Spring 2013 Newsletter | Biology | Marquette University




As the Biology Department and University grow during the 1950’s, the need for a new building becomes clear


Science Hall

The Science Building in 1952


The beginning of the 1950’s were years of growing pains for the Biology Department at Marquette University. Growth was evident all over campus, and Marquette was an influential player in Milwaukee’s rebuilding of its downtown thoroughfare.


Science Hall, known to us now as Marquette Hall, was the home of the Biology, Chemistry, and Physics Departments, housing their classrooms, labs, equipment storage, faculty offices and research spaces. As each department tried to keep pace with modern science, space was at a premium.





Abramoff's office in the Science Building

Dr. Peter Abramoff works in his office in the Science Building in the late 1950’s


The biology department was still small at the beginning of the decade, but the need for varied research and teaching expertise led to a rapid expansion in faculty numbers. With the addition of new professors like John Saunders, James Barrett, and Peter Abramoff, new ideas began to mix with the established, and these new faculty brought strong improvement to the general courses.  While the department had continued to take master’s candidates, doctoral programs had been suspended in the early 1940’s. By the mid 1950’s, plans were drafted for the reinstatement of doctoral work, and discussions were held on the readiness of faculty and facilities to take on a program again. 


The department felt the pinch of space constraints in all aspects of their work. Research productivity was hindered by insufficient quarters for lab animals. In the 8 year period between 1944-1952, animal quarters were moved at least 6 times. The faculty were receiving quality grants to fund their research, they just didn’t have the physical space to be as productive as they may have wished. Some faculty actually had to keep their

Biology in the 1950's

A biology graduate student looks after the experimental chickens in 1959.

experimental animals in their offices. As Father Raymond Reis, S.J., wrote in his 1952 annual chair’s report, “ for a biologist, adequate space for keeping his experimental plants or animals is a fundamental requisite”. Space issues became critical as faculty were forced to take over graduate student offices, graduate students lacked space for their own research projects, and there was no space to put any modern equipment for the department’s courses. The department was actually criticized by the fire inspector in 1955 for the amount of material that had to be stored in the corridor. Father Reis felt strongly that the loyal work done by the department in the 1940’s and early 50’s merited better facilities.



1952 Biology Class

1952 Biology class

The department didn’t know at this point how large they, or the University, planned for them to become. With over 700 freshman expected by the College of Arts and Sciences in 1954, something had to be done to procure more space. In 1954, a committee was formed to start plans for the long contemplated addition to the Science Hall (rumors of an addition had been around since the late 1940’s). This committee would meet with the each of the three science departments to determine their individual needs. Biology requested about 37,500 square feet, nearly tripling their cramped quarters in Science Hall. The architecture firm, Brust and Brust was contracted to design the addition, dubbed the Science Annex. At this point, it was estimated that the whole project would cost around $1.1 million, a little over a quarter of this cost was a attributed as biology’s portion.


1957 Marquette Campus

Marquette University campus in 1957



As plans progressed, it became evident that renovations or additions to the existing Science Hall were unrealistic. A Science Annex would be very expensive, and the land space available couldn’t possibly house the amount of square feet required by the three departments.



The solution came in building three, new, separate units -one for each of the departments.  This begged the question of which department would get the first building, as only one could be built at a time. As the planned reinstating of a biology doctoral program would be impossible without more space, the Biology Department lobbied strongly for a biology unit to be built first. It was agreed that the Biology department had the faculty, staff and academic readiness to plan a for new building right away.






In the next issue: Plans get under way to build a new home for the Biology Department in what will become Wehr Life Sciences


Image credit: Department of Special Collections and University Archives, Marquette University Libraries: All images taken from Hilltop Yearbooks.




Biological Sciences Department

Marquette University, Wehr Life Sciences
(Directions/campus map)
P.O. Box 1881
Milwaukee, WI 53201-1881
(414) 288-7355