A century ago, USC built its first dormitory for women, whose presence on campus had not been warmly welcomed when they first arrived in the 1890s. While other women's dorms have come and gone on campus, the Women's Quad retains its status as the original location for and the only present location of women's-only residence halls at the university.
When Connie Hough started her freshman year at Carolina in 1983, she signed up for the same residence hall where her older sister Millie was staying, but the dorm did not offer a lot of creature comforts back then.
Connie Hough: “People thought we were crazy. There's no air conditioning and there's no elevators, none of that stuff. But we just decided that's what we'll do. And it really strangely ended up that me and one of the girls I went to high school with ended up as roommates, probably because nobody else in their right mind put down Sims as their first choice.”
I’m Chris Horn, your host for Remembering the Days, and we’re kicking off our ninth season of the podcast with a look back at the origin of Sims, McClintock and Wade Hampton, the three residence halls that comprise the Women’s Quad at USC.
The history of women’s dorms at Carolina goes back 100 years, and over time there have been quite a few women’s-only dorms on campus, including, back in the day, Capstone, Columbia Hall, Patterson, South Tower and even two of the since-demolished Honeycombs. All of the rest are now co-ed residence halls.
But the Women’s Quad, bounded by Greene, Pickens and Bull streets, is where it all began. It’s where the first women’s dorm was built, and it remains today the only residence on campus for women only.
Women were first admitted to Carolina in the 1890s at the behest of then-Gov. Ben Tillman. Professors and college administrators were not enamored with the idea of co-education, which many considered too radical in the conservative South.
So, Carolina allowed women to sign up for classes but didn’t do much to welcome them when they arrived. If they were from out of town, female students had to find an apartment or rooming house to board because there was no dormitory for women on campus.
Unsurprisingly, the hostile attitude toward co-education resulted in low female enrollment. Only 10 of Carolina’s 298 students in the 1908-09 academic year were women. The university entertained the idea of acquiring the College for Women, a Columbia-based institution that was having financial difficulties. The state Legislature did not approve the deal, but USC began to take a somewhat softer attitude toward women students.
In 1918, a wing of DeSaussure College was designated for women, and by 1920 there was a big push for USC to build its first women’s dorm. The State Federation of Women’s Clubs passed resolutions calling for that to happen, and passage of the 19th amendment, which finally allowed women to vote, perhaps lent some momentum to the effort.
The General Assembly provided $100,000 for dorm construction, which began in 1923 with the first women moving in in 1924. That year, women represented one-fourth of total enrollment at the university. That first dorm was named in honor of Wade Hampton, though the actual naming didn’t happen until 1940.
Sims dormitory was built in 1939 with partial funding from the federal government. McClintock, the last part of the Women’s Quad, was completed in 1954-55, about when the Russell House and Calcott College were constructed.
The original women’s dorm, Wade Hampton, was demolished in 1959 — it had lasted only 35 years. But it was quickly rebuilt on the same site, and the second iteration of the Wade Hampton dorm has been there ever since.
A quick sidenote: There was a Wade Hampton Hotel in Columbia, built in 1940 and located near the corner of Main and Gervais streets. That hotel became a dorm for USC students in 1978, but it was imploded in 1985 to make way for what is now the Capital Building, Columbia’s tallest office tower.
So that’s a quick history of the Women’s Quad. Now let’s find out what it was like to live there. Connie Hough, who got us started, says the lack of air conditioning and elevators was a bother, but the location of the Quad more than made up for those shortcomings.
Connie Hough: “The location was perfect. It was kind of in the middle of everything. I could get to the J-School stuff at the Coliseum — that's where it was then. I could get to all the business stuff. Russell House was right across the way. So, you know, we just had a good group of girls and three or four of us, stayed the whole time.”
Connie and her buddies stayed in the same room in Sims for all four years of college. I guess they got used to dealing with the heat of late August and September. Not everyone was so sanguine.
Megan Sexton: “I was on a waiting list for dorms because I decided late to come here, so they just put me in it and I showed up and it was a third floor, not air conditioned. I had moved down from New Jersey. My roommate was from Canada. We thought we were on the sun, and that's mostly what I remember.”
That’s Megan Sexton, who arrived at Carolina in 1977 and first stayed in McClintock but later moved to Wade Hampton with a large contingent of friends for her sophomore and junior years. They moved because, yes, Wade Hampton had air conditioning.
Megan Sexton: “We all kept our doors open all the time. And hall baths, hall showers. I didn't really — that's kind of what I expected with college. I don't know why, but I didn't expect to have my own bathroom. It was a great experience. It was pretty sticky. I remember coming out just drying your hair out of the shower. You would be soaked in sweat by the time you would finish drying your hair."
Page Ivey experienced her own trial by summer fire at the Women’s Quad in 1984.
