A Hot New University Grows Fast

Few QuadToday the term “Hot College” is frequently used in referring to Duke University. Its most obvious origin dates from a November 1984 article in the New York Times Magazine on colleges and universities in great demand. The cover of that magazine prominently featured a color photograph of Duke students in can't-miss Duke sweatshirts in the main quad with the chapel in the background.

But being a hot commodity wasn't something new for Duke. When the impressive new Gothic West Campus opened at the young university in September 1930, a curious public, prompted by vast publicity efforts, was watching every step. That interest in a hot new university quickly led to construction of Few Quadrangle and a change in residential life on campus.

From the launching of the university in December 1924 throughout the 1930s, a flood of illustrated booklets, flyers, newspaper articles, and official bulletins kept a curious public informed of the design and construction of the new campuses and of the expansion of the college to a university. It was a bold endeavor to open a woman's college, divinity, medical, nursing, and forestry schools, law school, and undergraduate and engineering curricula at that particular time.

The construction and staffing of the university seemed to defy convention coming at the time of the Great Depression. Interest of parents and students and even potential faculty remained high. University administrators, however, had to deal with the practical realities of cost, design, space use, performance, and delivery of services.

A new campus with new dormitory space required a shift of emphasis in enrollment. A decision was made to increase undergraduate enrollment gradually. Hence the increase to 500 women in the new Woman's College on East Campus was counterbalanced by a decrease of 420 men in Trinity College on the new West Campus.

The most dramatic changes were a new class of 93 students in medicine and nursing, and enrollment increases of 62 percent (to 678 students) in the graduate school, 78 percent (to 143 students) in the school of religion, and 66 percent (to 76 students) in the law school. The vast publicity of the new campus and the availability of scholarship money, however limited, immediately put pressure on admissions and enrollment.

Despite the economically trying times, enrollment steadily increased for both undergraduate and graduate students. In fact, each of the deans of the colleges and professional schools noted throughout the 1930s than more students sought admission than they could accommodate in their assigned facilities.

When the first addition to the Gothic campus was approved, it was decided that it would be a new graduate dormitory. Opened in September 1939, it was situated on the corner directly across from the union and diagonally across from the library. The large addition was named Few Quadrangle by the Board of Trustees in June 1939.

The quadrangle's blueprints illustrate a departure in planning for student life. The architectural renderings for the original dormitories on West Campus emphasize residential life. The only designated nonresidential space is for storage (trunk rooms), bathrooms, and an infrequent office and reception area. The overriding philosophy for student life seemed to be that dorms were for sleeping and studying in one's assigned room and further student-related activity took place elsewhere.

However, the awarding of the first new dormitory to graduate students reflects an apparent shift in thought on student amenities as well. Few Quadrangle, specifically Houses FF, GG, and HH, had the first designated commons rooms in blueprints on campus. These were large rooms with a distinctive feature such as an impressive double bay window or even a fireplace furnished with "living room type" furniture and suitable for conversation, cards, relaxing, or hosting a small reception.

In addition, a specific dining hall was designated exclusively for graduate students in the union. It appears that a separate living experience between graduate and undergraduate life was the intent. When Few Quadrangle opened in 1939, male students from law, divinity, medical, graduate, and forestry schools gladly occupied the sections. Medical students particularly appreciated the location because of their long hours and night work and its proximity to the hospital.

Commons rooms became an accepted part of dormitory living but the exact progression of the innovation on West Campus is difficult to track. Some men's fraternities had chapter rooms on East Campus, and the popular parlors in the women's dorms on East could have served as a model as well.

Nevertheless, it appears that by design none were included in the new living arrangement for West Campus in 1930. However, the men's fraternities may have initiated the practice within a few years after the opening of West since selected rooms were designated for public use. When this occurred the administration billed the fraternities for the space since it represented lost revenue.

When Trent Drive Hall, originally called the Men's Graduate Center, opened in 1952, Few Quadrangle became exclusively undergraduate. Independent sections apparently did not wish to have commons rooms or they relied on the public facilities provided in the Union building. The integration of men and women on East and West and the merger of the Woman's College and Trinity College in 1972, as well as the innovation of theme houses, resulted in the later demand for commons rooms throughout the residential dorms.

When the Board of Trustees named the new quadrangle after President Few, it was the first time a building of the university was named after a living individual. Nevertheless, the departure from tradition elicited universal praise. An editorial in the Chronicle titled "Quiet Tribute for a Quiet Man" noted that honoring Few was no difficult task. Particularly at a time when dictators were demanding attention throughout the world, the writer noted that Few's qualities of persuasion, thoughtful consideration, and tactful reconciliation merited attention and praise.

He concluded by saying "Few Quad will stand as the man now stands—quietly, powerfully, beautiful." The history of the dormitory also vividly reminds us of President Few's oversight of the transition of Trinity College to Duke University and of his penchant for quiet innovation.

Related Resources

Building Reference Collection, 1972-ongoing (view this collection guide)

© 1999. William E. King, University Archivist, 1972-2002.

This article originally appeared in Duke Dialogue, March 26, 1999.