The buildings were originally constructed in the 1960s to house Canberra's young single public servants, and were known at the time as the Gowrie Private Hotel. In 1992 the buildings were refurbished and repurposed, and so Fenner Hall was established. For the first 12 years of Fenner Hall's history, students were accepted from ANU, University of Canberra and the Australian Catholic University, as well as Australian Federal Police cadets. In more recent times, increasing demand for accommodation has meant Fenner Hall has only been able to accept students from ANU.
Fenner Hall is named in honour of Professor Frank Fenner (1914 - 2010). Professor Fenner was a world-renowned microbiologist, whose prolific research career led to many significant scientific advances. He was actively involved in the research which led to the release of the myxomytosis virus to control the rabbit plagues in Australia, as well as taking on the role of Chairman of the global team working on the eradication of smallpox.
Professor Fenner was the Director of the John Curtin School of Medical Research at ANU from 1967 to 1973. In 1973, in recognition of his keen interest in environmental issues, Professor Fenner was appointed to set up the new Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies at ANU. He held the position of Director there until 1979. Even after he retired, Professor Fenner continued to contribute as an active member of the ANU academic community.
During his career, Prof Fenner received many awards, including the Prime Minister's Prize for Science (2002); the Clunies Ross Lifetime Contribution National Science and Technology Award (2002); the Albert Einstein World Award for Science (2000); and Copley medal of the Royal Society (1995).
In addition to his standing in the scientific community, Professor Frank Fenner had a deserved reputation for being a thoroughly decent human being who was committed to making a difference to the world he lived in. During his lifetime, Fenner Hall residents benefited from his willingness to share his time and experience with them, and even now residents continue to benefit from his generosity through the endowments which make possible the Bobbie Fenner and Frank Fenner accommodation bursaries.