The Rise of Universities

UNIVERSITIES, like cathedrals and parliaments, are a product of the Middle Ages. The Greeks and the Romans had no universities in the sense in which the word has been used for the past seven or eight centuries. They had higher education, but the terms are not synonymous. Their instruction was not organized into the form of permanent institutions of learning. A great teacher like Socrates gave no diplomas. Only in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries emerges those features of organized education with which we are familiar. In these matters we are the heirs of Paris and Bologna, not of Athens and Rome.

Throughout the period of its origins the medieval university had no libraries, or buildings of its own. The medieval university was, “built of men”. Such a university had no board of trustees and published no catalogue; had no student societies — except so far as the university itself was fundamentally a society of students. Indeed, historically, the word “university” had real no connection to learning. It meant only the totality of a group, whether that group was of barbers, carpenters, or students did not matter. Only in time did it come to be limited to gilds of masters and students. The modern university is the lineal descendant of medieval Europe. The fundamental organization is the same, and the historic continuity is unbroken.

The occasion for the rise of universities was a great revival of learning in the twelfth century. Prior to that, European knowledge was limited to the seven liberal arts of the early Middle Ages, grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, astronomy, geometry, and music. However between 1100 and 1200 there was an influx of new knowledge into western Europe of the works of Aristotle, Euclid, Ptolemy, the works of Greek physicians, new arithmetic, and texts of Roman law. 

In 1079 Pope Gregory VII had issued a papal decree for all cathedrals and monasteries to establish schools for the training of clergy. The new knowledge burst the bonds of the cathedral and monastery schools; it drew across great distances  [those] who would learn and teach. In Paris and Bologna they formed the academic gilds which have given us our best definition of a university; a society of masters and scholars. 

A student class appeared and by 1158 it was sufficiently important in Italy to receive a formal grant of rights and privileges from Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. By this time Bologna had become the location of hundreds of students, from Italy and beyond the Alps. 

University housing starts.

Students in the university towns of 13th century Europe, such as Bologna and Paris, were far from home and undefended. They united for mutual protection and assistance, and organized as a means of protection against [price gouging by] townspeople. The price of rooms and food rose with the arriving demand of crowds of new students, and individual students were helpless against profiteering. 

United, the students could bring the town to terms by the threat of departure. The universities of that era had no buildings, and they were free to move, and there are historic examples of such events. Better for the townsmen to rent one’s rooms for less, than not rent them at all, and so the student organizations secured the power to fix the prices of lodgings and books through their representatives.

Another university institution, which goes back to twelfth-century Paris, is the college, which was originally merely an endowed hall-of-residence. The object of the earliest college-founders was simply to secure board and lodging for poor scholars who could not pay for it themselves; but in course of time the colleges became centers of life and teaching as they had space available, absorbing much of the activity of the university. The colleges had buildings and endowments, while the university did not.

The universities began to grow from the residence halls.

As the 13th century progressed there was the problem of success. Thousands of students flocked to the expanding universities. As an example, almost 20,000 students were enrolled at the University in Paris whose total population at that time was only half of that number.

Impoverished students who could not afford to live with townsmen camped in the fields in tents, or burrowed themselves into the sides of the surrounding hills. Much later they started to rent special big houses that became known under various names: Socii (Italy), Pedagogies (France), Bursen (Germany) and Halls (England). 

Thus we owe current term “halls” to English medieval student housing, notably in Oxford. Halls were originally governed by students themselves until around the15th century. The self-governed halls were a source of constant problems for the schools. The universities reduced their problems by establishing the collegiate system of organization, taking control of the student housing (the “college”) and putting it under the authority of university officials and ending the self-governed halls as independent bodies. This system flourished from the 14th through the 18th centuries, then started to decline in the 19th century in continental Europe. In protestant Germany, collegiate type housing was perceived as a secular version of monkish life, while in catholic France following the revolution, the state took over universities without providing housing facilities.

Residence life in America

Residence life in America started with the founding of 9 colonial colleges. From the very beginning, they all had college housing since they were all organized on the English model. Many of their students were much younger than today, 13 to 14 year old, and many came from distant towns and villages. Boarding was a necessity in 18th century America. However, the very idea of residence halls become suspect in the 19th century due to fights, duels and murders in college residence halls. Faculty and staff members were scared of the thought of being asked to go into a hall, and the halls were viewed by the public as places where one learns only bad manners.

