Combs Hall

President Combs


The third president of Mary Washington College, President Morgan Combs was the first president to claim that title as he oversaw the renaming of the school from Fredericksburg State Teachers College to Mary Washington College, in addition to its early collaboration with the University of Virginia. However, President Combs was most famous for his expansive construction efforts and is frequently referred to as “the president who built the place.”[1. William B. Crawley Jr., University of Mary Washington: A Centennial History, 1908-2008 (Fredericksburg, VA: University of Mary Washington Foundation, 2008), 70.] Born and raised in southwest Virginia, Combs began teaching at the tender age of 17 and was involved in education from then until the last year of his life. From teaching in public schools, he became a principal and eventually superintendent of Buchanan County schools. Later, Combs joined the State Department of Education and Boston University as a professor of education.

President Combs, left, and Gov. Trinkle, right

The nominating committee only nominated Morgan Combs for president of the Fredericksburg State Teachers College and he assumed office in 1929. The new president oversaw the college during a momentous time in the nation’s history. The Great Depression did not stop Combs’s ability to raise funds for his building projects and during World War II he personally sent a letter to U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt offering “any service which this institution or any individual therein can render to you or to our country in this time of crisis.”[2. Morgan L. Combs, as quoted in Crawley, 46.]  Over his career as president, Dr.  Combs was responsible for many of the iconic buildings on campus, including Seacobeck Dining Hall, Ball, Custis, Madison, Mason, Randolph, and Westmoreland residence halls, Trinkle Library, the Mercer Hall infirmary, the original Lee Hall, and the three fine arts buildings of duPont Hall, Pollard Hall, and Melchers Hall.[3. “Morgan L. Combs (1929-1955),” Presidential Inauguration of Richard Hurley website,] With so much improvement to the school grounds, it is no wonder that President Combs’s memory was eventually honored with the naming of Morgan L. Combs Science Hall four years after his death in 1955 from leukemia.

Combs Hall viewed from College Avenue

Building History

Named for President Morgan L. Combs (1929-1955), Combs Hall was founded in 1959.  It currently functions as the home to the Departments of Historic Preservation, Modern Foreign Languages, English, Linguistics, Speech, and the Speaking Center.  Following in the footsteps of his predecessor, President Simpson oversaw an extensive construction plan during his tenure. In addition to two new dormitories at the far end of campus, a new academic building was added to the trio of buildings at the southern end of campus. Originally, Morgan L. Combs Science Hall housed the Mathematics, Biology, Physics, and Chemistry departments.[4. Crawley, 83.] In its capacity as the science building, Combs Hall hosted a controversial pro-life display regarding the Roe vs. Wade trial during the 1970s, that almost led to legal actions against the university before the display was removed.[5. Crawley, 147.] By the early 1990s, overcrowding endangered Combs’s purpose as a science building. Students and professors demonstrated their creative dedication to their studies by converting a bathroom into a needed science lab.[6. Crawley, 518.] While Jepson Hall became the new science center, President Anderson authorized the $6 million renovation of Combs that was completed in 2002.[7. Crawley, 539.]

Combs Hall, March 2012

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