Montgomery Ward

The Montgomery Ward Memorial Building was constructed between 1925 and 1927 on Northwestern University's new Chicago Campus to house the Northwestern University Medical and Dental Schools. The Medical School, originally founded as the Medical Department of Lind University in 1859 and renamed the Chicago Medical College in 1863, had affiliated with Northwestern in 1870, and became an administrative department of the University in 1891. It had occupied buildings on the near south side of Chicago from 1870 until the Ward Building was constructed. The Dental School, affiliated with Northwestern in 1887 and renamed the Northwestern University Dental School in 1891, had been located since 1902 in what was known as the Northwestern University Building in Chicago’s Loop, on the corner of Lake and Dearborn Streets. The Dental School shared this building with the Schools of Law, Pharmacy, and (after 1908) Commerce.

Plans for a new Chicago campus that would bring the professional schools of Northwestern University together in one central location were begun in 1917. Each of the professional schools began separate fundraising campaigns for its building. The Medical School had been only somewhat successful in raising the needed money when word came that Mrs. Elizabeth Ward, widow of pioneer mail-order retailer and civic leader A. Montgomery Ward, planned to give three million dollars for the Medical School building as a memorial to her husband. In making her gift Mrs. Ward wrote, “I am led to believe that the ideal of service dominates the various schools of Northwestern University. . . . I have selected as a memorial the Medical Center because of its commanding site overlooking the Lake, because it will render a very large measure of service to humanity, and because it will be as enduring as any memorial that can be devised.” Mrs. Ward’s original gift specified that 2.5 million dollars be used for the construction of the building, with $500,000 set aside for an endowment for the building’s ongoing maintenance. One month later Mrs. Ward added 1 million dollars to this gift, to ensure that there would be enough funds to construct the building as planned. In 1926 she gave an additional 4 million dollars to the schools, to create an endowment to support faculty salaries, research and scholarships. At the time these were the largest gifts the University had ever received from one individual.

Once the planning stages were completed, which included vigorous debates as to how the building would be divided between the Medical and Dental Schools, construction of the building began in 1925. James Gamble Rogers, the architect for all of the original buildings on the Chicago campus, designed the Ward Building as the largest and most prominent structure on the campus. Constructed of Indiana limestone over a concrete and steel framework, the Ward Building is fourteen stories tall, with many details of the modernized Gothic style that Rogers used throughout the campus, and topped with an ornate five-story tower. The journal The American Architect, reporting on the Chicago Campus buildings in 1927, commented that “The Montgomery Ward Memorial Building itself is a decided step forward in the development of scholastic buildings in this country.” The writer noted approvingly that, despite the huge size of the building, the architect had provided ample light, air, and ease of access, and that the heating, plumbing, and electrical systems were both efficient and economical. The Medical School occupied floors one through seven, and the Dental School occupied floors eight through thirteen. Administrative offices originally were located on part of the first floor and in the tower.

Groundbreaking for the Ward Building was held in conjunction with groundbreaking ceremonies for the entire Chicago campus on May 8, 1925, and the cornerstone was laid on June 11, 1926. Mrs. Ward died on July 26, 1926. The Ward Building was ready for occupancy as planned for the beginning of the 1926 academic year. Dedication ceremonies were held the following year, starting on June 15, 1927, when all of the buildings on the campus where completed. The Ward Building’s dedication took place over three days and included presentations of academic papers, clinics for students given by distinguished alumni, and several dedicatory ceremonies and dinners. A bas-relief of Mr. and Mrs. Ward was installed and dedicated on January 15, 1930.

Mont. Ward, Exterior: NE view
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Quick Facts

Date: 1926

Architect: James Gamble Rogers

Named for: Chicago merchandiser Montgomery Ward

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