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International House at the University of Chicago was part of a larger “International House movement,” founded by Harry Edmonds who, as a young man working for the New York Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) in 1909, had a chance meeting with a Chinese student. Edmond’s casual “good morning” on the steps of the Columbia University library provoked the response: “I’ve been in New York three weeks, and you are the first person who has spoken to me.” Inspired by this experience, Edmonds decided to investigate the situation of international students in New York City. Attempting to counter the loneliness and isolation of international students, Edmonds and his wife, Florence, started to have teas and Sunday Suppers in their home. By 1911, this practice led to the development of the Cosmopolitan College Club. By 1919, the Club included over 600 students representing more than 65 countries, and its activities consisted of excursions, social events, and housing assistance.

Convinced of the need to find a place where international and American students could live together and thereby promote international understanding, Edmonds encouraged John D. Rockefeller, Jr. to build International House in New York City. Funded by Mr. Rockefeller at a cost of $3,000,000, it opened in 1924 as a residence and program center which served about 500 students. As its first director, Edmonds saw it as a place where people of diverse national and cultural backgrounds could share the experience of everyday life, a place where person-to-person contact would contribute to global understanding.

 International House New York

International House New York

With the success of International House New York, Edmonds and Rockefeller decided to extend the idea. Berkeley, California, was selected because the Bay Area was the American point of entry from Asia and claimed the largest number of international students on the West Coast. John D. Rockefeller, Jr’s gift of $1,800,000 to the University of California resulted in the establishment of International House Berkeley which officially opened on August 18, 1930. With 453 rooms, it was the largest student housing complex in the Bay Area and the first coeducational residence west of the Mississippi.

International House Berkeley

International House Berkeley


In a letter to the University of California President Robert Gordon Sproul, Rockefeller outlined his reasons for the gift:

The idea of the establishment of this institution on the Pacific Coast was suggested by the success of a similar one on the Atlantic Coast, in New York City, which has become well and favorably known throughout the world. By bringing together in unfettered cooperation the educated young people of all lands, many of whom will in years to come be leaders in their several countries, and by giving them the full opportunity for frank discussion on terms of equality, there is being performed, I believe, a service for the well-being of the world, the importance of which it is difficult to over-value. International House is a laboratory for a new kind of experiment – the day-to-day practice of international fellowship among men and women.

Later in the 1930s, Rockefeller established similar institutions in Chicago (1932) and Paris (1936). He hoped that contact between the Houses would facilitate an exchange of ideas and experiences that would assist the carrying out of a common purpose. Today, International Houses Worldwide is a consortium of 15 International Houses that are financially and organizationally independent, non-profit institutions which span four continents and are united by one mission:

To provide students of different nationalities and diverse cultures with the opportunity to live and learn together in a community of mutual respect, understanding, and international friendship.

International House Paris

International House Paris


Opening of International House of Chicago

The cornerstone of International House of Chicago was laid June 24, 1931, and the building formally opened its doors on October 5, 1932. Originally, there were residential accommodations for 524 students from any institution of higher education in Chicago. Mr. John D. Rockefeller, Jr. expressed in making his gift to Chicago, the further hope, not only that the building now being erected on this site may provide living accommodations and facilities contributing to the social and educational welfare of students, but that it may also be used to promote international understanding and friendship of the people of Chicago and of the Middle West toward other nations and cultures than their own.

As with the International Houses of New York and Berkeley, the mission of International House of Chicago is to enable students and scholars from around the world to live and learn together in a diverse community that builds life-long qualities of leadership, respect, and friendship.

This mission is achieved by daily interaction among students and scholars through programs, unique facilities, and community life activities designed to foster diversity of thought and experience. Since its founding in 1932, the International House of Chicago experience of international cultural exchange in a diverse community has transformed the lives of more than 42,000 people.

International House of Chicago also serves the greater Chicago community as a cultural and intellectual center for a wide array of programs. Over 100 public programs are held each year at International House. These include music and cultural performances, outreach programs with Chicago-area international organizations, collaborations with foreign consulates, language exchanges and discussions, and forums and debates led by distinguished guest speakers through the Global Voices Performing Arts and Lecture Series. Each year, International House provides the many communities we serve with meaningful opportunities for discussion and engagement in community, national, and world affairs.

The Graduate Commons Program offers fellowships and internships to University of Chicago graduate students and sponsors programs to help ensure the exceptional diversity of the graduate community connected to International House. Programming includes internationally focused public programs through the Global Voices Performing Arts and Lecture Series, language and culture tables and related dining activities, professional development opportunities, health and wellness programs, and social activities.

At International House of Chicago, we believe the role and mission of International Houses Worldwide is more important than ever. In order to make their greatest possible impact in the international marketplace of ideas, University of Chicago students and scholars must be engaged with ideas and approaches from around the world. International House helps them do that, while also contributing to the intellectual and cultural fabric of the greater Chicago community.

