Annie May Swift Hall

The School of Oratory building under construction in the mid-1890s was to have been named after the school's founder, elocution professor Robert Cumnock. But that changed after the Panic of 1893, when Cumnock appealed to the Chicago philanthropist and meat-packing magnate Gustavus F. Swift to provide funds to complete the building. Northwestern recognized Swift's generous contribution of $12,500 by dedicating the new building to the memory of his daughter Annie May, a Northwestern student who had died in 1889.

Annie May Swift Hall is an eclectic mixture of Venetian Gothic revival and Romanesque architecture designed by Charles R. Ayers. Its basement is rock-faced Lemont limestone, its upper stories are Roman brick and terra cotta, and its roof is of red tile. Until the creation of the lakefill campus in the 1960s, Annie May Swift Hall stood on Lake Michigan's shore, affording a lovely view of the lake. Designed to accommodate 300 students, the building originally included offices, recitation rooms, a library, a gymnasium, and a superbly engineered auditorium, reputed to be one of the finest in the country at the time, which served until 1972 as the home of University Theatre.

Throughout the years, Annie May Swift Hall has undergone a number of renovations, including a 1995 refurbishing of the studios of WNUR, the University's student-run radio station. After a 1996 upgrading into a facility for screening films and videos, the auditorium was renamed for actress Peggy Dow Helmerich, a member of the School of Speech Class of 1948, who donated funds for the renovation.

In 2002, the School of Speech was renamed the School of Communication.

Annie May Swift, Exterior: Students at Outdoor Tables
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Quick Facts

Date: 1895

Architect: Charles R. Ayars

Named for: Daughter of Gustavus Swift

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