Facilities: Expansion in the 1910s

Lathrop Hall at UW
Lathrop Hall at UW

While interest and participation in sports had increased greatly around the turn of the century, facilities for women’s athletics had not kept pace. President Birge characterized the women’s gymnasium as “ridiculously inadequate” in 1902.

Additional and persistent lobbying by the students, faculty, and Board of Visitors eventually led to the construction of Lathrop Hall, which opened during the second semester of the 1909-1910 school year.

At that time, the building was considered state of the art in nearly every respect. It housed a spacious, three-story gym with encircling overhead track, a pool, 4 bowling alleys, locker and shower rooms, and administrative and teaching space.

Perhaps the beautiful new facilities increased student interest in sports; perhaps the students’ interest had been greatly underestimated. At any rate, when Blanche Trilling arrived a mere three years later, she immediately began angling for money for new lockers, showers, and dressing rooms.

As she recollects, “When I came to Madison, the Board of Regents had just finished completing a building which was considered to be one of the most modern and best equipped women’s buildings in the country…Imagine [their] consternation when I pointed out that Lathrop Hall” required expansion.

By 1916, the department had expanded to offer gymnastics, apparatus work, swimming, social dancing, hockey, basketball, tennis, bowling, archery, baseball (indoor and outdoor), fencing, and track and field. Even with this remarkable array of activities, and new facilities to house them, the department was not given priority.

Lathrop Hall swimming pool.
Lathrop Hall swimming pool.

It shared Lathrop Hall with other academic departments and many social activities, and gym classes were often “shushed” for disturbing meetings in the parlor above.Classes could not be held on Fridays, when the gym was decorated for dances and social functions.

Year after year, departmental reports contain pleas for greater funding, space, and facilities, describing long lines for the changing rooms and tennis courts spread so far apart that it was impossible to teach class on them.Outdoor activities were held primarily at Camp Randall, though this posed problems regarding decency.

It was entirely inappropriate for the young women to walk the eight or so blocks from Lathrop Hall, where the dressing rooms were, to Camp Randall in their standard costume, consisting of dark blue bloomers, a loose white shirt, and stockings.

The solution was for the women to change into their uniforms in Lathrop, put on skirts to cover their legs for the walk to Camp Randall, and then remove their skirts in a tent erected on the field for that purpose. This was the situation until a field house was constructed in 1917.All too often, women’s facilities bore the brunt of larger crises.

Women's Field Hosue
Women’s Field House, c. 1920s.

Lathrop was briefly closed during 1917-18 to conserve coal; when it reopened, it housed not coeds, but cadets in training. During the flu epidemic of 1918, the administration turned the building into a campus infirmary. Because women were not permitted to share the men’s facilities during these times, sports and physical education classes were restricted to outdoor activities.

Eventually, however, as new buildings arose on campus, other departments relocated, leaving physical education to expand into the space they left. To this day, Lathrop houses the Dance department and serves as a practice space for club sports.