Backstory and Context
Hall—one of the oldest dorms still standing on campus—has been a distinguished
part of campus for over half a century. The University built the facility during
the same expansion period that included the building of Schroeder and Straz
Halls, which were necessitated by the growth of the student body from 2000 students in 1938 to 5000
in 1950. O’Donnell Hall was first conceived as early as 1938, but frustrated by
a lack of resources and capital, the University was unable break ground on the
structure until 1950—finishing it in 1952. The dorm, which is located on 18th Street, was originally
intended to be an all-female dorm able to hold 350 students. The building
resembles the letter "H" and features prominent, parallel wings joined in the
middle by another, center hallway. The facility holds a kitchen and chapel as
well as a basement for recreation and storage. A cafeteria closed in the 1990s.
Hall is named after the Fr. Edward O’Donnell S.J., who served as President of
the University from 1948 until 1962. Thus, Fr. O’Donnell presided over an
extremely formative period in Marquette history. He was born and raised in
Milwaukee and even educated at Marquette University High School and at Marquette
University—later joining the Society of Jesus. When Fr. Peter Brooks S.J. suddenly
passed away, Fr. O’Donnell filled in as the new University leader. Aged only thirty-nine
and having never held a University faculty position—either in administration or
education—his appointment seemed unlikely. Nonetheless, his familiarity with
the institution and the area helped him embark on a successful tenure as
O’Donnell turned out to be quite the visionary, and quickly drafted plans to
develop the University into the modern campus known today. Redefining the role
of President, he raised massive amounts of capital that enabled the University
to expand in consistency with his vision. O’Donnell Hall became the
first of many building projects that culminated in a well-defined and
O’Donnell Hall has operated as a dorm for over half of a century; however, it has switched gender designation throughout the decades. From 1952 to 1990 the dorm was all female, however after 1990 it became all male. Typically, the dorm remained single-sex but during years with atypical or increased enrollment, the dorm became coed to house the influx of students. For example, in 1999, the dorm became coed for a single year to accommodate the increased number of women. Over the years, there has been debate regarding what to do with O’Donnell—make it coed, keep it single-sex, tear it down, etc. In 2016, the University announced plans to tear down the structure. However, these plans were soon abandoned. Instead, the dorm became coed again and has been inhabited ever since by both men and women.
The Milwaukee Journal. September 15, 1952. Marquette University Archives.
Marquette Tribune. August 31, 1999. Marquette University Archives.