SFA Story: The History of Stephen F. Austin State University

The Coming of War and Changes

Gibbs Hall

Talk of a dormitory for women dated back to 1927. Serious discussion began immediately after the programs of the New Deal made the project feasible. The Boy’s Dorm (it was never called a men’s dorm!) opened in the summer of 1936. An article hopeful about the funding for the new women’s project appeared in the newspaper in July of 1936 at the time the Board of Regents authorized $225,000.00 for its construction. The edifice was to be three stories in an overall “U” shape and have 70 rooms for 140 women. The first floor was to have a kitchen, a dining room, a library, a reception room, a writing room, a parlor, a music room, offices, and storage rooms. While every effort was made to make the building as economical as possible, Birdwell said the rooms were to be nicely furnished and have a window on an outside wall. “These facilities would add much to the capacity and service which the college has.” A spendid project which would benefit the college “immeasurably if ... completed,” he hastened to add. The Depression was still on, and Birdwell had traveled this road before. “We feel that the applications are sound in every way, and that if any of the many applications are granted by the government, ours will be among them.”

No PWA projects were funded in 1936, an election year. It took another two years of waiting and talking before the appropriations for the women’s dormitory came through. Construction did not start until the fall of 1938 under the supervision of architects Shirley Simon of Henderson and Hal Tucker of Nacogdoches. The administration took no room reservations during the spring semester, since they could not determine with certainty when the building completion would occur.

In the Spring of 1939, not many weeks before the acceptance of the women’s dorm, Miss Eleanor H. Gibbs, one of SFA’s favorite members of the original faculty and Head of the Art Department, died after a long illness. At the request of a large number of faculty members, students, and friends of the college, Birdwell decided to name the building after the beloved faculty member.

A designated subcommittee of the Board of Regents formally received the new fire-proof building on May 29. Although the structure was complete, rules for occupancy were set, and applications were being taken for the summer term, the equipment was still arriving and there was no dorm mother. At the last minute, furniture was rushed into place to get ready for a June 5 opening. An informal opening for the public was held on June 14, with the Dean of Women, Miss Sue Hill, and the residents ushering about 400 guest through the newest addition to SFA.

Gibbs Hall immediately became the new focal point for receptions and other events which required food and ambiance. Its proximinity to the President’s house made it easy for the first couple to use for such things as entertaining the Board of Regents. The Gibbs furnishings were gracious, its livingroom generous, and the grand piano in the lobby made receptions very nice; the courtyard was also frequently included as part of these events.

The women of Gibbs Hall have kept a scrapbook of events and lists of names of students who lived in the hall from 1940-1991 when it was closed. The books contain many wedding announcements which offer maiden and married names and would enable the gathering of oral history contacts for some interested historian.