McIver Residence Hall


Today, Alderman, Kenan, and McIver Residence Halls, now part of the Kenan Community, stand apart from other areas on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s campus. Perhaps due to their unique architectural style, layout, and location on north campus, these dormitories continue to attract undergraduates. However, it is important to note that Alderman, Kenan, and McIver did not always house both male and female undergraduate students as they do today. In fact, the history of these buildings reflects the complicated history of women at the university. The history of McIver Residence Hall is especially useful this regard.

McIver is located along Raleigh Street on north campus.[1] Like the three related buildings in the quadrangle mentioned earlier, it original housed women in the early part of the twentieth century. While today it is a co-ed dormitory, McIver Residence Hall continues to support and attract female students, namely through its “WELL: Women Experiencing Learning & Leadership” Residential Learning Program, which is open to all undergraduate women on campus.[2]

McIver Hall

McIver Residence Hall.[3]

Constructed in 1939, McIver Residence Hall was named after Charles Duncan McIver, a prominent figure in the UNC system and leader in the movement for women’s education at universities across the state.[4] McIver was honored for his efforts to found the State Normal and Industrial College for Women, now known the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, of which he eventually became the first president.[5] The hall was originally made to house female students in response to an increased demand for women’s dormitories on campus by the 1930s.[6]

As women gained an increasing presence on campus, they faced many challenges. In these early years particularly, their presence disrupted the status quo. As a result, McIver and other dormitories in the quadrangle reflected anxieties among men that developed during the Victorian era. At the university those in power took measures to ensure women had restricted mobility and freedoms that did not apply to male students.

Women and the University

To understand the role McIver Residence Hall played in creating a space for women on campus, one must first understand the early history of women at the university. In the early 1900s, women began to attend classes at the university, but these visits were short-lived; many women ultimately left early to marry. During this period, women attended the university sporadically and had very individualized experiences. Some women, such as Dixie Lee Bryant who taught at the Normal College in Greensboro, used UNC to continue their education.[7]

By the 1920s, the university began to invest more heavily in women’s education and formalized women’s enrollment. Two houses were provided for approximately forty-five of the sixty-five women enrolled in 1921; later in 1925, funds were appropriated, under the urging of President Frank Porter Graham, to construct Spencer Hall, the first women’s dormitory at the university. That year, enrollment had grown to 125 women.[8]

Now that the university decided to fully integrate women on its campus, it had a responsibility to provide facilities specifically tailored for female students. Women faced a whole set of rules and regulations for living on campus during the period. Dormitories had specific curfews, and rules required guests to sign in and out. Many boarding houses, even those in existence prior to the construction of university-sponsored dormitories, made its residents use chaperones in visiting fraternities or other male spaces. In sum, it was important a female undergraduate student “conducts herself like a lady,” according to the university’s Campus Code that upheld standards of campus behavior similar to the Honor Code.[9]

By the late 1930s, women’s enrollment at the university began to near 400, and in addition the existing Spencer Hall, the state appropriated funds under the direction of the Board of Trustees to construct McIver and Alderman dormitories for undergraduate students, along with Kenan for graduate women.[10] Thus, the construction of McIver, along with other dorms in the quadrangle, revealed that women were indeed there to stay.


New women’s dormitories in the quadrangle, including Alderman and Kenan.[11]

The campus experienced a large building boom during the late 1930s when the state made appropriations to construct a medical school and the division of public health, a laboratory of zoology, a dining hall, and numerous dormitories for both women and men to accommodate increasing enrollments. Interestingly, at the same time, the Board of Trustees made efforts to consolidate the other branches of the university: the College of Agriculture and Engineering in Raleigh (now known as North Carolina State University), and the North Carolina College for Women in Greensboro (now University of North Carolina at Greensboro).[12] This new relationship between institutions within the broader university system had much to do with the fact these building projects, their dedications, and the way they developed.

