On a steamy day in August of 1928, Jennie Meta Constance was fatally attacked on Northwestern University’s campus. She had been the head of the English department at Bradley for nine years prior to attending Northwestern to obtain her Ph. D.
With the mugging having close ties to Bradley, a committee gathered, consisting of then president of Bradley, F.R. Hamilton, several members of the faculty and representatives of various women’s clubs in Peoria to determine a suitable memorial for the woman’s death. The committee finally settled on a relatively revolutionary idea for the time at Bradley: a woman’s dormitory. The building was to be named in honor of Constance.
In order to get Constance’s memorial built, it took a village. Literally. The members of the women’s clubs in which Constance was affiliated with took up the responsibility of raising $75,000 to build the dormitory. (If you are an avid reader of this column, or just as nerdy as I am about Bradley’s history, you will remember that this sum of money is the same as it took to build the Hartmann Center.)
After selling many $100 plaques to be hung in the new building, ground broke on Oct. 1, 1930, and construction was complete on June 9, 1931. That following September 38 women moved into the newly furnished women’s dorm. Constance’s memorial came complete with a living room, dining room, kitchen, house mom’s quarters and an attic with a shuffleboard for the long Peoria winters. Speaking of winters, the fireplace from the living room is still visible today, making it one of two buildings on campus with a fireplace.
Thirty years later, Constance Hall no longer housed women. In Sept. 1961 a motley group of men temporarily occupied the space. Although their stint may have been brief, their impact has not been. While living in the dormitory, 17 of the men formed a social fraternity nicknamed “Connie’s Cats.” This group would eventually go on to gain a national charter and become the local chapter of Phi Kappa Tau (a.k.a the fraternity – Phi Tau.)
Constance’s memorial still stands on campus today. However it has been nearly a half century since a co-ed student has called it home. Since the men departed, Constance Hall has stood as the home of the music portion of the Slane College of Fine Arts. Expanded in 2001 the building today stands at nearly 20,000 square feet featuring practice rooms and music classroom space.
Constance Hall, with its many gabbles and whimsical look is often overshadowed by its stale neighbors of University Hall and Williams Hall. Nestled warmly on the residential side of campus, this quaint little cottage seems uniquely out of place. Having served as a women’s dorm, a guy’s dorm, a fraternity house and now the home to the music department, I would say Constance would be happy to know students still mutter her name to this day.
The next time you walk past Constance Hall, with its quirky features and somewhat out of place nature, and wonder how it ended up where it is at and why, all you have to do is ask…Bradley, WTF?!