South Hall, built in 1855, is the second oldest building on campus. It was the original women’s dorm before what is now Chadbourne Hall was built, and it is now home to the administration of the College of Letters and Science. Like all early buildings at the university, South Hall at one time possessed a chapel that was an active part of student life for decades.
Besides daily prayer meetings, the chapel was periodically used for student pranks. In the 1860s some students led a cow into the chapel and tied it to a center pillar. When someone untied her, she ran down the hall, jumped through a window to the ground, and broke her leg. A student collection was taken up to reimburse the owner and pay the janitor for his services in cleaning up the mess.
A century after it opened, and long after the chapel disappeared, South Hall was adorned with an overt religious artifact. The Class of 1955 gifted the university a plaque with a quote from the Gospel of John 8:32: “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” Although the plaque cites the verse’s biblical source, it decontextualizes the saying. To put the statement in its fuller context, Jesus tells his followers that, if they hold to his teachings, they are truly his disciples—in which case “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” Stripped of this theological context, the quote takes on a new significance as a testament to the university’s commitment to academic freedom and the pursuit of truth. Although its meaning has been secularized, the verse highlights the Bible’s continuing significance as a point of reference for the university’s educational mission.
Continue up Bascom Hill until the walkway forks. Look left toward Birge Hall for the next stop.