Cornell's female students already had a dorm in 1873 -- Bowman Hall. But the guys had to live in rooming houses throughout town until South Hall was built.
Cornell historian Charles Milhauser detailed the colorful history of South Hall in a 2003 article for the Cornell Report-- the following is an excerpt:
"The top two floors had eight rooms each. The first floor had six student rooms and a two-room suite for the cook...Living conditions were less than ideal as evidenced in 1877 when four residents fired three revolvers and a shotgun at rats. Another rat was caught in the cook’s trap. Two rows of outhouses descended downhill from the back of the building until 1916."
Because of strict rules and faculty supervision, South Hall failed within a decade to attract enough roomers to remain viable. So the building was claimed for classrooms, and it currently serves as the home for the Politics and English Departments.