As a result, college and university authorities did not care much for student housing. Many residence halls had their function changed by being converted into classrooms, and the funds previously designated for the construction and maintenance of residence halls were allocated for another purposes. There was considered to be no educational reason for boarding students on university premises, as the personal growth of students was considered to be outside the responsibility of the university and the sole objectives of academic institutions should only be research and instruction.

So the boarding house model returned. Then having returned, it would die again.

The Revival of Dormitories and Residence Halls in the Early 1900’s

As more students began to attend college, there was an insufficient supply of rooms at boarding houses and the prices of  accommodation was accordingly high. A new philosophy supported the renewal of residence halls. College education prepares not only for professional careers but for public and political life as well, and future citizens learn not only in the classroom but also in their halls, as the strongest lines of social influence are always horizontal. As such, it is better to use productively the potential of housing than to ignore it. Also, residence life improved college spirit by group living and it leveled disparity between rich and poor students. 

Women’s colleges led the way by providing boarding to their students and by showing a way to establish control over the student’s behaviors with curfews, education in social graces, and “preceptresses” (later called “Hall Mothers”, then much later “Hall Directors”).  But, all was far from being satisfactory. Housing facilities could accommodate only a portion of all enrolled students, and these residence halls provided little more than shelter and varying degrees of social interaction. The guiding philosophy of the time being that they stood “in loco parentis” concerning the physical and moral welfare of students, but this was understood more as a license to impose restrictions than to foster real student development. Curfews and daily inspections of the rooms were common and students were asked to sign out whenever they leave the campus stating destination and expected time of return. Visitations were limited and dressing code (ties, skirts) were common.

The Beginning of UNT: The North Texas Normal College

The first building on the North Texas Normal campus was the Normal Building, which was completed in 1891, a fence kept out straying livestock. The private college reached an important milestone when it became state-funded in 1901. Its students lived in boarding houses around campus, following strict curfews and regulations regarding conduct, visitors, telephone use and buggy riding.

As it grew, North Texas Normal began to feel the disadvantage of its semi-rural location away from the heart of Denton and the transformation to a state school in 1901 generated demand for residential lots around the college. In 1900 the fairgrounds occupied a great deal of acreage near the Normal. A public auction was held in October 1903, and it disposed of the fairgrounds property, with the result that several hundred boardinghouses and private residences [would soon be] built in the campus area.

Getting Started At The North Texas Normal College

The prospective students of the North Texas Normal Teachers College arrived in Denton by train, and were instructed to go by buggy, or after 1907 by streetcar to the [North Texas] Normal office, where they would be aided in finding a boarding house. The place of residence was to be chosen from an approved list, and no move could be made during the [school] term without prior permission for good reason.
Within 10 years there were eighty “first-class” boarding housed near the campus and the number was to rise to nearly 200. The boardinghouse proprietor became an arm of the Normal staff in enforcing regulations governing student behavior. The houses in turn were subject to inspection by the president and the the faculty to make sure that regulations concerning sanitation and the provision of heating and lighting were observed, as exampled by this letter sent out by President Kendal in 1903:


North Texas State Normal
Denton, Texas, January 8, 1903

To the Heads of Families With Whom Normal Students Board;

As the winter season is now upon us, I desire to call the attention of each and all of you to the matter of fuel for the students who are members of your household. It is hardly necessary to say that the fuel, whether wood or coal, should be located where it can be reached easily in good or bad weather by the students, without undo exposure.

If coal is used, a scuttle, coal tongs and shovel should be provided for each room. Where wood alone is burned, it should be seasoned and cut the proper length for the stove or fireplace used. In homes where girls board, the fuel, whether coal or wood, should be placed in boxes or scuttles near the girl’s room, so that in no case will a girl be forced to carry her fuel or kindling up steps or stairways, or go to the coal house or back yard for either.

 I do not deem it necessary to argue the propriety of this measure. The reasons are obvious. Parents of the girls ask me to place their daughters in homes where the fuel is properly furnished them. Other schools of equal rank with ours meet these just requirements and those who furnish homes for the girls of the North Texas State Normal must not do less.  Some complaint, not by students but by parents, has already been made.  

I sincerely trust that in the future no cause for objection of this character may exist.  Asking of you as a friend to the Normal, hearty co-operation in the above suggestions, with the best interest of all concerned fully in mind,

I am very respectfully,
President North Texas State Normal.

