By: Spencer Bowman, Bicentennial Intern, Class of 2020, English and Media, Bloomington
The Long Road to a Women’s Dormitory
The dedication of Memorial Hall, Indiana University’s first women’s dormitory, on October 20, 1924 was a long time coming. Twelve years earlier, in 1912, Dean of Women Carrie L. DeNise researched the university’s housing at the time and deemed the lack of space for female students to be, unsurprisingly, “unsatisfactory.”*
This conclusion formed the foundation of a movement for women’s housing led by the Women’s League, an organization which was founded by IU’s 9th first lady and women’s advocate, Frances Morgan Swain, which led to the Board of Trustees approving the construction of the university’s first women’s dormitory.
While the Board approved the construction of the building on campus, the Women’s League and Association of Collegiate Alumnae were still left to fund the project on their own. The original plan was to raise $30,000 in donations, and the Women’s League even organized a dance class to help raise funds. During this time, the Dean of Women and the Women’s League organized ten League houses in the community to help alleviate housing struggles for the female student population.
Wider support came in 1916 with the establishment of the Centennial Memorial Fund which intended to raise $1,000,000 in alumni donations to mark the centennial of the university, one-fourth of the funds going to the construction of a new women’s dormitory. Following a delay in fundraising due to the declaration of war in 1917, the Memorial campaign ended up raising $1.6 million, the additional $600,000 coming from current students and members of the local community. 5,356 women contributed $501,399.23, the average donation being $93.60.*
The cornerstone for Memorial Hall was laid on October 20, 1924, the same month in which the Indiana Memorial Union–another project also funded by the Memorial Campaign Fund–and Riley Hospital were also established. The ceremony’s speakers included several significant female figures in the university at the time.
Dean of Women Agnes E. Wells spoke first, in her speech noting that “For years the loyal women of Indiana have planned and hoped for this day.” Mrs. James K. Beck, member of the executive board for the Memorial Campaign, spoke next, retelling her own experiences in the first housing for women after they were admitted attend the university and highlighting the contributions Frances Morgan Swain made to allow for both the Student Building–which was renamed in 2016 to honor Swain’s role in IU history–and the dormitory to be built.
Current (at the time) first lady of the university Mrs. Charlotte Lowe Bryan spoke next of their vision for a “house not made of hands.” An excerpt of her speech is below:
“We hope that the dormitory life will cultivate within the girls this power to discriminate between the worthy and unworthy whether in things or persons or situations, that it will train them to recognize and love and choose always the finer: finer speech, finer manners, finer friends, finer helpfulness of one toward another, finer cooperation to secure better life for those to follow. This is a large vision for our house not made with hands. Perhaps it may someday come true as our other vision has.”
Mrs. Nellie Showers Teter, the first female member of the Board of Trustees, spoke of the Board’s commitment to the project of a women’s dormitory and other issues being raised by Dean Wells, quoted as saying “Today in the first year of the University’s second century we lay the cornerstone of a building that will be the pride of all, and especially of the thousands of women who have gone through the sacred halls of our alma mater.”
Student and president of the Women’s Self-Government Association Edith Garrett provided a student’s perspective on the history-making dormitory and pushes for continued progress, saying “Only when the large majority of Indiana University women are housed in dormitories–thereby eliminating the many difficulties of scattered houses and small group living–can we claim to the women of the state of Indiana that we have in truth a bigger and better Indiana.”
Following a performance of Gloriana Frangipana, Mrs. Bryan placed the strong box in the cornerstone and the stone was swung into place in the south entrance of the building’s archway.*
Cornerstone and Time Capsule
Various university publications and information was included in the time capsule, including a 1924 commencement program, current semester schedule, and the October 18, 1924 copy of the Indiana University Daily Student. Copies of Bloomington World, Bloomington Telephone, and Bloomington Star from the same date were also included.
Specific details of the Memorial Campaign were placed into the box, most notably the list of 5,356 women who contributed to the fund.
Documents relating to the Women’s Self-Government Association, namely the organization’s governing documents and committee information, were also include. The following list found in a 1925 issue of the Indiana University News-Letter details the contents of the time capsule (it can be assumed that the capsule contains either a photograph or written name of the individuals indicated in the later part of the list):
- Catalog of 1924
- 1924 commencement program
- Schedule of current semester
- Statement of Memorial Fund to date
- List giving the Memorial Fund organization
- Pictures of all university buildings
- Publications concerning the Robert W. Long Hospital, the Indiana University Medical School Building, and the James Whitcomb Riley Hospital for Crippled Children at Indianapolis
- Photographs showing scenes of different Memorial Drives
- Copies of Indiana University Daily Studentafter each drive
- Copy of Indiana University Daily Studentof October 18, 1924
- Copies of Bloomington World, Bloomington Telephone, and Bloomington Starof October 18, 1924
- Clippings concerning the Memorial Fund Campaigns
- Freshman Handbookof Indiana University issued by Woman’s Self-Government Association of 1924-24
- Copy of the constitution, by-laws, and rules of the Woman’s Self-Government Association of Indiana University
- Booklets relating to the Memorial Campaign
- Copies of Alumnuscontaining articles concerning Memorial Campaign
- List of approved rooms for women
- List showing Women’s All-Campus Committee for March 1922; March 1923; summer, 1923; and March 1924
- List showing 5,356 women contributed $501,399.23 to the Memorial Fund, the average being $93.60
- List of executive committee personnel for the Memorial Fund
- Photographs showing plans of Women’s Residence Building
- List showing attendance of Indiana University and number of graduates by years from 1824 to 1924 inclusive
- List of gifts made to Indiana University
- Page proof showing article concerning Women’s Dormitory from October (1924) issue of Indiana University Alumni Quarterly, in press at time corner stone was laid
- Article from Alumni Quarterly of July 1922, pages 385-397 inclusive, giving account of the “Flying Squadron”
- Resolution passed by Alumni Association at Commencement in 1922
- The Memorial section of the Arbutusof 1923
- A. Alexander, librarian and director of the Indiana University Memorial Fund campaign
- Memorial sign board
- Miss Elizabeth Weintz, chairman of the third women’s all-campus committee of the Memorial Fund Campaign
- The first all-campus committee of students engaged in the Indiana University Memorial Fund campaign
- Mass meeting of students and faculty at the beginning of the second all-campus Memorial drive
- Alumni luncheon at the Lincoln Hotel, Indianapolis, at the opening of the Marion County Memorial campaign
- Senator and Mrs. Ralston and speakers at convocation for Memorial drive in the summer of 1922
- The “Flying Squadron” photographed with President Harding on the lawn of the White House
- John W. Cravens. Secretary, Indiana University
- President William Lowe Bryan
- Charlotte Lowe Bryan
- Frank R. Elliott, director of publicity
- Miss Mary Thornton, chairman of the second women’s all-campus committee of the Memorial Fund campaign
- A photograph of each building of the University, including the Long Hospital, the Medical School building, the Riley Hospital, at Indianapolis
Memorial Hall Today
In the fall of 2017, Memorial Hall was rededicated as part of the new Wells Quad Residence Hall, named after Dean of Women Agnes E. Wells. The building’s return to student housing is an important example of the university reflecting on its past in preparation for the university’s bicentennial.
Memorial Hall will also house a portion of the university’s current generation of women students in the Women in STEM Living Learning Center.
The cornerstone, with the year “1924” carved into it, can be found in the southwest corner of the building’s archway.
* All references can be found in “Corner Stone Ceremonies for Memorial Buildings,” Indiana University News-Letter, vol. XIII, no. 2, February 1925.