Three decades after the founding of Cornell College, founder George Bowman felt the college was lacking in having a boarding hall built specifically for women, despite the rooms available to them in Old Sem. In 1884, Bowman urged the Board of Trustees to build such a hall, offering to cover a fourth of the cost of the building himself. Construction on the hall began in the summer of 1885, and by November 10, the first 100 women moved into Bowman Hall.
Bowman Hall was the most luxurious and advanced building for female undergraduates at that time. Unlike other boarding halls, Bowman Hall boasted “steam heat and a bathroom with hot and cold water on each floor,” as well as steam heating throughout the building, and furnished rooms. The building was designed by Chicago architect Cass Chapman, who also designed King Chapel in 1876. Bowman Hall also had a dining hall capable of seating up to 200 persons, which served as the primary dining space on campus until the construction of Pfeiffer Hall, when the space in Bowman doubled to serve half the student body. When The Commons was constructed in 1965, Bowman’s dining hall ceased to function.
Because of Rev. Bowman’s generous donation, the Board of Trustees voted to name the building after him, although he insisted that it be called “the Ladies’ Boarding Hall.” In 1996, the building would be renamed “Bowman-Carter Hall,” after generous donations for its renovation by the Carter family.
Although most students now see the building from the south and west sides, Chapman originally designed the building to be seen from the north and east sides, since at the time Bowman was built, there was nothing to the west other than the president’s house. Charles Milhauser, the registrar during Bowman Hall’s 100th celebration and a college historian, told The Cornellian that it was “rather ironic now that the ugly, plainer back side is what most people see now.”
In 1902, a single telephone was installed in Bowman Hall. If a young woman received a call, the person stationed at the desk would hit an intercom button attached to the respective woman’s room, and the two would communicate through a speaking tube to determine who the call was for. It wasn’t until renovations in the 1990s that the speaking tubes were removed from Bowman Hall.
These renovations, made possible by two $500,000 contributions from Marie and Archie Carter, class of 1933, and an anonymous donor in the Carter’s name, gave a general facelift to the building, and ensured the continuation of the building’s use as a hall just for women.