By Colleen Betti
Mary Ann Smith Building
In 1901, the University of North Carolina opened and dedicated a new building, the Mary Ann Smith Dormitory . It was the first building on campus named for a woman, just three years after the University granted its first degree to a woman. Today, it is known as the Smith building and remains one of only eight buildings on campus named solely for a woman (13 other buildings are named jointly for a man and a woman). The Smith Building is located between Swain Hall, Hill Hall, and New West and houses Women and Gender Studies, among other departments .
However, despite her status as the first women to have a building named after her, Mary Ann Smith remains an unknown and unremarkable figure in North Carolina and UNC history. In fact, in nearly all records she is known as “Mary Ann (Smith) Morehead, lunatic” and her will is the only known document that she helped author. However, her life story is one of a wealthy, independent woman who spent the last twenty years of her life in an asylum while men controlled her vast estate. The main legacy of that estate did not fall into these men’s hands, instead, through Mary Ann Smith’s will, provided for a new dormitory at UNC and eventually the home of the Department of Women and Gender Studies.
Who Was Mary Ann Smith Morehead, lunatic?
Mary Ann Smith
Mary Ann Smith was born in Raleigh, NC in 1823 to Richard and Penelope Smith. She was an only child after her older brother died in 1829. Richard Smith was a wealthy merchant worth $75,000 in the 1850 census (just under $2.2 million today).  He owned 11 slaves in 1830 and 1840, and 8 in 1850. Richard died in 1852 and Mary continued to live with her mother in Raleigh. By 1860, they were worth $283,000 (over $8 million in 2017) and owned 25 slaves. It is unknown what the family’s political views were during the Civil War, however the Smiths were wealthy Southern slaveholders.
Mary Ann Morehead
On April 30, 1861, Mary, age 37, married James T. Morehead, a wealthy widowed lawyer and politician from Greensboro, NC. This was not a happy marriage. By by the time Smith wrote her first will in October of 1861, just six months after her marriage, she stated “for certain reasons Mr Morehead and myself are separated and it is not agreeable to me to bear his name and I prefer to do all my acts, and especially that of making my will, in my own maiden name.”  Smith and Morehead had signed a marriage contract before their nuptials, which protected Smith’s rights to her property and allowed her to create her own will. 
Two years later, she filed an unsuccessful petition for divorce in Wake County, claiming that her marriage to Morehead was invalid because he was impotent. While the petition was officially dismissed due to a technicality (it was filed in Wake County, but because of her marriage, Smith was now officially a resident of Guilford County where her husband resided, even if they did not live together), the court’s response provides an interesting look into the standing and treatment of women in divorce proceedings in the mid-19th century. In response to her claims that multiple doctors had informed her that Morehead was impotent, the court said “Informed by whom! … Informed by that old mover and seducer. By whose instigation all crimes are committed, who gave the information to our First mother in Eden, the Father of lies himself. The allegation is but another mode of [illegible] a belief or opinion.”
Smith is mysteriously missing from the 1870 census, and Morehead is listed as widowed. However, suits they jointly filed against her mother’s estate in 1871, show that Smith and Morehead were still legally married and she was referred to in legal documents as “Mary A Smith, his wife.” This did not mean their marriage had improved at this point, because in 1872, another suit claimed that “her husband, the said James T. Morehead, who was not on friendly terms with her, and whose interest was also adverse to hers, so much so that in his complaint filed in the said proceedings he distinctly relinquished all right to act as Trustee under the said marriage contract .”
Mary Ann Smith Morehead, lunatic
In 1898, Kemp Battle recalled that “Mary Smith, of Wake, an only child, a strong-minded, true-hearted woman but without tastes for social enjoyments, modest, retiring, satisfied for years with the companionship of her aged mother: after that mother’s death she lost her reason and ended her days in a distant home for the insane.” On February 7, 1872, about a year and a half after Penelope Smith’s death in October of 1870, Richard S. Pullen, a family friend of the Smiths, and executor of Richard and Penelope’s wills, stated before the court in Wake County that “he is well acquainted with Mary A. Smith and knows the state of her mind. That he believes her to be an insane person and in the opinion of the undersigned is a fit subject for admission into some insane asylum.” The court agreed, and Smith was sent to the Pennsylvania Hospital for the Insane in Philadelphia, the leading mental hospital in the country at the time. 
