Old Library (Battle Hall): view looking to north window, students studying
Old Library (Battle Hall): view looking to north window, students studying

Battle Hall has been a significant space on campus for the past 100 years.

In fact, it has served as the first home for what are now exemplary departments and cultural institutions at the university.

Behind each, people were the driving force in their development.

Read on to learn more about important individuals and events in the building's intriguing social history.

Battle Hall VIPs

Sidney Edward Mezes

Sidney Edward Mezes, professor, university president, and peace conference official for World War I. He served as president from 1908 to 1914 and was the first University president to occupy Battle Hall. (Excerpted from the Handbook of Texas Online, "Mezes, Sidney Edward")

Dedication to William J. Battle, 1915-16 Cactus
Dedication to William J. Battle, 1915-16 Cactus

Dr. William J. Battle

Dr. William James Battle seemed destined to spend his life on a college campus. Born in 1870 in North Carolina, his father, Kemp P. Battle, was a distinguished president of the University of North Carolina. At twelve years old, William opened his first book on Greek grammar, though the subject didn’t hold the same interest for him as it would later in his life. “I studied it,” Battle admitted, “because my father was bigger than I was.”

Battle earned a bachelor’s degree at North Carolina in 1888 and a Ph.D. in Classical Languages from Harvard in 1893. After a brief position as tutor in Latin at the University of Chicago, Battle joined the faculty at the University of Texas as an assistant professor of Greek. His first office and classroom at the Forty Acres was on the top floor of the central tower of the Old Main Building.

“The Greek Room,” as Battle called his classroom, became much more than a lecture hall. In 1894, Battle began assembling a teaching collection of life-sized plaster casts of Classical sculptures that soon filled the Greek Room and beyond. Today the priceless Battle Cast Collection is one of a handful that survives, and is exhibited at the University’s Blanton Museum of Art.

Outside of the classroom, Battle involved himself in a variety of University issues. In 1896, to help students save money on books, Battle organized the University Co-operative Society. In 1900, as enrollment topped 1,000 students, Battle compiled the University’s first campus directory.

Battle also took it upon himself to design a new, more distinctive seal for the University. Of the seal in use since 1881, Battle complained: “Except for the word Universitas, it might just as well have been the emblem of the State Penitentiary.” Battle’s design is still in use today.

Beyond serving as acting president from 1914 to 1916, Battle’s greatest contribution to the University was perhaps as Chair of the Faculty Building Committee from 1920 to 1948. Battle’s interest in architecture was almost as great as his fascination with ancient Greece and Rome, and he took great care to ensure that the design of the campus and its buildings were both appropriate to their setting in Texas and reflected the high aspirations of the University.

After more than six decades in Austin, Battle returned to his native North Carolina in 1955, where he died on October 9 of the same year. He left his personal library of some 10,000 volumes to the University, many of which can still be found on campus library bookshelves today, complete with Battle’s notes in the margins.

In 1973, the Old Library building was named Battle Hall in honor of William J. Battle and his lasting legacy at the University of Texas. (Excerpted from the Handbook of Texas Online, "Battle, William James")

Robert Ernest Vinson

Robert Ernest Vinson, Presbyterian minister and University president from 1916 to 1923, was the last president to occupy Battle Hall.

Eugene Barker in front of Library
Eugene Barker in front of Library

Eugene C. Barker

Barker served as managing editor of the Southwestern Historical Quarterly and director of the Texas State Historical Association from 1910 until 1937. During that time he not only edited the Quarterly but contributed numerous articles to the publication, most of them on some aspect of Texas or Mexican history. Through his articles Barker showed the effect that Texas history had on the history of the American West.

Barker was instrumental in the origin of the Latin American Collection (now the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection) and the Littlefield collection of source materials on the history of the South, both important components of the University of Texas libraries. Barker's greatest contribution to the university, however, was in building the history department, which, during his career, came to rank with the best in the state universities of the nation. Barker exercised a remarkable influence as one of the leaders of the university faculty.

