Frances Morgan Swain and the League of Extraordinary (IU) Women

After 110 years of existence, the IU Student Building is being renamed in honor of Frances Morgan Swain (Miller). But wait, what’s so special about this lady?

Photograph of Frances Morgan Swain, circa 1887-1889
Frances Morgan Swain, circa 1887-1889. Note her pins from Phi Gamma Delta fraternity and Kappa Alpha Theta sorority.

Frances “Fannie” Hannah Morgan was born in Knightstown, Indiana, in 1860. Her family appears to have been reasonably well-off (her father, Charles D. Morgan was, by turns, a lawyer, banker, and state representative), and they were members of the Fall Creek Monthly Meeting of Friends in Henry County. It is unclear when Frances met Joseph Swain, who was by turns a student (B.L.1883, M.S. 1885), professor of mathematics (1887-1891), and president (1893-1902) of Indiana University. One account by the Bloomington Courier stated that they met as students at Indiana, but there is no record of Frances’s attendance before 1887. What is certain is that they were married in September 1885, presumably after connecting over their joint Quaker heritage. And love of mathematics. Keep reading–you’ll see.

Compared to the women who preceded her as “first lady” of Indiana University, Frances was hardly the conventional president’s wife. Unlike her predecessors, she actually attended Indiana University, completing junior-level mathematics coursework over two years. She began her studies in 1887, the same year that Joseph was appointed an associate professor in the department. Even more unusual was that she did so as a married woman. She began studying in 1887, the same year that Meadie Hawkins Evermann became IU’s first married female graduate. Swain’s education took a detour when her husband was invited to join the faculty of the newly formed Stanford University in 1891–she completed her A.B. in Mathematics there in 1893.

Perhaps the most significant difference between Frances and her predecessors was her public and active commitment to effecting change on campus. When the Swains returned to Bloomington, Joseph as the new university president, Frances completed some graduate-level mathematics coursework, but soon turned her interests to the welfare of students, especially women, at the university. The historian Thomas Clark describes President Swain’s era at IU as one of rapidly increasing enrollments, which proved particularly challenging in the area of housing for female students–there was no women’s dormitory at the time, and private housing options in town were limited. Women arrived on campus from “strict homes…bound down by admonitions, taboos, and inhibitions,” and there were few means of support beyond sororities to “safely” navigate their new environment. Frances’s answer to the problem was the organization of a “Women’s League” dedicated to the self-improvement of its members as well as improving conditions for women on campus and in the Bloomington community.

Group photograph of IU Women's League officers, 1896
The officers of the IU Women’s League, as pictured in the 1896 Arbutus. Frances Morgan Swain is looking straight ahead in the center of the group.

Founded in 1895, the IU Women’s League was composed of women serving in various capacities on campus, including faculty, wives of faculty, members of campus clubs and sororities, and “unrepresented” female students–students who did not belong to a sorority or other club that provided housing or a support system. It provided educational and social programming for league members and the broader campus and Bloomington communities, including lectures, receptions, and dramatic performances. One of the League’s first speakers was Dr. Rebecca Rogers George, an Indianapolis physician who became a longtime, non-resident lecturer on female physiology and hygiene for the university. Over the years a variety of other speakers, including female educators, social reformers, and suffragists discussed current events and other topics of interest. Over time the mission of the Women’s League evolved, transitioning from a social club to a form of women’s student government.

One of Frances’s (and the League’s) most significant efforts on campus was the campaign for the construction of a Women’s Building on campus. Inspired by the existence of such facilities at the University of Michigan, the University of Chicago, and other regional institutions, Frances and the Women’s League began raising funds so that female students at IU could have a building of their own. In March 1901, with $6500 in pledges under her belt, Frances appealed to the Board of Trustees to support the project, which she presented as a much-needed space for socializing, exercising, and relaxation. The Board responded with the following resolution:

Be it resolved, that the Trustees of the University most heartily endorsed the movement, presented and explained by Mrs. Swain, for the erection of a Women’s Building on the campus, and inasmuch as said building is to be erected entirely by private subscription, all friends of the University and of education generally are urged to aid Mrs. Swain and her association in their good work.

The campaign for the Women’s Building, essentially the first mass fundraising appeal by the university, ultimately found success through a generous matching donation offer by John D. Rockefeller. Sacrificed in the process, however, was the building’s status as a facility exclusively for women–it instead was built as the “Student Building,” and has remained so up until this week.

