Morrill Hall Reminiscences

19 03 2013
Morrill Hall, circa 1913

Morrill Hall, circa 1913

The Department of Nursing was established at Michigan State College in 1950.  The program was an immediate success.  In 1954 the first 10 graduates earned the highest scores on the State Board of Nursing Exams in Michigan.  During its first decade of existence, classes were held in Giltner Hall, which was home to the College of Veterinary Medicine.  Conditions were not ideal as there was no available space to hold demonstration classes and a large number of sick and dying animals were housed in Giltner, a problem exacerbated by the lack of ventilation.  It was decided in 1961 to move Nursing to Morrill Hall. The following excerpt is from the book Nursing at Michigan State University, written by Dr. Isabelle Payne, Dean Emeritus of the School of Nursing:

After many conferences with the staff in the Office of Space Utilization, the program was moved to the basement of Morrill Hall in 1961.  It wasn’t the best solution, but the faculty were all on one floor and several offices were available for single occupancy.  There were adequate classrooms and space for laboratory demonstrations and practice.  Morrill Hall had originally been a dormitory, and when one prospective student came for a pre-admission interview, she remarked, “My grandmother told me that she lived in this building when she was a student at Michigan State College.”

Although the animal noises and odors were no longer a problem, the faculty was now challenged by bats.  Because Morrill Hall was constructed for use as a dormitory, fireplaces were located in each room for heat.  When the building was remodeled for office and classroom use, the chimney shafts were not closed.  Occasionally, a bloodcurdling scream was heard and one could be sure that a faculty member had encountered a bat.  Students were amused when a bat approached a faculty member.  If a student was attacked, however, it was a different story.  Regardless of the bat’s prey, the screaming, the running to escape, and the general confusion were the same.

Morrill Hall had limited storage space, and, just as when one moves from one house to another, excess accumulation of “stuff” needed to be sorted and disposed of.  The faculty was so spread out in Giltner Hall that it was difficult to consolidate and sort the equipment before the move took place.  This did not seem to bother most of the faculty, but Helen Penhale and Isabelle Payne decided to take matters into their own hands.  They returned to Morrill Hall one evening to sort and dispose of materials that could no longer be used as teaching aides.  One of the dilapidated articles they came upon was an old Chase doll (almost everyone remembers Mary Chase).   After weighing the pros and cons of the situation, they decided to dispose of the mannequin by placing it

Mrs. Mary Chase, source of the misunderstanding. Chase dolls were used to train health care workers.

Mrs. Mary Chase, source of the misunderstanding. Chase dolls were used to train health care workers.

in the trash disposal bin outside the building.  They carried the mannequin out with no difficulty, but because its joints were not functioning properly, it was hard to manage the legs and arms; it took some creative maneuvering to cram all four extremities into the bin.

Apparently, someone driving by saw the women stuffing a “body” into the trash receptacle and contacted the police to investigate.  Before the task of disposing of the “body” was complete, several police cars with lights flashing and sirens screaming came into the parking area between Morrill Hall and Olin Health Center.  By then, the two culprits realized what was happening and were literally consumed with laughter.  They had great difficulty explaining the situation to the policemen, who in turn were doubled over with laughter.  By then a crowd had gathered and it took some time to explain that no one had been murdered and an attempt was not being made to dispose of a “body.”

The police dispersed the crowd and laughingly suggested that when another “object” or “body” was to be disposed of Physical Plant personnel be asked to assist.  Fortunately, neither The State News nor late night TV scooped the story.


Works Cited

Payne, Isabelle. Nursing at Michigan State University. East Lansing: University Printing, 1994.




One response

21 02 2017

My mother attended in the late forties, and myself in the early 70’s. She remembers something about a cow being taken up to the flat roof of Morrill. Does anyone else remember this prank?

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