Laurie Burns McRobbie

"Women’s Generosity—A Pivotal Force for Change"

Thank you, Mark [Mayor Mark Kruzan], and thank you, Bloomington Commission on the Status of Women. I am deeply honored to be this year’s recipient of the Woman of the Year award, and to be among so many wonderful people who have won this award in prior years. I first want to congratulate Gladys DeVane on her Lifetime Contribution award, and Kyla Cox on her Emerging Leader award. I have been a great admirer of Gladys for some time and it is just wonderful to be sharing a podium with her today. Gladys, your story was beautiful. And Kyla is already doing wonderful things with Leadership Bloomington and it will be terrific to watch her accomplish so much more in the years ahead.

I want to start by recognizing, with love, my stepdaughter Josephine McRobbie, who is here representing our wonderful blended family of eight. I could not do what I do without my family—they are at the center of my life. I also want to recognize my assistant, Tami Davis, without whom I would be utterly and literally lost!

This award has given me a chance to reflect on my time in Bloomington and to think about how my experiences have brought me to this point. I have been fortunate to be part of a truly exceptional community with so many shining examples of citizenship in action, many of whom are in this room today. You have inspired me and opened my eyes to possibilities for growth and improvement in the city in ways that I never would’ve imagined before I moved here. I’ve been involved with a number of transformative organizations in the last six years, but there are three that best reflect my passions and my interests, and friends who represent these organizations are at my table today.

I want to start with Toby Strout, Executive Director of Middle Way House and herself a Woman of the Year, and Sally Dunn, Dean Emerita of the School of Continuing Studies at IU and a fellow Board member of mine at Middle Way. Sally nominated me for this award and I am extremely grateful for her support. Middle Way House was not the first board I joined when I moved to Bloomington, but when I first learned about Middle Way I knew I had to be involved. As the daughter of a strong, community and service-oriented mother, I grew up with a finely tuned sense of justice and what it meant to have equal opportunity, and Middle Way does an amazing job of helping women and their families break free from some of the most unjust and unequal situations we can imagine. Every day, women who come to Middle Way House are helped along the road to a productive, independent life. They are transformed, and so is Bloomington.

Also at my table is Maureen Biggers, Assistant Dean for Diversity Education at the IU School of Informatics and Computing, and my co-founder of Serve IT, a service-learning clinic based in Informatics with multiple campus and community partners that serves Bloomington area nonprofits with information technology services. Serve IT is a touchstone of sorts for me—it unites my IT career with my commitment to supporting nonprofits, in this case in a very fundamental way. Maureen and I, with the able leadership of the Clinic’s director, Matt Hottell (who could not be here today), got the Clinic going in the fall of 2011, and it has developed into a thriving, successful venture with clients across the city and students who are getting real-life experiences working on behalf of community organizations—and they love it!

And finally, I’d like to introduce Holly Johnson, Director of Women’s Philanthropy at the IU Foundation, and Marti Heil, the Foundation’s Senior Vice President for Development. We have been working for over two years on a major new initiative at the Foundation in women’s philanthropy, which is working to engage women in the future of IU and giving them leadership opportunities within the vast community of IU alumni. A number of my colleagues on the Council and the Alumni Association are here today as well—I love working with you all!

We are at a point in our history when women have truly emerged as the pivotal force in philanthropy—the giving not only of money but of time. Research, done by IU’s Center on Philanthropy, shows that once education, income, age, and other factors are taken into account, women give more than men, in some areas more than twice as much. With all due, and deep, respect to the many exceedingly generous men in Bloomington and in the IU alumni community, this is not really news to most of us. But for an institution or organization to benefit from the generosity of women takes an organized effort that I’m delighted to say the IU Foundation is now fully engaged in. And for me being involved in such a transformative effort has been life-changing, particularly in my view of what philanthropy means.

This is women’s history month as we know, which is a great excuse to speak to how important I believe it is to recognize the work of the women who came before us and who have given us the benefits and advances in society that we enjoy. It is particularly important that we do this at a point when progress for women in our country is under attack. Women have always been engaged in movements for progress, as leaders, advocates, workers, and heroic in their persistence and unwillingness to give up until the change they knew was important had occurred. To me, this work is at the heart of what it means to be philanthropic. Philanthropy is inherently about change, about making the world a better place for future generations, about righting injustices, about creating access and support, about being a citizen. And in the ways through which communities have banded together to improve civic life, it is inherently the province of women.

Women’s history in this country is inseparably intertwined with the history of community associations, social welfare and reform movements, educational and health organizations, institutions dedicated to alleviating poverty and its effects, and efforts to relieve injury and suffering.

From Colonial times forward, women have found an outlet for their otherwise untapped intellectual and organizational capacities in charitable work. Well into the

20th century, cut off from the worlds of business and politics, women used voluntary associations to exercise public influence and to shape American concepts of community responsibility.

As one historian has said, “Female philanthropy has served…as the means through which American women…have made a lasting imprint on social and institutional reforms, professionalization, legislation, and even the Constitution itself.”

I know I have been and continue to be inspired by my friends and colleagues, women and men, who are working to make Bloomington, Indiana University, the state of Indiana, the nation and indeed the world places where every person has value, opportunity, and a voice. And I am inspired by the sung and unsung heroines who came before me—the examples are countless. In the context of Women’s History Month, however, I want to end by talking about one relatively unsung heroine who serves as a very direct example of women’s philanthropic leadership for me—IU’s 9th First Lady, Frances Morgan Swain.

In 1901, Mrs. Swain appeared before the Indiana University Board of Trustees and proposed that IU should build a Woman’s Building, to serve as a gathering place for the growing number of women students, about a third of IU’s student body at the turn of the century. She had already raised the equivalent of about $200,000 in today’s money, including a $1,000 gift from the Local Council of Women, the start of what was IU’s very first capital campaign. It was only when, through her husband, she secured a matching gift from John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who felt that male students also needed a gathering place that the plans for the Woman’s Building became plans for the Student Building. Today, it stands just inside the Sample Gates on the Bloomington campus, with a dedicatory plaque to Frances Swain in the entryway and the famous clock tower from which the bells still ring every quarter of an hour soaring skywards at its front. I walk by it often, and it reminds me of what’s been possible and still is, and how important it is to use the advantages one has to make a positive difference.

To the Commission on the Status of Women and to Sally Dunn, thank you again for this extraordinary honor. It is a joy to be part of this wonderful town!

Thank you.