Women in the 19th century were often confined to mental hospitals because they were not behaving in ways that the men in their lives believed were proper or for other reasons that would be seen as controversial today, including depression, grief, and exhaustion. While it is currently unknown as to the exact reasons Smith was declared insane, the timing of her institutionalization, her incredible wealth, and apparent resistance to living with her husband, may have contributed to the men in her life declaring her insane.
Her confinement in the Pennsylvania Hospital for the Insane did not stop the men in her life from controlling her estate, there are over a thousand pages of court records involving her estate in Wake County from after she was declared insane. There was also competition for her guardianship, which was interestingly never held by her husband. Little is currently known about her life in the Hospital though, aside from the fact that it cost $390 for 13 weeks of board and medical care and that in the summer of 1879, she had been “unusually well” although “mentally, as usual .
Mary Ann Smith died in Philadelphia on January 4, 1891 and was buried in Raleigh, NC. While she was a privileged, wealthy, white woman from a slaveholding family, Mary Ann Smith’s gender still held her back from achieving the status or freedoms in her life than men of her social rank could have. Her legacy has been reduced down to “daughter of prominent Raleigh merchant” and “lunatic.”
The Will of Mary Ann Smith
In October of 1861, Mary Ann Smith wrote her first will. In it she left “The residue of the said second half of my estate, after satisfying the charges aforesaid, I devise, give, and bequeath to the Trustees of the University of North Carolina, to be invested by that corporation in the safest profitable manner” and that “With the profit accruing from such investment, I direct that a professorship of agricultural chemistry be established, or such a chair as shall teach both the science of chemistry and its experiments and practical applications to the useful arts, and especially to the art of agriculture and cultivating the earth.” and “My further will is that the salary of the professor shall be fixed as often as may be deemed advisable by the trustees and shall be equal to any other salary of any of the faculty, except that of president; and or a condition on which the said Trustees shall enjoy the donation aforesaid, I hereby enjoin that so many students be educated in the University free of charge for tuition or would be required if their teacher were charged to produce the amount of the salary of said professor.” She left very detailed instructions for how the money was to be invested, what to do with extra money, and how the students who were to receive a free education should be chosen.
She also wrote a second will in 1863 in which the amounts she left to various family members and friends changed, but the bequest to UNC remained the same. However, the two wills and her later legal status as a “lunatic” put the legality of the wills into question, specifically in the question of if she was in a sane mind when the second will was written. Although there was little difference in the bequests to UNC between the wills, the University joined the legal battle on the side of the first will, and won, receiving the amount of $37,000 (approximately $1 million today). However, while some of the money was used to fund a chemistry chair and scholarships for chemistry students, the University used part of the money to build a desperately needed new dorm, something that was mentioned nowhere in Smith’s will but would become her major legacy on campus .
Wake County, North Carolina. North Carolina, Wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998, Mary A. Smith 1863; Ancestry.com
Mary Ann Smith Dormitory
Construction of the Smith Building
In 1900, Francis Venable, the president of UNC began a large campus building campaign. As part of this, $15,500 from the bequest of Mary Ann Smith, was used to fund the construction of a new boy’s dormitory on campus. This new dorm was desperately needed as the student body was rapidly expanding and even after the construction of the new dorm, the University could only house three-fifths of its students .
Designed by Frank P. Milburn & Company and built by Messrs Zachary and Zachary, the construction began on December 8, 1900 and was completed by the fall semester of 1901. The new dorm was located behind Person Hall and Old West. The building was described as containing “thirty-eight rooms, all of which will be used as dormitories by students. It is a three-story brick structure, with slate roof. It will be fitted up with bath rooms, and all the other modern conveniences.” These modern conveniences included heat, lighting, and running water and the building initially housed sixty-five students.
Early Years as a Boys’ Dorm
The Smith Building began its life on campus as a dorm for 65 boys. In 1903, a cinder track was laid around the dorm for use by the track team. During the summers, it was often home to women attending summer school on campus. For the first few years, there was a laundry run out of the basement by the Charlotte Steam Laundry, which was taken over by Dick’s Laundry Company between 1914 and 1915. 
