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Mary Corn Wilkerson and Her Dormitory

By Frank Chamberlain

Throughout the history of Tarleton, private citizens of Stephenville have consistently been counted on to provide donations and aid to the institution. Among the first benefactors to step forward was a wealthy widow named Mary Corn Wilkerson. Her generous financial contribution resulted in the opening of the first women’s dorm on campus in 1910 (Guthrie 33, King 65).

A dormitory for women had been needed since the very early days of the college. However, dire financial shortcomings had prevented such an undertaking from reaching fruition. Female students were previously required to board in private residences. Although these girls were technically not staying on the campus proper, they were subject to strict rules of conduct. The proprietors of these boarding houses were expected to “cooperate with the faculty in maintaining proper order and decorum.” One such regulation stated that every student must be in her room by 7:30 p.m. Problems began to arise as the number of available homes became more limited (Grissom 22, Guthrie 61-62).

President Frank M. Martin seemed particularly consternated by the problem. His failure to procure funds for such a building probably played a large role in his decision to leave Tarleton in the middle of the 1907-08 academic year. Martin made several comments prior to his departure bemoaning the fact that he had not been able to oversee the construction of additional buildings on campus. He also made some pointed statements concerning the “lethargy of the people’ and the less than enthusiastic support that had been given to the struggling institution (King 60).

Although Martin would not personally witness the realization of his plans, his comments probably inspired Tribune publisher C.R. Coulter to write an editorial in his newspaper. This article, printed in the March 13, 1909 edition, called for many changes to be made to the university. One of these suggestions pointed out the necessity of building a women’s dormitory (King 64-65).

The twice-widowed Mrs. Corn-Wilkerson answered this call as if on cue. In May of that same year, she deeded 370 acres of land near Duffau to the university. She asked that this real estate be sold and the money be used to construct a dormitory for women. The new building would bear the eponymous title of the Mary Corn Wilkerson Dormitory (King 65-66).

This red brick building was two stories high and was located on the spot now occupied by the Hunewell Annex, parallel to McIlhaney Street. It was equipped with “all possible modern conveniences.” These luxuries included steam heat, electric lights, hot and cold running water, and indoor lavatories. Having all the boarding girls under one roof also simplified the matter of maintaining discipline (Grissom 32, Traditions 48).

In the next two decades, several annexes were added to the Wilkerson dormitory. These new additions were Chamberlain Hall (1925), Lewis Hall (1935), Moody Hall (1936), and Gough Hall (1938) (Guthrie 61).

Wilkerson dorm was demolished in 1955 and the Hunewell dormitory was constructed in its place eight years later. Moody, Gough, Hunewell, and the Hunewell Annex serve as the female dormitories today (Guthrie 117, Traditions 39.)

Grissom, Preston B. “The Development of John Tarleton College”. Unpublished M.A. thesis. West Texas State Teacher’s College, 1933.

Guthrie, Christopher. John Tarleton and his Legacy: The History of Tarleton State University, 1899-1999. Acton, MA: Tapestry Press, 1999.

King, C. Richard. The John Tarleton College Story: Golden Days of Purple and White. Austin, TX: Eakin Press, 1998.

Tarleton Traditions: Centennial Edition 1 (1 October, 1999): 1-48.