A Dormitory At Last

Just before President Marquis death in April, 1934 he developed plans for a women’s dormitory, women then being the majority of the student body. [The dormitory was to be built with Federal] Public Works Administration financial assistance. At a February 1934 meeting, the regents learned of a federal requirement for “assurance of occupancy of a dormitory to capacity”. The board [quickly] authorized the president to require students to live in dormitories constructed with Public Works Administration funds. An architect’s plan for a women’s dormitory was approved by the board in May 1934.

North Texas received a federal loan of $160,000 and an outright grant $50,000 to build a dormitory with PWA funds. In November 1934 the Board of Regents awarded contracts for the new dormitory, which would be known as Marquis Hall, in memory of the late president. Construction began in 1935 and the building went into use in 1936, the first college-owned dormitory in the 46 years of its history. However, when completed, Marquis Hall required an additional PWA allotment of $22,000 for fixtures.

Expansion Problems 

Terrill and Chilton hallBy the end of 1937, North Texas needed to purchase more land for expansion. [When President] McConnell complained to the board that property owners were asking exorbitant prices for property, the board “…authorized condemnation proceedings be had by the attorney general, or the proper authority, against certain properties desired in the expansion program”, and also to secure federal funding to construct a second unit of Marquis Hall and other buildings. So, in June 1938, contracts were issued for both a women’s and a men’s dormitory. The women’s residence was named Terrill Hall, and the men’s became Chilton Hall.

Dormitory construction led to the moving of [several] wood frame buildings which would also be used as student housing. From the Terrill Hall site two frame houses, known as the Marquis Hall annexes, were moved to Avenue A next to another house bought by the college. The group of three houses became known as the College Tri-Houses. From the Chilton men’s dormitory site, several houses were moved to a site on Highland. The boarding houses thus created were used in many cases to house athletes.

By the fall of 1939, five college boardinghouses for women were ready. Coke, Throckmorton and Hamilton Halls on Avenue A, Murrah and Bell Halls on Highland Street with Runnel Hall, the dining hall, central to all five.

Room and board ranged from $26 to $27.50 a month in Marquis and Terrill Halls, $22.50 a month in Chilton Hall. In the cooperative boardinghouses, with students staying four to a room, the room and board charges per month was $12.50. Boardinghouse fees in the approved zone surrounding the campus were in the range of $22.50 to $26.50 a month.

The War Years

By the fall of 1942 the NTSTC campus was immersed in the war effort with numerous war-related training programs in operation. But, the largest group of men in uniform on the campus were not enrolled in a college program. They were army men sent to a glider training center in Denton. The only connection to the college was the contract by which the government rented Chilton Hall to house and feed between 200 and 500 cadets. As a result, male civilian students had to be moved out and housed elsewhere in the campus area. The decrease in demand for pilot related training led to cancellation of the contract for Chilton Hall as of December 31, 1943.

Post-War Temporary Housing

In 1945 [NTSTC President] McConnell described the housing situation at the college as “critical and alarming.” Dormitories had been filled three months before the opening of the fall semester, and every room in private homes listed with the college had been filled by August 1. McConnell estimated that one thousand students were turned away because they could not find places to live.

[The fastest additional housing and classroom space came by using temporary government surplus buildings.] In 1945, the first of 50 prefabricated huts were acquired through a federal lease. They were moved from McGregor, Texas, to a site on Bradley Street, north of Oak Street, and rented to GI married students for $25 per month. This housing area, known as Vet Village, eventually doubled in size, and like most of its kind on other campus, outlived the postwar emergency period. 

[Three years later] changes in the postwar student population became more evident on campus. There were far more married students and the college worried that neither college-owned nor off-campus housing was designed for them. Responsibility for emergency post-war housing had shifted from the veteran’s home communities to the college towns. As a result, “living arrangements such as are provided by temporary makeshifts are tolerated but not welcomed, either by students or the college”. 

The student code [which] stretched back to “Dr. Bruce’s Normal”, specified strict behavioral standards for students. Women students were required to live in dormitories. Since most of the dorms were for women, only freshmen men were required to live in university facilities and then only until the available spaces had been filled. 

Men students were scattered over a wide area, and it was no longer possible to require all students to live in dormitories or approved campus homes. Men students were advised that they could be admitted only if they could take care of their own living arrangements. 