Page Ivey: “I know it was 100 degrees. It was August, and my poor mom and my aunt with heart problems helped me unload my car. And the first thing they said is, ‘We're buying you a fan.’ We rode over to Taylor Street Pharmacy, and they bought me a big box fan for the room. And we discussed whether it was better to blow air out or just have it blow on me. And I think we all had our own fans there. And that's when I learned you could take a wet washcloth and put it in the freezer compartment of your dorm fridge. And then when you got there in the afternoon, you know, it was always the hottest part of the day, and you just wear that somewhere on you and it would cool you off a little bit.”
Of course, there was more to life in the Women’s Quad back then than dealing with the heat. Megan says everyone played music in their rooms — this was decades before smartphones and Air Pods and all the ways we privately listen to music today.
Megan Sexton: “We would sit in the hall a lot and, you know, everybody had music playing. That's a difference I think today, too. You'd walk through your hall. My freshman year it was the Fleetwood Mac Rumours album was the one everybody was playing. So you could hear it, you know, all the way down the hall and you'd hear other music, too. You'd always heard music.”
Women who lived in the Women’s Quad decades ago talk about how ornate the lobbies of each building seemed, with couches and chandeliers and portraits of bygone university administrators hanging on the walls. Perhaps that décor was meant to give the Quad a touch of Southern charm.
Of course, students in the Women’s Quad found their own ways to bring a little homeyness to their home away from home.
Page Ivey: “One of the most fun nights I remember is we bought a box of Chef Boyardee lasagna. And I do not know how five girls actually felt full. Somebody made a salad, and the rest of us put it all together in the box, and there was an oven at the end of the hallway. Wasn't even a sink to clean up, just the oven. So we cooked it together, we took it back, and we all sat around this little makeshift table and had our — and I think because we had older girls who could buy alcohol so we had some wine, and we sat around and had our little family meal together on a Sunday. It was great.”
By the early 1970s, Carolina began to loosen visitor restrictions in the residence halls. As the years progressed, there were still some rules, but enterprising students can always find ways to circumvent them. Just ask Marjorie Duffie, who lived in McClintock in the Women’s Quad for three years, two of them as an RA or Room Advisor.
Marjorie Duffie: “In 2002, when I lived there as a freshman, we couldn't have male guests past 2 a.m., so nobody was having their guy friends spend the night, at least not if they were doing it, you know, by the rules. I think occasionally they would sneak people in, from things I heard later on down the line from some of my residents. They were like, ‘Yeah, you didn't even know he was in the closet.’ And it's like, oh my gosh. But anyway, RA days.”
Women who I spoke with about life in the Women’s Quad decades ago invariably talk about its location, nestled beside the Russell House and close to the humanities buildings and the Horseshoe. The Quad underwent a major renovation in 2014, which not only thoroughly modernized the inside of each building but also connected the three of them together.
I talked to Elizabeth Calhoun from Philadelphia, one of the 600 women who stay at the Women’s Quad today, and it seems that students love to live there now every bit as much as they did many years ago.
Elizabeth Calhoun: “I didn't initially want this, but I mean, it's in a perfect location. I always tell everyone I'm spoiled. I'm in the heart of campus, and it's honestly gorgeous. So it just worked out and I tell everyone I wouldn't want to live anywhere else. I love how quiet it is. I love that it's just me and the girls.
“A lot of my sorority sisters live in like, Cola Hall, and they definitely have more friends on their dorms, especially more, like, bigger friend groups with guys and girls. And a piece of me kind of wishes I had that. But again, I love it here, so I'm not really missing out on much.”
On a final note, I talked with Kirsten Kennedy, USC’s associate vice president for the residential experience. She says the women’s-only aspect of the Women’s Quad remains an important feature for the university and its student body.
Kirsten Kennedy: “I think we want to make sure that all students feel comfortable when they come to college. And we want to be inclusive of what their needs are. And we know that who their roommates are and their living environment has an impact on whether or not they decide to stay here. So, for example, if we only had co-ed options and someone thought, 'Oh well, geez, I can't go to the University of South Carolina because there isn't a women's-only option,' then we could lose students, or they would be in an environment where they didn't feel comfortable if they came anyway, and we might lose them that way, too. So I think it's about providing all the options that students want, and we've increased that in so many different ways over time. And keeping this one thing I think is a good thing.”
If the Women’s Quad buildings Sims, McClintock and Wade Hampton could talk, and we had all day to listen, I’m sure there would be many more stories about student life there over the past 100 years. But we’ll call it a day for now.
On the next episode of Remembering the Days, we’re going back to the USC campus 150 years ago during the Reconstruction Era. It was a fascinating time for the university back then, with stories about successful alumni and questions that linger to this day about what might have been. That’s next time. Thanks for listening today, and forever to thee.