Laurie Burns McRobbie

200 years of Gratitude: Indiana University and Bloomington on the Cusp of the Bicentennial

INTRODUCTION

Thank you, Linda. 

When Linda invited me to speak at the gala tonight, one of the first things that crossed my mind is that it would occur the day after Valentine’s Day.  And since I love studying and reading history, and I love the Monroe County History Center, it seems only appropriate that I begin with “Happy Valentine’s Day!” or “Won’t You Be Mine”, or something equally corny!  

Seriously, it’s a true pleasure to be here with all of you tonight, at this midpoint between Monroe County’s bicentennial and Indiana University’s bicentennial, and just past the 100th anniversary of the building that houses the Center, the old Carnegie Library. At IU, we are celebrating not only our bicentennial as an institution, but a bicentennial of partnerships, exchanges, growth and friendships in Bloomington and Monroe County, and indeed all across the state of Indiana and beyond.  And we see 2020 not only as the end of our first 200 years but the beginning of our third century, a century that we will enter together, having created such an extraordinary quality of place here in south central Indiana.  

I titled this talk, “200 Years of Gratitude”, and I think that sums up the way a lot of us feel about where we are at this point in time.  This gala is called “The Best is Yet to Come”, and indeed it is – and that’s also saying a lot! 

It’s common to say that university towns get much of their identity from the university located there, but it’s equally true that those universities get their identities from the town itself. 

IU would not be as beautiful, as accessible, and as welcoming to people from all over the world if it weren’t for the way Bloomington opens its arms to students, scholars and visitors from afar, and in such a genuine, inclusive way.  

When Michael and I travel to visit alumni in other parts of the world, those who are graduates of this campus talk about how much they love Bloomington when they also talk about how much they love IU, and how eager they are to come back and relive some happy memories around the courthouse square and out at Lake Monroe, as much as they want to walk again through Dunn Woods and the Arboretum.   

There are literally hundreds of stories that illustrate the relationship, and lucky for you I can’t tell all of them.  In thinking about how the relationship between city and university has evolved over time, five themes came to mind: 

  1. the role of education,
  2. the growth of health care and medical services,
  3. economic development and the economic ties that bind,
  4. the strong connection between campus and the nonprofit sector in Bloomington, Monroe County and beyond, and perhaps most fittingly,
  5. how the relationship fosters the preservation of our history. 

My own area of historical interest is women’s lives and contributions, as many of you know, so you’ll have to forgive a skew towards the female in my remarks, but it’s also the case that much of Bloomington’s history has been forged by women, and continues to be, just as IU’s has.  And it’s also the case that some of these stories, particularly at IU, have not been told as often.

EDUCATION

Education was central to the development of city and county from pioneer days.  IU was legislated into existence on January 20, 1820, and opened its doors to the first class of young men in 1825.  And from the very beginning this was a town-gown collaboration.  Several of IU’s first six “preacher presidents” served as pastors in their churches, and students lived with local families or in boarding houses, which remained the case until the early 20th century.  

State funding for IU was unpredictable for the first decades of its existence, to say the least, but the citizens of Monroe County repeatedly stepped up to ensure that it could continue operating.  After the 1855 fire that destroyed a classroom building, county residents donated the funds to keep the school in Monroe County, and in return, IU offered perpetual scholarships, or “quietus” to those contributing $100 or more.  

Monroe County citizens stepped up again after the devastating fire in 1883, voting to tax themselves to raise the funds as well as providing philanthropic support that reestablished the university in its present-day location.  Today, we can count over 20,000 donors to IU’s Bicentennial Campaign who live in Monroe County, three-quarters of whom are not current faculty and staff, continuing this tradition of community support that keeps IU here and healthy.   

