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Voorhees Hall

Voorhees Hall, one of the oldest and most revered buildings on the Coe College campus, was made possible by a generous gift from the Ralph and Elizabeth Voorhees family in 1914.  Ralph, a native of New Jersey, married Elizabeth Rodman in 1887.  She had recently inherited a large estate and the couple began a long series of philanthropies. For example, the Voorhees contributed a library, chapel and an endowment gift of more than a million dollars to Rutgers University.

Samuel B. McCormick, president of Coe from 1897 to 1904, was the first representative of the pioneer college to contact Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Voorhees.  He was trying to put together an endowment fund campaign in 1901 and the Voorhees wrote him saying they were willing to contribute $25,000.

Although extremely generous with their wealth, the Voorhees were frugal in their personal life.  In 1914, Dr. John Marquis, then the president of Coe, paid a visit to Mrs. Voorhees.  She met him at the door carrying an oil lamp.  She explained to the president that electricity was simply too costly to put into her own home, but that she was willing to donate $50,000 to build and furnish a new dormitory for women, the Voorhees Quadrangle.

This new building was to be a state-of the-art facility for women, comparable to a fine hotel.  All rooms were connected by a bell system.  There were mostly singles and doubles for the women, but the first floor included two apartments for college guests and a few suite rooms, which were larger than the usual living areas.  There was a full kitchen on the second floor, a dining hall in the center of the building, and a swimming pool in the basement.

On the third east floor of the building there was an infirmary, which was the size of two large rooms and included a bathroom for sick women.  This was used quite frequently in 1918 when many students became ill with Spanish influenza. Among these was a freshman student, Helen Roberts, who died in the infirmary on October 19, 1918.  It is said that she now currently haunts the halls of Voorhees, attempting to live out the college life that her early death had denied her.

Voorhees has gone through many renovations, including the alteration of the dining hall into a lobby and transformation of the pool and locker room area into a lounge and kitchen area. Over the summer of 2000, Voorhees underwent a complete renovation in order to provide modern living quarters for female Kohawks of the next millennium.

Voorhees Hall:

Information from the Courier [February 1915]

The gift of Elizabeth R. Voorhees; built of cream brick, the same used in the Science Hall [now called Stuart Hall], and is of the same style of architecture. The building is a very latest fireproof construction and most modern type of structure, having concrete stairs and floors throughout. The only wood used is for doors, window sashes, etc. The arrangement of the building, with stairs at both ends and fire escape down the center, makes it especially safe in case of fire.

Voorhees is on the northeast corner of the Campus and faces the south, the main entrance being near the middle of the building. The entrance is the most beautiful part of the building, the gray marble steps and attractive glass doors give a good impression from the start. The entrance leads to the rest rooms with a fire place in the west end. To the right of the entrance is the matron's office. The light for the entire building as well as a bell call system are controlled through this office. At the left is a check and cloak room. The woodwork throughout the building is birch, natural finish, and the concrete floors are finished in red.

There are fifty dorm rooms in the building. On the main floor there are twelve rooms, as well as a guest room, and both private and general baths finished in marble. The second and third floors are very much the same, each having seven doubles and twelve single rooms. On the second floor is a small kitchen to be used on special occasions.

The basement of Voorhess Hall exemplifies something new in the construction of girls’ dormitories. A big laundry room and a drying room make up the west end of the basement. The east end has the locker rooms and swimming pool. The pool is made of concrete and is twenty feet wide by twenty-seven feet long, four feet deep at one end and a gradual slope to eight feet in the deep end. A spring board is also part of the equipment. A special filtering apparatus has been installed to filter all the water that enters the pool.

Courier June 1917

Title stone "Voorhees Hall 1914-1917" was laid.

The address were given amidst the hum of busy workmen plying hammer and trowel who are hurrying to finish the building as early in the next college year as possible. The two wings are three stories high with basement and will accommodate about 70 girls each. The central and connecting part is uniform in height with the wings, but is only two stories above the basement. The extra story is divided between the dining hall and parlors thus giving them a spacious and dignified appearance. Besides the parlors and dining hall the central portion will contain kitchen and serving rooms down stairs while the upper floor will be given over to dormitory space.

President Marquis revealed the history of the building, the initial gift of Mrs. Voorhees and her subsequent additions to it until they finally totaled $150,000, which is expected to cover the cost of the building.

The Title Stone was officially laid by Dean Emeritus Alice King. It was especially fitting that one who had been connected with the College for so many years, who has served so many generation of students and had been in turn so profoundly loved by them, should perform this service. She said in part:

We have high authority for believing that there are 'sermons in stones,' but far be it from me to attempt to speak such a sermon. But there is a beauty in the symbolism of a 'title-stone' that has a deep and earnest meaning. Whenever man talks of what we call the common materials of the world - its soil, its wood its stone - and putting them together after a fashion of his own, forms a structure for a purpose of his own, to carry out a desire of his will, he does an almost sacred act, an act which shows his own high impulses, or his wish to benefit others...So it is with this building, whose title-stone we lay this afternoon. It came not here of itself. The thought of it arose in the heart and interest of Mrs. Voorhess, its form was arranged in the mind of the architect, its framework came together by the skill of mason and artisan, and when the work of all these is complete and united we shall have a building and quadrangle really noble in conception, and worthy of a holy use. Not altogether collegiate in its purposes some may think, yet surely there should be within its walls such a happy combination of study, work, and recreation as will fit our students for any duty of life, and help the cultivate in them noble ideals of home-making and sweet womanliness.

And now we leave the building; not to forget it as we go, but remembering it, and praying that here many daughters of America may indeed become 'corner-stones polished after the similitude of the palace.'

The building was steam heated and lighted throughout with electricity.  A dining room below, a story and a half in height, with spacious parlors above that open onto a broad porch designed for use as a stage for outdoor entertainments. The building faces the campus and so the noise of the street is shut off and an air of privacy is secured.  Can accommodate 170 women.  The whole quad was open in the fall of 1918.  Two weeks later Helen Roberts dies in Voorhees, a victim of the world-wide flu epidemic.

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