When the University of Texas named the Barker Texas History Center (dedicated in 1950) for him, it was the first time that such an honor had been accorded a living member of the faculty. (Excerpted from the Handbook of Texas Online, "Barker, Eugene Campbell")

Llerena Friend

Llerena B. Friend was a historian, teacher, and librarian. She worked on the preparation of the Handbook of Texas until 1950, when she became the founding director of the Barker Texas History Center, a position she held until September 1, 1969. In addition to her extensive work as librarian for Texas history sources, she also taught Texas history at the university. In 1976 Governor Dolph Briscoe appointed her to the Texas State Historical Records Advisory Board, and in 1987 she was nominated to the Texas Women's Hall of Fame. (Excerpted from the Handbook of Texas Online, "Friend, Llerena Beaufort")

J. Frank Dobie in Battle Hall office
J. Frank Dobie in Battle Hall office

J. Frank Dobie

J. Frank Dobie, author and folklorist, joined the university faculty in 1914, around the time he joined the Texas Folklore Society. In 1917 he left to serve two years in World War I. Dobie resigned his position at the university in 1920 to manage his uncle's ranch. During this year he discovered his calling-to transmute all the richness of ranch life and land and culture into literature. The Texas Folklore Society was the main avenue for his new mission, and the University of Texas library, with its Texas resources, was his vehicle.

Dobie returned to Austin and the university in 1921. He was the state's leading literary and cultural figure during the Texas Centennial decade, the 1930s. His office at this time was in the Old Library building.

He spent World War II teaching American literature in Cambridge. After the war he returned to Europe to teach. In Texas, the University of Texas regents, critical of the university's liberal professors, fired President Homer P. Rainey in November 1944. Dobie, a liberal Democrat, was outraged and vociferous, leading Governor Coke Stevenson to claim that he was a troublemaker and should be dismissed. Dobie's request for a continuation of his leave of absence in 1947 was denied by the regents, and he was removed from the UT faculty under what became known as the "Dobie rule," which restricted faculty leaves of absence to two years except in emergencies.

After this separation Dobie devoted all of his time to writing and anthologizing. President Lyndon B. Johnson awarded him the nation's highest civil award, the Medal of Freedom. (Excerpted from the Handbook of Texas Online, "Dobie, James Frank")

Charles Umlauf
Charles Umlauf

Charles Umlauf

In 1941 Umlauf joined the new art department of the University of Texas as instructor in sculpture. During the 1940s Umlauf officed and taught in the Old Library building. He served on the faculty for forty years.

Umlauf was considered a tough but caring teacher, and received a Teaching Excellence Award. He was known for a crushing handshake, which was often accompanied by a wide smile. In the early years of the art department student clay works were fired in a kiln that could reach a temperature of 3,000 degrees. The kiln was located in a wooden barracks building used during World War II. Umlauf would climb up into attic with a fire extinguisher to ensure that the building would not burn down as the student works were fired.

Umlauf continued creating both small and monumental works of art throughout his educational career. He published two books on his work through the University of Texas Press. Works by Umlauf can be found throughout the United States, and several of his sculptures can be found on the UT Austin campus. (Excerpted from the Handbook of Texas Online, "Umlauf, Karl Julius [Charles]")

One Building, Multiple Purposes

Planetarium in reading room (part of Centennial celebration), "A Photographic Tour of The University of Texas"
Planetarium in reading room (part of Centennial celebration), "A Photographic Tour of The University of Texas"

Stars in the Reading Room

With a salute to the six nations whose flags have flown over Texas, the University Centennial Exposition opened on campus June 1, a jump ahead of the central Centennial Exposition in Dallas.

In the Old Library Dr. E.G. Keller, assisted by some students, installed a planetarium, on which the 100 years of astronomical history from 1833 to the present time is depicted.

[Excerpted from "University Exposition Opens on the Campus," The Alcalde, June 1936.]

Reading Room becomes Art School studios
Reading Room becomes Art School studios

Artists Move in to the Library

… the Old Library Building is more than headquarters for the campus painters and sculptors—it is a memorable link between the University's past and present.

Today the Department of Art occupies most of the Old Library

...but the artists in general lay claim to the building at present, and will until they, too, move to larger newer quarters. Perhaps it is appropriate that the newest college, the lovers of artistic expression, form, and color, should have been born on this campus in the Old Library Building.

[Excerpted from "Old Library Building, Once Campus Queen, Artist filled," The Daily Texan, September 3, 1943.]

Mural-in-progress, Daily Texan, 3-21-43
Mural-in-progress, Daily Texan, 3-21-43

The old Library Building houses the Department of Art with its labs and lecture courses.

The main hall on the ground floor is used as a display room for student art pieces.

At the head of the stairs on the second floor is a large mural painted by a student class. Its theme is the Four Freedoms, set forth by President Roosevelt.

[Excerpted from "Fine Arts Dept. is Youngest," The Daily Texan, August 15, 1943. Image credit: Reading room becomes art studio, The Cactus, Texas Student Publications, The University of Texas at Austin, 1943-44, p. 219.]

