Her legacy: single beds & a Lot more – Helen Dunnewald

Helen Bishop (1891-1992), a native of Oregon, came to Laramie in 1925 to become the Dean of Women at the University of Wyoming and stayed for over 60 years.

 She arrived when there were about 200 female UW students and 700 males. With a ratio of 3.5 men to every woman, it was important for someone to keep a close eye on women students. Bishop, fresh from a 5-year stint as a residence hall director at the University of Michigan, applied.

 President Arthur Crane quickly hired her. There were two women’s dormitories at the time; Hoyt and Merica Halls. She became the director of Hoyt, lived there, and was responsible for the well-being of all female students as Dean.

 Some women had to secure board and/or room in private residences. When housekeeping in lieu of payment was offered, she required that students work no more than one hour per day for room; two hours per day if meals were provided.

 Dean Bishop was appalled that the women’s dormitories had double beds for two to share. As a physician’s daughter and dietetics graduate from Columbia University (1915), she had enough knowledge of contagious diseases to know this was unsatisfactory. She conducted a running battle with President Crane for a change. It took a year, but Crane relented, and “Walter Jensen of Laramie Furniture Company worked around the clock to remove all the double beds and replace them with singles for the opening of UW in 1926,” as she recalled later.

 In 1928, she married Theodore John “T.J.” Dunnewald, a soil scientist in the UW College of Agriculture. They were on leave from UW in the 1930-31 academic year at the University of Wisconsin. Upon return to Laramie, they learned that “all married women will be dropped from the payroll” in an austerity move which the Wyoming State Legislature adopted during the Great Depression. So she was out of a job; T.J. went back to his faculty position.

 Their son John was born in 1934, the same year they bought a house close to campus at 401 South 15th Street (SE corner of 15th and Garfield), when it was bordered by prairie to the south and east. Their daughter Alice was born in 1936. Helen Dunnewald was in her 40’s when both children were born, so her sole occupation for a while was family life.

 Their 3-story Colonial Revival home, a Laramie landmark, was built around 1923. With the housing shortage (few houses were constructed in the Depression), the Dunnewald’s opened their large home to others. In the 1940 Laramie census, the Brandt’s, a family of 3, and two young men (students?) lived with them, for a total of nine altogether.

 They traveled to many places, but with her family nearly grown, Helen became very active in community organizations and was a guiding hand behind many, including the Hispano American Club, League of Women Voters, Cathedral Home for Children, Hawaiian Children’s Mission Society, the Wyoming Commission on Aging and 11 other groups. In 1963, she was awarded the Laramie Boomerang and Lions Club Community Service award. 

  Helen told me that every month she would get up a car full of her lady friends and drive to the Bosler Post Office to buy stamps. Why? “Because we believe in supporting rural post offices” was the answer. So even in small ways, this twinkle-eyed elegant lady with her shining silver hair, continued to serve.

 Her husband retired from UW in 1950; he died in 1974. Helen had lived in the family home for 51 years when she moved to Denver to be closer to her two children in 1985. Few knew that she was born into the Bishop family, the infamous Congregational missionaries who had changed Hawaiian culture so drastically, starting in 1821. (The Bishop Museum in Hawaii is a must-see in Honolulu even now.)

By Judy Knight

Caption: Helen Dunnewald c. 1970 Courtesy photo