February 25, 2020

Partners in the Presidency: The First Ladies of Indiana University

Bloomington Rotary Club
Georgian Room, Indiana Memorial Union

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Welcome and Introduction

Good afternoon. I’m delighted to be here among my fellow Rotarians, and I appreciate Charlotte inviting me, especially in this bicentennial year for IU.

 I am here to talk about IU’s first ladies, a topic some of you may have heard me speak on before. Not long after Michael became president, I began to do some research on my predecessors, which turned into a talk that I gave several times, including at Mini University in 2011. After that, other projects captured my attention, but the Bicentennial has given me a reason to return to it, and I hope to have an IU Press book to show for it in the next year.

So it might be apparent why someone who’s in the role would be curious about those who walked this same path before, and that was certainly true for me. But I was also interested in them because of my longtime interest in women’s history and my long involvement in universities. I’m the daughter of a faculty member who grew up in a college town and then spent her whole adult life working for one or another institution of higher ed, including IU. I knew that the more I learned about the women who served IU alongside their husbands, the more I would understand about IU itself, as well as to gain even more insight into how women’s lives have evolved. And I also knew my predecessors had things to teach me, even those who were at IU many, many years before. What did they do as First Lady? And how did they think about their role? This last question was particularly important to me in 2007 when Michael became president, and it’s still important to me as the institution evolves, and the ways that I can contribute evolve as well.

There are 20 First Ladies, including me, and including both wives of David Starr Jordan, as well as Jean Bepko, who was quite active in the 8 months she served alongside Gerald Bepko when he was interim IU president in 2003. The 20 of us have served terms of enormously different lengths, from six months to 35 years. As a group, we span two centuries, and many different manifestations of the university we’ve been a part of. So looking at these women and seeking to understand them is a way of understanding the university, as well as the larger societal context that prevailed.

Across all of us, however, certain themes emerge, and I think we’ve all asked that inevitable first question – what do I do now? The exposure that university presidents have, particular at public universities like IU, means that the spouse, like the president, is taking on a representational role. People have preconceived notions and expectations, but there’s no real job description, no manual, no FAQ. There have been a few studies and a couple of interesting books, one of which was a series of essays compiled by first ladies associated with two leading higher ed associations (one of whom is our own Pat Ryan), and another book called “Spousework”, written by the first lady at Carlton College in Minnesota. All of these focus on a contemporary reality of this role, the enormous change in women’s social and economic circumstances that occurred after WWII, and how that has changed the nature of the role itself. But even for women in the early days of IU, their husband’s role as IU president disrupted their lives and shaped their days in ways beyond their direct control. Across the years, it’s not a stretch to say that as a partner in the presidency, you are in the job too.

I don’t have enough time to talk about all my predecessors, but I’ve selected a few because they represent different time periods or are themselves unique in terms of what they brought to the role. All of the first ladies are represented on the printed timeline that you should each have gotten a copy of.

Margaret Wylie 1829 - 1851

Margaret Wylie, IU’s first first lady, moved her family of nine children to Bloomington in 1829, when Bloomington was a frontier town of 400 citizens, with red clay streets that became rivers of mud when it rained. At that point two buildings—a classroom building and a professor’s house—comprised Indiana College.  Margaret’s husband, Andrew, came as both our first president and professor of moral philosophy, bringing the faculty to three instructors for about 40 young men.

Margaret Ritchie’s father was a trustee of Jefferson College in Pennsylvania.  He was also a friend of George Washington who managed large tracts of Washington's land. Andrew Wylie had been president of both Jefferson College and another Pennsylvania school, Washington College, when he was recruited to lead Indiana College.

Margaret bore three more children here in Bloomington, delivering her twelfth and last baby at the age of 44.  After the family had been in Bloomington for eight years, President Wylie had a fine brick mansion built at what is now the corner of Lincoln and Second Street.

