Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project


Lewis Hall

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Institution Name: William Penn University
Original/Historic Place Name: Women's Residence Building
Location on Campus: 201 Trueblood Ave.
Date(s) of Construction:
1916-1917original construction Simmons, A.T.
Designer: A.T. Simmons
Type of Place: Individual building
Style: Other (Glossary)
Narrative: see below
References: see below
Foundation: concrete; brick
Walls: plaster
Roof: originally tile, now asphalt shingles
post- 1917residence hall (dormitory, dining room, kitchen facility)
present (2006)residence hall (includes formal parlor)

From William C. Page, Public Historian for the State Historical Society of Iowa:

Constructed in 1916-1917, the Women's Residence Building forms the northeast anchor of the Penn College Quadrangle. This building is historically significant because it calls attention to a central tenet of the Quaker faith--a belief in the equality of women. Although the Iowa Yearly Meeting later diverged from some traditional beliefs of Friends, this meeting has continued to strive toward the goal of equality for women. Penn College was a coeducational institution from its founding; the first graduate was a female; and the first faculty contained two women. It is very significant that when the college faced the enormous task of rebuilding after the 1916 fire, one of the four buildings planned at the time was a dormitory for women students.

The Women's Residence Building is significant for its architectural design because it calls attention to the work of A T. Simmons and the influence of the Prairie School of architecture within his work. Notable features include the strong horizontal feeling of the building, the stone trim work emphasizing it and the low pitched roof. The interior of the building features several rooms with oak wainscoting, plaster cornices with plant material motifs, and etched glass panes on the doorways. The Drawing Room, a formal parlor or lounge, remains in its original location in the southwest corner of the first floor of Margaret Fell cottage. This room still boasts the original plaster cast ceiling and walls. For many years the college dining room was located on the first floor of Elizabeth Fry cottage, the unit located along Market Street on the southeast.

Employing a "remarkably modern" concept plan, Architect A. T. Simmons did not follow the standard central hall plan for the college dormitories in the design of this building. Instead, he developed the idea of individual "cottages," connected only on the lower two floors. The cottage or unit plan employed by Simmons in the building's design emphasizes the perceived need for a home-like atmosphere for the women. The upper floors held two living areas, with each having a central lounge or parlor equipped with a working fireplace, surrounded on three sides with bedrooms that opened off it. These cottages, each with three stories plus basement, are connected by covered exterior corridors on the first floor. Simmons originally planned for six cottages, but the drawings show a notation in his handwriting that only the four cottages to the south were to be constructed. As planned, the units would form a large letter U backing away from North Market Street, with the opening on the west toward Penn Hall.

Carved above the south entrance of Lewis Hall is the motto: "The measure of a People is its estimate of Woman." The four cottages were named in honor of four famous women, each of whom represented a distinct era of Quaker history: Margaret Fell, Elizabeth Fry, Mary Dyer, and Sybil Jones. Margaret Fell, whose name was given to unit A on the southwest, was an early convert to the sect, and was later recognized as the "Mother of Quakerism." An educated woman of great natural ability, Fell used her gifts to foster the movement, and it can perhaps be attributed to her that the Quakers have always stressed the equality of women. After the death of her husband, she married the movement's founder, George Fox. Unit B was named for Elizabeth Fry, who represented the Quaker interest in social service. Despite inherited wealth and social standing, she led the movement in England for prison reform. Mary Dyer, the namesake of unit C, was an early immigrant to Boston, where her repeated challenges to the Puritan establishment lead to her death by hanging. She became a symbol of the movement for liberty of conscience. Finally, Unit D, the northern-most one, was christened for Sybil Jones, who with her husband organized the first foreign mission of an American Yearly Meeting in Ram Allah, Palestine.


Page, William C., and Joanne R. Walroth. Penn College Historic District. National Register of Historic Places designation report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior/National Park Service,National Register report, 1996.


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