Women’s History Month: Influential Women from Northern's History

Two historical portraits of women side by side

For Women’s History Month, we wanted to share information about some women who have been very influential in Northern State University history.

That includes women who now have buildings named after them on the NSU campus:

 

Beulah E. Williams (Beulah Williams Library)

Historical portrait of a woman

Northern’s library has always been an important part of campus. The library was originally located in the central building on the first floor near the president’s office.

The growth of the Northern library was hindered because of a lack of space and money until February 1957. The construction of the library progressed rapidly. The new enlarged library was named for Beulah Williams, a longtime librarian at Northern.

Miss Beulah E. Williams was born on Oct. 12, 1896, in La Prairie Township, Spink County, South Dakota. Her father, James Knight Williams, was 40, and her mother, Etta Florence Wells, was 34.

Williams began working in the Northern library as an assistant librarian in 1926. She was a graduate of Aberdeen Central who received her B.A. Ed. degree from Northern Normal in 1921.

Williams, who was assistant librarian from 1926 to 1939, succeeded J.R. McAnelly as Northern’s head librarian in 1938 and remained in that position until her death. She died June 27, 1947, in Aberdeen, at the age of 50.

Today, Beulah Williams Library is used every day by NSU students, faculty, staff and the public.

 

Lydia Graham (Graham Hall)

Historical portrait of a woman

Graham Hall was one of the first campus buildings, erected in 1901 as Ladies Hall, a residence hall to accommodate female students. Lydia Graham joined the Northern faculty in August 1902 as the principal instructor for public school music. Graham, a graduate of a special course at the Chicago Music College, came from Stillwater, Minn., where she had been teaching music.

On the morning of Dec. 31, 1903, there was a fire in the girls’ dormitory, which was nearing completion. The fire delayed its availability until February 1904. Then, it housed 62 women and provided dining facilities for 120 students.

In early 1917, a new L-shaped dormitory was proposed, and many regents demanded that the Ladies’ Hall be given a proper name to avoid reference to it as “the old dormitory.” With the regents’ permission, President Johnson asked the young ladies residing in the dorms to choose “an appropriate name.” Unanimously, music teacher Lydia Graham, one of the first faculty members, was chosen to be honored, and Ladies’ Hall became Graham Hall in 1917.

 

Margaret Briscoe (Briscoe Hall)

Historical photo of an older woman with glasses

Located on the northeast corner of campus, adjoining Lincoln Hall, the L-shaped Briscoe Hall was completed by July 1958 and ready to accommodate some of the 263 freshman women who enrolled that fall. Briscoe women walked through to neighboring Lincoln Hall to eat in the dining hall. About 150 were squeezed into Briscoe’s 50 rooms until the 1961-62 school year when occupancy was reduced to 100 girls. Its spacious lounge helped alleviate claustrophobia in those years of three girls to a room. Margaret Briscoe, for whom the dorm was named, retired from the education department after 37 years of service.

 

Grace McArthur and Emeline Welsh (McArthur-Welsh Hall)

Historical portrait of a woman wearing glasses and a necklace

Historical portrait of a woman with wavy hair wearing glasses

In fall 1964, construction began on the future McArthur-Welsh Hall on 15th Avenue, north of Grant Street. Costing about $600,000, this brick and steel four-story structure opened in fall 1966 with an occupancy of 200 girls. Following the tradition of naming most buildings after faculty, this hall was named in honor of Grace McArthur, professor of music education from 1928 to 1966 at Northern, and Emeline Welsh, who served on the English faculty from 1931 to 1963.

 

Here are a couple of more notable women from Northern’s history:

 

Lois Ingalls Manke Burns Mair 

Historical portrait of a young woman

Lois Ingalls was a typical of a teacher in her day. She graduated from Selby High School in 1928. She began her college education at Northern Normal and Industrial School in 1929. During her life, she continued to teach school at various rural and town schools. She continued her education at Northern over a span of 40 years, receiving her four-year degree in 1970. She raised a family of four children, three of whom became teachers as well, and she was widowed three times. Her story is not unique. Many like her continued their education by correspondence and extension classes and many sessions of summer school in order to teach South Dakota children.

 

Jean Mitchell

When Northern Normal and Industrial School began on Sept. 9, 1902, Mrs. T. W. Murphy of Pierpont (then Miss Jean Mitchell of Hecla) was the first student enrolled.

 

Reference:

  1. History of the Beulah Williams Library. Northern State University. (2018, September 18), found here.
  2. FamilySearch.org. (n.d.), March 18, 2022, found here.
  3. Bartusis, M. C. (2001). 20. The Library. In Northern State University: The first century, 1901-2000 (pp. 358–361), Northern State University Press.
  4. Bartusis, M. C. (2001). 1. Beginnings. In Northern State University: The first century, 1901-2000 (pp. 19–31). essay, Northern State University Press.
  5. Bartusis, M. C. (2001). 4. Moving into the community under Willis E. Johnson(1914–19). In Northern State University: The first century, 1901-2000 (pp. 81–82). essay, Northern State University Press.
  6. Bartusis, M. C. (2001). In Northern State University: The first century, 1901-2000. preface, Northern State University Press.
  7. cd. (1926, October 13). Dean A. H. Seymour Tells of Initial Steps in organizing Nstc. The Exponent, pp. 1–1.