Jesuit Mission USF history

History of the Sciences: New Directions, New Students

It must have been with a mixture of excitement and some anxiety that the first small group of female nursing students in the history of the University of San Francisco departed from St. Mary’s Hospital on the corner of Fulton and Shrader Streets, passed by St. Ignatius Church, and entered through the doors of the Liberal Arts Building on the USF campus to begin their science classes. Arriving on campus, these female nursing students were greeted by battalions of male students, many of them veterans of World War II funded by the G.I. Bill of Rights. It was the fall of 1948, and nursing students had begun taking science and liberal arts courses at USF after William Dunne, S.J., president of the university, approved a partnership with St. Mary’s Hospital to offer a nursing education program within a newly created Department of Nursing, housed in the College of Science.

USF nursing uniform

When the USF nursing program was established in the College of Science in 1948, starched blouses, pinafores, and caps were required of nursing students, such as USF nursing student Sandy Mooring, pictured here. UNIVERSITY OF SAN FRANCISCO ARCHIVES

The aim of the USF nursing curriculum in 1948, according to the USF catalog, was “to provide the necessary academic credit which, coupled with a three-year basic curriculum in Nursing in an accredited hospital, permits a student to obtain the degree of Bachelor of Science in Nursing. The degree is intended to furnish an academic background for the professional nurse and equip her for administrative duties.” Required courses included one semester each of zoology, microbiology, physiology, and anatomy, and two semesters of chemistry. Sister Mary de Paul, of the Sisters of Mercy, headed the USF nursing program during its first years as a department in the College of Science, while simultaneously directing Saint Mary’s Hospital and its nursing program. The administrative offices for the program were located at Saint Mary’s Hospital, but nursing students took all of their arts and sciences courses in the Liberal Arts Building (now Kalmanovitz Hall), in temporary buildings on the USF campus, called Quonset huts, obtained from the government, or in WWII-era barracks. Many of the nursing students lived in a dormitory on the south side of Hayes Street, directly across from the hospital. The dormitory was on the same site where the old “shirt factory” campus of St. Ignatius College had once stood. In 1954, the Nursing Department was restructured to become the School of Nursing, known today as the School of Nursing and Health Professions.

USF barracks to accommodate student population following World War II

From 1927 to 1950, the only permanent buildings on campus were St. Ignatius Church, the Liberal Arts Building, and Welch Hall (the Jesuit residence). To accommodate the burgeoning student population following World War II, which included returning veterans and students in the new nursing and graduate programs, barracks from the war years were used, as depicted in this aerial photo of USF taken during the war. The barracks are the eight long buildings on the campus in the center of the photo, to the right of the open field. UNIVERSITY OF SAN FRANCISCO ARCHIVES

Though St. Ignatius College awarded its first graduate degree in 1867, it was not until the fall of 1949 that a full-scale graduate division was launched at the University of San Francisco. The first dean of the graduate division was John Martin, S.J., and the first three master’s degrees offered were in biology, chemistry, and history. The USF professors who developed and taught the first courses in 1949 in the new graduate division established the foundation for the many graduate programs that were to follow. For the master’s in biology, the college offered advanced courses in biological research, physiology, vertebrate zoology, invertebrate zoology, and genetics. These courses were developed and taught by professors Edward Kessel, Harold Harper, William Hovanitz, and Robert Orr (see Vignette #21). The master’s degree in chemistry included advanced courses in biological research, biochemistry, inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry, and physical chemistry, developed and taught by Professors William Maroney, Arthur Furst, and Charles “Mel” Gorman (see Vignette #21). By 1950, 210 undergraduate and graduate students were enrolled in the College of Science studying biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, and nursing. Overall, USF’s enrollment stood at 3,283 undergraduate, graduate, and law students by the fall of 1950, crowded into the 23-year-old Liberal Arts Building, temporary barracks left over from World War II, and Quonset huts. The university was desperate for space.