Margaret served in the traditional capacity of first ladies, as a substitute mother to male students who were far from home and as a hostess to members of the college and community.  The Wylie’s parlor was a gathering place for university, community, and church business. It even served as the college infirmary when needed.

We have many letters from the Wylie family but Margaret herself was not a prolific correspondent, so we don’t know a tremendous amount about her. But she came to love Bloomington and spent the last 30 years of her life here.

Early First Ladies

Margaret was succeeded by five more women whose husbands were also preachers. We know very little about these women; we have no pictures, very few papers, and in one case, Permelia Daily- didn’t even move with their husband to Bloomington. I do want to single out Margaret’s immediate successor, Louisa Ryors, because even though she had the shortest tenure of any first lady - - her husband announced his resignation six months after taking the job, because of the deplorable state of the university’s buildings and finances – she moved back to Bloomington after he died and became the first president of the Bloomington chapter of the WCTU. She died here and is buried in Rose Hill Cemetery.

Susan Bowen and Jesse Knight Jordan 1884 - 1891

I included the two wives of David Starr Jordan, IU’s 7th president and its first non-preacher president, because they served as first lady at a crucial moment in IU’s history, when it moved away from its sectarian roots, and expanded its footprint in Dunn Woods. Susan Bowen Jordan, died a few months into President Jordan’s first term, leaving her husband with three children. Faculty and students alike mourned her passing. The IDS noted that "Mrs. Jordan was as energetic as her husband, and in the short time she had been in Bloomington had become a popular figure."

After her death, Jordan married again. Jesse Knight Jordan shared her husband’s professional interests and his personal passions.  Both President Jordan and his wife were naturalists, scientists and staunch anti-war activists.  They led IU’s first study abroad ventures, setting in motion the great international tradition that is so integral to IU’s identity.

The couple met at a Cornell trustees meeting.  "He courted me with Browning," Mrs. Jordan said.  "He used to read to me by the hour when we drove about the countryside."  

Shortly after their autumn wedding in 1885, Jordan was scheduled to give ten lectures at various Indiana County Teachers' Institutes. His new spouse immediately became his helpmate, friend, and critic. Almost from the day of their marriage Mrs. Jordan helped the president write his speeches and other communications.

A world traveler and dedicated scientist, Jesse Jordan finished her bachelor’s degree at IU after leaving her studies at Cornell. She saw the university from a dual perspective and as IU’s first lady she considered it part of her job to “temper the scholastic with the social” by bringing together the faculty and the students. She gave receptions for women students and for alumni, a new phenomenon at IU at the end of the 19th century, ,and arranged many social evenings to vary the routine of college work.

David Starr and Jesse Jordan left IU in 1891 when President Jordan was hired to be Stanford University’s first president.

Frances Morgan Swain 1893 - 1902

Frances was the first “Hoosier” first lady – she was an enrolled student in the late 1880s, in mathematics. Her husband, Joseph Swain, was no doubt a big help as he was a professor of mathematics. In 1891, the Swains followed David Starr Jordan to Stanford and Frances finished her undergraduate degree there.

Mrs. Swain is the first IU first lady for whom we can see evidence of the role of women in philanthropic life.  She was a staunch advocate for the construction of a “women’s building” that would serve as their center of social and intellectual life on campus.

Indeed, she appeared before the Trustees in March of 1901 to solicit their support, arguing that social life for university women was so dismal that parents were reluctant to send their daughters to IU. Her plans for the building were later expanded to include both a men’s wing and a women’s wing.          

Until this point, IU students and alumni had embarked on small-scale campaigns for tree-plantings, memorial plaques, and other small memorials. Mrs. Swain launched our first large-scale fundraising effort. She and her husband were the first donors to the campaign for the new building, which was estimated to cost $30,000. No one could ask for a more enthusiastic fundraiser. She even enlisted a considerable contribution from oil baron John D. Rockefeller. The Student Building, which stands today near the Sample Gates, was made possible by her vision and efforts.

In honor of her work and as part of the University Bicentennial, the building was renamed the Frances Morgan Swain Student Building in 2016.

