Years before the university’s grounds grew to the hundreds of acres it is today, the historic Oval was the center of campus and served as the hub of college life – particularly during the Maryland State College era (1947-1970).
The Oval was where students lived, dined, studied and engaged in social activities. At the center of much of the activity were two primary dormitories, Somerset and Murphy halls.
Somerset Hall, named for the county in which the university is located, was the men’s dormitory. During the early years of the Maryland State era, the majority of students were men – some alumni even recollect there were two-to-three men to every young woman in those days. Consequently, the most intriguing location on campus for much of Somerset Hall’s residents was Murphy Hall, the building located directly across the Oval.
Murphy Hall, the women’s dormitory, was named after John H. Murphy, Sr., a former slave and founder of one of the nation's most prominent African-American newspapers, the Afro-American. The majority of women who attended Maryland State lived in that dormitory and were supervised by matrons, such as long-time administrator Lida L. Brown, who were there to ensure proper decorum and respect were given at all times.
Unlike the young men residing on campus, coeds had a curfew and were only permitted to have visitors at designated times of the day. Of course, overnight visitors were not permitted, and public smoking was frowned upon as unladylike.
Those rules notwithstanding and now years removed from any possible repercussions, alumni gleefully tell tales of late-night rendezvous, parties and other hijinks, which were all part of their many memories of living in Murphy and Somerset halls.
Indeed, many lovebirds first met on the leafy quad between the two buildings and some were later married, including Jesse Williams ('62) of Philadelphia and Vernetta Brittingham ('63) of Berlin, Md. The Williamses* celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in 2012.
-- KIMBERLY CONWAY DUMPSON
* Jesse Williams recalls his Somerset Hall room number was 42 on the third floor; Vernetta Williams was assigned to room 27 in Murphy Hall on the second floor.