Along with the consolidations the Board of Trustees implemented a series of reforms in higher education, particularly at the Women’s College in Greensboro in 1939, making it a “completely rounded” liberal arts college. It added an Art Department, Philosophy Department, instituted in Greek, and emphasized the need to coordinate with Chapel Hill. Interestingly, the Board began to allow men to attend the Women’s College but only during the summer sessions if they planned to have careers as superintendents, principals, and elementary administrators. In sum, the Board more closely aligned the interests of the state toward a common goal: to promote the higher education of both men and women.[13]

The ultimate end of having two campuses (Chapel Hill and Greensboro) that allowed women in the state occurred only within a period of only about thirty years. Thus, a particularly notable development during the early twentieth century for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was the introduction of women to campus.

McIver Hall

The building, originally used to house female students, was constructed under the approval of the Board of Trustees in 1939. On July 31, 1939, the Board revealed its plan to officially open two new women’s dormitories before the fall term in September, one of which being McIver Residence Hall. Bonds funded the construction of McIver, along with other projects at the university. The Board anticipated the building to have three stories, providing accommodations for over 100 women. It planned for the dormitory to have three social rooms, and kitchenette and laundry facilities.[14] For undergraduate women, McIver could function as a home away from home.

The sale of revenue bonds to construct the building amounted to $287,000 to match the Public Works Administration Grant of $234,405. The Board appropriated these funds to also cover the construction of Stacey Dormitory and Lenoir Dining Hall, leaving the total cost of McIver as $140,231.29. Atwood and Weeks were the primary architects responsible for the project, working alongside consulting architect A.C. Nash. The building’s area totaled 24,864 square feet upon its completion in 1939.[15]


McIver Residence Hall in the 1950s.[16]

The architects of McIver intended it to fill out the east end of the quadrangle, or more specifically match the style of Spencer Hall already in existence. In doing this, they kept with the Georgian style.[17] Three dormitories — McIver, Alderman, and later Kenan — sat in the shape of a “U,” each of which featuring large and inviting porches. However, this style differed from men’s dormitories at the university. These buildings, made specifically for women, existed as a panoptical space, where women could be closely monitored.[18]

The common rooms of the these new buildings, the parlors, had an open design and layout, allowing female students to observe each other in protection of their “honor.” This spatial arrangement was exclusive to the women’s dormitories in the quadrangle. Men’s halls did not have a comparable layout, and administrators did not restrict men’s mobility.[19] The university expected women to adhere to traditional gender ideals and norms, even while receiving a college education.

Dr. Charles Duncan McIver


Photograph of Charles Duncan McIver.[20]

Following its construction in 1939, McIver Residence Hall was dedicated to a man who spent his life advancing women’s higher education in the state of North Carolina, founding the North Carolina College for Women in Greensboro and later becoming its first president. Dr. Charles Duncan McIver’s legacy remains on UNC Greensboro’s campus today. Due to his efforts there and role in the consolidation of the university system in the late 1930s, the Board chose McIver for the dedication of the new women’s dormitory at UNC.

Charles Duncan McIver was born September 27, 1860, in Sanford, Moore County, North Carolina. He entered the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for his undergraduate education in 1877 at age 17 to obtain a Bachelor of Arts degree. In 1881 McIver enrolled in graduate school at the university. That year, he began working as an assistant teacher for a private boarding school in Durham, North Carolina, of which he eventually became superintendent.[21] McIver held that position in Durham from 1882 to 1884 before working as principal of a high school in Winston, North Carolina, where he met his wife Lula Verlinda Martin. They married and subsequently raised four children together.[22] These early experiences set the stage for McIver’s lifelong efforts to promote women’s access to higher education in the state of North Carolina.

