Blewett Hall was built by Washington University in St. Louis in 1909 to serve as the official residence of Chancellor David F. Houston (chancellor from 1908-13).
As it turned out, Houston was the only chancellor who lived there. In 1913, Houston went on leave from the university in order to serve as President Woodrow Wilson’s Secretary of Agriculture. Houston’s successor, Frederic Aldin Hall, chose to live in his own house, and so the university sold the chancellor’s house to a private owner.
In 1946, a generous gift from Avis Blewett allowed the university to repurchase the former chancellor’s residence and equip the building for use by the Department of Music. The present-day organ in Graham Chapel, installed in the mid-40s, is another of Avis Blewett’s gifts to the university. She studied the organ with organist E. M. Bowman, was the organist for the Church of the Unity in South St. Louis, taught piano at Vassar College and later opened her own studio in St. Louis.
Avis’ brother, Benjamin Blewett, was born in February 1856 in Kentucky. After earning his Bachelor of Arts in 1876 and Master of Arts in 1878 from Washington University, he served as a teacher and principal of several schools and served as superintendent of the St. Louis Public Schools. Concerned for the welfare of teachers, he donated $50,000 to establish the Jessie Parsons Blewett Fund, in honor of his wife and her parents, for relief of teachers in distress and for the advancement of professional teaching. It was his request that at some point a part of his estate should be used as a gift to the university, so Avis’ gift in 1946 was in accordance with his wishes.