As early as 1946, when the return of hundreds of veterans greatly increased enrollment at USF, President William Dunne, S.J., began to address the critical space shortage. The following year, Fr. Dunne issued a report to the Jesuit Provincial of California, stating that USF should secure a loan of some $770,000 to help “solve the great problems that confront us.” Fr. Dunne continued, “I do not believe that we can solve them by waiting. We believe that the erection of two buildings would so encourage the people of San Francisco that we shall be put in a better position to gather further funds for one or two other buildings that are most vitally needed such as a college gymnasium and a science building.” After issuing his report to the provincial, Fr. Dunne took steps to launch a major building campaign at the university. Toward that end, the president established the university’s first Board of Regents (different from the Board of Trustees), which in turn embarked on a major development effort and prepared the first master building plan in the university’s history. The president and other administrators at USF also drafted a document titled “The Future of Your University,” which was distributed to alumni to secure their support in helping to raise the money needed to expand the university. This document, issued in 1947, included a summary of the university’s master plan, and President Dunne called upon USF’s alumni to contribute funds toward the $5 million needed for the construction of a new library, a faculty residence, a new wing to the Liberal Art Building, a memorial gymnasium, a law building, a building for the College of Business, a science building, a student union, a residence for undergraduate students, and various student scholarship endowments. In his appeal to alumni, Fr. Dunne wrote, “within eight years we shall commemorate our Centenary. Now is the time to look to the future. Explain our lack of prosperity how we will, we have no answer for the inertia on Ignatian Heights. Long ago, we should have made more progress. Yet, I see no reason why in the next eight years we should not accomplish everything for which we have hoped.”

The new USF Board of Regents soon began accumulating money to implement the master building plan for the university. The first activities by the Board, with the enthusiastic backing of Fr. Dunne, were noted in the San Francisco Chronicle in September of 1947:

“San Francisco’s oldest center of culture and learning is building toward new eminence among universities of the West. The University of San Francisco, soon to complete a century of service, is inaugurating a pre-centennial program of expansion that embraces plant, faculty and curriculum. On the 22-acre Hilltop site that commands a spectacular sweep of ocean, strait, and city, the Jesuit Fathers have launched a construction project of magnificent proportions. The $5,000,000 project is to be financed by the university’s 8,000 active alumni. It will provide accommodations for an anticipated student body of 5,000—library, faculty residence, gymnasium, dormitories, student union, and spacious buildings to house the separate colleges of liberal arts, law, sciences and business administration.”

By 1949, the Board of Regents had increased the fundraising goal from $5 million to $15 million. In September 1949, a dinner was held to mark the kickoff of the Greater University of San Francisco Fund campaign. At the dinner were 200 alumni and university leaders who were to solicit gifts from other alumni and friends of the university in the following year. This fundraising drive would serve as the initial step toward an ultimate goal of raising $15 million by 1955. According to the USF Alumnus of September 1949, this fundraising “embraces wide solicitation of the general public as well as those identified with the University.” The Honorable Timothy Fitzpatrick, member of the board of regents and chair of the university fundraising group, spoke at the dinner. “If we go at this project with our full enthusiasm,” Judge Fitzpatrick said, “we are sure to be successful in building by 1955 an institution which may not be the largest but surely the finest metropolitan university in the land. That prospect is of itself enough to elicit the finest effort of everyone identified with our beloved University.”

