Eric Wang

On Oct. 8, 1917, construction workers laid the first cornerstone for the Memorial Quadrangle, which would later become Saybrook and Branford colleges, to house undergraduate students. Almost exactly a century later, the University held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for Benjamin Franklin and Pauli Murray colleges, marking the official realization of a project two decades in the making.

Peeking into undergraduate entryways and traversing freshly painted hallways, University administrators, donors and guests affiliated with the college namesakes caught a glimpse into the homes of the 750 newly minted Franklinites and PauliMurs during the colleges’ inauguration ceremony Friday afternoon. In a speech at the event, University President Peter Salovey noted that the college namesakes, Benjamin Franklin and Pauli Murray, represent the power of education as a vehicle for change. With the two new residential colleges, Yale will expand its undergraduate enrollment by 15 percent over the next three years — the largest expansion since the school began admitting women in 1969.

“That is the legacy of these stunning buildings — not merely the beauty they add to our campus, but the untold impact that these students, for generations to come, will have on our world,” Salovey said in his speech.

Although students now lounge in their common rooms and dining halls, the new colleges on Prospect Street were once just a concept, conceived by former University President Richard Levin in 1997 — before many of the Franklinites and PauliMurs were even born.

Using the quadrangles of Oxford and Cambridge universities as models, Yale constructed many of its residential colleges in the neo-Gothic style, differentiating itself from industrial New Haven. In 2008, the University hired Robert Stern ARC ’65, former dean of the Yale School of Architecture, to revive the style he called “the architectural DNA of Yale,” in the design of the new colleges.

“We have aimed to situate Pauli Murray and Benjamin Franklin colleges in a place between convention and invention,” Stern said. “Careful study of the [James Gamble] Rogers–era colleges guided us as we shaped courtyards to maximize sunlight, as we arranged entryways and student suites, dining halls, common rooms.”

Murray, a pioneering civil rights activist who returned to school at the age of 62 to be ordained as an Episcopal priest, was the first African American woman to receive a doctorate of judicial sciences from Yale Law School.

Karen Ross, Murray’s grand-niece, said at the ceremony that she only learned of her great aunt’s accomplishments when she uncovered an unpublished autobiography as she was boxing up Murray’s estate after her death.

Ross emphasized that, in addition to aggressively pursuing her vision for equality, Murray went to great lengths to support her family. Ross recalled that, when her mother lay bedridden with cancer, Murray traveled from Baltimore to Arlington, Va., each week to care for her and ultimately recited her last rites. After the passing of her mother, Ross said, Murray assumed the role of “surrogate grandmother” to Ross’ first and second children.

“It was amazing to see this moment her transition at 60 years of age from being feisty …  to a graceful supportive loving woman but maintain that connection to her causes,” Ross said in an interview with the News. “Early in her life, she was a warrior, but after she graduated from seminary, I think she became more of a servant, a listener, a supporter.”

Ross added that Murray was an avid basketball fan who would have appreciated the new court in the building named in her honor.

The inventor of the lightning rod and bifocal glasses, Franklin was a prominent statesman who helped draft the Declaration of Independence and secured a loan from France to support the revolutionary cause.

“[The] United States might not exist as an independent entity as it does today without Benjamin Franklin,” said Charles Johnson ’54, who in 2013 donated $250 million dollars toward the construction of the colleges and asked that one be named for Franklin, a personal role model. “Having his name on a college at Yale will hopefully get people to think more about him.”

Friday was the first time William Kennard LAW ’81, a trustee of the Yale Corporation, visited the newly inhabited colleges on Prospect Street. Standing in the manicured courtyard under the Gothic architecture, he said that the new colleges appear to have already existed for 100 years.

Pauli Murray and Benjamin Franklin colleges house 293 first-year students and 468 sophomores, juniors and seniors.

Hailey Fuchs | hailey.fuchs@yale.edu