Life in the Mary Ann Smith Dormitory could be eventful. In February of 1907, two freshman were abducted out of their room by masked sophomores and led to the hallway on the third floor, where they were coated with an unknown black liquid. The Charlotte News called it “a college prank. And the initiation of country ‘hillbillies’ into the hilarity of irrational college life.” A Daily Tar Heel article from 1923 was entitled “Bloody Murder Staged in Mary Smith’s Rooms: Smith Building Upholds Noble Reputation of Footlights for Tragedy and Great Battles,” and explained that the Smith Building had a reputation for housing “tough nuts,” including a sophomore and freshman who played a prank on another freshman by staging a fake murder complete with red ink and a gun with a blank cartridge.
“She Ain’t One of Our Pretty Sites”
In the summer of 1911, only ten years after its initial construction, the Smith Building underwent its first renovation. New floors were laid throughout the entire building, walls were replastered, and all of the woodwork was repainted. These were described as “needed improvements” suggesting that the building had not been in the best shape, as other buildings on campus built around the same time only received minimal repairs and new electrical wiring.
This seems to have been a theme with the building. In 1921, only ten years after the first renovation, an article in the Daily Tar Heel described the sad state of the building. It began “This is the sad, sad, story of Mary Ann. Once upon a time Mary Ann was a blossom, a lily among weeds, a debutante, a thing of beauty, but alas that day has passed. Mary Ann is now numbered among the fall. Oh! Shed a tear for Mary Ann, ‘cause hers is a sad, sad story.” The author describes how the the building is “battle-scarred,” has wrecked stairs and a leaking roof. On the interior, the author states that “a tonic will not cure her, what she needs is a drastic operation,” as the doors are all of the hinges, the furniture is “the junkman’s property,” and “her water works have just plum gone to Ireland.” The article ends with a poem:
“ She ain’t one of our pretty sites,
She ain’t got no window lights,
Her walls are shot; doors all creak,
Her stairway’s busted; roof will leak,
The way she’s kept it is a sin, but –
She’s a damn good building for the fix she’s in.”
Similarly, in 1922, the Charlotte Observer described the accommodations as “the not too luxurious apartments in the Mary Ann Smith dormitory.” A first year student claimed that “the appearance of my room was not calculated to make me feel any more cheerful. It looked like a cell.”
In the fall of 1927, UNC had 168 graduate students, with 97 of them working towards their doctorate, this was up from only 90 five years earlier. After extensive petition by UNC graduate students for housing and a social space, in 1927 the Smith Building underwent an extensive renovation, both interior and exterior in preparation for it to become graduate student accommodations.
The first floor now had a large lounge, a dining room that could seat sixty people, and a house mother’s quarters. The second and third floors included twenty-five rooms furnished with “closets, study desks, special bookshelves, easy chairs, and hot and cold running water.” The basement was also renovated and now included servant’s quarters, a valet room, a game room, and storage rooms. The building was now described as “the most attractive living quarters on the campus, and many residents of the town have expressed a desire to visit the graduates in their beautiful dormitory.”  The members of the Graduate Club also ran a co-operative dining hall, managed by a Mrs. Wales, which served members of the Club that lived in Smith as well as men who lived off campus.
The Shirley Graves Graduate Club was comprised of the graduate students who lived in the Smith Building. Besides running the co-operative dining hall, they were a very social group, hosting lectures and dances for the campus community throughout the year. They also had a reputation as a very radical left wing group due to the politics of two of their members, a Mr. Williams and James Wishart. This led to suspicion and accusations by the larger campus community when the graduate club was upset in 1935 by the decision to convert the Mary Ann Smith Building to a girl’s dorm. The editor of the Daily Tar Heel claimed that “We don’t doubt that the Smith building left-wingers have a good case against their moving out, but their stubborn stand makes us kind of snicker up our sleeves,” while a non-radical member of the Graduate Club wrote back that “I believe that there is not a man in the club, conservative, liberal, or of the mountain – if there be any such, who views the rumored change without perturbation and a certain amount of indignant displeasure.” However, despite the Graduate Club’s objections, the Smith Building was turned into a girl’s dorm.
