Living and Learning in the Heart of Campus: The Renovated Agnes E. Wells Quad Student Residences

Goodbody Hall
IU Bloomington
Bloomington, Indiana

Monday, September 25, 2017

A Sense of Community and Learning in the Heart of Campus

The development of campus housing in the United States can be traced as far back as 1636, when Harvard University, following the model of the residential colleges at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge in England, a model which dates back almost a thousand years, placed student housing in close proximity to classrooms and faculty offices and housing.1

Later, Thomas Jefferson would, of course, found and design the famous campus of the University of Virginia as what he called “an academical village,” with student housing located near academic buildings—housing that, in Jefferson’s words, could “afford that quiet retirement so friendly to study…”2 This student housing remains there to this day and this area of UVA’s campus is known as The Lawn, and accommodation there is allocated to their highest achieving seniors.

Today, we dedicate a superb renovation project that has once again made this building, Goodbody Hall—and the adjacent Memorial Hall—welcoming homes for students, right in the heart of the Bloomington campus. Like the student residences of UVA’s Lawn, these iconic buildings of the Wells Quad will, for many years to come, “afford that quiet retirement so friendly to study.” They will foster a sense of community and learning that will continue to grow and thrive here in the historic core of the campus, and they will provide accommodation for some of IU’s highest achieving students.

The Impact of Residence Halls on Student Success

For much of the 1800s, most American universities—including IU—followed a German model, in which students lived off-campus, where they were encouraged to learn to become self-sufficient adults. Historian Thomas Clark's account of the early years of Indiana University contains many stories of life in Bloomington’s boarding houses, where students in the 1850s, for example, paid between $1 and $2.50 for room and board per week—and where they were exhorted to "think intellectually on all subjects at all times, even while hoeing the cabbages in the (boarding house) garden."3

By the early 20th century, however, it had become clear that on-campus residence halls were needed to ensure a vibrant academic life for IU students and to foster their academic success.

In the late 1920s, E.T. Walker surveyed the scholastic records and living arrangements of thousands of students as part of his doctoral dissertation at the University of Chicago. His simple conclusion was that “the residence hall [has] the highest correlation to success in the university”4 and this carried profound implications for the organization of American universities in the ensuing decades.

More recently, Indiana University’s own Chancellor’s Professor Emeritus George Kuh, one of the world's leading scholars on student success, and his colleagues at the National Survey of Student Engagement, confirmed that students who live on campus interact more with faculty and their peers, are generally more satisfied with their undergraduate experience, and report greater personal growth and development. “Living on campus,” Professor Kuh and his colleagues write, “has a direct, positive effect on learning outcomes and the greatest total effect on learning outcomes of any institutional characteristic.”5

Research also shows that thematic living-learning communities, like the Wells Quad STEM community, have a powerful influence on learning outcomes and student success.6

No doubt, one of the primary reasons for this success is the sense of community that residence halls and learning communities create and sustain.

Indiana University students can once again find that sense of community here in the Agnes E. Wells Quadrangle, part of the great historic heart of Indiana University.

A Brief History of The Wells Quadrangle

The Wells Quad has a rich history, dating back to the 1920s. The names of its buildings (and the name of the quad itself) honor and pay tribute to some of the most important women in IU history—IU’s first woman student (who was also IU’s first woman graduate and its first woman faculty member) and to some of IU’s earliest and most distinguished women administrators.

Construction of Memorial Hall, the quad’s first building, was made possible by the Memorial Fund Drive, a post-World War I philanthropic campaign to raise funds for buildings to honor members of the IU community who had served in the U.S. military during times of war. It opened in 1925, as IU’s first women’s dormitory, with room to house 205 women students.

In 1937, IU’s second women’s dormitory, this building, originally known as Forest Hall, opened. The Indianapolis News called the dorm “one of the most beautiful and practical buildings on campus… of fine architectural design, with every facility for comfort and study.”7 Forest Hall was later re-named Goodbody Hall in honor of Louise Ann Goodbody, who served as IU’s Dean of Women from 1906 to 1911.

In 1939, the quad’s two other dormitories, Sycamore Hall and Beech Hall opened. Beech Hall was later re-named Morrison Hall in honor of IU’s first woman student, Sarah Parke Morrison. Built during the Great Depression, both of these women’s dormitories were funded, in part, by grants from the Public Works Administration.

