Filed Under Education

May Hall (HLI)

One of only two current buildings on BYU campus bearing women’s names, May Hall was named after Jean Elizabeth Fossum May, a Latter-day Saint missionary and later beloved head resident of BYU’s Stover Hall. As a residence hall, May became a house of learning, play, and sisterhood.

Jean Elizabeth Fossum was born on January 30, 1906 “with sawdust in [her] veins,” as she described, in the sawmill town of Baker, Oregon. Jean’s parents were Scandinavian, having immigrated to America after joining The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In 1926, Jean embarked on an ecclesiastical mission to California, where she preached to the interested, labored in the mission office, and even became president over the mission’s Primaries and Young Ladies Mutual Improvement Association (auxiliary Church units for children and young women respectively). “I am thrilled to my toes,” Jean wrote in a letter, “but… the position looks so big, and I feel so little.” Still, she dedicated herself to the responsibility for the remainder of her mission.

Jean finished her mission in 1928, and in 1930 she married Andrew May. However, Andrew died in 1933, leaving Jean alone with their two sons. Jean rose to meet the tragedy and challenge, and she worked to support and raise her family.

In 1959, after her sons were grown, Jean began working as head resident of Stover Hall (a Helaman residence building). Jean was fond of the young men there. She encouraged each to be a “true son of Helaman,” and they called her “Ma,” reenacting the Book of Mormon story in which a troop of young men called their beloved leader, Helaman, “Father.”

With fond memories of her mission, Jean urged her “Stover boys” to also serve missions. Across her ten years as head resident, approximately 2,000 Stover residents became missionaries.

When Jean died in May 1969, her students mourned. BYU president Ernest Wilkinson remembered “an irresistible plea was made for a building to be named in her honor.” Later that year BYU named its newest Helaman Halls building May Hall, after Jean Fossum May.

With 43 residents to each wing, May Hall’s early rooms were a tight fit for two roommates. Beds were pull-outs, and when both were out there was so little space roommates could only pass each other by turning sideways. Rooms had one window, one door, two closets, and two desks. Restrooms were communal to each wing and became “social gathering space[s].”

May Hall gave rise to close friendships. Residents in a wing could end up doing nearly everything together: eating at the Cannon Center, studying at the library, listening to music, celebrating engagements, gathering for hall parties, and praying every evening. Residents had playful indoor water fights, followed by laborious efforts to dry the carpet with hair dryers. There were nicknames and banana bread; tender hugs and tearful goodbyes. One 1977 resident reminisced, “For the first time in my life I had sisters. We loved and lifted each other.”

Between 1993 and 2005, BYU renovated all Helaman Halls buildings, including May Hall. Brought up to modern standards, May Hall still stands and still hosts women BYU students who carry on Jean May’s legacy of education, independence, and conviction.

Images

Welcome to May Hall
Welcome to May Hall A glimpse of what a new student moving into May Hall might see. Source: “BYU HLI.” GreenwoodKL (pseud.?), August 14, 2010. Via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0). https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:BYU_HLI.jpg.
May’s name
May’s name The hall’s name, “Jean Fossum May Hall,” is featured here on the building in 2022. Before the turn-of-the-century renovations, however, the name was emblazoned on a different part of the building (see the next photograph). Source: Contributed by Makoto Hunter, January 13, 2022. Creator: Makoto Hunter
May Hall, 1977
May Hall, 1977 A glimpse of what new students moving into May Hall would have seen in 1977, prior to the major renovations made to Helaman Halls. Compare it to the first photograph. Source: 1977. Courtesy of Ann Laemmlen Lewis. In her “May Hall, BYU 1977.” Ann’s Words (blog), August 22, 2013. https://annlaemmlenlewis.com/2013/08/22/may-hall-byu-1977/.
At a distance
At a distance From this vantage point, one can better make out the size of May Hall, despite which its interior made for crowded living. Source: 1977. Courtesy of Ann Laemmlen Lewis. In her “May Hall, BYU 1977.” Ann’s Words (blog), August 22, 2013. https://annlaemmlenlewis.com/2013/08/22/may-hall-byu-1977/.
The “1200 floor girls”
The “1200 floor girls” There were (and are) several different wings, sometimes called “floors,” in each Helaman Halls building, including May Hall. Ann Laemmlen Lewis, a BYU student and May Hall resident in 1977, captioned this photograph as depicting the “May Hall 1200 floor girls.” Source: 1977. Courtesy of Ann Laemmlen Lewis. In her “May Hall, BYU 1977.” Ann’s Words (blog), August 22, 2013. https://annlaemmlenlewis.com/2013/08/22/may-hall-byu-1977/.
“Small rooms”
“Small rooms” In 1977, each dorm room in May Hall had two beds “that pulled out from a sofa-ish thing against the wall with a narrow closet at the foot and a built-in desk at the head,” as Ann Laemmlen Lewis reminisced. Lewis’s caption reads, “Yikes those were small rooms!” Source: 1977. Courtesy of Ann Laemmlen Lewis. In her “May Hall, BYU 1977.” Ann’s Words (blog), August 22, 2013. https://annlaemmlenlewis.com/2013/08/22/may-hall-byu-1977/.
Bulletin board
Bulletin board The bulletin board offers a glimpse into the life and thought of one of BYU’s “May Hall floor 1200 girls” in 1977. A calendar, a mantra to “read books,” a BYU logo, photographs of loved ones, religious imagery, aesthetic items, and ribbons and honors all mingle together. Source: 1977. Courtesy of Ann Laemmlen Lewis. In her “May Hall, BYU 1977.” Ann’s Words (blog), August 22, 2013. https://annlaemmlenlewis.com/2013/08/22/may-hall-byu-1977/.
Sunday best
Sunday best In their Sunday best, these May Hall residents may have been on their way to or home from a weekly church service. Ann Laemmlen Lewis recalled, “On Sundays we all went to church together and every evening we prayed together.” In the twenty-first century, group prayer (often “ward prayer” at the congregational level) remains a common BYU dormitory tradition, though typically held weekly rather than nightly. Source: 1977. Courtesy of Ann Laemmlen Lewis. In her “May Hall, BYU 1977.” Ann’s Words (blog), August 22, 2013. https://annlaemmlenlewis.com/2013/08/22/may-hall-byu-1977/.
Ice cream
Ice cream “When some[one] kissed a boy,” Ann Laemmlen Lewis reminisced, “they ‘owed ice cream’ to their roommate.” Source: 1977. Courtesy of Ann Laemmlen Lewis. In her “May Hall, BYU 1977.” Ann’s Words (blog), August 22, 2013. https://annlaemmlenlewis.com/2013/08/22/may-hall-byu-1977/.
Sister Jean Fossum
Sister Jean Fossum Jean May (Jean Fossum at the time) can be seen on the top row, second from the right in this array of photographs for the Improvement Era magazine’s report on the Long Beach District missionary conference. Source: “Progress in Long Beach District.” Messages from the Missions. Improvement Era, March 1928. Via Internet Archive. https://archive.org/details/improvementera3105unse/page/414.

Location

May Hall Helaman Halls, Provo, UT 84604

Metadata

Makoto Hunter, Brigham Young University, “May Hall (HLI),” Intermountain Histories, accessed May 20, 2024, https://www.intermountainhistories.org/items/show/573.