While male students had to navigate housing on their own with off campus Northfield options, early Carleton women were permitted to live in their own Ladies’ Dorm: Gridley Hall. This dorm was the forth building to be completed after the establishment of the college. Its architectural style echos the Victorian era with a slightly gothic feel of other well established American private colleges.
The building boasted numerous amenities over the years, including a gymnasium, a bakery, a hospital, a garden and yard, and a repair shop. The building plans even included an “elevator,” although we suspect this was more a dumbwaiter for suitcases and other goods than people. Other impressive elements for the time include an indoor plumbing system (unlike Seccombe house with relied on an outhouse originally) and an elaborate heating system made up of a myriad of functional fireplaces.
The idea for having a single-gender door was that the segregation of the sexes would make for a moral and socially appropriate campus life, hence women’s necessity to use the Gridley gymnasium instead of Sayles-Hill. Because Carleton traces its origins to the intent to build a Christian college, Christian values including gender roles were integrated into private social life as well as academic curriculum. However, the dining room was always a co-ed, formal affair, where male students were invited to share dinner, even though their presence was otherwise prohibited. Waiting rooms existed in the early days where men might wait to meet their lady friends without entering more intimate domestic spaces.
Fast Fact Quiz!
Click the questions to reveal the answers
When was original construction completed? Torn down?
1882 was the year it was built, only to be demolished in 1967 less than a century later
How many students lived there at a time?
Sources vary over decades. It was built with 3 floors of dorms. They were likely double rooms and at least 10 students at a time lived on a floor depending on enrollment, sometimes up to 30. There was also an uninhabited basement level.
What other dorms housed women after Gridley was demolished?
Nourse, Evans, and Watson Halls. Nourse remains the only building on campus that still has an all women’s floor.
What building replaced it?
The Music and Drama Center, which was also demolished in 2022
Planning, Construction, and Renovation
Planning was drawn up by local Minnesota architect A. M. Radcliff. Surprisingly, his plans were handwritten on regular lined paper, which is today preserved in the Gould Library Archives. This seemingly unprofessional, that is, not typewritten and full of notes and doodles, reflects the financial situation and reputation of the very new college administration. Before its prestige as one of the nation’s top liberal arts colleges in the 1990s, it was simply a small, Christian college in the midwest intended for local high school and undergraduate students.
Student Life in the Dorm
What was it like to live in Gridley? Each floor had a matron, much like a modern resident assistant, who served as a staff person at the disposal of her wards. This role required the matron to not only enforce rules and campus policies, but to act as a moral advisor to uphold Christian standards of womanhood. She lived on the floor with students in her own quarters, which was meant to discourage nonsense. However, the images from 1964 suggest that some rule bending occurred, as particularly in the last image the women are seen holding alcoholic beverages.
For early campus living, photographs suggest that parlor rooms tended to come well furnished with Christian iconography decor, furniture, curtain and tablecloth fabrics, and sometimes books. Dorm living spaces were generally minimalist, with a bed and a desk and often plain walls expect for tall windows. This paints a romantic aesthetic that fostered community by creative comfortable, inviting spaces.
When it came down to it, it would be too costly and not worth the effort to keep up the maintenance of the increasingly outdated building. Although its charming aesthetics added to the visual image of a serious liberal arts college, it was replaced by the more practical (but much more plain looking) Music and Drama Center, which was actually two buildings. Gridley was gone by 1967, and the Music and Drama Center opened two years later.
A huge contributor to the decision to tear it down was from the fire hazard it posed. It was not built with the proper fire escapes, containment doors, flame resistant materials, and proper number of emergency exits, not to mention how many unsupervised fire places there were. Also, realistically it was not made with the highest caliber of materials, and it began to deteriorate simply from age and wear.
- Gyure, Dale Allen. “The Transformation of the Schoolhouse: American Secondary School Architecture and Educational Reform, 1880–1920.” ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2001.
- Yanni, Carla. Living on Campus : an Architectural History of the American Dormitory. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2019.
- Carleton Life for Young Women. Northfield, Minn: Carleton College, 1917.
- Stork, Harvey E. Gridley Room. Photograph. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Libraries, 2006. From Carlton College Archives, Stork Collection. Stork, Harvey E. Gridley Hall, Viewed from the northwest. Photograph. Northfield: Carleton College, 2007. From Carlton College Archives, Stork Collection.
- Stork, Harvey E. Thanksgiving Breakfast in Gridley Hall in 1925. Photograph. Northfield: Carleton College, 2007. From Carlton College Archives, Stork Collection.
- Ladies Dorm Plan and Ladies Dorm Renovations from the 19th Century. Blueprints. Northfield: Carleton College. From TF-Over, Gridley Hall.
- Sub-series 6.1: Gridley Hall – interior. Photograph collection. Northfield: Carleton College.
- W, A. F. [building architect]. Gridley Building Proposal. Northfield: Carleton College. From Carleton College Archives, TF-Over, Gridley Hall