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What's in a Name: Pitt names range the spectrum of accomplishment - The Pitt News

The Pitt News

What’s in a Name: Pitt names range the spectrum of accomplishment

William+Pitt.+Courtesy+of+University+Library+Archives.
William Pitt. Courtesy of University Library Archives.

William Pitt. Courtesy of University Library Archives.

William Pitt. Courtesy of University Library Archives.

By Shumeng Yang /Staff Writer

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From its foundation in 1787 as a small preparatory school to a research powerhouse composed of 17 schools with nearly 30,000 students, Pitt has been shaped by individuals with vision for growth, reform and improvement.

These people have made major contributions to everything from the University to the city of Pittsburgh, in areas ranging from athletics to public health. In return, their names fill signs and doorways across Pitt’s campus, from busy lecture halls to student dorms.

The Pitt News decided to take a look at these individuals and the buildings carrying their legacies.

Allen Hall

Originally built in 1914 as the Mellon Institute of Industrial Research and renamed after physics professor Alexander J. Allen, Allen Hall is home to Pitt’s Department of Physics and Astronomy.

Professor Allen, who came to Pitt in the 1930s, led research to develop a cyclotron that would produce radioactive isotopes for medical uses. Later, he worked on a system to determine energies of reaction products to find out how much energy a chemical reaction releases and absorbs, as well as radar systems during World War II.

The Nuclear Physics Laboratory Allen worked in is now used for condensed matter experiments.

Amos Hall

Amos Hall is situated in the Schenley Quad and houses 135 women from nine sororities. It is named after Thyrsa Amos, who served from 1919 to 1941 as the first Dean of Women and is one of only five female namesakes at Pitt.

In the early 1900s, an increase in female enrollment led some universities to appoint a Dean of Women to manage affairs for these female students. Amos encouraged the formation of women’s organizations to foster leadership, social graces and domestic skills. She also founded the Society of Cwens, now Lambda Sigma, and the Pennsylvania Association of Deans of Women.

The Dean of Women’s office closed in 1969, with other offices, such as Student Affairs and the Dean of Students, assuming its roles.

Brackenridge Hall

One of the five residence halls in Schenley Quad, Brackenridge Hall is named for Hugh Henry Brackenridge, the founder of the Pittsburgh Academy — now known as the University of Pittsburgh.

Born in Scotland in 1748 and raised in Pennsylvania, Brackenridge attended the College of New Jersey — now Princeton University — where he joined the American Revolution. As a chaplain in George Washington’s army, he wrote plays and poems and delivered sermons to fuel the troops’ morale.

Brackenridge played a major role in John Scull’s establishing of the Pittsburgh Gazette with Joseph Hall — now the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette — and pursued political ambitions. As a member of the Pennsylvania state assembly, he secured endowments to establish the Pittsburgh Academy during his term, which began in 1786.

The Schenley Quad, originally the Schenley Apartments, was built in 1924 and became a part of Pitt in 1956.

David Lawrence Hall

Named after politician David L. Lawrence, a former Pitt trustee, Pennsylvania governor and Pittsburgh mayor, Lawrence Hall houses the largest lecture hall on campus, classrooms and a 24-hour computer lab.

Lawrence was elected mayor of Pittsburgh in 1945, when the city was facing severe water and air pollution, as well as rampant urban decay. He joined with Richard K. Mellon to launch what would become known as “Renaissance I,” a citywide urban redevelopment project.

“[Lawrence] joined with Richard K. Mellon, and together they orchestrated Pittsburgh’s Renaissance development when the city’s infrastructural and economic future looked bleak,” Edward Muller, a Pitt history professor, said. “The bipartisan partnership between Lawrence, a strong Democrat, and Mellon, a strong Republican, was incredible. It really showed how important this issue was.”

This urban redevelopment movement spanned three decades and included initiatives such as new environmental protection laws, building dams to control flooding, erecting new buildings and creating parks.

Lawrence went on to serve four terms as mayor and one term as governor of Pennsylvania, from 1959 to 1963.

Hillman Library

The Hillman Library, named after coal magnate John Hillman Jr. in 1968, is the largest library on campus and all of western Pennsylvania. The Hillman Foundation donated $3 million towards its construction.

Hillman made pivotal changes to his family’s company, J. H. Hillman and Sons, to transform the firm into a successful coal-based enterprise in the early 20th century and during the Great Depression.

Holland Hall

Holland Hall is named after William J. Holland, Pitt’s eighth chancellor, who served in the position from 1891 to 1901 while living in Pitt’s Music Building.

Holland was born in Jamaica in 1848 and moved to the United States four years later. He received a Ph.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1874. He moved to Pittsburgh the same year, becoming the pastor of the Bellefield Presbyterian Church.