McIver established one of the state’s first colleges specifically for female students in 1891: the Normal and Industrial College located in Greensboro, North Carolina. Because he had some experience in women’s education, McIver appeared as the most obvious choice for the university’s first president. North Carolina legislators created the Normal College in response to a demand for female teachers across the state. Explaining the need for women’s education in North Carolina, McIver once said, “The wife and mother is the priestess in humanity’s temple and presides at the fountain head of civilization.”[23] The Normal College officially opened its doors for students in 1892.[24] Over time, it evolved from a teaching school into a full-fledged liberal arts college that sought to equip women with the vital skill of independence needed for modern life.[25]

Twice the Board of Trustees offered McIver the chance to become president of the university in Chapel Hill, but he refused. He considered his work in building a college for women of greater importance. On the eve of the Women’s College’s thirtieth birthday, Dr. J.J. Tigert, U.S. Commissioner of Education at the time wrote about McIver’s contributions to higher education in the state of North Carolina in the Greensboro Daily News, saying, “This contribution has been rated by competent writers as second only in importance to that of Horace Mann.”[26]

McIver’s efforts to found the Normal and Industrial School that later became the University of North Carolina at Greensboro were part of a broader set of educational reforms. As part of what Kenneth Myers refers to as “Gilded Age-Progressive Era educational reform in the South,” McIver sought to promote women’s access to higher education across the board.[27] As he sought to implement these reforms within the state, many considered him “a tireless worker for the cause of education.”[28] McIver believed that teachers were the “most important public official[s],” and “the seed corn of civilization.”[29]

During his time at the University of North Carolina, McIver developed friendships with men who would later become state leaders. McIver’s relationships with James Yadkin Joyner, Edwin Alderman, and Charles Aycock helped him accomplished these goals of furthering women’s access to higher education, not only through his founding of the Normal and Industrial School in Greensboro but more broadly to the entire university system that included Chapel Hill.


A young Charles Duncan McIver.[30]

McIver had experience with these three in creating teacher training schools during the late 1880s, prior to the establishment of the Women’s College in Greensboro. Together they offered additional institutes during the summer for those women interested in the teaching profession.[31] Following the white supremacy campaign of 1900, Democratic politicians worked to improve white schools at the expense of black schools by introducing bills such as the London Bill, which allowed individual counties to make decisions about taxes for schools. In a letter to his cousin John McMillan McIver about the bill, McIver discussed his views on race and education. While he often used the term “universal education” in his letter, he did not necessarily believe in equal education for all North Carolinians.[32]

However, these friendships with notable men like Joyner, Alderman, and Aycock attracted some controversy. These men, though they made great strides for the advancement of higher education in North Carolina, implemented reforms that embodied the values of their time. Ultimately the Progressive era was not completely transformative for all North Carolinians: a southern legacy of slavery persisted into the twentieth century, and education was not an exception. These reforms often excluded black North Carolinians from having the opportunity to attend state universities.[33]

McIver died September 17, 1906, just ten days before his 46th birthday. Speaking in memoriam of McIver, in 1907 Edwin Alderman wrote following about his beloved friend:

“If I were asked what was the greatest things about Charles McIver, I should say it was his interest and sympathy and love for men and women; not attractive men and women alone, or good men and women, or great men and women, but men and women.”[34]

Alderman also spoke fondly in reference to McIver’s plain nature that enabled him to unify efforts to reform education.[35] At least according to his peers, McIver was a simple yet passionate man who devoted his life to the honorable cause of education in North Carolina.


Death mask of Dr. McIver.[36]

While McIver’s efforts certainly advanced the cause of higher education for women in North Carolina, they were limited in scope. The women who first attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1897 had privilege based on their social class and race. Whiteness became an important factor in determining who could attend the university. In fact, UNC did not integrate its campus until the 1950s. Even then, only black male students could enroll.[37] Thus, strides made by McIver and others to promote the education of men and women in North Carolina were incomplete and continued to exclude marginalized individuals from enrollment. 