Women’s education also thrived.  Even before the first students arrived in 1825, many locals, including Mary Ann Hall and Elinor Reed, wives of IU’s first faculty members, were talking about creating a school for women, and these plans came to fruition in 1833 with the opening of the Monroe County Female Seminary.  Monroe was the only county in the state at that time to have a female seminary, and in addition to offering a first-rate education considered by some to be equivalent to what young college men were getting at IU, it opened multiple pathways and access for women to early IU courses and to the campus at Seminary Square.  

Along with one of the country’s first female literary societies, the Edgeworthalean Society that began in the 1840s, and another seminary run by the Methodist Church in the decade just before the Civil War, the Monroe County Female Seminary also opened up professional pathways for educational pioneers like Margaret Hemphill McCalla, who served as assistant to the Female Seminary’s principal, Mrs. EJ McFerson and later became Indiana’s first female superintendent of schools in 1875.  

Sarah Parke Morrison was the first woman to be educated alongside men in the same classroom when IU became one of the first public universities in the nation to admit women on equal footing with men, in 1867.  Of course, now if anything the gender balance has tipped the other way – 54% of IU’s alumni are women.  

Sarah was also the first female instructor at IU, and the first donor of record – she contributed $5 to buy books for the new library after the 1883 Seminary Square fire.  Fast forward to today when Barbara Jacobs and Cindy Simon-Skjodt rank among the most generous donors in IU’s history with their multi-million-dollar gifts. 

HEALTHCARE

Taking care of the citizens of south-central Indiana has been and continues to be an indelible part of Monroe County’s and Bloomington’s identity.  And despite the fact that IU’s Medical School is headquartered in Indianapolis, medical education is a cornerstone of academic life in Bloomington as well.  

From the early days when Margaret Wylie ran an infirmary for college students in her home on 2nd and Lincoln Streets, to today when we look forward to a new Bloomington Hospital on the eastern edge of the IU campus, city and university have worked together to ensure the wellbeing of people throughout the state and beyond.  As you all know well, it was the Local Council of Women, formed in 1892, that brought the first Bloomington Hospital into being.  Many IU-affiliated women were members of the Council and have remained deeply involved in ensuring that we have excellent and accessible medical care in our community.

The new hospital and the academic medical center that will bring together all of the clinical and professional medical disciplines at IU-Bloomington is further evidence of this close partnership. 

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

The role of a university in the economic life of its surrounding community is one of the more obvious ways in which town and gown are inter-related.  Many businesses are attracted to the economic potential inherent in a community with a great university, and it also makes it easier to recruit good talent.  It’s not by accident that we have a Japanese-owned auto parts manufacturing company in Bloomington, Tasus.  Its owner could have opened operations anywhere but chose a city he thought its employees would thrive in, and much of that had to do with IU.

Back in 1820, it was the sale of parcels of land in Perry Township that created the financial base for the Seminary (it became Indiana University in 1838).  As IU’s professional programs in Law, Business and others grew and the modern IU emerged in the 20th century, the climate for local businesses benefitted as well, with increased employment opportunities for graduates.  

And of course, it was the local business owners and contractors who actually built Indiana University and made it one of the most – okay, the most! – beautiful campus in the country.  Local merchants provide employment, and diversions, for IU students as well as helping to support them in their time on campus. 

Today, we have the amazing Dimension Mill that not only supports start-ups and accelerates economic development in Monroe County, but that also houses IU’s Philanthropic Venture Fund, part of IURTC, and gives our entrepreneurial graduates a local incubator to bring their brilliant ideas to scale, like the Bee Corp.  And of course, Cook Medical has both benefitted from and contributed to IU’s development and its programs – I’ll say more about that in a minute. 

CAMPUS-NONPROFIT CONNECTIONS

Another visible way in which campus and city, as well as campus and county, are intertwined is through the nonprofit sector.  Just as was true across the country 200 years ago, women were at the heart of the development of local groups and agencies that formed to improve civic life.  In the late 19th century, a host of women’s organizations sprang up in Monroe County, many of which, like the Women’s Club, the Unique Club, and the 19th Century Club, still exist today.  Louisa Ryors, wife of IU’s second president, served as the first president of the local WCTU,and many IU faculty and staff were part of the local Cemetery Association, which later became Rose Hill Cemetery.  

