Four of the eleven St. Olaf residence halls bear the name of women. Three of these halls, Mellby, Kittlesby, and Larson, are named after women with the same first name, Agnes. The fourth memorializes former Dean of Women, Gertrude Hilleboe. Who were these women?
Agnes Mellby became the first woman to graduate from a Norwegian Lutheran college in the United States in 1897. She led the way for women at St. Olaf as well as in the larger field of higher education at a time when women were mostly attending separate colleges and barred from many elite institutions. Her early death prevented years of teaching students and took a vital mentor from a generation of women. The first dorm at St. Olaf is named after Mellby, ensuring her legacy continues to loom large on the Hill.
Moving to a more recent hall, the tallest building on campus comes from another historic woman Ole, Agnes Larson.
Larson had an illustrious academic career following graduating from St. Olaf in 1916. She received an M.A. from Columbia University, conducted research at Harvard University, and studied Social Work during summers at the University of Chicago. Returning to St. Olaf in 1926, Larson would chair the History Department from 1942 until 1960.
Rounding out the three Agnes Halls is Agnes Kittlesby. The Ytterboe family took in Kittlesby after her parent’s death, raising her as one of their own. She grew up on campus in the Ytterboe’s section of Old Main. Later in life, she would start a Christian preparatory school in China. Kittlesby’s close friendship and working relationship with President Larson Boe led him to name a residence hall after her.
Gertrude Hilleboe’s contributions to St. Olaf College are numerous. Some of us might recognize her from the portrait in the reference room.. Hilleboe served as Dean of Women from 1915 to 1958. As the daughter of one of the Ytterboe children, Hilleboe spent much of her life at St. Olaf. Her memoir “Manitou Analecta” provides one of the most intimate portrayals of the college’s early years. In the last years of her tenure at St. Olaf, Hilleboe Hall was constructed to house the women Dean Hilleboe served.
The construction of New Hall presents an opportunity for the college to memorialize other important women. Naming a building after another woman would acknowledge the many women faculty, staff, alums, and administration who shape St. Olaf. We may see another residence hall named after a woman in the future.