[Continued expansion led to acquiring] four two-story barrack structures, moved to Denton from Camp Barkeley, Texas, [and used] to house 240 single veterans. The moving and set-up cost were paid by the federal government. [Two of the barracks] were located south of Chilton Hall, future site of the Quadrangle Dormitories. [Another] two bachelor’s officers quarters were moved to the west end of the campus. These dormitories, which housed 294 men, were named Legett Halls. The administration also made plans for two more women’s dormitories. Instead, one large dormitory was authorized in February 1946 as Bruce Hall.


Irma E.L. CephasThe first black undergraduate student at NTSC was a 41 year-old woman, Mrs. Irma E.L. Cephas, who commuted from her home in Fort Worth. However, in one of his most controversial “proceed with caution” decisions, President Matthews ruled at first that no dormitory rooms would be available for black students. They had to commute from their homes or live in private homes in “the colored part of town”. However, the Denton paper noted that in the first summer after Mrs. Cephas enrolled, 2 black women students lived in a women’s dormitory. This procedure was relaxed gradually with the admission of some older [black] women school teachers in the summer and with the eventual housing of a few black women in a special section of Oak Street Hall. It was even longer before black men [would] be integrated in a dormitory. 

“Gradualism” continued to be the pattern in providing dormitory space for the black students. The pattern of women graduate students being assigned space in summer was the entry point in 1956. In 1957 the senior women’s dormitory director sent a memo to the president headed “SPECIAL STUDENTS (assigned for summer term)”, followed by the names of nine women. At the top of the is file is a note in Matthew’s handwriting: “File: Joe L. Atkins”. This was the code method of recording the extent of desegregation of dormitories. 

Nothing had changed by 1961. The president answered a Houston principal who wrote the graduate office for information about dormitory space for “Negro women teachers who want to attend the graduate summer school.” His answer said: “We have had a few [negros], some in the dormitories in the summer. Because of the physical facilities available we have never had more than 7 in any one term. I assume that since we have not had any  change in the facilities which are to be used in the summer of 1961 that this will be the case for us for the summer. 

Applications are filled on a first come first serve basis.” 

At the same time, a memo from the president’s files suggest that there was a least one Negro male assigned to West Dormitory in the summer of 1961. 

One of the first black residents of West Hall was Mickey Burnim, class of 1970, later, Dr Mickey Burnim, provost and vice-president for academic affairs at North Carolina Central University. He became the first black student senate president, president of both the junior and senior classes. He said “The success that I enjoyed while at NT was because I was given the chance.”  

[Housing Contribution To] Faculty Development

The Texas Legislature [of the 1960’s] had declined to bring Texas salaries up to the national [average] as this would have required major tax increases. However, the administration of President Matthews was determined to increase the percentage of faculty with earned doctoral degrees and the raising faculty salaries [in order] to be more competitive with larger Texas universities and universities elsewhere. One of the methods in increasing salaries was to transfer funds from other sources. So, for example, in 1967 $200,000 in housing revenue was transferred [from the Housing Department] to [the] educational and general funds. 

Abandonment of “In loco parentis” 

{The term “in loco parentis” is latin for “in the place of a parent” and refers to the legal responsibility of a person or organization to take on some functions and responsibilities of a parent. It allows institutions such as colleges and schools to act in the best interests of the students as they see fit, although not allowing what would be considered violations of the students’ civil liberties.} 

In 1968, with the new Kamerick administration, NT ended several practices: university approval of off-campus housing and forbidding women students to enter a man’s apartment, subject to expulsion. Women’s housing regulations were modified almost immediately to relax curfew hours and standards for “appropriateness” in dress. The age at which women would no longer be required to live in a dorm was lowered to 22 and one dormitory was set aside for graduate students. A new dormitory, Kerr Hall, had two separate tower wings and one was set aside for men and one for women, providing in effect the first “coeducational dorm” on the campus.

College Inn

In 1970 sorority women were allowed to relocate their “houses” from the university-owned Chilton Hall to the [then] privately owned College Inn. In 1985 the university bought [College] Inn from Bass Brothers Enterprises of Fort Worth, paying $3 million plus closing cost for [the] property that was appraised at $4.75 million. The purchase would be paid for totally by income from room rentals.