In 1959, IU’s Trustees approved the naming of the quad in honor of the late Agnes E. Wells, a professor of mathematics and astronomy at IU. As IU’s Dean of Women from 1919 to 1938, Agnes Wells was instrumental in establishing women’s housing on campus. Provost Robel will say more about her life and pioneering work in a few moments.

Beginning in the mid-1960s, the dorms of the Wells Quad were converted for use as classrooms and administrative offices. In fact, until very recently, many faculty offices contained porcelain sinks, which were, of course, holdovers from buildings originally designed as dormitories.

As many of you may know, the Master Plan for IU Bloomington, approved by our Board of Trustees in 2010, concluded that the way we were using the magnificent iconic buildings that comprise the historic core of the campus did not properly reflect the university’s core missions of education and research—not to mention that former dorm rooms served poorly as offices for some of IU’s most distinguished faculty. The Master Plan specifically recommended returning these buildings to use as residence halls. The construction of the Global and International Studies Building and the renovation of Kirkwood Hall, in particular, provided space for many of the faculty and administrative offices occupying Goodbody and Morrison Halls to relocate.

The Board of Aeons, a group of student leaders who advise IU’s president on matters related to the campus, also conducted an exceptional semester-long study in 2012 that also strongly recommended the conversion of Wells Quad into residential housing.

Special Thanks

Today, as we celebrate the return of the splendidly renovated Goodbody and Memorial Halls to their original function, I want to congratulate and thank a number of people for their outstanding efforts that helped make this project such a wonderful success.

I want to thank Provost Lauren Robel for her vision, her enthusiastic support of these renovations, and for her dedicated work in support of the Women in STEM Living-Learning Center.

I want to commend Pat Connor, executive director of IU Residential Programs and Services, and all of the staff of RPS, for their work in support of this project.

I also want to thank Vice President for Capital Planning and Facilities Tom Morrison, as well as the many design and construction professionals, both internal and external, who played such major roles in this project.

And, finally and more generally, I would like to thank our Trustees for their steadfast and enthusiastic support, not only for the renovation of Wells Quad, but also for their support in general for the construction and renovation of well-designed, functional student housing across this campus and on IU’s campuses around the state.

A Welcoming Campus Home that Nurtures Success

Here in the newly renovated Wells Quad, IU students will find new opportunities that will be life changing: opportunities for rich personal growth, opportunities for stimulating social interaction, and opportunities to gain vital leadership experience. They will be able to interact closely with faculty and peers in our matchless campus environment, participate in diverse cultural activities, and meet other students from around the country and around the world.

They will find friendships, support, and community.

And in the heart of a campus of a university that has, for nearly 200 years, been committed to educational excellence, they will find in Goodbody and Morrison Halls a welcoming campus home that will nurture their success. And they will find in the Wells Quad what students at the University of Virginia find in Thomas Jefferson’s Lawn—“that quiet retirement so friendly to study.”8

For the Wells Quad is IU’s Lawn.

Thank you very much.


  1. Charles Davis, “Housing,” in David J. Neuman (ed.), Building Type Basics for College and University Facilities, (John Wiley and Sons, 2003), 161.

  2. Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Hugh L. White and Others, May 6, 1810, in The Writings of Thomas Jefferson: Being His Autobiography, Correspondence, Reports, Messages, Addresses, and Other Writings, Official and Private, (Taylor & Maury, 1853), 521.
  3. Thomas D. Clark, Indiana University, Midwestern Pioneer, Volume I, the Early Years, (Indiana University Press, 1970), 158. 

  4. E.T. Walker, The Relation of the Housing of Students to Success in a University. (1934). Doctoral dissertation as cited in Louise August, “And a Roof Over Their Heads: The History of Women’s Housing at the University of Michigan Through 1940,” American Educational History Journal, 30, (2003), 143-150.

  5. George D. Kuh, Jillian Kinzie, Jennifer A. Buckley, Brian K. Bridges, John C. Hayek, Piecing Together the Student Success Puzzle: Research, Propositions, and Recommendations: ASHE Higher Education Report, (John Wiley & Sons, 2011), 83.

  6. See Gregory S. Blimling, Student Learning in College Residence Halls: What Works, What Doesn't, and Why, (John Wiley & Sons, 2015).

  7. Indianapolis News, June 5, 1937, as quoted in 2012 Board of Aeons Report on the Renovation of Wells Quadrangle, 11.

  8. Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Hugh L. White and Others, May 6, 1810, in The Writings of Thomas Jefferson: Being His Autobiography, Correspondence, Reports, Messages, Addresses, and Other Writings, Official and Private, (Taylor & Maury, 1853), 521.