First USF Board of Regents

Two members of the first USF Board of Regents—Dr. Edmund Morrissey, a 1917 graduate of the St. Ignatius College science program who became a San Francisco neurosugeon, left, and Vincent Compagno, a 1911 graduate of St. Ignatius College and a prominent San Francisco businessman, right—are pictured at a fundraising event in 1947, the year that William Dunne, S.J., president of USF, established the board. In the upper right of the photo is Richard Egan, an actor and 1943 graduate of USF. UNIVERSITY OF SAN FRANCISCO ARCHIVES

The foundation was laid by 1950 for a host of building projects and fundraising campaigns that carried the university through the next two decades. These successful projects began with the dedication of Gleeson Library in December 1950. Many buildings followed the library: the War Memorial Gymnasium, 1958; Xavier Hall, the Jesuit Residence, 1959; Kendrick Hall, the Law School building, 1962; Harney Science Center, 1965; University Center, 1966; and Cowell Hall, the Nursing School building, 1969. In addition, three major residence halls were constructed during the 1950s and 1960s: Phelan Hall, 1955; Gillson Hall, 1965; and Hayes-Healy Hall, 1966. It took almost 20 years, but Fr. Dunne’s vision and the Board of Regents’ master plan for a greater University of San Francisco were largely realized.

Gleeson Library in 1950

Gleeson Library as it looked in 1950, the year it was dedicated. UNIVERSITY OF SAN FRANCISCO ARCHIVES

In 1950, academic accreditation dovetailed with building projects and growth in student enrollment to enhance the stature of the University of San Francisco. On November 2 and 3 of 1950, the Western College Association (the forerunner of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges) paid its first official visit to the University of San Francisco. A committee of six California educators read reports prepared by administrators, met with faculty and staff, and visited a sampling of classes. The dean of faculties at USF, Raymond Feely, S.J., was the key administrator who prepared for the WCA visit. Fr. Feely became USF’s first academic vice president the next year. In April 1951, the secretary-treasurer of the WCA, Charles Fitts, wrote to USF President William Dunne, S.J., informing him that USF had been approved for complete accreditation. The final report by the WCA stated that USF’s programs were carefully planned, that faculty were actively involved in planning and curriculum development, and that the “religious commitment of the institution did not limit freedom of learning or scholarship and that there was considerable adaptation of the content of courses to the needs and problems of students in the modern world.” The WCA committee underscored its view that there was no interference with academic or scholarly freedom at USF—not an insignificant concern in American higher education in the early 1950s. Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin, through his senate subcommittee, was engaged in a witch hunt for communists in virtually all of the nation’s institutions. Colleges and universities came under McCarthy’s scrutiny, and “loyalty oaths” and investigations of individuals’ political backgrounds were required at many schools, though not at USF.

By mid-century, the University of San Francisco was implementing its first master plan, had achieved its first regional accreditation, and was rapidly expanding its student base and adding new programs. The University’s College of Science had developed two graduate programs as a foundation for several more to come, was welcoming various groups of new students, including retuning veterans and nurses, and was seeing its superb faculty establish a national reputation for excellence in teaching and research.


Details on the origins of the School of Nursing; President Dunne’s building plans, including quotes from his letter to the provincial; USF’s first Board of Regents, including the quote from the San Francisco Chronicle about their work; the origins of the graduate division in 1949; and the first accreditation visit to USF in 1950 are found in Jesuits by the Golden Gate: The Society of Jesus in San Francisco, 1849–1969 by John McGloin, S.J., pages 192–200, 209–210, 215–216, and 219–221. Information on the nursing program also appears in the USF Alumnus, January 1955, page 7, and in the general catalog of the University of San Francisco, 1948–1949 issue. The document “The Future of Your University” is located in the USF archives, courtesy of Michael Kotlanger, S.J., university archivist. Enrollment statistics for the years 1946 through 1950 were furnished by Fred Baldwin, associate director, USF Center for Institutional Planning and Effectiveness. A description of the kick-off dinner for the Greater University of San Francisco Fund, including the speech by Timothy Fitzpatrick, appears in the USF Alumnus, September 1949, pages 4 and 14. Other useful information about the development of the graduate division can be found in the general catalogs of the university, especially the editions of 1948–1949 and 1949–1950. The WASC Handbook of Accreditation, and “Overview of U.S. Accreditation,” published by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation and written by Judith Eaton, were also helpful for this vignette.

Alan Ziajka, Ph.D.
Associate Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and University Historian