By Jillian Poland
President F. Javier Cevallos submitted a request on June 15, 2018 to the Department of Higher Education (DHE) to rename North Hall after Mary Miles Bibb, the first African American student to graduate from FSU.
The DHE must approve any request to name or rename buildings on a state university campus as it is granted full responsibility for all state university property under Massachusetts state law.
The request to rename North Hall is the result of a petition submitted by alum and former Student Trustee Karl Bryan during the 2018 spring semester.
Bryan said he collected the over 100 required signatures by hosting an informational table outside of the McCarthy Center and talking to people one-on-one. He also had support from fellow SGA members.
Bryan said, “I felt that FSU was lacking when it came to memorializing the achievements and
contributions of its students of color. Then, after the racist incidents last year, I felt that there was no better time to make a statement of support for the POC community of FSU.”
Bryan suggested renaming North Hall in particular because it is “unnamed,” in that it is not named after an important figure like other buildings on campus.
Once Bryan’s petition was submitted to the school, Framingham State’s Board of Trustees reviewed and approved the idea at its May 16 meeting.
Bryan said, “The admin was overwhelmingly supportive. They thought it was a great idea from the get-go
and they assisted me with going through regulations and connecting me with the right people.”
According to the DHE’s building naming rights policy, the Board of Higher Education (BHE) now has 120 days to review and approve the proposal. The BHE’s first fall meeting is set for Oct. 23, shortly after the deadline.
Universities are encouraged, though not yet required, to support any proposal to name a building after a person with fundraising, either in the form of donations from the intended honoree or the creation of a related scholarship.
However, Cevallos said, “In the case of a historical figure, I think that we might try to make a case that an exception is justified.”
In 1843, Mary Miles Bibb – then known as Mary Elizabeth Miles – became the first African American woman to graduate from Lexington Normal School, a teacher’s college that eventually evolved into Framingham State University.
According to the Henry Whittemore Library blog, Mary Miles opened two schools for black and white children at a time when African American children were not afforded a public education. Miles and her husband, abolitionist Henry Bibb, also hosted the final stop on the Underground Railroad in Canada.
Additionally, Mary Miles co-owned the abolitionist newspaper “The Voice of the Fugitive” with her husband. When Henry Bibb left on lecture tours, Mary Miles was given complete control over the editing and publishing of the paper. This made her the first woman in Canadian history to publish a newspaper, according to the Henry Whittemore Library website.
In 1852, activist and journalist Martin R. Delany reported Mary Miles Bibb had graduated from the Normal School in Albany, New York – which would become University at Albany, SUNY – rather than the Lexington Normal School.
This information has been reprinted in several works on the Bibbs, including in the 2002 introduction to Henry Bibb’s autobiographical book, “The Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb,” by historian Charles Heglar.
George Wiedeman, archivist for the Department of Special Collections & Archives at University at Albany, SUNY, said in an email it has long been “claimed and rumored” that Mary Miles Bibb attended the Normal School in Albany.
Wiedeman said, “It’s possible, yet seems unlikely that Mary Elizabeth Miles attended the State Normal School here.”
He added, “She is not listed in the early registration books. However, the first page of the first book is missing, so it is possible that she attended the first term in 1844, but she is not listed as a graduate anywhere.”
Colleen Previte, special collections librarian and archivist at Framingham State, said Mary Elizabeth Miles did attend the Lexington Normal School. Miles is included in the Lexington Normal School “Catalogue of Teachers and Alumnae” for the years 1839 to 1900.
Additionally, according to Previte, Miles’ name is included on the school’s original register.
Previte said she thinks the name change is a “wonderful idea” because Mary Miles’ work is often overshadowed by that of her husband. “I think it’s fantastic to see her finally recognized for her work, especially by her alma mater.”
Millie Gonzalez, interim chief officer of diversity and inclusion, said, “Renaming the building after Mary Miles Bibb, the first African American graduate, would highlight and reinforce our legacy of supporting inclusion and our continued commitment.”
Cevallos said while the University and the state are committed to diversity and inclusion, “the number of buildings that have the names of people of color on them is very limited. We have none on this campus. ... And so, it would be nice to have a building named after an African American woman.”
Cevallos added he was “delighted” by the petition because it came from the students. “It’s a great project and it started where it should have – with students thinking about it.”