Later Developments and Changes to the Building

The university made several additions and renovations throughout the twentieth century and into the present day. It sponsored many of these renovations simply for the comfort of its residents. Interestingly, though, while the university provided the funds for these changes, student lawmakers determined them. According to an article in The Daily Tar Heel on March 4, 1954, student lawmakers wanted to meet to decide which dorms would receive television sets totaling an amount of almost $4000. Ultimately, the legislature planned to provide these sets exclusively to men. The acting legislative body only appropriated $600 worth of funds to Spencer and McIver for new laundry machines.[38]

In 1960 the exterior of the building was painted; and in 1972, the university sponsored updates to the electrical wiring system in the building and made it capable for the installation of air conditioning units. The total cost of these renovations, under the direction of electrical engineer Thomas and Olive, Inc., for dorms in the quadrangle — Spencer, Alderman, McIver, and Kenan — totaled $87,740.45. Later, in 1979 a ducted exhaust system was installed in the bathrooms of the building, along with five other dorms, totaling $21,840. Repairs to buildings in the quadrangle were made in 1980.[39] The university made additional renovations in 2004.[40]

Interestingly, as the university made changes to the building, McIver’s use also changed and developed over time. The green space of the quadrangle became a popular spot for meetings, especially for sororities, likely due to its close proximity to the arboretum. An article from The Daily Tar Heel on October 19, 1954, discussed a picnic supper, sponsored by the Panhellenic Council, that took place on the McIver lawn for new sorority pledges. At the event pledges performed skits in light of rush week.[41]
mciverdance1At the same time as these events, the parlors and social rooms of dorms in the quadrangle provided an ideal space for events. Interestingly, these dances or gatherings included both men and women; however, because women could be closely observed, these interactions were sanctioned.[42]


Photographs showing a group of students at a dance at McIver Hall, July 9, 1955.[43]

Thus, women had the opportunity to enjoy leisure activities but remained monitored, especially if they involved men. Female students had to adhere to certain societal expectations while attending college in the earlier part of the twentieth century. Despite these obstacles to success, women continued to enroll at the university, and McIver, along with the other dorms in the quadrangle, provided a space for women to engage socially and form meaningful relationships with their fellow students on campus.

Closing Thoughts

Today, McIver Residence Hall remains a popular choice among both male and female undergraduate students. Outwardly, the building represents UNC’s efforts at inclusivity in the early twentieth century, and it is clear that its dedication to McIver was in the name of advancing higher education for more people in the state of North Carolina; however, this history remains complicated, especially in regard to McIver’s relationships with his fellow UNC grads and Gilded-Age reformers, particularly Alderman, Joyner, and Aycock.

Women ultimately faced numerous restrictions and regulations when they decided to enroll at the university. Dormitories often upheld contemporaneous norms and expectations of women from the Victorian period. Due to their layout, appearance, and proximity to the college president’s residence, these buildings allowed female students to be closely monitored by university authorities and each other.[44]


McIver Residence Hall today.[45]

Furthermore, it is evident that even as the university took measures to integrate women on campus, it continued to exclude others. Thus, the historic naming and function of McIver dormitory provide further insights into how the university perpetuated legacies of sexism and racism in North Carolina. This history invites questions about how issues of race, sex, and class intersected on the university’s campus, particularly during the age of Progressive-era reforms. Perhaps more importantly, though, it forces us to examine the very structure, layout, and architecture of buildings themselves and their specific purposes at the university.

About Sources

For this project on the history of McIver Residence Hall at UNC, I used primary source materials found in the North Carolina Collection and University Archives at Wilson Library, articles from The Daily Tar Heel, and online secondary sources. The North Carolina Collection provided most of the biographical information on Charles Duncan McIver, but I also used some online resources (such as NCPedia, an online encyclopedia on North Carolina history) to learn about his life and relationship to the university. Additionally, the North Carolina Collection offered photographs and building notes on McIver Residence Hall that proved useful for developing a timeline of the building. Because of his role in founding the women’s college in Greensboro, the UNCG libraries offered extensive biographical information on Dr. McIver. To learn more about the life of Dr. McIver and McIver Residence Hall at UNC, I recommend looking at these resources both online and at libraries in Chapel Hill and Greensboro.

[1] “UNC Plan Room: Facility Info, McIver Residence Hall,” The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,, (accessed 24 February 2017).

[2] “WELL: Women Experiencing Learning & Leadership,” Carolina Housing, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, accessed March 25, 2017,

[3] “McIver,” Carolina Housing, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, accessed March 25, 2017,

[4] “UNC Plan Room: Facility Info, McIver Residence Hall,” The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,, (accessed 24 February 2017).

