Laurie Burns McRobbie

Remarks at the Dedication of the Frances Morgan Swain Student Building

Greeting

Thank you, Lauren [Robel].

I want to join Provost Robel in welcoming former Trustee Sue Talbot, Trustee Anna Williams and newly named Trustee Melanie Walker. I also want to greet First Lady Emerita Pat Ryan, and thank her for her letter of support for the renaming proposal.

It is customary to begin speeches by saying that one is thrilled to be here, but I am truly thrilled to be here today at this naming ceremony. It is the fulfillment of a long-held dream of mine to honor one of IU’s earliest philanthropists, and a woman who helped create one of the most iconic structures at Indiana University.

Before I begin my remarks, I want to acknowledge the presence of representatives from two IU sororities that Frances Morgan Swain was involved with during her time. The first is Kappa Alpha Theta, of which she was a member. KAO is the oldest women’s sorority in the country, and the first sorority to be established at IU, in 1871, four years after women were first admitted.

The second sorority is Delta Gamma Theta. Delta Gamma was founded in 1898 with the help of Frances Morgan Swain, and the IU chapter was named Delta Gamma Theta to honor her role in getting it started. Thank you for being with us today.

Frances Morgan Swain and the Student Building

The story of Frances Morgan Swain’s work to bring the Student Building into being begins in 1893, when she and her husband, newly named 9th president of IU, Joseph Swain, returned to Bloomington from Palo Alto, California. The Swains were part of the group of IU faculty and their families who followed the 7th president of IU, David Starr Jordan, to California in 1891 when he became the first president of Stanford University.

For her part, Frances Swain was returning with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Stanford that she had started at IU. She had been an active faculty wife, and student, at IU in the 1880s so Bloomington was familiar to her, especially the conditions for women students. And these were of great concern to both Swains. 

In the late 1890s, women comprised about a third of the student body, and this was at a time when IU had no dorms, no union, no women’s recreational facilities or gathering spaces. Everyone had to find their own lodgings in town, wading through what were often unpaved, sidewalk-less and muddy streets to get to class. The Swains worried that parents would not continue to send their daughters to IU unless better arrangements could be made for them. 

Mrs. Swain had a solution. On March 29, 1901, she stood before the IU Board of Trustees, and proposed the construction of a Woman’s Building. This building, she said, would house “the women’s gymnasium, with all modern equipments, an auditorium, parlors, committee rooms, and greatly needed resting rooms.”  Mrs. Swain explained to the Trustees that funds would be raised and that she had already collected $6,500 (almost $200,000 today), the first $1,000 of which had been contributed by members of the Local Council of Women in Bloomington. The Trustees gave their approval, and thus began the first building campaign in IU’s history. 

Frances Swain continued to lead the fundraising campaign and stayed involved in the construction of the building even after the Swains left for Swarthmore College in 1902, and returning to Bloomington in 1904 for the cornerstone laying. By the end of the campaign, nearly 2,000 individuals had collectively given $50,000 (about $1.4 million today), and of this amount, all but $438 came from residents of Indiana.

However, it was a matching gift from John D. Rockefeller, Jr. that ultimately made the building possible, and also gave the building the name we have known it by up to today.  After being contacted by President Swain, Rockefeller agreed to match the local fundraising, but stipulated that part of the funds should be used to accommodate male students, who also had no union or gathering space.  The Trustees chose to add a men’s wing to the Woman’s Building, and thus it became the Student Building. 

But in reflecting on the building after its construction, Mrs. Swain commented that she thought the women made rather more use of their space than the men did. She said, “The men’s side of the building has been rather nebulous in my mind—a kind of an annex which it will continue to be until the men take courage and build there a beautiful gymnasium worthy of their alma mater.”

On June 20, 1906, Frances Morgan Swain returned to Bloomington to attend the formal dedication of her building, which took place on the very spot where we are today. Juliette Maxwell, director of women’s physical education and granddaughter of one of IU’s first faculty members, Dr. David Maxwell, presented Mrs. Swain with a bronze plaque to be installed in the entryway of the building. It is still there today, and reads:

“To Frances Morgan Swain, in recognition of her pre-eminent part in the movement for the erection of the Student Building, this tablet is dedicated. 1906.”

Mrs. Swain got the last word at the dedication ceremony, so I’d like to conclude by letting her voice speak to us today. After she had thanked everyone who had contributed and worked so hard to raise the funds, and after she extended her gratitude to the workers and craftsmen who built the building, she said, and I quote:

“The end is accomplished. The material structure is raised. I have lived in it for six years and it has grown more familiar to me than any home I have ever known or ever expect to know. I have heard the clock strike at all hours of the day and night. I have heard the music of the chimes on many happy occasions. I thank you not only for this expression of your esteem, but also for giving me this “credit mark” of which I shall always try to be worthy.”

Today, we go one step farther than dedicating a plaque to Frances Morgan Swain, by dedicating the building itself to the very worthy woman who made it possible.

Thank you.

Introduction of Chimes

I have one last task today while I have the podium. Back on that day in June of 1906, when Mrs. Swain spoke those words about hearing the clock strike at all hours of the day and night, a perfect coincidence of timing occurred. Just as she said, “I have heard the music of the chimes on many happy occasions,” the clock tower bells actually rang out to mark the hour, and interrupted her speech.

Today, with a little help from our colleague Patrick Fischer of the Jacobs School of Music, we’re able to adjust the timing of when the chimes make their entrance. He will now perform “Chimes of Indiana,” by renowned IU alumnus Hoagy Carmichael, in honor of this occasion.

Please join me in welcoming Professor Fischer.