Barker History Center & Texas State Historical Association

The Eugene C. Barker Texas History Center, today known as the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin, opened on April 27, 1950. At the time of its dedication the center brought together for the first time two departments of the University Library: the Archives department and the Texas Collection Library, as well as the offices of the Texas State Historical Association. The Barker Center was named for Eugene C. Barker, distinguished professor of history at the university. It originally occupied the Old Library Building (now called Battle Hall), which was designed by Cass Gilbert and built in 1910.

Excerpted from the Handbook of Texas Online, "Barker Texas History Center"
Circulation desk

The Texas State Historical Association will have the ground floor, which is divided into four sections by an arched roof corridor. The land offices will temporarily be housed in the three room in the northeast section. South of this section are the rooms where the Handbook of Texas is edited. Occupying the southeast corner of the building is Dr. Barker’s office. The southwest corner will include the information desk and receiving office of the Association, the control office, director’s office, editing room, and mailing offices, and a section of stacks five tiers high.

Replacing the old staircase to the second floor are steps of Vermont marble with a handrail of iron grillwork. At the head of the steps is an old desk area which will be the central place for distribution of books and manuscripts. The stacks with research desks for graduate students is to the right. To the left is the large library with its high roof resembling those on the second floor of the Main Library.

Excerpted from "Texas History Center Almost Ready for Use," The Daily Texan, September 20, 1946

Social History

Major George Littlefield lying in state in Library Building (Battle Hall)
Major George Littlefield lying in state in Library Building (Battle Hall)

Major George Washington Littlefield

In the early morning hours of Wednesday, November 10, 1920, 78-year-old George Washington Littlefield, a University regent and generous benefactor, quietly passed away in his home across the street from the UT campus. Littlefield had been ill for some time, and his death wasn’t unexpected. His contributions to the University merited a special farewell. From 2–4 p.m. in the afternoon on Friday, November 12, Littlefield’s body lay in state in the vestibule of Battle Hall, just inside the front door. The flower-covered casket was guarded by four members of the Knights Templar, of which Littlefield was an active member. Thousands of students, faculty, and alumni lined up outside the building to pay their final respects.

Littlefield moved to Austin in 1893 and built his home just north of the 40-acre campus at the corner of 24th and Whitis Streets. Along with service as a University regent, Littlefield gifts included the Wrenn Library, purchased for $250,000 and kept on the first floor of Battle Hall, the Littlefield Fund for Southern History, the Littlefield Residence Hall (named for his wife Alice) and Littlefield Fountain, and $500,000 toward the erection of a new Main Building when needed. Near his death, Littlefield added his home among his UT bequests, and intended it to serve as the residence for the University president.

Students Learn—and Defy—Library Rules

Old Library (Battle Hall): view looking to north window, students studying
First floor hallway looking west with old entrance into Library
Old Library (Battle Hall): view looking to north window, students studying at long tables

After further consideration of the disturbance you caused by wrapping on the table in the reading room of the library Monday night. I am instructed by the Library Committee of the Faculty to request you to remain away from the library for ten days; May 5th to May 15th, inclusive.

The library is interpreted to mean all parts of the building used for library purposes, and you are, therefore, asked not to come inside the grills on the ground floor.

Excerpt from letter to student from the Librarian, 1916, From UT Library Records, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University o

I have thought about your attitude toward the University library since you left the office yesterday, and while we are gratified with the fact that you have found it possible to cooperate with us to some extent, we regret that you have not gone a step further and eliminated entirely your talking in the reading room and on the stair way.

Concurring in the advice of the Library Committee of the Faculty, I ask you to absent yourself from the library from May 15th to May 21st, inclusive.

Excerpt from letter to student from the Librarian, 1916, From UT Library Records, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University o
Reading room in use
"University Scene" with Library reading room, view into entry hall
Old Library (Battle Hall): students in Reading Room

On the second floor was a large reading room over which a Silence Master presided (usually a very old man immaculately dressed). His job was to see that students did not talk or chew gum in the room and that the boys wore coats.

[Legend has it that in the early years male students weren't allowed to take off their coats in the Library reading room. On a particularly hot and humid day when even the cross ventilation of the open balcony and stacks windows offered no relief the students in protest removed their coats. The librarian insisted had to wear their coats in accordance with university rules. The students did their research and discovered there was no such rule.]

[Excerpt from "Old Library Building, Once Campus Queen, Artist Filled", The Daily Texan, September 3, 1943]