Farewell to Davis

Davis Residence Hall during fall at dusk

Demolition of Davis Residence Hall is slated for this week. 2022–23 residents were the last students to call the longstanding building home, and along with the former Zoe Bayliss Cooperative building, the current site of the twin buildings will be the future Levy Hall. Construction for Levy Hall is anticipated to begin in 2026.

History of Davis & the Co-Ops

Two people stand outside Davis ca. 1962
ca. 1962

A study of student housing in 1954 showed a severe need for low-cost housing for students at UW–Madison. Thus, under Newell Smith, Director of Division of Residence Halls from 1954–1983, Schreiner House (1955), Bayliss House (1955), Davis House (1961), and Rust House (1963), were all opened in a span of eight years south of University Ave, off of “campus proper.” These buildings were constructed quickly to accommodate dramatically increased enrollment in the 1960s and 1970s following the Vietnam War and were intended to last on campus for only about fifty years. Schreiner and Bayliss operated as co-ops, where residents were responsible for cleaning and maintenance, but between the construction of Bayliss in 1955 and Davis in 1961, attention was diverted away from building the co-ops and instead went to the construction of the Elm Drive residence halls (Bradley, Phillips, and Goodnight Hall), the Holt residence halls (Cole and Sullivan), and a new Chadbourne Residence Hall to continue providing more on-campus housing for students (ironically opposed by Henry Barnard, who believed students should live off campus).

Architectural rendering of new student housing, Schreiner House (left) and Davis House (right), on the University of Wisconsin campus.
Architectural rendering of new student housing, Schreiner House (left) and Davis House (right), on the University of Wisconsin campus, ca. 1960–1960

Co-op life in Schreiner and Bayliss were so successful that the next two buildings to be constructed, Davis and Rust, would also be co-ops. Construction of Davis was approved for $212,000 and was planned to house 50 residents — specifically, women only. After it opened in 1961, The first 52 residents of the building were Wisconsin residents and were all selected based on financial need and academic standing.

Co-op style living worked well in Davis for fifteen years until it became difficult to fill spaces. Then, in 1989, the building was changed to graduate housing, following the course of Rust and Schreiner. Starting in the fall of 2005–06, Davis started housing only undergraduate students. Bayliss remained a co-op until the end of the 2022–23 academic year.

Biography of Susan B. Davis

Black and white portrait of Susan Burdick Davis
ca. 1940

Born in Milton, WI, Susan B. Davis received a B.A. from Milton College and an M.A. in speech from Northwestern University. She studied further at Harvard and the University of Chicago before coming to UW–Madison to be a lecturer in speech in 1925. Davis was the hostess for Barnard Residence Hall in 1925–1926, and she served as dean of freshmen women from 1927 to 1941.

After a brief retirement, Susan Davis served as an educational advisor at the Truax housing project for returning veterans and their families. In addition to her service to the University, Davis also distinguished herself by writing seven historical sketches and studies of Wisconsin, including Old Forts and Real Folks, Wisconsin Lore for Boys and Girls, and Our Wisconsin, a Pageant.

From A Memorial to Susan Burdick Davis — May 1952

“It is fitting that a gift honoring Susan Burdick Davis should be a symbol of light, for she herself symbolized it. And it is fitting that we honor her memory with a gift that will be used in the service of young people, as she herself loved to be used.”

“The greater part of Miss Davis’s life was spent on or near the University campus in constant association with young people as head resident, as teacher, and as advisor to freshman girls. The ties that bound her to them were those of love and adoration.”

“Her ‘brand’ carried her through the seventy-two years of her courageous, helpful, and spirited life, and though she has gone from us, she remains vividly with us.”