The Swains left Indiana when Joseph accepted the presidency of Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. While the couple were doubtless as happy as, well, a pair of Quakers at a school for Quakers, their interest in the welfare of Hoosier Nation never ceased. Besides returning to campus for personal visits and university ceremonies, Frances and Joseph were the first donors to the post-World War I Memorial Fund, giving $500 each in 1921 and lobbying alumni to donate as well. In 1932, five years after Joseph died, Frances married John A. Miller, also a former faculty member of Indiana, Stanford, and Swarthmore. And a mathematics professor–see what I mean? But in Bloomington, she’ll always be remembered the most as Mrs. Joseph Swain.

As the existence of the Women’s League demonstrates, Frances Swain was not the only woman involved in promoting change on campus. The mere existence of women faculty and staff, however few, surely made a difference to the women who followed them. It is easy to overlook the legacy of women of Frances Morgan Swain’s era, when gendered social norms and expectations limited the ways they could participate in public life. The renaming of the Student Building this week is an important step to make sure they are not forgotten.

A Question of Loyalty: Controversies Surrounding All Things German at Indiana University during World War I

“President Bryan made a statement to the Board concerning the German situation at the university”—Board of Trustee Minutes, April 17, 1918.

For the past several months, I’ve been working to slowly transcribe the WWI-era hand-written minutes of the Board of Trustees for inclusion in this searchable online portal and one question has continued to weigh on me. What exactly was “the German situation”?

While the Great War raged in Europe, anti-German feelings ran high state-side and Indiana University was not exempt from coming under fire for associations with the enemy. After some investigation, the exact “German situation” is still a little vague; however, there are still some fascinating stories from the era.

C286 War Mothers letter, June 1, 1918

One of these controversies involved  the teaching of the German language. By mid-1918 enrollment in German language courses at Indiana University had declined and only two professors, Bert J. Vos and Carl Osthaus, remained on the faculty. Across the country, teaching German in the schools (including universities) became a contentious issue. In June 1918, IU President William Lowe Bryan received a letter from the War Mothers of Monroe County which argued that “one of the most fruitful sources for dissemination of insidious enemy propaganda has been through the contact of things German with our schools.” They further stated that “it is therefore RESOLVED: — That no good purpose can be served by the continuation of the teaching of German in Indiana University, that much harm may come therefrom.” President Bryan coolly responded that the teaching of German would remain  “as a means of fighting Germany.” When further questions poured in from individuals such as  Dr. Perry Dickie of the American Defense Society, President Bryan responded that “German is not required for entrance” but that “we provide a few classes in German for students who desire it.” Additionally, by the fall of 1918 students enlisted in the Student Army Training Corps were learning German for military purposes.

James McDonald portrait painting P0056332
James McDonald portrait painting

While controversy surrounded the teaching of German, two professors also found themselves at the center of the debate. History professor James McDonald found himself the subject of a Senate investigation when a German by the name of Dr. Karl A. Fuehr included him in his “important list of names” which the the Department of Justice stated were all pro-Germans.  McDonald, however, demonstrated to the Senate Investigation Committee that the accusation was erroneous and that he was a loyal American citizen, stating that “Ever since the sinking of the Lusitania I have not merely privately but also publicly both in class and in the press strongly advocated the entrance of the United States into the war against Germany, as my students and associates can readily testify” (from a letter to the Chairman of Senate Investigating Committee, December 11, 1918). McDonald would go on to work first for the League of Nations and then for President Roosevelt’s Advisory Committee on Political Refugees in Europe. He recognized early on the danger the Jewish people faced from Hitler. McDonald would also become the first US Ambassador to Israel.

Hopkinton Iowa Leader, November 8, 1917

The second and most controversial case was that of Professor William Zeuch. A young Iowan, Zeuch was hired in 1917 to teach economics at Indiana University. In November of 1917, Zeuch had replied to an Iowan newspaper’s anti-German statements, stating that the newspaper was printing propaganda and because the recent German atrocities were not unique to Germans as a race, the newspaper was thus offending German-Americans.

Newspaper's reply
Newspaper’s reply

The newspaper replied by thoroughly denouncing Zeuch. News spread to Bloomington, where Zeuch found himself under investigation by the Monroe County Council of Defense and a committee of professors at the University. The Bloomington Indiana Daily Student on November 14 reported: “Mr. Zeuch affirms that he had no intention of being disloyal or unpatriotic when he wrote the letter to the Hopkinson Leader. He said to a representative of The Student that he had been incensed at the attempts which have been made to arouse hatred against the German race, but that he wished to condemn its autocracy.” Newspapers across the state reported on the scandal and Zeuch was asked to resign from his position. He did and joined the Army, from which he was honorably discharged in 1918. After the war, Zeuch co-founded a short-lived college in Arkansas, Commonwealth College, with a program that reflected his sentiments for socio-economic reform.  He was also a Guggenheim fellow in the 1930s and worked for the Department of the Interior.

