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Built to replace the Taliaferro Building after university officials decided to convert that structure into the Fine Arts Building, Taliaferro Hall opened in 1935 as a dormitory for male students at the College of William & Mary with funding from a Public Works Administrative grant. Taliaferro Hall was designed to blend in with existing campus architecture. The building served at the first co-ed housing option in 1978 when the male-female student ratio shifted unexpectedly. Like its predecessor, Taliaferro Hall is named for Confederate General William Booth Taliaferro whose wealth was created both from his law practice and the labor of the people he enslaved. After the Civil War, Taliaferro was instrumental in helping the university recover financially. Taliaferro Hall is still a functioning residence hall at the College of William & Mary and is now co-ed.
Backstory and Context
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Taliaferro Hall was built in 1935 to replace the Taliaferro Building which was about to undergo extensive renovations to become the Fine Arts Building. Taliaferro Hall is a small dormitory, originally for male students only, that houses less than 60 students each year. At times during the building’s history, it has also served as a bookstore and tearoom. The university’s freshman Presidential Scholars were the exclusive residents of the hall for a short period in 1986-1988.
Though small in comparison with many other dormitories on campus today, Taliaferro Hall is notable for being the first co-ed dormitory on campus. In 1978, despite a university policy prohibiting co-ed housing on campus, both male and female students were living in Taliaferro Hall. Due to an increased number of male students in comparison to female students, a shift was made in the housing breakdown, and women were assigned to the third floor of Taliaferro Hall while male students occupied the first and second floors.
The Taliaferro Hall’s namesake Confederate General William Booth Taliaferro, studied at the College of William & Mary from 1839-1841 He earned his A.B. degree before attending law school at Harvard. Before the Civil War began, Taliaferro and his family spent time in the Richmond area running a law practice and farm operated by enslaved persons. After the John Brown’s raid of Harper’s Ferry in 1859, Taliaferro took a more active role in preparing the local militia for potential war and would go on to serve in the Confederate Army.
After the war ended in 1865, Taliaferro began to take a more active role in the proceedings of the College of William & Mary. Each of Taliaferro’s sons went to the college and Taliaferro was elected to the Board of Visitors in 1870. During his time on the Board of Visitors, Taliaferro helped the university to recover financially from the war by advocating for government funding and other fundraising efforts. William & Mary had been closed from 1861 to 1865 due to the war and many buildings had been damaged and looted in the 1862 Battle of Williamsburg. The Board of Visitors and Taliaferro worked to raise money to repair damages and replace lost resources in addition to expanding enrollment. The original Taliaferro Building was built after the university had regained financial security, a success which was attributed to Taliaferro’s leadership. Today, Taliaferro Hall remains an active residence hall and is co-ed.
The Flat Hat. Better dorms and Sunken Gardens: The freshman edition, The Flat Hat. August 22nd 2013. Accessed May 17th 2020. http://flathatnews.com/2013/08/22/better-dorms-and-sunken-gardens-the-freshman-edition/.
Sharpe, Kayla. College Breaks With Policy; Taliaferro Becomes Coed — Friday, September 8, 1978, The Flat Hat. January 27th 2014. Accessed May 17th 2020. http://flathatnews.com/2014/01/27/college-breaks-with-policy-taliaferro-becomes-coed-friday-september-8-1978/.
Sibley, Martha Arle. William Booth Taliaferro: A Biography.1973. https://scholarworks.wm.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=4435&context=etd.
Taliaferro Hall, Special Collections Research Center Wiki. September 9th 2019. Accessed May 17th 2020. https://scdbwiki.swem.wm.edu/wiki/index.php/Taliaferro_Hall.
William Booth Taliaferro (1822-1898), Special Collections Research Center Wiki. January 28th 2019. Accessed May 17th 2020. https://scdbwiki.swem.wm.edu/wiki/index.php/William_Booth_Taliaferro_(1822-1898).