McCalla History

Margaret McCalla

The McCalla School is named for Margaret Hemphill McCalla (1836-1912), a pioneering teacher in Bloomington and Evansville, Indiana. Born in Monroe County just outside of Bloomington, McCalla began her career in elementary education. McCalla spent decades serving Indiana communities both in the classroom and as an administrator. Among her students were future Indiana University faculty including the History Department’s James Albert Woodburn and 10th IU president William Lowe Bryan, as well as many prominent business and civic leaders. In 1873, McCalla was instrumental in organizing a preparatory school, which eventually became Bloomington’s first high school, located in the Central School building, where she taught mathematics.

Portrait of Margaret Hemphill McCalla. Image courtesy of The Delta Kappa Gamma Society International

In 1874, McCalla became Indiana’s first female school superintendent as the head of the Bloomington public schools. Former student William Lowe Bryan became a teacher for the Bloomington schools before heading to IU. Of his former superintendent, Bryan effused that McCalla was “one of the most noble personalities” that he had ever had the pleasure of knowing.

McCalla was so beloved that when she announced her resignation as superintendent in 1889, she received a letter saying that the Board of Trustees for the city’s schools had met to discuss her resignation, and “It was resolved that they do not accept and that they ask you to reconsider your action, earnestly hoping you will see the matter in the same light.” She also received a letter, signed by 14 teachers, saying, “We beg of you to reconsider your resignation. Do not leave us. We feel that no one can take your place and be to us what you have been.”

In 1908, the city of Bloomington voted to honor the beloved educator by dedicating the recently completed school at 9th and Indiana as the Margaret McCalla School. The new Collections Teaching, Research, and Exhibition Center at McCalla hopes to carry on Margaret McCalla’s passion for education and service to the Bloomington community.

Source material for the life of Margaret McCalla: “Margaret Hemphill McCalla 1836-1912,” booklet. Alpha Chapter, Delta Kappa Gamma, Bloomington, Indiana, Monroe County Public Library, 1942. Available online via Indiana Memory Digital Collections

The McCalla School

The Margaret McCalla school, located between Dunn Street and Indiana Avenue and between 9th and 10th Street, has been a fixture of Bloomington education since the construction of the building in 1907.

The original McCalla School was designed by local architecture firm Nichols & Son in the Classical Revival style and was a single, two-story brick structure with basement. The city of Bloomington purchased the lots for construction from attorney and farmer Moses Dunn for $5000, with final construction costing $27,000. In its inaugural year, the school welcomed five teachers and 365 students. Upon opening, the building was praised for its sanitary drinking fountains and consistently comfortable 70-degree temperatures in the winter.

Margaret McCalla School building (1907). Image courtesy of IU Archives

After it had served Bloomington elementary students for 66 years, Bloomington decided to retire the McCalla school in 1973.

By 1974, the McCalla school was acquired by Indiana University and has served the IU School of Art + Design for many years, most recently as production spaces for IU students and faculty (including a wood and metal shop) and, for 17 years, as home to the school’s rotating exhibits of the Fuller Projects.

In its new incarnation, the McCalla School will build on this history of education and exhibition with remodeled classrooms, a learning lab, gallery spaces, and a renovated multipurpose room.

Children lined up to go down the slide at the McCalla School playground (1959). Image courtesy of IU Archives