During Holland’s 10 years as Pitt’s chancellor, Pitt became co-ed, with sisters Margaret and Stella Stein joining Pitt in 1895. He added Pitt’s dental, law, medical and pharmacy schools as well as graduate programs, making Pitt a full university.

Litchfield Towers

The Litchfield towers, Pitt’s largest housing complex constructed in 1963, is named after Pitt’s twelfth chancellor, Edward Litchfield.

Prior to assuming the office of chancellor, Litchfield was dean of the School of Business and Public Administration at Cornell University and a professor at the University of Michigan and Cornell. Litchfield served as Pitt’s chancellor from 1955 to 1965.

During his time as chancellor, Litchfield orchestrated academic and administrative changes, as well as physical expansions. The William Pitt Union and Schenley Quad were acquired by Pitt, and Hillman Library, Langley Hall and Trees Hall were constructed.

Litchfield died in a plane crash with his mother, wife and two youngest children over Lake Michigan on March 8, 1968.

Parran Hall

Home of Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health, Parran Hall was built in 1957, nine years after the GSPH was founded. The building is named after its first dean, former U.S. Surgeon General Thomas Parran Jr.

“[Parran] played a vital role in the development of a national health service,” Muller said.  

Parran, who served as Surgeon General from 1936 to 1948, was known for heading nationwide syphilis control programs, expanding the Public Health Service during the New Deal and World War II and forming the World Health Organization.

After retiring from PHS, Parran became the first dean of GSPH, where he recruited faculty and integrated nearby institutions into a medical center. Parran served as dean from 1948 to 1958.

Petersen Events Center

Opened in 2002 and home to Pitt’s basketball teams and providing space for concerts, ceremonies and other sports, the Petersen Events Center is named after John and Gertrude Petersen.

A Pitt alumnus, varsity swimmer and the president and CEO of Erie Insurance Group, John Petersen and his wife donated $10 million towards the construction of the Pete. A skilled businessman and investor, Petersen helped Erie Insurance Group’s assets grow from $20 million in 1962, when he joined as an investment officer, to more than $4.6 billion, when he retired in 1995.

Petersen also donated to various scholarship funds, the Petersen Institute of NanoScience and Engineering at Pitt, and other organizations such as Africa 6000, a project to make water more accessible in Africa, and many medical startups.

Petersen passed away on May 30, 2015 after a two-year battle with cancer.

Posvar Hall

The largest academic building on campus, Wesley W. Posvar Hall is named after Pitt’s fifteenth chancellor Wesley Posvar, and is located on the former site of Forbes Field.

Posvar attended West Point and joined the Air Force, achieving the rank of brigadier general. He was also a Rhodes Scholar, studying at Oxford and Harvard universities.

When he became chancellor in 1967, Pitt was deeply in debt and had just become a state-related university after receiving a state bailout.

“[Posvar] became chancellor when Pitt ran into severe budgetary problems,” Muller said. “He was instrumental in helping Pitt become a national research power, and the University grew enormously under his leadership.”

Forbes Quadrangle opened in 1978 and was renamed Wesley W. Posvar Hall in 2000.

Salk Hall

Salk Hall, a historic landmark of both the state of Pennsylvania and the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, houses the School of Dental Medicine and the School of Pharmacy. It was completed in 1941 and is named after physician and researcher Jonas Salk.

In 1947, Salk became a faculty member at the School of Medicine and began research on polio, then known as infantile paralysis, in his virology lab. He worked on the vaccine, which consisted of “killed” polio virus cells and helped patients develop antibodies without acquiring the real infection, for eight years until its success was made public in 1955.

Salk’s research was one of the largest clinical trials in history, with more than 1 million subjects, including himself, his wife and his kids taking part. He never patented the polio vaccine, considering it a public good.

Sutherland Hall

The largest residence hall on upper campus, Sutherland Hall, named after football player and coach John Bain “Jock” Sutherland, houses athletes and first-year students in the University Honors College’s Living Learning Communities.

Sutherland began his football career in 1914, as a first-year in the School of Dentistry, and only played in one losing game during his four years at Pitt.

After graduating, he went on to coach at Lafayette College from 1919 to 1923 before returning to Pitt in 1924. Under Sutherland, Pitt won five national championships and seven Eastern football championships during his 14 years as coach.

With a coaching record of 144 wins, 28 losses and 14 ties in 20 seasons, Sutherland was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1951. Sutherland Hall was completed in 1992, and he also serves as the namesake of nearby Sutherland Drive.

William Pitt Union

The namesake of both the city and the Union, William Pitt, Earl of Chatham, was a British politician in the late 18th century.

Pitt was Secretary of State during the Seven Years’ War between England and France, during which Fort Duquesne was captured from the French and renamed after Pitt. Many other places are named after Pitt, including Chatham University and various cities around the United States and Canada.

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What’s in a Name: Pitt names range the spectrum of accomplishment