A Presbyterian Sewing Circle, associated with the First Presbyterian Church, organized a wide range of fund-raising activities that included garnering enough money to purchase property (although they had to recruit a man to carry out the transaction – it was the 1850s, after all).  

The names of prominent Bloomington citizens who were associated with the university and with local education—Wylie, Maxwell, Read, Ryors, McCalla—dominated the membership roster and revealed the permeable boundaries between home, church, and university life. 

More recently, First Lady Ellen Ehrlich led the charge to revitalize support for United Way – the Vanguard Circle came from her tireless efforts – and IU faculty and staff continue to step up each year to ensure that agency remains strong.  Today, we have the Center for Rural Engagement that seeks to connect IU with citizens of south-central Indiana by bringing the assets of the university to rural communities; IU Corps, which coordinates a wide range of student service learning activities throughout the region; and one near to my heart as one of its founders, ServeIT, which puts teams of undergraduates at the School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering into local nonprofits to provide IT support.  

And this doesn’t even touch the important work that sororities, fraternities, and many other student groups do to support cherished causes and organizations.  In turn, these service opport

opportunities give our students irreplaceable real-world experiences with people they might not otherwise meet, and help prepare them for a lifetime of service and connection to their communities. 

PRESERVING OUR HISTORY

And finally, saving the best for last, IU and Bloomington have partnered repeatedly to ensure that the heritage of this community and its treasured university is preserved and known.  At IU, through the superb work that Kelly Kish has done at the Office of the Bicentennial, along with the support of the Women’s Philanthropy Leadership Council, we are working to “bridge the visibility gap” in identifying the many women and minorities who have gone unrecognized, or underrecognized, for their contributions to IU, to Bloomington, to the state, and beyond.  

Women like Tamar Althouse, the first woman to graduate from what’s now the Maurer School of Law in 1892 and who went on to found a network of women’s Rotary Clubs throughout Indiana; Camilla Williams, professor of voice in the Jacobs School of Music and local diva, who broke the color barrier on several opera stages and who sang the national anthem moments before Martin Luther King stepped to the podium on the steps on the Lincoln Memorial to deliver his “I Have a Dream” speech; and Elinor Ostrom, first female to win the Nobel Prize in Economics and who made Bloomington her home, and sometimes her laboratory, for over 40 years as she developed her theories of polycentric governance.  

At IU, we have established a Women’s Portrait Gallery in the East Lounge of the IMU and we are continuing to add works to it.  The WPLC has also established an endowment to ensure that we can continue to create portraits and other ways of recognizing women who have contributed so much to the life and spirit of IU and to this community. 

And of course, we have in our midst a person who exemplifies all of this – a commitment to education, to health and wellbeing, to the economic life of Bloomington and Monroe County, to the strength of the local nonprofit sector, and maybe most importantly, to preserving the past in order to benefit the future. 

And that person is our own Gayle Cook.   Gayle’s contributions would take me the rest of the night to enumerate and you are all familiar with many of them.  We are so grateful for all the good that has come from Gayle and Bill and their family, and particularly for their extraordinary generosity to Indiana University.  From the Music Library to Cook Hall, from Wylie House to the History Center, from the Bloomington downtown to communities all over the state that have benefitted from Gayle’s love of historic preservation, we see the impact that her generosity and attention have produced. 

 CONCLUSION

In closing, I want to thank each and every one of you for supporting the Monroe County History Center and for caring about the heritage of our community.  It’s been my repeated experience that the more I understand about how things came to be and why, the more connected I feel to this place and to the people who also call it home.  And the more I feel that I am standing on the shoulders of so many good people who have come together to make Bloomington and IU the extraordinary places that they are.  I know that’s true for all of you as well. 

The best is indeed yet to come, and we’ve had the best with us all the way.

Thank you!