residential Life office developed. Gertrude Nicholls, more commonly known and referred to as “Scotty,” was the first director of student housing in 1970. Scotty attributes a lot of the changes to coeducation stating, in 1964, each student enjoyed the services of a man who acted almost as a personal valet, making the student’s bed, cleaning his room, running his errands, and in many cases, being his confidante and protector. By the time coeducation was introduced, each student was responsible for his own room, custodians took care of public areas and the personal contact between the two had all but disappeared.

Mrs. R. Z. Moore with students
Mrs. R. Z. Moore with students

DC19-0026

A lot of this loss of personal contact had to do with money. As women integrated into the system, costs skyrocketed. The college needed more housing, and necessities such as bathrooms had to be renovated to accommodate women. Personal connections were lost in the transition between housemothers and an office that took care of Residence Life.

Even a notice to all Davidson students from the Treasurer and Business manager, D. Grier Martin, suggested an upcoming loss of personal contact. Grier wrote, “The College this year has instituted a new policy of furnishing light bulbs for the regular lamps and fixtures placed in each room by the College. Please report to your janitor when you need a replacement.” At this point, janitors had replaced the more sophisticated, private privilege of “valets” and housemothers had become extinct.

When housemothers were ousted and the residential life office became the core of dorm life, the students were given more freedom. But, with freedom comes responsibility. Davidson constructed the office interestingly enough at about the same time as the sexual, musical, and rebellious revolution of the sixties.

Without supervisors, the College endeavored to make a more trusting liaison with the students concerning sexual conduct, and it presented the students with the Code of Responsibility. The Report of the Commission on Coeducation explicitly mandated, “the sexual lives of the students are their own responsibilities.” The seemingly laid back attitude however complements a sense of hopelessness, “it will be worse than useless to attempt to apply old standards to control sexual behavior.” A passage from the Code of Responsibility proves a heartfelt attempt to keep student’s controlled, “The aim of this code is to encourage individuals to develop responsible judgment capable of directing their conduct with a minimum of specific prohibitions. An elaborate system of rules strictly enforced might promote a surface conformity to the standards of behavior desired, but would not effectively serve to develop the maturity of character which is the aim of the College. Rather, responsible maturity is more likely to develop when a member of the college community is both free and obligated to wrestle with principles of conduct and to accept full responsibility for his own actions and decisions.

If the college did not uphold their trust, students jumped all over them. Cecil Burney, the student President of the Residence Hall Association addressed Dean Burts in a letter in February, 1970, pertaining to unwarranted searches of student’s locked rooms by various college personnel. Burney wrote, “In order to guarantee the same right of privacy for ourselves that you would want for yourself…I want to make it clear to you that you and other college personnel are not welcome in the residence halls for purposes of search without a written search warrant in hand.” Cecil’s letter represents an essential step in student participation in Residential living.

Students began assuming roles of significant responsibility and introducing new concepts to the Residential life committee. The House Manager Program let students be the representatives of the Housing Office and later, in 1967, the Freshman Hall Counselor program diverted the responsibility of monitoring freshman to upperclassman. The CEWOD, committee for expanding women’s options at Davidson, purposed that women students should assemble in select groups to fraternize and develop unity. Their endeavor failed, but the existence of eating houses on Patterson Court became the close substitute for sororities. All in all, since the Residential Life office, students have gained more freedom, more privacy, more responsibility, and more say.

Top of Page


Dormitories, Dormitory Row, Residence Life, Senior and Sophomore Apartments – Works Cited

Beaty, Mary D. A History of Davidson College. Davidson: Briarpatch Press, 1988.

Blodgett, Jan. “Davidson College Campus Buildings” 9 Sept. 2003. 17 Oct. 2003 <http://libraries.davidson.edu/archives/encyclopedia/historic-buildings/>.

Burney, Cecil Letter, Davidson College. 12 February, 1970. Student Government Davidsoniana file. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

“Disturbed Elm Row Site Reveals Alcoholic Past.” Newsclipping, c. 1960. Elm Row Davidsoniana File. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

Jaenicke, Graham. Photographs of Senior Apartments. 16 October 2003.

Jaenicke, Graham. Photographs of Sophomore Apartments. 16 October 2003.

Lingle, Walter. Memories of Davidson College c. 1947. John Knox Press, Richmond, VA.

Mann, Jeffrey. “Knox and Irwin Dorms Open Doors to 108 Students.” Davidsonian. 15 September 1981.

Martin, D. Grier Flyer, Davidson College. 6 September, 1956. Dormitories Davidsoniana file. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

McCrory, Mary. “New Building Guarantees Class of 1995 Senior Apartments.” Davidsonian. 11 October 1993:

Nicholls, Scotty. Memoir. Dormitories-Supervisors Davidsoniana file. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

“Preamble of the Davidson College Code of Responsibility.” 11 October, 1968. Davidsoniana file. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

Photograph of Ms. Moore. Photograph Collection, number 19-0026. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

Photograph of Old Elm in 1930. Photograph Collection, number 9-0949a. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

Photograph of Old Oak in 1893. Photograph Collection, number 9-0546c. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

Photograph of housemothers. Photograph Collection, number 19-10/09. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

Photograph of Miss Johnsie. August, 1959. The Epsilonian of Pi Kappa Phi.” Davidson, NC

“Report of the Commission on Coeducation.” May, 1969. Excerpt Davidsoniana file. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

Saintsing, Tim. “Davidson Institutes First Co-Ed Hall.” Davidsonian 5 September 1995:

“The Dedication of Flowe, Hart, and Ryburn Residence Halls.” Dedication Program. September 1994. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

Unknown. Flyer, Davidson College. 8 April 1977.Buildings -Dormitories Davidsoniana file. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

Author: Ruth Hill
Date: October 2003

Cite as: Hill, Ruth. “Dormitory Row” Davidson Encyclopedia
October 2003 <http://libraries.davidson.edu/archives/encyclopedia/residence-life/>

Related Entries: Dormitories

Sorry, comments are closed for this post.