A Home Away from Home for International Students
From its early days as a university, Ohio State has welcomed students from countries around the globe.
In the mid-1900s, gifts of real estate from generous donors allowed dozens of international students each year to create a new home at the university. These gifts enabled the university to offer special communal housing for international students—beginning with the opening of the George Wells Knight International House in 1937 and continuing on with the Zonta House in 1950.
George Wells Knight was a professor of American History from 1885 to 1928 and made his home at 104 E. 15th Ave., just east of High Street. After his passing in 1932, his widow, Mariette, and daughter, Margaret, donated the home to the First Congregational Church of Columbus in 1937 for the purposes of hosting international students. The original gift agreement, signed by Mariette and Margaret, details the family’s intentions: “In past years, while we were a part of the active life of Ohio State University, we all found great pleasure and satisfaction in bringing students of the university, from other nations, in closer contact with students of our own country and with each other.” According to the Knights, the benefits of these interactions “accrued to the American students, equally with those to the students from other lands. If it is possible that the house be used … in this sort of international work, it will please us.”
Knight International House operated under the care of Assistant Dean of Men Frederick Stecker and his wife, Virginia, beginning in winter quarter 1937. In 1949, the First Congregational Church donated the property to the university. The Knight International House continued to function as a rooming house until 1983, when the Columbus Housing Authority requested maintenance that the university determined to be cost prohibitive.
A 1979 Lantern article quoted Office of International Students and Scholar Services Director Dorothy Brickman on the importance of the house: “Most of our foreign students come from a culture where the extended family is a very important part of their lives. When they arrive here, suddenly, they are alone.” Knight International House gave a dozen or more men each year a place where they could live like a family in a “very loving and caring atmosphere,” she said. While the Knight International House gave male international students a welcoming living environment, a gift from the Columbus chapter of Zonta Club, one of the largest women’s service organizations in the world, ensured women international students also had a residence on campus.
Beginning in 1950, Zonta House created the opportunity for international students and U.S. students to live side by side, promoting cross-cultural interaction and harmony. Run by Mary Swaney, assistant to the University Committee on International Students, the residence at 1875 Summit St. was the only of its kind devoted exclusively to women.
In its first year, five U.S. women joined 11 international students as housemates. Swaney told the Columbus and Ohio Women magazine that Sunday breakfasts at Zonta House were most illuminating. “Everyone’s relaxed then, and the girls talk about life, food and clothes in their countries as well as international problems,” she said. Prospective residents applied to live in Zonta House by writing essays on the topic of why they wanted to live there, with winners selected by Dean of Women Christine Conaway.
A 1958 Lantern article illustrates the immense comfort Zonta House gave its residents, quoting Cynthia Chang, a student from China who lived by herself off campus. “Every night I would come home and study, and then I didn’t have anything else to do or anywhere to go. What else could I do but cry?” Moving in to Zonta House turned that around. “Now I live at Zonta House with other foreign women, and I am very happy. I think all students should live with others, even if it is only a small group.”
Today, with Zonta House and Knight International House both closed, students can choose to live in the International House Learning Community, known as I-House, Morrison Tower. I-House enables domestic and international students to share housing in a community that empowers them to explore their own cultural identity in our increasingly global society.