Charlotte Lowe Bryan 1902 - 1937

Charlotte Lowe Bryan’s dedication to the academic enterprise was unquestioned.  She also was an IU student—earning a bachelor’s degree from IU in 1888 and a master’s degree in 1889, graduating with an almost perfect record. Within a month after she received her MA degree, she and her former philosophy professor were married. As a token of their close partnership, Dr. Bryan took his bride's maiden name as his middle one.

Also a philosopher and a Greek scholar, she collaborated with him on three books about Plato.  In town/gown relations, Mrs. Bryan worked with women in the community who established Bloomington Hospital and the Bloomington City Library. She was a champion of IU’s Memorial Fund Campaign from 1921-26. She spoke of using the memorial fund to erect a stadium, the union building, the auditorium, and IU’s first women's dormitory. She believed these four buildings would make a difference in the life of the university—and they certainly have.

She also designed the larger portion of Bryan House.  In fact, when the front staircase was built, it had to be dismantled and rebuilt because Charlotte deemed the landing too narrow.  Perhaps you have seen the bronze plaque that was placed at the entrance of the house that states, "This tablet is placed here by friendly hands to record the keenly intelligent and devoted service given through the years to the planning of the house by its first mistress, Charlotte Lowe Bryan."

Despite her keen intelligence and academic credentials, Mrs. Bryan did not teach. Certainly there are instances in which the expectations and aspirations of a first lady were not always in harmony, and perhaps this was one of them.

Yet Charlotte Bryan, her predecessors, and those who followed her, epitomized the aspirations for whole groups of women.

She died in 1948. Three years later President Bryan published a tribute to her titled Last Words that contained reminiscences and some of their writings. The book begins with a handwritten note from David Starr Jordan praising Charlotte’s intelligence, character, strength and energy.

Pat Ryan 1971 - 1987

I wanted to include Pat because she’s so well known to so many of you, but also because she represents another major point of transition in the first lady role.

Our fourteenth president John Ryan and his wife Pat came into the role during a period of great transition. The first big decrease in state funding was causing a shift in financial priorities at IU. The women’s movement, the rise of the counterculture, and anti-war radicalism were dramatically affecting campuses across the country. The president’s house had not been lived in for three years and badly needed repair, but there was no money for renovation or new furnishings.

During these turbulent years, Pat and John’s challenge was to restore a sense of stability and tradition to the leadership of the university. They drew upon IU’s store of handsome furniture and art work to make the house beautiful and welcoming once again. The Ryans had an open door policy that welcomed all members of the university community to their home—sometimes at any hour of the day or night.  This may have been taken too far by some—Pat recalls waking up one Sunday morning to music and conversation on the patio of Bryan House. When she and John investigated further, they discovered that a wedding—complete with zither music—was occurring on the patio just outside their front door!

Pat has often told me that when she became first lady she didn't know the extent of her public duties.  She had no role model until she attended her first meeting of the American Association of Universities. The spouses of the presidents and chancellors have their own group and their own meetings (I’ve found them invaluable, as did Pat. The fact that this group, now called the Partners Group, was in existence is another sign that the role of first lady was evolving rapidly.) 

One goal Pat knew she wanted to take on was to complete her undergraduate studies.  She served admirably as first lady of IU while simultaneously raising her family and finishing her bachelor’s degree in psychology and sociology in 1979. 

In a tribute to his wife, President Ryan spoke highly of Pat, the changes she brought to her title, and the many identities she juggled. During his tenure as president, Pat was a construction planner and manager for two major houses; interior decorator for three houses, hostess to more than ten thousand Hoosiers a year, mother to three teenagers, student, community volunteer, fundraiser, public speaker, program planner, and confidante to the president.  Her service to the university accentuated what a vital role the first lady plays.