We Demand

On January 14, 1969, faculty members found in their campus mailboxes a mimeographed sheet entitled “End University Complicity With Racism”. [The letters] preamble stated:

“North Texas State University is a racist institution. We demand  that the administration take an official position on these existing practices.” The [housing related] practices for which an official position was demanded included “Housing discrimination in approved apartments and rooming houses”. 

About a month later another one page [list] of demands was issued, which included; “refuse to approve housing where blacks were discriminate against, making dormitory rooms available to blacks on the basis of date of application, provide black counselors for black students in the dormitories,” [along with a list of other non-housing related demands].

These demands were subject to a February 19 meeting of the [University] Administrative Council. Members sought to list ways in which they could respond to the concerns of the black students. [Among other things, the] Student personnel deans reported [on] their plans to drop [requirements to live in approved] off-campus housing[,] they [also] recommended that dormitory rooms be assigned by the director of housing rather than by dormitory directors.  

[Contributing To Academics :] Starting TAMS

mcconnell hallIn 1986, Dean Jim Miller of the College of Education proposed a specialized mathematics and science program for high school students at UNT. The Texas Legislature authorized the creation of the Texas Academy of Mathematics and Sciences (TAMS) in 1987. Participants in this two-year program simultaneously completed what would have been their junior and senior high school years, as well as the first two years of college wile in residence on the UNT campus. TAMS was created strictly as a residential program, with all student required to live in a university residence hall, McConnell Hall, which was enlarged to accommodate their numbers. 

Future Plans

The current master plan expects continued growth of housing. Although there is no timeline for implementation, envisioned is an expansion of Victory Hall, called “Victory Village”, new residence halls on the current Traditions Field next to Santa Fe and Traditions Hall to be called “Fouts Village”, new buildings behind Maple Hall and Clark Hall called “Eagle Drive Housing” as well as new buildings on the north-east corner of campus called “Welch Avenue Housing”.

Looking to the future: A lightly edited extract from 2013 Master Plan

A important aspect of accommodating growth at UNT is providing sufficient housing and resident life facilities.

New residence halls will be concentrated around existing housing and dining facilities to create communities close to recreation and services.

Traditional Housing

Existing Maple Street housing may be expanded with new residence halls and courtyards lining Eagle Drive (replacing most of the existing parking lots) and creating a new image for the edge of campus. Dining in this area is expanded with a dining room and patio on Avenue C. An additional student residence hall may be added to the Honors housing complex shaping the edge of Gateway Circle. Smaller housing buildings may be located on sites north of Maple and along Chestnut. They offer opportunities for unique programs bringing freshman students together based on shared interests.

The plan for Fouts Village includes significant new housing, close to existing housing, dining and student rec facilities. The buildings would be organized around courtyards and quadrangles to create a new village appealing to sophomores and juniors. The second phase of Victory Village Housing (next to the existing Victory Hall) is also planned, because of its increased distance from the academic core, this location would be considered more appropriate for sophomores and juniors than freshmen.

Medium Range Plan

The next phase looks at meeting the enrollment growth goals of 45,000 students (estimated after 2020) with expanded academic, research and housing space. Following the planned redevelopment of the Fouts Field area, initial projects within this area would include the first phase of a significant housing village. This would expand housing in the existing core of the campus.

Long Range Plan

The ‘final’ phase looks beyond the goal of 45,000 students, toward the continued growth of the campus. Specific projects within this phase include the completion of several significant housing projects. Specifically, the remaining infill housing around the campus core, made possible by the completion of perimeter parking garages and improved pedestrian connections across campus and the completion of the housing village and new dining facilities in Fouts Field.

Beyond Long Range

There is no specific time frames associated with these goals. Student Apartment Style Housing Graduate, married student and family apartment-style housing would fall under this category. Once a significant mass of lower division housing is constructed, the need for upper division, graduate, and even staff/faculty housing may become evident and more feasible. These projects could be University-initiated, or UNT could partner with student housing developers or other third-party entities to ensure the continued growth in the support that UNT Housing gives to the UNT campus and the students it serves.


This essay is a series of lightly edited extracts from the following sources

“THE RISE OF UNIVERSITIES”, by “Charles Homer Haskins, Gurney Professor of History and Political Science, Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Science, Harvard University; Henry Holt and Company, New York; The Colver Lectures in Brown University, 1923.
UNT WILLIS LIBRARY, Special Collections
University of North Texas, Willis Library
University of North Texas Press
University of North Texas Press