Karl D. Umrath Hall began its life as a men's dormitory known as Tower Hall. It was one of several buildings financed by rental income from the Louisiana Purchase Exposition. Its name was changed to John F. Lee Hall in 1929. In the 1950s, when the South 40 began to be built, the name "Lee" was transferred to one of the new residence halls, and the building was renamed for Umrath, a St. Louis businessman and philanthropist.
Karl D. Umrath was born in Prague on July 18, 1884, educated in Budapest, and then came to St. Louis to start work in 1902. Although he started as a floor sweeper for Goodyear Rubber Company for $6 a week, his work eventually took him to the National Cash Register Company, where he became the Midwest Sales Representative. He kept this job until he retired in 1929. He made most of his money through the stock market. During the Depression, he bought cheap blue chip stocks, which eventually became an excellent investment. He married Helen F. Rubelmann in 1905. Collectively, Mr. and Mrs. Umrath gave $1.5 million to Washington University. On the South 40, Umrath House was named in honor of Mrs. Umrath and Rubelmann House is named for Maurie Rubelmann, Mrs. Umrath's sister.