[5] Long, Rachael, Building Notes, UNC-Chapel Hill, (Chapel Hill, N.C.: Facilities Planning Office, 1984) University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 225.

[6] The Campus of the First State University, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. (Chapel Hill, N.C.: The University, 1965), 290.

[7] Dean, Pamela, Women on the Hill: A History of Women at the University of North Carolina, (Chapel Hill, N.C.] : Division of Student Affairs, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1987), 3-5.

[8] Ibid., 6-8.

[9] Ibid., 10-11.

[10] Ibid., 10.

[11] “New Women’s Dormitories, University of N.C., Chapel Hill, North Carolina” in Durwood Barbour Collection of North Carolina Postcards (P077), North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, Wilson Library, UNC-Chapel Hill

[12] R.E. Coker, “The November Scientific Monthly,” University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. (Chapel Hill, NC, 1938), 473-474.

[13] Records of the Board of Trustees, 1932-1972, reel 1, Davis Library Microfilm, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

[14] Records of the Board of Trustees, 1932-1972.

[15] Long, Rachael, Building Notes, 225.

[16] Roland Giduz photographic collection, 1947-1970, Black and White Film Box 1 Sheet Film P0033/0086, North Carolina Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

[17] Henderson, Archibald, The Campus of the First State University, 1949, North Carolina Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 290.

[18] Altha J. Cravey and Michael Petit. “A Critical Pedagogy of Place: Learning through the Body.” Feminist Formations 24, no. 2 (2012): 104. (accessed March 25, 2017).

[19] Ibid., 106-107.

[20] Bowles, Elizabeth, “McIver, Charles Duncan,” 1991, NCPedia, accessed March 24, 2017,

[21] Walker, N., A Sketch of Dr. Charles Duncan McIver, (Dialectic and Philanthropic Societies of the University of North Carolina, 1906), North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1.

[22] Bowles, “McIver.”

[23] Coon, Charles Lee, “Charles Duncan McIver and his educational services, 1886-1906,” Advance Sheets, United States Bureau of Education, Washington, D.C., 1908,, 336.

[24] Ibid., 3.

[25] Holder, Rose, McIver of North Carolina, (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1957), North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 262.

[26] Long, Building Notes, 254.

[27] Myers, Kenneth, Charles Duncan McIver: Educational Statesman, 2002, North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, ix.

[28] Walker, A Sketch of McIver, 6.

[29] Coon, “Charles Duncan McIver,” 337.

[30] “Charles Duncan McIver Records,” University Archives Collections, University of North Carolina at Greensboro,

[31] Bowles, “McIver.”

[32] King, William E. Charles McIver Fights for the Tarheel Negro’s Right to an Education, 1964, North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 362-363.

[33] Myers, Charles Duncan McIver, 192.

[34] Alderman, Edwin, In Memoriam of Charles Duncan McIver, (Winona, Minn.: National Education Association of the United States, 1907), North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 316.

[35] Ibid., 315.

[36] “Death Mask of Charles Duncan McIver,” Martha Blakeney Hodges Special Collections and University Archives, UNCG University Libraries, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, NC, USA.

[37] Cravey and Petit, “A Pedagogy of Place,” 108.

[38] “Legislature Will Decide on Dorms’ TV Tonight,” The Daily Tar Heel, Chapel Hill, NC, March 4, 1954,, accessed March 20, 2017.

[39] Long, Building Notes, 225-226.

[40] “McIver,” Carolina Housing.

[41] “Panhellenic Council Sponsors Get-Together for Six Sororities,” The Daily Tar Heel, October 19, 1954,, accessed March 20, 2017.

[42] Cravey and Petit, 106.

[43] Roland Giduz collection, 1947-1970, Black and White Film Box 2, Sheet Film P0033/0285.

[44] Cravey and Petit, A Pedagogy of Place, 108.

[45] Held, Joseph. “The residence halls of UNC, as told by the office characters” The Daily Tar Heel, October 26, 2016,