Mary Frances Hall was a female-residence hall, opened in 1916. Over its 64-year life on campus (it was razed in 1980), it was home to hundreds of female students, and later used as office-space for faculty and staff.
The building was named for the wives of the building’s two largest donors, Mary Paramore (married to J.H. Parramore) and Frances Merchant (married to C.W. Merchant).
Mary Frances Hall was built and furnished for ~$50,000
After the completion of (original) Abilene Hall in 1913, the Board of Trustees set their sights on remedying the over-population of residence halls. Per the 1915 BoT minutes, overcrowded halls were a significant issue:
|Name of Hall||Normal Capacity||Population|
|Girls Industrial Home||72||85|
That year, Col. J.H. Paramore offered $10,000 towards the construction of a female residence hall, if the citizens of Abilene could raise $30,000.
That challenge was met.
According to an article written by Lucile Sandefer in The Abilene Reporter-News:
November 23, 1915: President J.D. Sandefer petitioned the town to contribute to the building fund.
November 25, 1915: $20,000 had been raised with a significant contribution by C.W. Merchant.
November 16, 1915: Faculty gave $1,000.
December 7, 1915: $23,450 total funds raised.
February 28, 1916: A benefit performance was given to raise funds.
February 29, 1916: Abilene Chamber of Commerce raised the remaining balance of $2,000.
August 11, 1916: It was announced Mary Frances Hall would open September 19, 1916.
September 10, 1916: New furniture was installed.
September 16, 1916: Grace Sandefer and E.T. Compere were married in the building.
The support the citizens of Abilene directed towards this project and the students of Simmons College was a trend in the school’s earlier days. For example:
- Financially, if it were not for the people of Abilene, the original funds to open Abilene Baptist College (now Hardin-Simmons University) would not have been raised.
- If it had not been for the people of Abilene, the amount of prayer and sacrifice that guided this fledgling school and the people who operated it would not have existed.
- The people of Abilene opened their homes to the students and faculty of Simmons College, providing them a place to live while working and studying. President Thatcher (second president, 1894-1989) first convinced the town to house students and this tradition continued through WWII.
The fact that J.D. Sandefer and J.H. Parramore went to the people of Abilene was no surprise; and with hindsight, the fact that the town raised the funds came as no shock.
Mary Frances Hall was not only home to female students. The Sandefer family resided there, as well, until the completion of Compere Hall in 1924. Gilbert Sandefer, youngest son to J.D. and Lucile, introduced Dam-It to the campus as his pet and school mascot; Dam-It called Mary Frances Hall his home, too.
Lucile Sander also laid the first brick of Mary Frances Hall during construction.
Sara (Elkins) Sikes moved into Mary Frances Hall September 1925. In the attached document, she describes the shenanigans that took place while living there, including when she fell down the elevator shaft.
Read her memories here.
Aileen Culpepper was dorm mother of Mary Frances 1945- ~1956, her first placement while working at HSU. Her legacy with HSU spanned over 60 years. She had an impact on hundreds of alumni, and many can tell stories about her.
Today, The Johnson Building stands where Mary Frances Hall did. The Johnson Building acts as a memorial to Mary Frances Hall: it copies the white pillars and interior staircase that set Mary Frances Hall apart from the rest of the buildings on campus.