Bowles Hall is a historic, iconic residence hall at UC Berkeley, prominently situated on Charter Hill between the Greek Theater and Memorial Stadium. All three, plus the International House, are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Bowles Hall was established in 1929 as an all-male residence dormitory at UC Berkeley through a gift from Mary McNear Bowles in honor of her late husband and former UC Regent Philip Ernest Bowles. It was the first residential college established in the U.S. (beating Harvard by one year!); today, there are 130 residential colleges in the U.S. and 453 worldwide.
Bowles Hall became the campus’s “community of men,” proud of its reputation for high academic achievement as well as the best social and intramural programs on campus. Today, Bowles Hall is a conventional dormitory for freshmen only, with decades of accumulated deferred maintenance and without on-site dining, an empowered student government or a meaningful collegiate community.
Mary McNear Bowles (UC Berkeley class of 1882) proposed a major gift to the University in memory of her late husband and former UC Regent, Philip E. Bowles (also of the UC Berkeley class of 1882) to construct the first student residence hall at UC Berkeley. (The text of her speech to the UC Regents announcing her gift can be read here.)
After extensive discussions with then UC President William Wallace Campbell, it was agreed that a residence hall for undergraduate men was the resource most needed by the University, which also aligned with Philip Bowles’ interest in the welfare of undergraduate students. President Campbell tasked Dr. Robert Gordon Sproul (later UC President) and Dr. George Kelham (university architect and Principal Architect of the 1915 Panama Pacific Exposition in San Francisco, the UCLA campus and other prominent projects) to survey the best models of university residence halls then in operation. They settled on those planned for Harvard and Yale, which were modeled after those in operation at Oxford and Cambridge for several hundred years. They deemed that the success of this model was attributable to the fact that these “houses” or “residential colleges” were small, diverse, decentralized communities and where the faculty and alumni were the principal influences on student life.
With this successful model to guide them, Mrs. Bowles and Dr. Sproul designed the Bowles Hall experience, and Dr. Kelham designed the Bowles Hall building to support the implementation of this model.
1929: Bowles Hall opens, dedicated to “Education Through Fellowship,” with 102 male student residents, two per three-room suite, with on-site community dining, gracious living, self-governance and four-year residence.
1939: The Julien and Helen Hart Memorial Library is added with a gift from UC Berkeley professor James D. Hart, their son, and Mrs. Joseph Bransten, their daughter.
1943–1945: Bowles Hall joins the War Effort as home to military students completing degree work. Occupancy doubles to 204.
1945: Bowles Hall reverts to a UC residence hall; occupancy remains at 204.
Mid 1970s: Self-governance is replaced by Student Affairs oversight; lottery system reduces returnees. Sense of community diminishes.
1988: On October 17, 1988, Bowles Hall is recognized as a City of Berkeley Landmark building (#120) under the jurisdiction of the City’s Landmark Preservation Commission.
1989: On March 16, 1989, Bowles Hall is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of the Interior, in an effort initiated by student residents and supported by the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association.
2000: On-site community dining discontinued.
2005: Residency limited to freshmen only. Sense of community, with ties to heritage, has disappeared.
2005: Bowles Hall Alumni Association is founded for the purpose of working to re-establish the Bowles Hall Residential College and to renovate and refurnish Bowles Hall and.
The following is the text of Mary E. Bowles’ announcement of her gift delivered to the Regents of the University of California:
In memory of my beloved husband, Philip Ernest Bowles, recently deceased, and with purpose to contribute to the physical and spiritual welfare of students registered in the University of California, I herewith voluntarily pledge myself to provide the University of California with a dormitory for men, appropriately and completely furnished, on or near the University campus, in Berkeley, said dormitory to be known as Bowles Hall to cost not less than two hundred and fifty thousand dollars ($250,000).
As soon as the University officials will have decided upon the location of Bowles Hall, it will be my desire and purpose to have the University Supervising Architect, Mr. George W. Kelham, proceed with the planning of the Hall, in conference with myself and a representative of the President of the University; the plans to be subject to the approval of the Buildings and Grounds Committee of the Regents and of the Board of Regents; the building construction to be pushed vigorously and the furnishings to be in place in time to have the dormitory completed and ready for occupation, if possible, not later than June fifteenth, nineteen hundred and twenty-eight.
I hereby pledge myself to make cash payments to the Regents for the prompt and immediate meeting of all costs of construction and furnishing, at such times and in such amounts as the Comptroller of the University shall request of me, but not in total amount greater than three hundred and fifty thousand dollars ($350,000). I also pledge myself to expedite the preparation of the architect’s plans for the building and the furnishings in every reasonable and practicable manner.
The Bowles and McNear Families
The Bowles family story is one of generosity and dedication to helping others, leading to the creative vision by Mary Bowles, wife of Philip Ernest Bowles, and her desire to honor her husband that resulted in the formation of what became the first residential college in America: Bowles Hall at the University of California, Berkeley. First mention of the Bowles family in North America stems from early 19th century Canada, and the family subsequently may be traced to New Orleans, Louisiana; then to Humboldt County, California; and finally to the Oakland and San Francisco Bay Area.
Joseph S. Bowles, father of Philip Ernest Bowles, was born in Quebec, Canada in 1811. He married Sarah [last name uncertain] and moved to New Orleans, Louisiana. The couple subsequently crossed the continent and pioneered in Humboldt County, California, where they had three children: Josephene Bowles, born in 1854 in California [location and date uncertain]; Henry Bowles, born in 1856 [location and date uncertain]; and Philip Ernest Bowles – for whom Bowles Hall was named –born October 23, 1858 in Arcata, Humboldt County, California.
Philip Ernest Bowles enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1878 at the age of 19 and graduated four years later in June, 1882. He courted Mary A. McNear, daughter of George W. McNear. Mary was born November 26, 1860 in Petaluma, California. The couple was married on November 9, 1883, and had four children: Philip Ernest Bowles Jr., born September, 1884 in California [location and date uncertain]; George McNear Bowles, born October 5, 1886, in Oakland, California; Amy McNear Bowles, born February, 1890 in California [location and date uncertain]; and Robert Harding Bowles, born October 17, 1895, in Oakland, California.
Philip Ernest Bowles [Senior] entered the banking business in 1889 and by 1893 was affiliated with the First National Bank of Oakland, California. Ten years later in 1903, he established the American National Bank of San Francisco. In 1911, Philip was appointed to the Board of Regents, University of California, a position he held for 12 years before retirement from the board in 1922. Philip E. Bowles died January 20, 1926, at the age of 67.
Early in 1927, Mary Bowles made the decision to honor her late husband through a generous gift of $350,000 to UC Berkeley. First public announcement of this gift was March 19, 1927, and Bowles Hall was dedicated in January of 1929.
Today, the third generation Philip Bowles, Henry Bowles and Beatrice Bowles are all Friends of Bowles Hall as was their mother Constance Peabody until her passing at 97. Philip Bowles presently is a member of the Bowles Hall Foundation Board Of Directors.