Louise Pellens and Design for a Sorority House

In researching the previous post about Louise Pellen’s scrapbook (see http://wp.me/p20I1i-3tX ), I came across a copy of her University of Illinois thesis Design for a Sorority House. 

From Louise Pellen’s undergraduate thesis

The thesis was one of the requirements of the degree of Bachelor of Science in Architectural Decoration. The Instructor in Charge was Newton A. Wells who earned a Bachelor’s and a Master’s from Syracuse University. He was a member of Delta Upsilon fraternity.

The lower signature is N. (Nathan) Clifford Ricker. In 1875, Ricker, as a student at University of Illinois, became the first graduate of an American architecture program. After graduation, he founded the Department of Architecture at his Alma Mater. He also served as Dean of its College of Engineering. When he was a student, the University had but one men’s fraternity, Delta Tau Delta which was founded in 1872; he was not a member of it. However, Ricker was a fraternity man. He became a charter member of the Acacia chapter at Illinois when it was founded in 1906.  He was also instrumential in the founding of Alpha Rho Chi, an architecture and the allied arts professional fraternity. Ricker was honored as the first of the organization’s eight Master Architects. His daughter Edith graduated from the architecture program and was a member of the Kappa Alpha Theta chapter at Illinois.

Pellen became an initiate of the Illinois Zeta Chapter of Pi Beta Phi in the fall of 1905. Perhaps she used her experience as a resident of the new Pi Phi chapter home at 807 South Third Street in Champaign when she wrote her thesis. The foundation for the Pi Phi house was poured at the end of the Spring 1905 semester and it was finished by August. According to a history of the chapter written for the Society for the Preservation of Greek Housing:

By standards of the day, the house was substantial and commodious. It had 18 rooms – three halls, reception-room, living-room, den, dining room, kitchen, pantry, maids’ room, eleven bedrooms and a laundry. It housed 15 chapter members and a chaperon, Mrs. Dicken. The patronesses gave the chapter a mission dining room set consisting of two tables, buffet and two dozen chairs. Each occupant paid $8 a month in room rent, and each member living out of the house contributed $2 a month towards the rent bill. The house rules were made by the chapter.

Her thesis problem read, “It is desired to build a chapter house for a sorority at a State University which is located in the central northwest.” The house she designed was to sleep 22 women and a chaperone. It was to be a modest home because it would be built and maintained by the chapter members.  Some of the interesting tidbits about the design include:

The chief problem in a sorority house is to get a first floor plan which is ordinarily divided into several small reception rooms, but may occasionally be thrown into one large room suitable for dancing….In the rear of the basement are located the furnace room, fuel room, vegetable room, and laundry, which are accessible either from the kitchen or from the outside by a ground level entrance….Behind the den is a telephone room…as freshmen answer the telephone, as a rule, it is not necessary to have it near the servants quarters….A refrigerator is built into the store room, with access for ice from the back porch; and as the walls of this room are packed with sawdust, making it impervious to heat, the place is practically a cold storage room. By means of this, provisions may be bought in wholesale quantities and preserved here.

Louise Pellens, from the Illinois Zeta composite, 1908

After graduation, Pellens worked as a Draftsman with Wildwood Builders in her home town of Fort Wayne, Indiana. She spent the following year working for Walter Burley Griffin in Chicago. After a few years, she began a career teaching the mechanial arts at Rockford High School in Chicago. There is evidence that she spent the summer of 1921 working for the Interstate Commerce Commission as a temporary structural engineer. Her teaching career ended in 1950 at Austin High School in Illinois. She died in 1969 in Phoenix, Arizona.

The current home of the Pi Beta Phi chapter, at 1005 South Wright Street was purchased in 1921.

© Fran Becque, www.fraternityhistory.com, 2017. All Rights Reserved. If  you enjoyed this post, please sign up for updates. Also follow me on twitter @GLOHistory and Pinterest www.pinterest.com/glohistory/

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