By Anne Hartman
As Ida Noyes Hall marked its one hundredth anniversary in June 2016, its foyer was dedicated to honor Marion Talbot, a trailblazer for the education of women at the University who played a role in designing the building.
Talbot’s lasting impact on the University was lauded by Dean of the College John W. Boyer and Dr. Hanna Holborn Gray, former president of the University of Chicago and Harry Pratt Judson Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of History, during a dedication ceremony over UChicago Alumni Weekend.
In her remarks at the ceremony, Gray said that Talbot considered the building one of her greatest contributions to the University and noted that “she would feel gratified too that it became a place commemorative of her achievements at a time when progress that she had hoped for was continuing to evolve.”
Timothy Banks, the director of the Office of Event Services, says Ida Noyes Hall was the perfect place to honor Talbot.
“She never allowed the University to forget its promise for equality,” he says. “We see this manifest itself in how we approach education and activities on campus today. All programs housed in Ida Noyes Hall, including the Center for Identity + Inclusion and Spiritual Life, work to carry on the legacy of equality and access for all populations attending the University of Chicago.”
From an early age, Talbot learned to value education; her father was the first dean of the medical school at Boston University, and her mother was instrumental in establishing the Girls’ Latin School in Boston. While attending Boston University, Talbot co-founded the American Association of University Women, an organization dedicated to promoting equity and education for women.
Talbot left the east coast to join the UChicago faculty in 1892 as an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology. She eventually became the head of the Department of Household Administration and the dean of women at the University, a position she held until she retired in 1925. As one of the few women in University administration, Talbot championed for equal rights for female students. She urged University presidents with whom she worked to honor the commitments of UChicago’s founders to offer equal educational opportunities for both men and women at the institution.
Outside the classroom, Talbot aimed to establish a strong, well-connected community of women. In the same spirit as College Housing today, for Talbot, a successful housing system could provide structure and guidance to help women succeed academically at the University as well as a place for female students to grow their social spheres.
When the University announced a $300,000 gift from industrialist La Verne Noyes to build a women’s clubhouse in memory of his late wife, Ida, Talbot eagerly offered input on the design and function of the space. Once complete, Ida Noyes Hall became a place for women to gather for social functions and served as the women’s gymnasium.
Since Talbot’s time on campus, the vision for Ida Noyes Hall has evolved into something even greater. Today it hosts hundreds of student organizations, University departments, and University guests in its historic spaces each year. The Marion Talbot Foyer will serve as a reminder of the University’s history and its trailblazers, and the work that’s left to be done.
“I believe we can continue to test and push the boundaries that stagnate equality,” Banks says. “We should continue to remind each other of the commitment the University made in its inception, the one Marion Talbot never allowed to be stifled.”