Women Who Built the Berkeley Campus: a Virtual Tour


an essay by Sandra P. Epstein, Ph.D.

Stop #7: Morrison Library and Morrison Memorial Music Building

Morrison Reading Room

Morrison Reading Room

Let’s now cross the Campanile grounds to enter the north entrance of the Main Library and rest from our walk in the beautiful and opulent room to the right, the Morrison Reading Room. It is impossible to know how many marriages took place between classmates who met at Berkeley, but one of the most prominent gifts to the campus grew out of a college romance. Mary Benton Treat, one of the earliest women to attend the University, and Alexander F. Morrison graduated together with the Class of 1878. On April 27, 1893, they became husband and wife.

May Treat, a native San Franciscan, was the daughter of George Treat, a pioneer Californian. Blue and Gold, the handbook of the University of California, noted in December 1886 that May Treat had received a degree in Literature from Berkeley and was working in San Francisco as a teacher of literature, art, and German. Following her marriage, Mrs. Morrison maintained an active association with a number of women’s organizations, particularly the American Association of University Women which she served as president from 1911-1914.

Alexander Morrison came to San Francisco with his family as a child and followed his graduation from Berkeley with a degree in 1881 from Hastings College of the Law.  With this degree, Mr. Morrison initiated a highly successful career in the practice of law in San Francisco, eventually becoming a founding partner of the firm of Morrison, Dunne & Brobeck. Alexander Morrison died in 1921 while on a trip to Singapore with his wife. The couple had no children.

The period of the early 1920s was a time of notable growth and development for American universities and particularly for the Berkeley campus. Private gifts increased significantly and the types of buildings on campuses took on a new dimension.  President Campbell noted at the dedication of the Morrison Library on February 5, 1928, that “there has developed in our universities and colleges a strong and definite desire for special libraries, in special rooms, where students may freely go and see the best books on all important subjects, take the books off the shelves and leaf through them; where they may carry the books to comfortable chairs, in beautiful surrounds, and, at their leisure and in tranquility of spirit, commune with the master minds of the past.”

The Morrisons had maintained strong associations with the campus over the years so that the opportunity presented to Mrs. Morrison to memorialize her husband and to contribute to the development of the university was a perfect combination. In addition, Mr. Morrison had been a collector of a wide range of books and amassed a personal library of nearly 15,000 volumes. The Morrison Library was to be “a gift to the students.” The location was chosen as one of the more accessible parts of the main library building and furnished with elegant furniture given by Mrs. Morrison.

The Morrison Reading Room was a highly valued addition to the campus, but Mrs. Morrison also provided $1.5 million in her will for the University, one of the largest single gifts of this early period.  The money was to be held in trust and the income used subsequently to endow both the A.F. and May T. Morrison Professorship of History and the A.F. and May T. Morrison Professorship of Municipal Law. Mrs. Morrison was awarded an honorary degree at Charter Day 1938. She passed away the following year.

In 1958 the university utilized the funds in the Morrison trust together with a state appropriation to construct a permanent home for the Music department.  The structure, connected by a covered walkway to the Hertz Hall of Music, was comprised of a concert hall, office space, practice facilities, classroom space and a music library.  In acknowledgment of her generosity, the building was dedicated as the Mary Treat Morrison Memorial Music Building.