Foster Hall - University of Chicago
by: chicago designslinger
[Foster Hall - University of Chicago (1893) Henry Ives Cobb, architect /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
In 1830, Dr. John Foster of Dublin, New Hampshire had a brother stationed at Fort Dearborn, a military outpost in what was then considered to be the wild west. In April of that year Amos Foster purchased a piece of land near the Fort when the government began auctioning-off large sections of the open prairie to help finance a canal project the feds planned to build. When Amos was shot and killed by another soldier in 1832, Dr. Foster came west to see what his brother had purchased, returned to New Hampshire, came back again in 1835, bought more land, went back east, married New Hampshire native Nancy Smith, returned to Chicago, and stayed.
[Foster Hall - University of Chicago, 1130 E. 59th Street, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
The Fosters first lived on Lake Street, but when their neighborhood became too congested, noisy and commercial, they moved over to Madison Street, which was farther out in the country. Foster, for whom Foster Avenue is named, practiced medicine while buying and selling more and more real estate - which made him a very wealthy man. In 1860 he and Nancy moved even farther out of the city center and built a home on another large piece of acreage near Fullerton and Clark Streets. Unfortunately for the Fosters they hadn't moved quite far enough. As the massive fire of 1871 sputtered to a close in the early morning hours of October 10th, their large frame dwelling went-up in flames, one of the last to be consumed by the conflagration. Then in 1874, the doctor turned real estate mogul died at the age of 78, leaving his wife Nancy a substantial fortune.
[Foster Hall - University of Chicago, Hyde Park - Kenwood National Historic District /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
In October 1892, William Rainey Harper, with seed money provided by John D. Rockefeller, opened the doors of the newly recreated University of Chicago in the city's Hyde Park neighborhood. The paint on the walls of the men's dormitory and the single classroom building were still wet when the students arrived, the first structures in a multi-building quadrangle drawn-up by architect Henry Ives Cobb. Although Rockefeller had provided the cash to get the ball rolling, Harper had to raise more capital to continue construction and hire staff. Back in the Spring of 1892 Marshall Field had made a $100,000 donation to the university with the proviso that the school raise an additional $1 million dollars in 90 days for buildings and equipment. So Harper set out on a fund-finding mission, and one stop on the money hunting trail was at a meeting of the Women's Club of Chicago where Harper addressed the need to provide young women with on-campus housing, just as they had already done for the men.
[Foster Hall - University of Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
From the get-go President Harper and his benefactor had made the decision that the university would be a coeducational institution. It wasn't unheard of, but outside the norm. Coeducational dorms on the other hand were so far beyond the realm of possibility that it wouldn't have even occurred to anyone to consider them an option. U of C wouldn't have coed dorms until 1958, and even then the floors were segregated, men on one, women on another. His Women's Club speech garnered a $50,000 pledge from Nancy Smith Foster, among others, and Cobb got to work drawing-up plans for a women's dorm on the southeastern corner of the quadrangle, as far away from the men located on the northwest corner as the campus plot would allow. When Nancy Foster Hall opened at the start of the fall semester in 1893, its 85-year-old benefactor was too ill to attend. She had made the trip down to Hyde Park from her post-fire Fullerton Avenue home while the women's dorm was under construction, and thereafter kept up with the progress through photographs that were sent to her at home. By the time Nancy Foster died in 1902 at the age of 94, she had donated another $10,000 for an addition to Foster Hall and had been joined by fellow Chicagoans and benefactors Elizabeth Kelly and Mary Beecher in providing the funds to complete the Woman's Quadrangle at the University of Chicago.