Over the next thirty years, the Smith building would alternate between being a girls and boys dormitory, depending on the needs of the campus. However, in the 1940s, the building also briefly served several different functions. During an outbreak of influenza in January of 1941, the Smith Building was turned into a makeshift infirmary for at least 34 students as there were over 400 students ill at the peak of the outbreak, overwhelming the infirmary. In 1942, the girls living in Smith had to be housed with girls in other dorms in order to free up rooms for men in the Navy Pre-Flight Training School. Similarly, girls were moved out of the basement of Smith in January of 1943 for the same reason, before the Navy abandoned those plans and the girls were allowed to move back in. However, the boys living in Smith were forced to evacuate in March of 1943 to make room for the Army, and the Navy had control over the building through 1945.
Student Life as Girl’s Dorm
When Smith was functioning as a dorm during the mid-20th century, it was mostly occupied by young women. An article in the Daily Tar Heel from 1955 provides a glimpse into what life was like in the dorm. The girls of Smith wanted to ensure that they kept a good reputation, and wrote a letter to the editor of the Daily Tar Heel protesting “yellow journalism” that had painted the Smith girls as “ Fiendish, Misguided, Rebellious Children.” Instead, they explained that Smith dormitory was the first dorm to have 100% participation in the Campus Chest drive, had placed in various campus competitions such as Valkyrie Sing and the Tennis Ball Parade, had hosted a successful faculty Christmas party, and were helping two needy families in the area. The editors responded that they were not sure what story was being referenced as the only mentions of the Smith girls were in articles on a panty raid, a firecracker episode, and an article on Smith’s lost turtle.
The Smith Building
In 1967, the Board of Trustees made the decision that in the fall of 1968, Smith Dormitory was to be closed and turned into offices. This decision was not well received by the students. The editors of the Daily Tar Heel published a piece entitled “Administration Should Ask: What About the Students?” The girls living in Smith were mostly fine arts majors who spent late nights practicing in Hill Hall, very close to Smith. A murder of a female student on campus two years earlier was still fresh in the minds of many of these girls and they were worried about walking across the dark campus at night if they were moved out of Smith and into Alexander Hall. However, despite these protests, Smith was converted into 42 offices.
APO Lost and Found
Students had not completely given up control of the Smith Building though. In 1968, the Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity opened up a student Lost and Found in the basement of the Smith building. This lost and found was open Monday through Friday from 11 am – 3 pm and was located in the basement of Smith until 1981.
Statistics and Operations Research
By 1970, the Smith Building was occupied by the Statistics Department, specifically their graduate students. There was discussion of moving the Human Sexuality and Counseling Services into the second floor of the building in 1975, but after students protested that it was inappropriate to place such a service among mathematics offices, that plan was abandoned.
The University renovated the Smith Building again in 1979 in order to restructure the building to create space for the Curriculum in Operations Research on the second floor and more office space for statistics graduate students. Once the departments of Statistics and Operations research merged in 2003, the Statistics faculty also moved in the Smith and the graduate students were moved out into Howell Hall.
Women’s Studies, Linguistics, and Archaeology
After Statistics and Operations Research moved out of the Smith Building in 2007, Women’s Studies moved in. Today, Women’s and Gender Studies is on the second floor, Linguistics is on the first floor, and the Research Labs in Archaeology has graduate student offices and the zooarchaeology lab in the basement.
Today at UNC- Chapel Hill, most people do not know who Mary Ann Smith is, or even that the full name of the structure is the Mary Ann Smith Building. This in a way reflects the status of women in 19th century America, often overlooked, forgotten, and with few legal rights. Despite her incredible wealth and business knowledge she showed in her will, or perhaps due to it, Smith was pushed into an asylum while male acquaintances and family members took charge of her estate. Her incredibly detailed wishes for her bequest to the University were ignored when the male president of UNC and the male Board of Visitors decided that the money was better used to construct a dormitory. The building itself appears to have been neglected multiple times in its history, reflected in the multiple renovations needed in the thirty years of its existence. Students were moved in and out of the building multiple times through its history, often against their wishes. In a way, perhaps, it is then fitting that the dorm named after Smith spent many years housing female students and now is home to Women and Gender Studies.
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