Sunday, October 25, 2020

Sidna Brower Mitchell: Ole Miss Benefited from the New Deal

Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications
Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

Recently I read in the Ole Miss Alumni Review that the University has plans for a multimillion-dollar baseball project. That reminded me of a recent trip to the USGA’s (United States Golf Association’s) headquarters and museum in Far Hills, New Jersey.

While watching a film on golf during the Great Depression—a time when the game was opened to others and not just the rich at their country clubs and when women started playing the sport—I saw that there were hundreds of federal projects to improve or construct playgrounds, swimming pools, baseball fields and golf courses. One star on the map looked like something had happened in North Mississippi.

After checking the Internet—how did we do research before the Internet?—I found that indeed there was activity in Oxford, Mississippi: “At the University of Mississippi…funds from New Deal agencies were also used for improvements in the university’s athletic facilities. The baseball field was graded and enhanced and a new grandstand was added. The golf course was also enlarged and reconstructed, with new grass greens replacing the sand greens.”

I played on that course with some of Ole Miss’ rather famous football players—Johnny Brewer and Ken Kirk—when I had to catch up on my P.E. classes. I haven’t played golf since but I still have clubs and use my putter to open and close my AC vents.

A new stadium was proposed as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project in 1936, and completed in 1941. The concrete football stadium was begun in 1937 with a capacity for 18,000 or 24,000. With the recent expansion, the total seating capacity in the Hemingway-Vaught Stadium is 64,038 making it the largest stadium in the state of Mississippi.

A project grant of $20,000 supported the construction of an Olympic-sized swimming pool west of the gymnasium in July 1936.

However, the Ole Miss athletic venues were not the only ones that benefited from President Franklin Roosevelt’s ideas. Here are some other Ole Miss improvements that I culled from the Internet. The buildings may or may not still be standing on campus.

Kennon Observatory, built in 1939 and one of 39 buildings constructed by the Public Works Administration (PWA) on the campus during the years 1936-1941, was designated a Mississippi Landmark in 2011.

Other buildings on the Ole Miss campus included the Physics Building built in 1939. The building, one of the last construction projects during the PWA, was renamed Lewis Hall in 1977 for Dr. Arthur Lewis, a physics professor.

Dormitories were also built under New Deal Agencies—Barnard Hall in 1938 as a women’s dormitory and attached to existing dormitory Isom Hall, built in 1929.

Somerville Dorm was built in 1938 as a women’s dormitory under Federal Emergency Administration (FEA) of Public Works Mississippi Project 1216-DS.

Three other dormitories— Hedleston Hall, Garland Hall and Mayes Hall—were constructed in Georgian Revival style as FEA Public Works Mississippi project 1216-DS and dedicated October 21-22, 1938.

There were also works done for the Ole Miss faculty. For example, the Eastbridge Faculty and Staff apartments were constructed by the PWA and consisted of eight, two-bedroom apartments. The building has since been demolished. In addition, the University built 22 vernacular cottage-style houses on a new street named Faculty Row in 1939. This construction was done primarily with WPA funding,

Congress granted permission for universities to use WPA funds for fraternal housing. The Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) House, occupied in the fall of 1935, was the first built on Ole Miss’ Fraternity Row after the ban on fraternities and sororities was lifted.

The Student Union Building was completed in 1939 and housed the bookstore, the University Post Office, a grill, a game room, a barbershop, a clothing store and several meeting rooms. The Greek Revival style building continued as the student union building until 1973.

Interestingly to the non-golfer, the Golf Museum in New Jersey provided a history lesson on the New Deal that surprisingly included my alma mater.


She can be reached at sbmcooks@aol.com.

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