Located on the corner of North Bell Avenue and Administration Drive, the Brackenridge Student Union has offered students many amenities over the years, such as dining services and the campus bookstore. Before there was a student union there was also a dormitory called Brackenridge Hall. Both buildings are named after Mary Eleanor Brackenridge, who helped pioneer the University. Brackenridge Hall was also the site of one of the oldest cold cases in Texas.
The Mary Eleanor Brackenridge Student Union is in many ways the
beating heart of campus life at Texas Woman’s University. Constructed in 1967
after the demolition of Brackenridge Hall, a dormitory built in 1916, the Student Union has offered
students several amenities over the years and hosted multiple campus sponsored
events. Originally it just had a snack bar, a post office, a bookstore, a
lounge area, and a series of meeting rooms, but over time this has changed. In
its years of operation, the post office has been moved to the Administration
Conference Tower. Computer labs and copy machines have been added for student
use, and a game room is available in the lower level of the building, fittingly
titled The Underground. This is also where students with meal plans
may eat, but there are also dining options on the third floor, also known as
the Garden Room. This is where many events, such as live music
performances and even poetry readings, are held. One of the more notable events
held at the Student Union is Boo at the U, an annual event started in 1999 that is essentially a large Halloween
carnival. Around 3,000 people attend each year, and attendees
are encouraged to donate canned goods to the TWU Food Pantry.
Prior to the student union, the site
was a hub of activity since it held the dormitory known as Brackenridge Hall. Construction of Brackenridge Hall finished in 1916, and it could
house 175 students. While it was not the first dormitory on campus it provided much needed living space. It also provided dining services to students and guests, and featured a roof garden that could accommodate up to 1,400 people. This roof
garden could possibly be where the Garden Room in the student union gets its name. The roof garden was removed in 1935 when a fourth floor was added to
the building, providing more living space for the students.
The building's namesake, Mary Eleanor Brackenridge, was appointed to the first board
of regents in 1902, a post she would hold until her death in 1924. She held her
own against the Texas legislature, urging them to give the college adequate
support, and she also assisted students in financial need. This was on top of
her supporting Prohibition and the Texas Woman Suffrage Association, an
organization where she served as president from 1913 to 1914. When suffrage
was finally granted in 1918, she was the first woman in Bexar County who
registered to vote. It is no wonder then that this woman was chosen to be the
namesake for one of the central buildings of the University.
Another woman is associated with Brackenridge Hall. Mary
Virginia “Jimmie” Carpenter was a 21-year-old woman from Texarkana. She was to
attend summer classes on campus in 1948, planning to train as a laboratory
technician, but after arriving on campus outside of Brackenridge Hall on June 1
she was never seen again. The cab driver who took her to campus, Edgar Ray
“Jack” Zachary, said he dropped her off outside the dormitory at about 9:00
p.m. and that she gave him a ticket for her trunk and paid him to get it for
her at the train station the next day. He then stated Carpenter went over
to two young men standing by a yellow, or possibly cream-colored, convertible.
She seemed to know them and as they spoke Zachary drove away. That was the last
time anyone saw her. She never checked into Brackenridge Hall, and has never
been heard from since. She was finally declared legally dead in 1955, and the
case remains unsolved, making it one of the oldest cold cases in Texas.
The growth of the student population has created a demand for a new, more efficient student union, and construction plans have been in the works since 2012. Construction is ongoing on this modern student union, and is expected to be concluded in 2020. It is unclear what will become of the Brackenridge Student Union.