Elizabeth Waters Residence Hall was the third at the University of Wisconsin to be built as a residence for women. (Chadbourne – originally called Ladies Hall – was the first in 1871, followed by Barnard in 1912.)
The decision to build here was made in 1937, and the building was finally occupied in 1940. It was designed as five separate units built on three different elevations, with stairways to enable residents to work their way up and down among floors that essentially cascade down the steep slope of Observatory Hill toward the lake.
In 2006, it admitted men and Elizabeth Waters Hall became a coeducational residence for the first time in its history. (Read more about this change.)
The fact that there was little organized protest concerning the construction of this building on the slopes of Observatory Hill in the late 1930s (except, perhaps, by students who regretted the loss of the old toboggan run that used to stand at this location) is evidence that concern for the protection of natural areas on the UW campus had not yet really begun.
Two decades later, when the Social Science Building was proposed for its present location at the corner of Charter Street and Observatory Drive, there was a storm of protest about the loss of campus woodland. The difference in public reception between this building and that one is evidence of changing attitudes toward the natural environment over the middle decades of the twentieth century.