NU Archives’ Best Dead People: Frances Searle

For Halloween, University Archives has created an exhibit to display in University Library honoring some of Northwestern’s most famous dead people. In case you aren’t able to make it to the exhibit, The Flipside has researched the lives of some of Northwestern’s most prolific figures.

Frances Brett Searle is most appreciated for being Northwestern’s most ambiguous historical figures and the only person with multiple buildings named after them who doesn’t come up on Google. (Really, The Flipside wasn’t even sure whether Frances was male or female. Brett’s also probably not his/her middle name, but it’s pretty gender-neutral and we’re huge Hemingway fans.)

Searle washed up on North Beach near the site of the new SPAC (with real lakeside views!) a very long time before treadmills were ever invented. After enduring three blizzards, two flash floods, and fifteen instances of below -freezing gale force winds, Searle was near death when Frances Willard, also one of NU Archives’ Best Dead People, found and nursed him/her back to health in a small hut which would one day become Searle Hall (the health center).

The two Franceses became fast friends, bonding over their shared interest in temperance and having the name Frances. However, the abstemious Willard could not abide Searle’s love of interpretive dance, and the friends (maybe with benefits, but it’s tough to say because there are no pictures of Searle on Google and Willard was a real dime) parted ways.

On June 8, 1845, Willard and Searle shared a final embrace on the ground that would become the Jacobs Center. Searle pranced up north to found the School of Communication and build Frances Searle Hall ugly concrete slab by ugly concrete slab. Willard trudged down south and found solace with a community of teetotalers with whom she would establish Willard Residential College. Campus historians attribute the North-South Campus divide to the original feud between Willard and Searle, but it wasn’t until the famous party switch during the great Fran’s vs. Lisa’s debate of 1897 that the current identities associated with North and South campus students emerged.

After Judd and Marjorie Weinberg complained for the twelfth time about getting confused and not knowing where to go for one of his dinner parties, Searle established the Searle Center for Teaching Excellence to teach friends and future students the difference between his/her other two buildings. Most of them never knew the Searle Center was there, though, and some of their lost souls still roam the Mudd Library basement.

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