Editor's Picks

Campus Life

Student Building to be renamed in honor of IU's ninth first lady Frances Morgan Swain

Sept. 7, 2016

Nearly two decades before women won the right to vote, Frances Morgan Swain was lobbying IU’s trustees for a space devoted to female students on campus. Now, more than 100 years later, the space she helped build will bear her name.

frances morgan swain


Swain was born in Knightstown, Ind., in 1860, seven years before IU admitted its first woman student. She enrolled at IU from 1889 to 1891 and completed her undergraduate degree in mathematics at Stanford in 1893. When her husband, Joseph Swain, became IU’s ninth president in 1893, he hired the university’s first dean of women, Bidwell Breed, to create spaces, resources and facilities designed for the women on campus.

Leading up to IU’s bicentennial celebration in 2020, the university has several tributes planned to increase public recognition of the women and other underrepresented individuals of distinction who’ve shaped IU’s past and continue to inspire its future.

One of the first such public recognitions will be the renaming of the Student Building as the Frances Morgan Swain Student Building in a 4 p.m. ceremony Sept. 23. The ceremony will take place on the steps of the building, located between Franklin Hall and Maxwell Hall in the heart of campus, adjacent to Dunn’s Woods.

The building’s entryway already houses a bronze dedicatory plaque to Swain, an early advocate for women in higher education. When she went before the Trustees of IU in 1901 to propose a “Women’s Building,” she had already raised $6,500 from the community and alumni (about the equivalent of $200,000 in today’s dollars). The building was renamed the Student Building when philanthropist John D. Rockefeller later contributed to its expansion.

After nine years at IU, Frances and Joseph Swain moved to Swarthmore College, where Joseph became president in 1902. Frances Swain traveled back to Bloomington for the groundbreaking of the Student Building in 1904 to lay a ceremonial cornerstone and later returned for the building’s official dedication in 1906.

Speakers at the Sept. 23 event will include four of the most prominent women on the IU Bloomington campus: first lady Laurie Burns McRobbie, who led the effort to rename the building in Swain’s honor; Provost and Executive Vice President Lauren Robel, who was the Maurer School of Law’s first-ever female dean; Vice Provost for Student Affairs Lori Reesor, IU’s first female dean of students; and Sara Zaheer, president of IU’s student body.

“Frances was a great philanthropist and a remarkable individual who truly cared about creating a space for women at this university,” McRobbie said of Swain, who also helped establish the Delta Gamma sorority at IU. “This naming will contribute to helping us honor her spirit and memory as we educate the next generation of great leaders -- and work to expand recognition of the women who helped create the IU we know and love.”

frances morgan swain

Frances Morgan Swain with her husband, Joseph, the ninth president of IU, on an elephant in India in 1922. | PHOTO COURTESY OF IU ARCHIVES

Robel said Swain’s efforts to welcome women to the campus were a reflection of her extraordinary commitment to the university.

“We are proud to honor Frances Morgan Swain by making her contributions to IU Bloomington more visible for the young women and men who call this campus home,” Robel said. “Frances Swain is one of an incalculable number of women in earlier generations whose very real work on behalf of our society went largely unrecognized, because they carried no title and their work was unpaid. Yet she had the vision to see a gathering place for generations of women who would follow.”

The renaming of the Student Building will be followed later in the year by several initiatives and events to honor a diverse array of important figures in IU history.

Robel is also leading an effort to endow a named professorship in honor of Juanita Kidd Stout, who received her J.D. from the Maurer School in 1948 and an LL.M. in 1954, and became the first woman of color to hold any elected judgeship in the nation. Her career culminated in her appointment as the first black woman to serve on a state supreme court, in Pennsylvania.

At 11 a.m. Sept. 10, a portrait of Carrie Parker Taylor, IU’s first female African-American student, will be unveiled at the Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center's Ruth N. Halls Theater as part of Black Alumni Weekend. The painting was created by artist Joel Washington, who has worked at IU for nearly 40 years, and whose work hangs in buildings throughout campus, including the IMU. There will also be a dedication of a second portrait of Taylor to the permanent “Women of Indiana University” art exhibition in the IMU’s East Lounge.

Back to the Inside IU Bloomington homepage

Read more Campus Life stories »