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March 1, 2021

Women of West Circle

Honoring a legacy of Spartan women

Walking through the West Circle neighborhood, with its twisting sidewalks, Gothic architecture and old-style streetlamps, is a reminder of Michigan State University’s early years. Exploring the history of the area’s six residence halls reveals the spirit of the Spartan women for whom they're named.

The six buildings honor the legacies of Spartan women who changed the university's landscape — Mary Mayo, Louise Hathaway Campbell, Linda Landon, Elida Yakeley, Maude Gilchrist and Sarah Langdon Williams. These women paved the way for future Spartan women to discover, create, innovate and advocate.

Mary Mayo

Mary Mayo, leader of Michigan’s rural women and advocate for children, called for the establishment of a women’s course at MSU. She believed the land-grant mission supported equal opportunity to education. Mayo’s determined efforts for the acceptance of women into the college changed the course of MSU history.


After the first women were admitted in 1870, Mayo persisted in convincing the Michigan legislature to provide funds for a women’s residence. Twenty-eight years after the first request, Morrill Hall became the first women’s residence in 1900. Mayo’s advocacy for women to be integrated into residence life paved the way for future generations of successful Spartan women.

She was known as “Mother Mayo” for her supportive and loving demeanor. “I love everybody so much. I have wanted to make life a little easier, a little more enjoyable,” said Mayo. “I wanted to help people to be kinder, truer, sweeter. And there is so much to do.”

Mayo Hall and Mary Mayo
Mayo Hall and Mary Mayo

Louise Hathaway Campbell

Louise Hathaway Campbell worked to make women farmers more visible and provide a beneficial education for the rural women of MSU. She introduced Farm Women's Week in 1926, where more than 200 women living in Morrill Hall attended lectures on home management, health, citizenship and farm economics.

She also was the head of the home economics extension in the 1920s and introduced the annual Homemaker’s Conference which brought more than 1,000 women to campus each July for a week of cultural and technical education. As the state home demonstration leader, Campbell implemented programs for extension services at MSU.

Louise Campbell and Campbell Hall
Louise Hathaway Campbell and Campbell Hall

Linda Landon

Linda Landon was the first woman instructor on campus, teaching English and serving as a librarian from 1891 to 1932. During her time as librarian, she facilitated the expansion of the library, doubling the building in size and quadrupling the number of books available for students.


She was a member of the women’s and child studies clubs and an honorary member of the Men’s Union Library Association, and Landon’s active role in library improvement earned her medals of recognition on Alumni Day for 40 years of service to MSU.


The 1912 yearbook was dedicated to her for “tutoring thousands of students in the art of appreciating, loving and valuing these true friends in life — books.”

Landon Hall and Linda Landon
Landon Hall and Linda Landon

Elida Yakeley

Elida Yakeley served as MSU’s first registrar for 30 years. Her strong relationship with students brought her from the desk of then-President Jonathan L. Snyder's office to the appointed registrar in 1908. She conceived the idea of registering students and inputting grades by machine, but this goal didn’t stop her from knowing nearly every student personally at a time when 500 students registered for classes in agriculture, engineering and the women’s course.


Yakeley kept student academic records, published Michigan Agricultural College’s annual catalog and represented MSU at national meetings. In 1939, she was named associate of historical research, but a more personal honor was her students’ description of Yakeley as a “thoroughly just, broad-hearted friend.”


The respect she earned resulted in a residence hall built in 1948 bearing her name. Yakeley Hall remains the only all-female MSU hall, a fact that would have been appreciated by such a strong female leader.

Elida Yakeley and Yakeley Hall
Elida Yakeley and Yakeley Hall

Maude Gilchrist


Maude Gilchrist was appointed the dean of women in 1901. Her tenacity resulted in doubling the staff and increasing enrollment by 125%. Gilchrist was then tasked with guiding the women's course and later became dean of home economics.


She stood tall among the male deans of agriculture, engineering and veterinary science, tirelessly promoting the work of her division by speaking to women’s clubs, high schools and other public state groups. As an advocate for better education, Gilchrist introduced student teaching into the curriculum to prepare graduates to teach domestic arts and sciences.

Gilchrist Hall and Maude Gilchrist
Gilchrist Hall and Maude Gilchrist

Sarah Langdon Williams

Sarah Langdon Williams, who is commonly known as the wife of the first MSU president, Joseph Williams, is remembered for both her humanitarian and environmental contributions.


After saving lives as a Civil War nurse on the frontlines, she saved MSU from the tree stumps and malarial swamps that overtook it when the land was first granted to create the college.


When the boarding hall staff resigned in 1858 because funds were exhausted, she joined students to serve food in Saints’ Rest, the university’s first residence hall, for the remaining four months of the term.


Her legacy extended beyond the boundaries of East Lansing, as she edited “The Ballot Box,” a women’s suffrage paper that made her a key player for women’s rights. Williams Hall opened in 1937 to honor MSU’s first First Lady.

Sarah Langdon Williams and Williams Hall
Sarah Langdon Williams and Williams Hall

By: Kamryn Romano

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