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Willard Straight Hall: Wikis


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Willard Straight Hall is the student union building on the central campus of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. It is located on Campus Road, adjacent to the Ho Plaza and the Gannett Health Center.



Western facade on Libe Slope

The first student unions were established in England. Houston Hall at the University of Pennsylvania, the first student union in North America, opened in 1896. But student unions only started to become popular on American university campuses after World War I. When Willard Straight Hall opened in 1925, it was one of the few student unions in the USA. Dorothy Straight had it built as a memorial to her husband, Willard Dickerman Straight. The building was intended to lead, as she said in her speech at the dedication of the building, to "the enrichment of the human contacts of student life."

In 1918, recently widowed, Dorothy Whitney Straight met a Cornell Agriculture student, Leonard Knight Elmhirst, who persuaded her to visit the campus. Elmhirst and Straight together with certain faculty members decided that the best realization of Willard Straight's wish that some of his estate be used to make Cornell a more "human place" was to build a student union building. Elmhirst graduated from Cornell and left for India in 1921. For the next three years, Dorothy Straight oversaw planning for Willard Straight Memorial Hall, which was to be built with part of her Whitney family fortune in addition to Willard Straight's bequest. The cornerstone was laid on June 15, 1924 and the dedication ceremony was held on November 25, 1925. Elmhirst and Dorothy Straight had been married in April 1925.[1][2][3]

The North Lobby entrance on the eastern side of the building on Ho Plaza. This entrance was previously limited to use by men.

Leonard Elmhirst came from a land-owning family in Yorkshire, England. The seeds for his study of agriculture in Ithaca, NY and subsequent Dartington Hall School and "Institute for Rural Reconstruction' in the agriculturally impoverished England of the 1920s were sown on his first visit to India during World War I. Willard Straight Memorial Hall was designed by a noted architect of the day, William Adams Delano,[4] and constructed from the local "llenroc" bluestone, a feldspathic sandstone; the architectural model for its Gothic revival style may have been the 14th-century Dartington Hall in Devon, which the newlyweds purchased in 1925.[5][6]

From Willard Straight Hall's opening, the main desk was staffed by undergraduate students. In addition, the building's policies were set by a student-led Willard Straight Hall Board of Governors. However, the North Entrance was at first reserved for men, women being relegated to a second entrance at the south end of the building.

Prior to 1969, the upper floors of the Straight served as a hotel for Cornell's visitors and guests. The broadcast studios of the WVBR Radio station were in a lower level. The building also housed the University Theatre, where until 1988 the Cornell Dramatic Club (formed in 1925 from the merger of the Dramatic Club and the Women’s Dramatic Club) staged almost 50 performances a year.[4]

As Cornell built more dormitories on the West Campus and the North Campus, two additional buildings supplemented the Straight to serve students: Noyes Center on West Campus and the North Campus Union (now Robert Purcell Union) on North Campus. The combined operation constituted the Department of University Unions. In 1970, with the advent of the University Senate, University Unions became a part of the new Division of Campus Life. In order to end duplication and tensions between the University Unions and the Dean of Students Office, University Unions merged into the latter Department.

1969 building takeover

In the 1968-69 school year, the university judicial system was the center of a controversy in connection with the disciplining of African-American students who had engaged in a protest. As racial tensions escalated, some African-American students demanded amnesty for the accused protesters as well as the establishment of an Africana Studies center. On April 19, 1969, some of them occupied Willard Straight Hall, ejecting parents who were visiting for "Parents Weekend" from the hotel rooms on the upper floors.[7] Subsequently, white students from Delta Upsilon fraternity unsuccessfully attempted to retake the building by force.[8] Some of the occupying students left the building and returned with firearms in case of a further attack. Then the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) led by C. David Burak formed a protective cordon outside the building.[9]

Ultimately, the Cornell Administration, particularly Vice President Steven Muller, negotiated an end to the building takeover. However, the photos of the students marching out of the Straight carrying rifles and wearing bandoliers made the national news and won a Pulitzer Prize for A.P. photographer Steve Starr.[9]

On campus, the Straight Takeover led to the formation of the University Senate, a restructuring of the Board of Trustees, a new campus judicial system, and the foundation of the Africana Studies and Research Center. By the end of the academic year, Cornell President James Perkins resigned.[10]

Beyond Cornell, the Straight Takeover led to the New York State Legislature enacting the Henderson Law, which required each college to adopt "Rules of the Maintenance of Public Order."[11] Vice President Spiro Agnew referred to the Straight Takeover in speeches as an example of the excess of college students.

Current uses

The building currently encloses several dining facilities (Okenshields, The Ivy Room, and Cascadeli), and lounge spaces for students. A lounge on the south end of the building is named in honor of Leonard Elmhirst. Special facilities include: Cornell Cinema (in the former theater), Cornell Ceramics Studio, offices and mailboxes for student organizations, an art gallery, and a browsing library. A long-running joke among students concerns the placement of a power outlet on the ceiling of the staircase leading down to the Ivy Room. The offices of Cornell Cinema and the Dean of Students Office are also in the building.[12]

Further Reading

  • Leonard Knight Elmhirst, The Straight and Its Origin, 1975, OCLC 2046429 originally serialized in Cornell Alumni News, 1974-75
  • Peter Pennoyer and Anne Walker, The Architecture of Delano & Aldrich, Norton, 2003, ISBN 0-393-73087-5

External links


  1. ^ The Elmhirst Connection Cornell Office of the Dean of Students, viewed July 27, 2009
  2. ^ Building Willard Straight Hall Cornell Office of the Dean of Students, viewed July 27, 2009]
  3. ^ The Straight Opens Cornell Office of the Dean of Students, viewed July 27, 2009
  4. ^ a b Geng, Julie, "Straight Up: The Construction of Willard Straight Hall," Cornell Daily Sun Sept. 2, 2005 viewed July 27, 2009
  5. ^ Anonymous, Dartington, Webb & Bower, 1982
  6. ^ Young, Michael, The Elmhirsts Of Dartington, The Creation Of A Utopian Community, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982
  7. ^ Neubauer, Richard. “Parents Expelled From Straight React With Fear, Relate Events.” Cornell Daily Sun, 20 April 1969, p. 1.
  8. ^ Neubauer, Richard. “White Attempt to Break in Sparks Dispute Over Cops.” Cornell Daily Sun, 20 April 1969, p. 1.
  9. ^ a b George Lowery, "40 Years Ago, a Campus Takeover that Symbolized an Era of Change" Ezra Magazine, Spring 2009 accessed August 24, 2009.
  10. ^ Downs, Donald Alexander (1999). Cornell '69: Liberalism and the Crisis of the American University. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. ISBN 0-8014-3653-2.  
  11. ^ N.Y.S. Education Law § 6430
  12. ^ Willard Straight Hall Facilities Cornell Office of the Dean of Students, viewed July 27, 2009



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