Zeuch co-founded a short-lived college in Arkansas, the Commonwealth College, with a program that reflected his sentiments for socio-economic reform.

To learn more about either of these incidents or more about Indiana University during WWI, contact the IU Archives.

Executive Actions: Minutes of the Indiana University Board of Trustees

Official Record Establishing the Indiana University Board of Trustees.
The official charter for the Indiana University Board of Trustees, written in 1838. Click on the image to see the full 6-page document.

An act to establish a University in the State of Indiana [Approved Feb. 15th, 1838]

Sec. 1st. Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Indiana that there shall be, and hereby is created and established a University adjacent to the town of Bloomington in the County of Monroe for the education of youth in the American learned and foreign languages, the useful arts, sciences (including law and medicine) and literature, to be known by the name and style of “Indiana University,” and to be governed and regulated as herein after directed.

Sec. 2nd. There shall be a Board of Trustees appointed consisting of twenty one persons, residents of this State, who shall be hereby and constituted a body corporate and politic by the name of “the Trustees of Indiana University”….

So reads the first lines of what exists today from the IU official record transforming the former “Indiana College” to “Indiana University” – the prior minutes dating to 1820 were lost in the fire of 1883. These minutes of the Board of Trustees contain a wealth of historical information in regards to the operation of the university detailing the projects, finances, personalities, and goals that have shaped its existence.

    A Unique Partnership

Because this official record contains such insight into the history of the unviersity, a number of years ago a decision was made to bring them to the web through a cooperative project between the IU Digital Library Program, the Board of Trustees, and the University Archives, allowing for instant access and search capability. The site can be found here: Minutes of the Board of Trustees. The official hard-copy minutes (shown to the right) are still available at the University Archives, where researchers are welcome to view these valuable documents.

Board of Trustees Meeting Book
A Board of Trustees Meeting Book.

Minutes prior to 1981 have been scanned and made readable via Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology; present-day minutes are word processed and delivered ready to be formatted for the web.  All minutes are encoded into TEI (Text Encoding Initiative) using the XML editor <oXygen/>.  Working backward chronologically, the Minutes are written in TEI and then made available on the web.  The Board of Trustees site is fully searchable—one can search all online minutes or can choose to search within a specific meeting or period. At present, minutes from present-day to mid-1957 are accessible online.

As the Board of Trustees (BoT) project encoder, I have worked with the minutes since August of 2010.  In order to maintain the integrity of the minutes, I seek to duplicate each meeting as closely as possible in its online counterpart.  In addition to present-day meetings, I have worked primarily through meetings dating from December of 1959 to early 1957.  At the moment, I find myself encoding the meeting of February 18, 1957.  Traveling in reverse from meeting to meeting has its peculiarities—I often know the result of an issue before I know of the issue’s existence.  The experience is akin to beginning a book at the last chapter, reading that chapter, and then jumping back to read the previous chapter, and so on.  However, the material is always engaging and each discussion point, regardless of importance large or small, is given good context.

Lilly Library Under Construction, 1958
Lilly Library construction began in 1957 and was dedicated in 1960. This photo was taken in 1958.

I feel I may declare some slight expertise on University operations in the last years of the 1950s after my time on this project.  From 1957 to 1959, IU underwent massive change, assumed great challenges, and strove for increased prominence.  The University continued to expand, not only in Bloomington but across the state.  During these years, the Gary Center and Fort Wayne Center, now IU Northwest and IPFW, became important components of IU’s statewide system.  In Bloomington, the Board of Trustees oversaw the purchase of many homes and property in order to make room for campus expansion.  The Fine Arts Building and Lilly Library received funding and came into being.  A new football staff arrived in 1957; most of the staff had left the university by 1959.  Of course, not all additions are as noticeable as a shiny new building or changes in athletics.  For example, the University purchased the personal papers of Upton Sinclair during this time; see the May 18, 1957 minutes for details.

1964-65 Board of Trustees Members
Members of the 1964-65 Indiana University Board of Trustees

These are but a few examples of events from a short three-year period.   Indiana University continues to move forward and the Board of Trustees has overseen it all.  Each meeting offers something of interest to those researching the history of Indiana University, the city of Bloomington, or the state of Indiana.  Anyone interested in these histories will certainly find noteworthy items in the Minutes of the Board of Trustees.  Whether one chooses to use the original paper records or the online site, I hope you enjoy studying the Minutes as much as I have enjoyed working with them!

By Neal Harmeyer, Board of Trustees project encoder