Lathrop Hall marks centennial year

April 16, 2010

by Gwen Evans

Lathrop Hall hits a milestone this year, and the School of Education is throwing a party worthy of the classic building perched along University Avenue. She celebrates her 100th year but is as regal, balanced and stately as the day she opened in 1910. Sure, she’s had work done, but mostly on the interior. Lathrop Hall was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. A major renovation was completed in 1998.

[photo] Lathrop Hall.

Lathrop Hall hits a milestone this year, she celebrates her 100th year, and the School of Education is throwing a party worthy of the classic building.

Photo: Jeff Miller

Built for the Department of Physical Training for Women, the original Lathrop Hall had a bowling alley, cafeteria, laundry, theater, three-story gymnasium with a running track, swimming pool, dressing rooms with lockers and showers, club rooms, social lounges, kitchens, reading rooms, home economics laboratories, classrooms and faculty offices.

Past residents included programs that fell beneath the women’s physical education umbrella, such as dance and kinesiology. In the early years, home economics was also housed there. Today, the Dance Program calls Lathrop Hall its home.

The reason for acknowledging the opening of Lathrop Hall is to celebrate more than just its longevity. At the time, Lathrop Hall was important for strengthening coeducation on campus. Although female students were officially admitted to the university in 1863, it would take decades before they would be allowed to take full advantage of all the campus offered and not be relegated to the periphery. For another perspective, women were not allowed to vote until a decade after Lathrop’s opening.

In addition to instruction and recreation space, Lathrop Hall served as a meeting center and unofficial student union for female students. Even after the Memorial Union was completed in 1929, which set aside several rooms for women, Lathrop Hall remained an important asset for women. It became a springboard for many of the advances of campus women during the 20th century, especially in the areas of physical education and athletics. The influence of that early work is still felt today.

In 1912, Blanche Trilling was hired to be director of the Women’s Gymnasium and chair of the Department of Physical Training for Women. She grew the programming and the department and eventually established the Athletic Conference of American College Women.

Trilling also launched Wisconsin’s legacy of being a pioneer in dance education by sending then-assistant professor Margaret H’Doubler to New York to research current trends in dance. H’Doubler’s assignment was to develop a dance program with educational merit worthy of inclusion in the curricula.

By 1926, the University of Wisconsin offered a degree in dance education, the first of its kind in the country. Curriculum for advanced degrees followed. H’Doubler’s pioneering work in dance education spread around the country as her students graduated and went on to establish dance programs at other universities and became notable performers and choreographers.

But the festivities surrounding the building’s anniversary are less about the building than what went on between its walls during the past 100 years. Alumni, faculty, staff and students will gather to reminisce (of course) but also to evaluate the events of the past. Concerts, lectures, panel discussions, tours and socials have been planned.

Mary Ann Roberton first walked into Lathrop Hall as a freshman in 1960. She earned a degree in physical education and returned in 1970 for a doctoral degree, with work in human motor development. She then joined the faculty, serving for 17 years. “The programs here were outstanding in the United States for many years. Without question, the people in the building, and the ideas they had, were responsible for the reputation,” says Roberton. “If I hadn’t found an intellectual environment here as a freshman, I would not have stayed in physical education.”

Intellectual environments can be found in unlikely places. Roberton says there was a kitchen on the first floor, and faculty and graduate students would gather there to debate and talk. Many students said they received their best lessons there by listening to faculty discuss the latest research and ideas in physical education.

Roberton says Lathrop Hall goes beyond inspiring the fondness people feel for places they experienced and loved when young. “It’s kind of mystical. It was a place of intellectual ferment and the strong beliefs of the faculty that we were working for the good of people,” says Roberton. “Being separate allowed strong women leaders to emerge and become role models for many to follow.”

The oldest attendee at the anniversary events will probably be alumna Rozell Rork Henkel, women’s physical education, class of 1937. If you need proof of the value of physical activity and how it can improve quality of life, consider this: Henkel celebrated her 94th birthday by going horseback riding.

Did you know?

Lathrop Hall was named for John Hiram Lathrop, the university’s first chancellor (1849–58). A university press release from 1981 gives a hint of what Lathrop may have thought about women and physical education. Lathrop’s great-granddaughter, Florence Yount, first visited Madison at age 67:

“She found some justice in the fact that the building named after her great-grandfather is a women’s gymnasium. ‘When I was young, I wanted to be a dancer and entertainer,’ she said. ‘But my maternal grandmother told me that nice girls didn’t do such things. So I went to the state teacher’s college. Well, when we went into Lathrop Hall, we found the portrait of John Hiram hanging in a room where they were holding a dance class, sort of a dance studio. Here were all these young women, dancing and cavorting right under my great-grandfather’s nose. Isn’t that wonderful?’”

Schedule of events

Faculty, staff and Lathrop 100th co-chairs professor emerita Mary “Buff” Brennan, former faculty member Mary Ann Roberton, and Dance Program professor Li Chiao-Ping have organized a robust schedule of events for the anniversary.

Some 100 alumni from dance and physical education are registered to attend; many of them will also be on the program as performers and speakers. The public will enjoy many of the events, especially the Dance Program’s spring concerts Thursday–Saturday evening, April 22–24. In addition, free public classes in yoga, flamenco and Pilates will be offered. All events take place in Lathrop Hall. All events are free except the Dance Program’s evening concerts, the luncheon and alumni dance concert. View details and purchase tickets.

Wednesday, April 21

1:20–3 p.m.: “Embodiments of Silence,” video screening

Thursday, April 22

11 a.m.–12:15 p.m.: “Miss H’Doubler as Gender Architect,” lecture

1:20–3 p.m.: “A Legacy in Lathrop: Margaret H’Doubler and the Roots of Dance in American Education,” panel discussion

8 p.m.: Dance Program Spring Concert

Friday, April 23

8:30–10 a.m.: Complimentary breakfast and tours of Lathrop Hall

10–10:50 a.m.: Dean’s welcome and presentation of School of Education Alumni Awards in dance and physical education

11 a.m.–12:30 p.m.: “The Way We Were: Lathrop Hall, Women’s Physical Education, Dance, and the Wisconsin Way,” panel discussion

12:45–1:45 p.m.: 100th Anniversary Celebration Luncheon

2–3 p.m.: “The Different Paths We’ve Taken,” panel discussion

3:15–4:15 p.m.: “The Men of Lathrop Hall,” panel discussion

4:30–6 p.m.: 100th Anniversary Celebration Reception and Social

8 p.m.: Dance Program Spring Concert. A post-concert reception follows.

Saturday, April 24

10–11 a.m.: “Women’s Athletics: Then and Now,” panel discussion

1–3 p.m.: Alumni Dance Concert

3–5 p.m.: “Interarts & Technology (IATECH) Revisited,” installation

8 p.m.: Dance Program Spring Concert