Bowles Hall was America’s first residential college, founded in 1929. It was conceived and proposed by Mary McNear Bowles in 1927 as a major gift to the University in memory of her late husband and former UC Regent, Philip Ernest Bowles, as the first student residence hall at UC Berkeley. The project was furthered by future UC President Dr. Robert Gordon Sproul and designed by renowned university architect Dr. George Kelham to follow the residential college model that was in use at Oxford and Cambridge (UK).
The residential college concept in general, and as exhibited at Bowles Hall, stressed academic achievement and collegiality, including educational programs, tutoring systems and self-government where upper classmen served as role models and coaches for new residents. The motto Education through Fellowship was the foundation that guided more than 6,000 former residents of Bowles Hall who traveled all walks of economic life, ethnic and religious backgrounds, and variable life experiences. Residents’ lives were enriched through a vibrant academic and social setting that produced men of high ethical standards well-equipped to meet social and economic responsibilities upon graduation, who ultimately took their place as leaders in American and global societies. A number of Bowles graduates became national and international leaders.
The Hall and its residential and governance structure served the University well until the mid-1970s, when the residential college model was abandoned and replaced with admission by lottery, loss of self-government, closing on-site dining (2000) and freshmen-only residents (2005). Today, the building is in need of significant repair and maintenance and shows little sign of its rich character, history or opportunity.
In 2005, the Bowles Hall Alumni Association was formed with the primary objective to restore the Hall to its original purpose as a Residential College. In 2009, the Alumni Association secured support from the UC Berkeley Academic Senate to reinstitute Bowles Hall as a Residential College. During negotiations with campus administrators, the Alumni Association also secured support for the future plan by campus real estate and financial leadership. In 2012, the Berkeley Foundation endorsed the Bowles Hall Residential College proposal for Bowles Hall, and shortly after his arrival at UC Berkeley in 2013, Chancellor Dirks endorsed the proposed plan—a plan that is in the best interest of both student residents and UC Berkeley.
Key milestones occurred in 2014 with the U.C. Regent’s approval, 2015 start of reconstruction and August, 2016 for the Grand Re-opening of the Bowles Hall Residential College.