Building Legacies: Gerlinger Hall’s namesake

Gerlinger Hall is named after Irene Gerlinger, the first female member of the UO Board of Regents. (Flickr/AndreChinn)

On Sept. 8, the University of Oregon Board of Trustees unanimously voted to dename of Dunn Hall after a list of demands by the Black Student Task Force prompted UO President Michael Schill to recommend the renaming of both Dunn and Deady halls.

The controversy surrounding the name of Dunn Hall involves Frederick Dunn, chairman of the university’s Latin department from 1898 to 1935, who was reportedly the leader of the Eugene branch of the Ku Klux Klan. Matthew Deady was Oregon’s first federal judge and first president of the UO Board of Regents, but was pro-slavery for a portion of his career.

Dunn Hall has been temporarily renamed Cedar Hall, and the decision for renaming Deady has been postponed.

The Emerald is continuing its series on names of buildings this week with Gerlinger Hall.

Gerlinger Hall was taken out of commision last year as the building underwent a renovation to improve facilities and refurbish the historic exterior. According to the UO Campus Planning, Construction and Design website, the project will convert the decommissioned pool and locker room areas into eight studios, two seminar rooms, recreational space, restrooms and mechanical spaces, among other improvements. The project is scheduled for completion Dec. 7.

Originally named the Women’s Memorial Hall, construction of the building began in 1915 and finished in 1921. According to the Architecture of the UO portion of the UO Libraries website, the building was renamed in honor of its primary advocate, Irene Gerlinger. Ironically, in 1957, Gerlinger told the Register Guard that she didn’t approve of the name change and would have rather kept the original name to honor women.

Known for her great philanthropic and fundraising skills, Gerlinger was also the first female member of the University’s Board of Regents. She primarily used her status to fight for women’s empowerment on campus and to fund fine arts.

Her main achievements for the UO were funding Women’s Memorial Hall (now Gerlinger) and the Museum of Oriental Art (now the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art).

“The Women’s Building actually housed the first iteration of the museum,” said Ed Teague, who is in charge of the Architecture and Allied Arts portion of the UO Libraries website.

Teague explained that the Mary Warner gift of Oriental Art had been received at this time, and the university needed a place to display the collection. Temporarily displayed on the third floor balcony of the Women’s Hall, Gerlinger pushed for the collection to have its own building. “That’s why she had a vested interest in getting the [art museum] built,” Teague said.

In an article for the March, 1921 edition of Old Oregon, an alumni magazine now known as Oregon Quarterly, Gerlinger credits Ruth Guppy with the initial vision for the Women’s Building, and thanks alumni for their funding efforts:

“For the people of Oregon believe in the youth of the state, and believe that an investment for their health and their education is the best possible way to use money,” Gerlinger wrote.

According to the 1957 Register Guard article, Gerlinger also headed the committee to create the Erb Memorial Union Browsing room (now housed in the Knight Library).

Gerlinger was born in Orange County, New York around 1886 on her family’s local farm. Her father also maintained a cattle ranch in Arizona, where Gerlinger spent a portion of her childhood.

She received an undergraduate degree from University of California at Berkeley in a bit of a roundabout way. During her senior year in 1903, she married George T. Gerlinger, who founded the Willamette Valley Lumber company in Dallas, Oregon. She moved to Oregon with him. Finally in 1922, Gerlinger temporarily returned to Berkeley with her three children to complete her degree. She also received her Masters of Art from the UO. 

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