East Tennessee State University

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The following was part of a series of articles on campus name origins published by the East Tennessean in 1985. A journalism class wrote the stories, which are being reprinted periodically. Teresa Foster wrote this segment on Yoakley Hall, a former women’s residence hall which has housed various university offices for the past several years. It is currently being renovated for the new ETSU Honors College, which will move in this August. It also houses some Department of Social Work offices and a Division of Theatre lab.


Late one night, some third-floor pranksters in the girls’ dormitory decided to create a cheap thrill. After making a dummy, they clothed it in men’s pajamas and left it sitting in a room while the occupant of the room was out visiting. 

When the girl returned to find what she thought was an intruder in the dim light, she screamed for help.

This painting of Ina Yoakley graces the lobby of the former women's residence hall that bears her name.

The housemother was not amused by the uproar and ordered the perpetrators, victims and dummy to appear before Ina Yoakley, East Tennessee State’s dean of women. 

After student jurors failed to agree on a punishment to fit the crime, the dean dismissed the case on grounds that the girls had prepared their homework before plotting the hoax and thus were entitled to a little excitement. 


This incident, reported in the school newspaper in 1931, happened long before a girls’ dormitory was named for Ina Yoakley in 1957. It represents just one of the many problems the dean of women had to contend with during her long tenure at the college.  Miss Yoakley was dean of women from 1912 to 1940 and taught geography until her retirement in 1945. 


A native East Tennessean, Miss Yoakley attended country schools and began her teaching career in rural elementary and high schools.  She received her bachelor’s degree from Milligan College in 1895, and later earned her master’s from Columbia University.  In 1927 she took a year’s leave of absence from the college to do graduate work toward a doctorate at Clark University, Worcester, Mass., which was a leading school in geography at the time. Although she never received the degree, she gained the equivalent standing through study and travel.  Extensive trips through America, Europe and the Southern Hemisphere strengthened her background as a teacher. She learned about the lands and their people from experience, not just books.  “She loved to travel,” said Ella Ross, one of her former students. “It was her hobby.”

Miss Yoakley was head of the geography department and was an “excellent teacher,” Ross said. “She made her students want to learn geography.”  She contributed several articles on scientific subjects for national publication. Her book Geography of Tennessee, published in 1945 as a supplement to Allyn & Bacon’s Our World Today, received national recognition. 


Dr. Frank Williams, former chair and professor emeritus of history at ETSU, said that when he started teaching in 1937 at Science Hill High School, he used (Yoakley’s) book.  “Apparently she was a good teacher,” Williams said. “She seems to have been an understanding dean of women – very tolerant. She was broad-minded.” 


In an article published in 1951, the year of her death, Alumni Quarterly wrote that “her wisdom, her knowledge, her character … helped mold the lives of thousands of young men and young women.”



"Tales of the University" is a regular column provided by the ETSU Retirees Association about the university and the people associated with it through the decades.  Faculty, staff, students and alumni are encouraged to share their memories of ETSU for consideration for future columns. Stories, comments and suggestions may be sent
to Dr. Chesla Sharp at rsharp@planetc.com.


Mailing Address:  Office of Human Resources
ETSU Box 70564
Johnson City, TN  37614-1707
Telephone:  423-439-4457
Fax:  423-439-8354
TDD:  423-439-4710

Office Hours:  8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. E.S.T. Monday - Friday
Office Location:  Rooms 307 and 311, Dossett Hall

Updated on 09/07/10