The Scottish Rite Dormitory
At the Scottish Rite Dormitory, traditions from eras
gone by are clung to as the impending 21st century is embraced.
After 75 years, Scottish Rite Dormitory is still rich with tradition and proud of its history. In the early 1900s, when the University of Texas at Austin didn’t have sufficient housing for young women, the Master Masons of Texas recognized the need and decided to do something about it.
The Scottish Rite Dormitory in Austin, Texas, was dedicated on Thanksgiving Day, November 30, 1922. Those in attendance included Texas Governor Pat M. Neff, 32, Dr. Robert E. Vinson, President of the University of Texas, Ill. James W. McClendon, 33, and Ill. Sam P. Cochran, 33, S.G.I.G. in Texas and founder of the Scottish Rite Dormitory.
The year was 1920. Flapper dresses were on the verge of becoming the latest fashion, and the Charleston dance would soon sweep the nation. Under President Wilson, we had won the war to make the world “safe for democracy.” Women gained the right to vote with the ratification of the 19th Amendment, and the stock market would shortly begin to skyrocket. The “roar” that America would forever associate with the “Dollar Decade” was on the brink of blasting.
This was the year that Samuel P. Cochran, 33, the Executive Head of Scottish Rite Masonry in Texas, began his project of building a dormitory suitable for young ladies attending the university. In order for construction to begin, Cochran asked the Scottish Rite Bodies of Texas to donate the necessary funds.
The response of Masons across the state was overwhelmingly generous. One million dollars was raised over a period of two years. Thus, the dormitory opened its doors to university women in the fall of 1922 completely debt free. From that year on, Scottish Rite Dormitory has been “the only one of its kind in the world,” according to Ill. Sam E. Hilburn, 33, Chairman, Board of Directors of the Dormitory. From the chandeliers, oriental rugs, and gourmet food to the computer labs, aerobics classes, aquatic center and hot tub, Scottish Rite Dormitory combines the elegance of an era gone by with modern-day amenities.
SRD, as the dorm is affectionately called, was built on seven acres one block north of the University of Texas, Austin, in order to provide the utmost convenience for its residents. A profusion of oak trees, planted almost eight decades ago, now provides the front lawn with a canopy of shade for the young women to enjoy and a home for countless squirrels. Strolling along the sidewalk that leads to the main entrance, one is granted a glimpse of the columned, red brick edifice, characteristic of the Georgian architectural design, that stands within the trees.
The traditional annual Holiday Candlelight Dinner is eagerly anticipated by the young ladies at the Scottish Rite Dormitory, University of Texas at Austin.
While sitting in the lavish parlor room, one could easily mistake the surroundings for a five-star hotel. The twenty-foot ceiling, pink velvet couches, and antique tables are only a few items that set SRD apart. Portraits of past house mothers and administrators adorn the walls. Chairs covered with tapestries sewn by former residents have now become cherished memorabilia, and the baby grand piano patiently awaits an opportunity to feature Gershwin and Bach.
Not only is SRD physically unlike conventional college dormitories, it prides itself on traditions that endure to this day. One of the most popular events is the annual Christmas celebration. Residents compete in a decorating contest to see which hall can be the most creative. Then the festivities continue with Christmas dinner, caroling, and a visit by Santa. Also, a Valentine’s dance is given as well as barbecues and shrimp boils throughout the year.
In keeping with tradition, males are restricted from access to residents’ halls until the weekend from one o’clock in the afternoon to six o’clock in the evening. Also, Sunday dinner is formal style. Residents are served by waiters who are also university students. However, the rules didn’t use to be so lenient. Regulations enforced in the early days would most likely scare the “90s woman” away. Here is an example from the original rules:
Three engagements a week are allowed; the young lady is expected to confer with her chaperon before making an engagement, and to return promptly at the close of all entertainments. Taking meals at hotels or at downtown restaurants is a violation of propriety.... Young men may call on Friday evenings, Sunday afternoons and evenings, leaving at 10:30. Two couples may take a short automobile ride in the daytime. No night rides unchaperoned or on country roads are to be allowed.
Though this is quite a change from today’s mores, SRD’s purpose remains the same as stated in the original corporate charter: “to surround residents during their university course with a wholesome, moral environment, and with the associations of home life, in addition to its comforts and conveniences.”
As SRD celebrates its 75th anniversary, traditions from eras gone by are still clung to as the impending 21st century is embraced. Being a longtime admirer and one time resident of the dormitory, I think Mr. Cochran and all the Masons who contributed to this structure would be proud to see how it has withstood the adversities of time and remained a cherished and beloved home for aspiring young women today.