Courtesy of Rush Rheese Library

Courtesy of Rush Rhees Library

In the world of universities, Rochester is the baby of the family. The world’s oldest university, Università di Bologna, dates back to 1088; Oxford University’s teaching faculty started in 1096; and even on this continent, Harvard University hails from 1636. Our own 1850 origin seems hardly worth noting.

In reality, however, age means nothing. Our campus is bursting with signs of a staggeringly impressive history —  you just have to look for it. And so I did.

Most students, myself included, are guilty of looking intently down at their phones while walking around campus, hanging their heads from sleep deprivation or scanning the ground for ice patches during most of the year. But if you have the time or presence of mind to look up at any building we have here, you will see that it bears a name. A name you’ve undoubtedly seen printed on your schedule, used 100 times in conversation, shortened to a nickname for convenience, but never thought of as anything other than the name of a building on campus.

Through online resources and the archives of the Rare Books, Special Collections & Preservation Library, I went on a veritable trip through time and put a face and story to the names behind seven of our most prominent buildings: Susan B. Anthony Residence Hall, Carlson Library, Dewey Hall, Hylan Hall, Todd Union, Gilbert Hall and Rush Rhees Library. And if you take away anything from this article, it should just be the absurdity of having not one but two buildings on campus named after people whose first name is Chester.

Susan B. Anthony Residence Hall

Before you say anything, no, I’m not assuming you are an idiot and don’t know who Susan B. Anthony is. But you probably don’t know why our largest freshman dorm has her name on it.

Prior to 1900, Rochester was an all-male establishment, as most universities were at the time. Of course, Anthony, being a resident of the city of Rochester and also a general badass, took it upon herself at the age of 76 to not only fight for women’s suffrage on a national scale, but to also take on the task of winning women the right to attend UR. What’s one more time-consuming project at such a ripe age, right?

In 1898, the Board of Trustees here told her that they wouldn’t even consider her proposal for women’s admittance unless she could raise $50,000 — no small feat even in today’s dollar values, let alone over 100 years ago.

Called away from Rochester by her duties to the suffrage movement, Anthony left the fundraising to a committee of Rochesterian woman — when she came back two years later, they were still short and only one day away from the deadline.

In a moment of utter passion for her cause, Anthony relinquished her life insurance  in order to provide the remaining funds, and the Board agreed to admit women to the college starting the following fall. What a boss.

Carlson Library

We all know that Rochester is the home of revolutionary companies like Xerox. But in the absence of a building with the company name, not many know that we are in the nominal presence of the man who made Xerox possible. I am speaking, of course, of Chester Carlson, inventor of the process of xerography — or “dry writing” — which remains the world’s method of photocopying today.

In a speech at the library dedication on Oct. 2, 1972, University President Wilson Allen Wallis said, “I hope that our students, particularly, will want to know what kind of man Chester Carlson was, and will want to learn from the achievements of his life, not least of which … was a real appreciation for how useful a library can be.”

Dewey Hall

Although it would admittedly be awesome if this building were named after the inventor of the Dewey Decimal System, it’s just as cool that it’s named after Professor Chester Dewey, who was one of the original professors here at the school’s founding in 1850.

Dewey taught chemistry and natural philosophy at UR and was also an avid botanist and documenter of weather, though I can’t imagine his records of Rochester’s weather were that exciting, as they probably read “Monday through Friday: Rain and Snow.”

Hylan Hall

One tends to think of Amelia Earhart and Charles Lindbergh in terms aviation firsts, but now you can add Ray Hylan to that list. Hylan was an upstate New York barnstormer — a pilot who does aeronautical stunts — and flew some of the first planes ever built.

Not only was Hylan a pioneer aviator, but he was also a member of the UR President’s Society. He founded the Ray Hylan School of Aeronautics during World War II, and he later came to own both Pittsford Plaza and the Wilmorite Corporation, which built Marketplace Mall. So the next time you take the Green Line, think of Ray.

Todd Union

If you’d rather be here with a gorgeous, tree-filled campus than on a city campus, you have George W. Todd to thank. Todd is perhaps the only non-UR-affiliated person after whom a campus building is named.

Because of his close ties to both George Eastman and UR President Benjamin Rush Rhees, he was able to convince those in positions of power that the campus should be moved from its previous Prince Street location in the city to its current location.

Thanks to his brilliant suggestion, he was awarded a building in his honor, despite having no official ties to the University.

Gilbert Hall

Donald Gilbert was actually a student here and graduated in 1921. He later moved up in the ranks of the University, becoming a professor of economics and then the Dean of the Division of Graduate Studies. He expanded the Division into the Graduate School, which was  then elected to an association of the top 37 graduate schools in the country.

In the University’s press release about the posthumous naming of Gilbert Hall in June 1960, it was said that “the University of Rochester will honor one of its most beloved personalities,” and that’s not hard to believe after hearing all of his accomplishments and seeing the smile on his face.

Rush Rhees Library

It’s surprising how many students have no idea after whom the school’s architectural cornerstone is named.

Benjamin Rush Rhees was the University’s third President, coming to the school in 1900 after it had experienced a brief four-year period of anarchy, and remained its president for 35 years.

Rhees’ presidency was responsible for the biggest and most influential changes this campus has ever seen — yes, even bigger than getting rid of clubbable meals. Under his administration, the Eastman School of Music, the Medical Center and the College for Women were all founded, and the University made its move to its current River Campus location.

Ironically, Rhees’ son, Rush Rhees (confusing, right?) attended UR as a student of philosophy, but was expelled in 1922 for “asking insolent questions,” according to former Professor of History Arthur J. May.

Now you basically know everything there is worth knowing about the campus, and if you accidentally start spouting out random facts as you walk past buildings, you can just say to your friends, “I read it in ‘Hogwarts: A History.’”

Just kidding, give me some credit for doing all the research.

Sklar is a member of the class of 2014.



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