From Special Collections/University Archives: The History of Larison Hall

In 1856, Larison Hall was built to house the women attending the Lewisburg Female Institute, a school affiliated with and administered by the University to educate young women. As the first building on the “women’s college campus,” and initially named the Lewisburg Female Institute Building, Larison Hall was completed in 1857. Female Institute students and faculty moved to the newly constructed building from the school’s former site, the Casey Mansion in Lewisburg. Larison Hall was designed to include music and recitation rooms, a dining hall, and a third floor residence area. Larison Hall was central to the education of women by providing in one building living and classroom space as well as areas for leisure activities. In 1869/1870, the South Wing was added to Larison Hall, which included a gymnasium for women’s basketball and exercise added to the third floor.

The Female Institute was formed in 1852 to educate women, which was recognized as an important component of the University’s establishment as an institution of higher education in 1846. In August of 1852, the Casey Mansion, owned by James K. Casey and located at the corner of South Second and St. Lewis Streets, was purchased to house the Female Institute students. The Female Institute opened on October 21, 1852, and had more than forty students enrolled by April of 1853. The objective of its educational program was to prepare young women for the “cheerful discharge of the duties of life,” and provide intellectual training of the mind and heart. The curriculum included lectures and recitation, and was comprised of three years of instruction. Some of the courses taught in the program included algebra, ancient history, astronomy, evidence of Christianity, and Latin. After completing the requirements of the Female Institute’s curriculum, women received a diploma rather than a degree. Exceptional students were also awarded a gold medal at graduation.

The Female Institute was profitable for the University at Lewisburg and as the years progressed, enrollment increased and remained strong into the 20th century. To accommodate its growing enrollment, the University decided to move the Female Institute from town to a new building on “College Hill,” closer to campus. By November, 1856, a contract for construction was awarded, and the Female Institute moved to its new quarters in 1857. The original building provided offices, music and recitation rooms, a dining room, and a dormitory on the third floor. Over the years, the building expanded to include a south wing and a gymnasium on the third floor. In 1889 Bucknell Cottage, now named Larison Cottage, was constructed as a gift from William Bucknell, major benefactor to the University and Chairman of the Board of Trustees from 1882 – 1890. Connected to the Female Institute Building by an enclosed walkway, the Bucknell Cottage provided additional dormitory space and a studio used by the art program.

As its enrollment dwindled and co-education was fully established at the University, the Female Institute program was no longer sustainable or profitable and was discontinued in the 1915/1916 academic year. However, Larison Hall and Bucknell Cottage for Women, continued to be important as the primary residence halls and facility to support the education of women students. In June 1927, the Female Institute Building was named Larison Hall, in honor of Katherine Brown Larison, a graduate of the Female Institute in 1864 and its long-term principal from 1882-1897. Katherine Larison died in 1926 and left her entire estate to the University.

Additions and renovations to Larison Hall occurred throughout its history as a campus building. In 1928, kitchen facilities were constructed with the addition of a one-story addition on the north side. Known as the Women’s Dining Hall and later renamed Larison Dining Hall, the facility operated as a cafeteria until the early 1980s when a dance floor was installed for special event use and dining services were discontinued. In the mid-1990s Larison Hall Dining Hall was re-opened as a cafeteria supplementing the Bostwick Dining Hall, however, it closed again in 2005 when the University contracted out its dining services.

Today, Larison Hall is primarily utilized as a dormitory, but unlike its original intention to house only women, it now provides living space for both male and female students. Larison Hall may have changed its appearance over the years, but it remains important to the history of the University and is a reminder of the University’s investment in the education of women early on in its history.

If you interested in viewing historical photographs of Larison Hall and the Female Institute, please visit Special Collections/University Archives’ digital repository of historical photographs in the Bucknell History collection http://www.sscommons.org/openlibrary/#3|collections|7730036||Bucknell20University20History|||. For more information about Larison Hall and other topics related to Bucknell History, contact Special Collections/University Archives at scua@bucknell.edu or 570-577-3101.

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