Just off of Sam Houston Avenue, down the hill from Austin Hall stands a faded, red brick, three-story structure known as the Margaret Lea Houston Building.
Following some complaints about the generic title originally given to Sam Houston State University’s former student union, “Academic Building II” was renamed “Margaret Lea Houston” in 2007 after Sam Houston’s wife, known for being the most influential person in his life.
“Academic Building II was kind of a sad name,” Janis White, Ph.D. chair of the department of family and consumer sciences said. “It didn’t have a lot of character or personality to it. We had not exactly requested that our building have the name changed, but we had made it known that we weren’t crazy about the name.”
Seeing that eventually the houses on the hill may one day be removed according to the university’s master plan, officials decided that there should still be a building on campus commemorating the influential woman.
“They were thinking about long-range planning and since one of the buildings on the hill is named after Margaret Lea Houston, they didn’t want to lose that name on the campus,” White said. “So they named our building Margaret Lea Houston and we have been very happy with the name.”
Although the houses on Sorority Hill are currently still in existence, upon the anticipated realization of the master plan, the newly named Margaret Lea Houston will be the sole barer of that name on campus.
“We believe that Margaret Lea Houston was basically, for her day, the female administrator over the properties that she and Sam owned,” White said. “He was being the governor in Austin, a representative in Washington and then our senator, and she was the one that kept things running on the Huntsville side of things while he was filling very important political offices.”
The student lounge in the Margaret Lea Houston Building is cleverly named the “Haven.” In this area, students can hangout, relax or study.
“The name ‘Haven’ is based on a letter that Sam sent to Margaret,” White said. “He said that when he came home to Huntsville, it was coming home to a haven. It was his family and his place where he felt comfortable.”
There are letters of correspondence between Sam and Margaret Houston in the Sam Houston Memorial Museum.
“One other thing that I feel like kind of connected with Margaret Lea is that our building houses family and consumer sciences and internal audits and analysis,” White said. “At the time that they renamed our building, it also housed institutional research and all three of those departments or offices were headed by female administrators, and still even now our departments are both headed by female administrators.”
The Margaret Lea Houston Building has been occupied with female leaders like White since the name change. The building is currently awaiting the addition of a Margaret Lea Houston Portrait accompanied with a plaque explaining who she was. Whenever this arrives, there will be a ceremony for its unveiling, and the new decoration will be displayed in the second floor entry way.
“The portrait is lovely and will look very nice,” White said. “I think Margaret would be proud of this building and the activities that go on, and the female administrators that work within its walls.”