Lawn Room Legacies: A University Tradition

All universities have "legacies," those students whose elders established a family tradition that endures through generations. But the legacy of Lawn residence is unique: Imagine living in the same historic room a relative once occupied.

Such was the case for University English Professor Douglas T. Day III, who lived in West Lawn 33 during 1953-1954, as his great-grandfather Douglas Day had done more than 100 years before while a medical student in 1851. William Rogers, who lived in East Lawn 24 during 1966-1967, followed in the footsteps of his father, William M. L. Rogers, who lived there from 1924 to 1929.

Many Lawn residents have a family connection, sometimes dating back almost to the University's beginnings. A resident of West Lawn 41 in 1949-1950, W.G. Wysor Jr. had a great-grandfather, Benjamin Franklin Wysor, who was an 1839 Lawn resident.

David R. Owen, who lived in West Lawn 33 in 1934-1935, walked along the same serpentine walls as his father, L.J. Owen, who lived on the East Range from 1896 to 1900; his grandfather H.M. Owen lived on the West Range during 1868-1869.

Other connections are quite recent. John "Jock" Henderson lived in West Lawn 45 for the year 1960-1961, in the days when the University was "men only." Now, 34 years later, his daughter Catherine lives on the nearby West Range.

What do these legacies mean to the families who inherit them? Quite a lot, says Diana Kendrick Untermeyer, a 1984 alumna whose family history includes three generations of residents in West Lawn 37.

"It was just by chance that my great-uncle Hugh Smith Cumming Jr. ended up in his grandfather's room in 1919," says Untermeyer. "He always said that if living on the Lawn was by academic merit, he would not have lived there. Still, it meant a great deal to him." Cumming would later distinguish himself as ambassador to Indonesia. His father, Hugh Smith Cumming Sr., had also resided in West 37, as a medical student. He, too, had dedicated his life to public service, as the longest-serving U.S. surgeon general. It was the junior Cumming's maternal grandfather, however, who started the family tradition in West Lawn 37. Edwin Gilliam Booth, also a doctor, had lived there during his own medical training.

In his later years, Ambassador Cumming returned to West 37 to meet the current residents and reminisce. Indeed, each time a former resident knocks on a door and says, "This used to be my room," there is an immediate sense of kinship. In this way, perhaps every Lawn resident is a legacy.