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Farewell to Henson Hall

brick building with trees and foliage in front

Progress comes in many forms, usually bringing positive results, although at times these results can be bittersweet. As the UT College of Social Work (UTCSW) celebrated 80 years strong in 2022, it is also saying farewell to Henson Hall, the building that the college has called home for the past 41 years.

Since 1982, faculty, staff, and social work students have spent countless hours teaching, working, studying, and learning within the building’s walls. And while there have been other buildings and campuses over the past 80 years including Memphis and Nashville, Henson Hall remains the hub of activity of the main campus in Knoxville. The College of Social Work became synonymous with Henson Hall.

Plans for Henson Hall to come down were recently announced, along with Greve Hall and Dunford Hall. These three building will be replaced with a new building for the UT Haslam College of Business. *Where the College of Social Work will be relocated remains to be announced, but many have expressed a certain sadness and nostalgia about the demolition while recognizing it is progress for the university.  “Several people have told me they feel sad that Henson Hall is going away,” UT College of Social Work Dean Lori Messinger said. “Our students are particularly disheartened at the idea as they have strong ties to Henson Hall. But as the university moves forward, it is part of a larger plan. The College of Social Work will remain strong and vibrant no matter where we land. The work we do permeates walls and buildings. We touch the community from everywhere. We are currently 80 years strong and are looking forward to the next 80 years.”  

Looking back on the early years of Henson gives a true glimpse of the progress made. Henson Hall opened in 1931 from a bequest of $63,000 from Martha Henson. It opened originally as a girls’ dormitory designed by Barber and McMurry for a cost of $150,000. In 1931–32, Henson was the institution’s most expensive dormitory, with rooms in Henson costing $110 per year, while residents in other halls paid $92 per year. In 1943 Henson briefly served as a men’s dormitory to house the air cadets training on campus, and then became a men’s dormitory in 1965. The building was taken out of service in summer 1968 and converted to office space. It was used by various colleges and departments until it was occupied solely by the College of Social Work from 1982 through today.

Reflecting on the past 80 years, the college’s mission has never wavered. Regardless of the physical location, the mission crosses cities, buildings, and walls. The vision of providing thriving communities with equitable outcomes is embedded in every course and lecture. During Fall 2022, the college boasted 254 BSSW students, 463 MSSW students, 60 DSW students, and 18 PhD students. These numbers are a far cry from the first class 80 years ago which heralded about 25 full-time students.

“In each new decade, the College of Social Work served the people of Tennessee through education, research, community service projects, and other outreach and engagement,” Messinger said. “Like our predecessors before us, we face our own combination of challenges related to the times in which we live. Yet despite any challenges, the college has committed leaders, vibrant faculty, talented staff, an engaged student body, and accomplished alumni. We work every day to leverage our intellectual, financial, physical, and human resources to meet student and social needs and to shape a future of which we can be proud.”

*Update: Since the publishing of this article, it was determined that the College of Social Work will be relocating to the 5th and 7th floors of the Stokley Management Center.

Source: Volopedia. Henson Hall, Creekmore, Betsey B. (2018), https://volopedia.lib.utk.edu/henson-hall/

sign outside of henson hall