What’s in a name? Discover the people behind the residence halls

Michael A. Travers (left), Naomi Norsworthy (center) and Vernetta F. Decker (right) are a few namesakes of the residence halls on the College’s campus.

As someone now on my final year at the College, I recently decided it was time to put to rest a question that has been nagging me for quite some time: What on earth is a Norsworthy? The history behind our residential buildings’ names simply isn’t common knowledge. (I should know: I’m in my fourth year of living on campus.) It may seem trivial now, but many buildings have namesakes who were at one point very important to our school.

Naomi Norsworthy was a revered researcher and psychology professor at Columbia University and is remembered still through many websites and books on psychology and feminism. Decades after she graduated from the College in 1896, her alma mater honored her with a residence hall bearing her name.

In addition to Norsworthy Hall, many sophomores live in Decker Hall. Vernetta F. Decker remained at the College from 1926-1957, first as a teacher of speech and then as dean of women (back when each gender had their own dean). The 1939 edition of “The Seal” was dedicated to her.

Next to Decker is Cromwell Hall, named for Agnes W. Cromwell. A member of the State Board of Higher Education in the early 1900s, Cromwell was influential in planning the College’s current campus.

Further over are Travers and Wolfe Towers. Michael A. Travers served at the College from 1928-1969 as a faculty member, dean of men and chairman of the business department. Contrary to the belief of one of my freshman floormates that we lived in a building commemorating an animal, Wolfe is named after Deborah Partridge Canon Wolfe. Wolfe served as a congresswoman and member of the New Jersey State Board of Higher Education. In addition to many other accomplishments, she was the International President of Zeta Phi Beta sorority (which has a chapter at the College) from 1954-1965.

As for New Residence Hall, I’m afraid that its title doesn’t fit at all anymore because it was constructed 26 years ago in 1985. Along with College Houses and Townhouses, it is one of the few residence halls without a proper name.

Centennial Hall also lacks a namesake, but “Centennial” is self-descriptive. This building was named in celebration of the College’s 100th anniversary in 1955. Yet “Cent” isn’t the oldest residential building on campus.

The oldest is actually a tie between Allen, Brewster and Ely halls. These petite buildings are now connected to one another, but were built separately in 1931 as women’s dormitories and were named for Elizabeth Almira Allen, Alice L. Brewster and Sarah Y. Ely. Allen was a teacher and started the State Teachers Pension and Annuity Fund in the 1800s, while Brewster was a teacher in the Department of English. Ely was a teacher and supervisor of the girls’ department.

The newest residential buildings are Phelps and Hausdoerffer halls. William F. Phelps was the College’s principal (a position that no longer exists) from 1855-1864 and established the initial curricula. William “Bill” Hausdoerffer was actually in attendance at the inaugural opening of the apartments in Fall 2009, but he passed away earlier this year, leaving behind a long legacy at the College as a student (Class of 1936), faculty member and generous alumnus.

The person for which Eickhoff Hall is named, however, is still here at the College, although the building did not adopt its current name until 2001 (it was “Community Commons” for nine years). Harold W. Eickhoff served as the school’s president from 1979-1998 and since then has been a member of the College’s faculty. Spend some time on the first floor of the library and you’ll probably see him in his office or walking around.

More information can be viewed online at the College’s virtual tour website at tcnj.edu/~vtour (although as the website has not been updated; information on Phelps and Hausdoerffer Halls is missing), or within the residential facilities themselves. Aside from Norsworthy, Cromwell, Brewster and Ely Halls, plaques commemorating the buildings’ namesakes adorn the walls near the front doors.