Curator's Corner Blog

Monthly Archives: March 2014

The Case of the Curious Curator: The Name Game

Recently I’ve become curious about the names of things. As a student at the University of Montana, I am on campus almost every day, and I never once thought to ask myself why the dorm halls are named as they are. When I was at the museum earlier this week I came across a book in our collection that explained to me just that.

In the book The University of Montana: A History the author tells the story of the University’s birth and adolescence through the scope of each President’s legacy. Three out of the nine residence halls are named after these Presidents. On the University Campus there are nine dorms: Aber, Craig, Duniway, Elrod, Jesse, Knowles, Miller, Pantzer, and Turner. Duniway, Craig, and Pantzer being all previous University of Montana Presidents.




Oscar Craig was the first president of the University, his career lasting from 1895-1908. Before becoming president he was a Professor of History and Political Science at Purdue University and set about with little money or prospects, to turn a school with no buildings, curriculum, or tradition into a functioning place of learning.

Duniways reign lasted from 1908-1912 and he was made of stern stuff. He graduated with a Doctors degree from Harvard and worked as a History Professor at Stanford University, thus coming with a very thorough idea of how a successful university should operate. I’m sure he made some lasting affects that we still see today in the school. He quickly set about turning the University of Montana into the ‘ideal’, despite the qualms of previous faculty and alumni. Some were not pleased with the decrease in attention towards athletics. After all, we do like our football.


Robert T. Pantzer, on the other hand, was a little more easy going than Duniway. His presidency began in 1966 until [     ] and he was a friendly and well-liked man. He was very invested in the human aspects of campus life and sought about to bring a more diverse course load to the University, introducing Native American Studies and Black Studies to the University Program.

Another prominent fellow at the University was Dr. Elrod, who the book describes as “the most active and valuable man ever to serve the University”. He donated a massive amount of plants specimens, slides, and unmounted insects to the Department of Biology. So much so, that President Craig thought they should establish a library simply out of his donations. “The natural way to study,” said Director Elrod, “is to see things as they are. The laboratory must be supplemented by tramps in the woods and fields”. I think Director Elrod would be most pleased with our Science and Forestry departments, who plan multiple field trips each semester to perpetuate that exact idea.

Aber and Elrod were both faculty members at the University, who appeared to have butted heads over the rule of Duniway. Aber found his style of ‘supervising’ to be successful, while Eloise Elrod on the other hand described Duniway as “inefficient… a millstone about our necks” There was mutiny among the ranks.

Dr. R. H. Jesse had a brief stint as acting president from 1950-1951, but otherwise worked as the Dean. He was the Dean of Men, the Dean of Faculty, and Dean of College, starting in 1918. His service to the University was long and loyal.

Miller and Turner are relatively unmentioned throughout the book, but I am assured that they contributed as much to the University of Montana as the others. All of these men and women are worthy of they’re respective buildings and I am glad to finally know the history behind each of them.


The Case of the Curious Curator: Showtime!

I’ve always thought the The Wilma must be haunted. Stepping inside is like stepping back 100 years into the past and I always expect to see a murky outline of a flapper smoking her cabriole cigarette or a spaghetti western cowboy twirling his pistol. The first time I entered the establishment and saw the trim wood paneling and creaky, winding stairs, I fancied myself in one of those Prohibition Era speakeasies; hiding out from the law and enjoying the refreshments and conversations of questionable company.

My fancies aren’t far off seeing as The Wilma was constructed in 1921 by William Simons, who produced Wild West Shows along with building theaters. The Wilma was dedicated to his wife, Edna Wilma, who was an opera singer. Missoula would have appealed to Simons seeing as at the time it was the very epitome of The Wild West. After looking into some books on the history of Missoula, I found that the city was a hub for saloons, red-light districts, and gambling clubs. (Although perhaps that story is best left for another post).

The Wilma was Missoula’s first skyscraper (even though it was only 8 stories tall) and quickly became known as the “Showplace of Missoula”. The designers of the building followed a Sullivanesque style, which according to the Historic Guide to Missoula  was a style that preached “the downplay of ornamentation” (Mathews 82). The theater does possess a reserved and practical style, but one that is still full of grandeur and elegance.

The Wilma - From Balcony



Here at the museum we have a couple of plaster molds of the eagle sculptures on display outside of the building. I did some research, but unfortunately could not find anything on the creator of these sculptures or why they were chosen to be put on display. But it must have been an ornament especially worthy of The Wilma’s layout.


Also have you ever heard that rumor of a swimming pool in The Wilma? I didn’t believe it either!! How and where could a swimming pool fit?? But the architects somehow found a way to construct an olympic size swimming pool called the “Crystal Plunge” in the basement when it was first built. You could watch a show, and if it was getting hot in there from all the dancing, you could just journey down to the basement for a quick dip and frolic. Unfortunately, the pool was taken out rather quickly since it proved incompatible with the structure. I imagine the water damage to the wood must have been expensive. I don’t know about you guys, but come summer, I’m thinking of a petition for a pool again.