Peg Zeglin Brand 1994 - 2001

Peg Brand, whom I’m sure many of you also knew, was the first and so far only first lady to be a member of the faculty. She taught in Philosophy and in Gender Studies, where there is an endowed chair in her name. After Myles left to become president of the NCAA, she assumed a tenured faculty position at IUPUI and now teaches at the University of Arizona.

During her time as IU first lady, Peg made strong efforts to reach out to students and to re-connect women alumnae and donors to the university through initiatives like the Colloquium for Women, which continues today.

Peg professionalized the role of first lady in an era when women were actively working for equity. In 1989, nearly half of the first ladies who responded to a survey conducted by the Association of American Universities noted that they were interviewed as part of their university’s presidential search. Eleven percent had written job descriptions. And about five percent received salaries. And all but one was female.  Many, Peg included, felt it was time to negotiate a better defined role for first ladies—one that entailed established responsibilities, clearer expectations, and compensation.

Peg advocated for spousal pay and worked through the AAU to develop policies that encouraged governing boards to formally recognize the spouse’s role and consider it a titled position with a job description, salary, and/or benefits.  Now, I should point out, several of those spouses are first gentlemen. Peg did as much as any of her peers to help redefine the role of presidential spouse for the 21st century.

When she moved into Bryan House, Peg hung some of her own paintings there. She also restored to the house a favorite TC Steele painting of the Bryans, hanging it in the same place it had hung during Charlotte and William’s occupancy. Since they were both philosophers, I know she and Myles felt a great kinship with Charlotte and William Lowe Bryan.

Karen Herbert 2003 - 2007

Karen Herbert, my most recent predecessor, extended her warm inclusiveness to so many and in her quiet and unassuming way epitomized the spirit of IU to individuals and groups around the state.  She and President Adam Herbert arrived in the summer of 2003 as the first, and so far only, African American couple to lead IU.

Karen came into her role as first lady from active professional and civic careers. After retiring from her management career in telecommunications, Karen turned her attention to fundraising for community foundations and public libraries, interests that she brought with her when she came to Indiana. She was also a lover of music—especially jazz—and the visual arts. She said that growing up in the Washington D.C. area the National Gallery and Corcoran Museum of Art were her playgrounds. She has exhibited her own paintings, prints, and other artwork in various venues.

As a collector, Karen was especially fond of the Hoosier Salon style.  Among other art works, she sponsored the restoration of John Edward Bundy's 1902 painting “View from Bay” and ensured it was added to the Hoosier Salon paintings on exhibit at the IU Art Museum in 2004. This painting still hangs in Bryan House,

Karen was an important role model for women of color on campus, and spent a great deal of time interacting with students. She was also a strong advocate for Big Brothers/Big Sisters.


As I mentioned in the beginning, I knew I had much to learn from my predecessors.  From Margaret Wylie, I understood the importance of feeling at home in Bloomington; from Frances Swain and Charlotte Lowe Bryan, I found inspiration in my work for IU’s advancement; from Bernice Wells I found encouragement to reach out to alumni all over the world.  From Jesse Jordan and Pat Ryan, I found the courage to go back to school.  And from all of my contemporaries I’ve learned valuable lessons about navigating through change and striking a balance between home and university life.  All of these experiences are privileges, and I am deeply grateful to the wonderful university, its dedicated alumni, and especially its president, that has made it all possible.

Bicentennial medal presentation

As all of you know, we are in the midst of celebrating IU’s Bicentennial. I hope some/all of you were able to be part of the celebrations on January 20, as well as to check out the many exhibits and events that are going on related to the Bicentennial. Under the leadership of Kelly Kish, the staff of the Office of the Bicentennial has been working for several years on a wide array of signature projects. “Bridging the Visibility Gap” that I mentioned earlier is one of these along with many others. And one in particular I want to highlight today, which is the Bicentennial Medal.

And today, it is my very great pleasure to present your fellow Rotarian, community icon, and my dear friend, Charlotte Zietlow, with an IU Bicentennial Medal.

Charlotte and I actually met here at Rotary, maybe in 2006…