A Note about House Architecture and Furnishings

International House of Chicago is located on the Midway Plaisance at Blackstone and Dorchester Avenues and occupies the site of the former Del Prado Hotel. It is a Gothic structure of Indiana limestone, rising to a height of nine stories and capped with a tower rising twelve stories. It was designed by Holabird and Root, a firm of architects who have the distinction of having built more great hotel structures in America than any other firm. The building is in three sections-the east side originally for men; the west side originally for women; and the first floor dedicated to program venues including the 500-seat Assembly Hall. A wide corridor extends the length of the first floor to the dining room and Tiffin Café. A unique feature of International House is the collection of flags of many nations. The house centers around a fountain courtyard designed by the renowned landscape architect Beatrix Farrand. The Courtyard is a bright, open space providing an accessible oasis for students to study, or for guests to dine and socialize together. The Courtyard is adjacent to the Main Lounge which was rededicated on June 1, 2013, as the Rockefeller Lounge. The lounge was renamed in recognition of the Rockefeller family’s long support of International House, including from former resident David Rockefeller (PhD’40). The dedication ceremony marked the conclusion of the year-long 80th anniversary celebration of International House at the University of Chicago.

Formation of the International House Association

The origins of the International Houses Worldwide movement date back to 1948, when the International House Association (IHA) comprised of the Rockefeller-funded Houses in New York, Berkeley, Chicago, and Paris was incorporated. The IHA focused principally on bringing together the alumni of the four Rockefeller International Houses on a regular basis. International House New York’s alumni association dates back to November 10, 1936, and its success in drawing together its alumni became the stimulus for alumni of all International Houses to gather in other major cities around the world regularly. These activities continued until the early 1960s when there was less emphasis given to meeting under International House auspices. Within Australia, “Corroborees” were held bringing together International House residents from Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney, and Wollongong to sustain and nourish the International House identity down under. In July 1961, a worldwide conference of International Houses and Centers was held at Cité Internationale Universitaire in Paris, and in May 1971, a second meeting was convened in Vancouver, Canada, to exchange information on programs, operations, financing, and the building of new International Houses. These conferences led to a series of meetings among and between the heads of International Houses throughout the 1980s and 1990s. In the 1990s, the group began the practice of hosting meetings at various member International Houses around the world so that the group’s leaders could benefit from visiting one another’s facilities. These meetings included: New York (1985, 1999, 2013), Chicago (1992), Berkeley (1995, 2015), Brisbane (1997, 2011), Wollongong (1988, 2009), Philadelphia (2001, 2010, 2018), Taipei (2003), Melbourne (2006), London (2004, 2016), Edmonton and Jasper, Canada (2007), Sydney (2009), Darwin (2014), San Diego and Northern Arizona (2015), Bucharest (2017), Washington, D.C. (2018). New members to the association over the last decade include Northern Arizona University, founded in 2012; International House Bucharest in Romania, founded in 2010; Goodenough College, London, founded in 1957; and The University of Central Oklahoma International House, founded in 2012. The IHWW association actively seeks to include new member organizations from around the world that meet the membership standards and guidelines. The association formally changed its name to International Houses Worldwide, Inc. and was incorporated on October 28, 2010. Our legal address for the purposes of incorporation is International House New York with the treasury function residing at International House New York as well.

This group of International Houses, or I-Houses, shares a common mission and most were conceived through philanthropic initiatives sponsored by the Quakers, the Rockefeller and Dodge families, Rotary International, the Duke of Grafton, the Honorable Patrick Wills, and the Goodenough family. Although there are a variety of different International House traditions, most of them observe Sunday Suppers, the Candle-lighting ceremony, and the International House pledge to cement and celebrate the common threads of our collective history. Each International House, however, has its own distinctive history and organizational framework.

The International House pledge:

As light begets light, so love, friendship, and goodwill are passed from one to another. We who have come from many nations to live in one fellowship at International House promise one another to pass the light wherever we go.

Today, the members of IHWW accommodate some 9,500 residents annually from more than 125 countries. There are nearly 350,000 individuals who are able to claim alumni status at one or more of our organizational members, and many of them give back to the movement through their annual financial and other voluntary contributions. This giving results in more than 800 scholarships offered annually which serve to promote the academic, economic, and geographic diversity of our member houses. For more information on International Houses Worldwide, visit http://ihouseworldwide.org/.

Harry Edmonds, founder of International House Idea

“The world is a beautiful garden where truth, like flowers, unfolds in different ways.”
–  Harry Edmonds – International House (ihouse-nyc.org)

90 Years of Inquiry and Impact

University Founder John D. Rockefeller (left) and John D. Rockefeller, Jr. (right) Founder of International House

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The University of Chicago
International House
1414 East 59th Street

Chicago, Illinois 60637-2997

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