The Board of Trustees voted last week to change the name of the Humanities building to Neill Hall, after Macalester’s founder and first president Rev. Edward Duffield Neill.

A press statement released after the meeting provided details on the name change. Neill (1823-1893) was a Presbyterian minister who came to the Minnesota Territory in 1849.
Prior to the Civil War, Neill founded two churches in St. Paul and served as the first Superintendent of Public Instruction for the state of Minnesota and the first chancellor of the University of Minnesota.

Neill also served as a member of the First Minnesota Volunteer Infantry and as a chaplain in the Civil War. In 1864, he became private secretary to President Abraham Lincoln, a duty he also performed for Presidents Andrew Johnson and Ulysses S. Grant.
Neill returned to Minnesota in 1870 and received a charter in 1874 to found a college. Macalester College opened nine years later at its current location.

Most buildings on campus are named after major donors. Until now, Neill’s name has only been used for a small meeting room in Weyerhauser Hall, said Vice President for Advancement Tommy Bonner.

This year, the opportunity arose to further honor Neill with the advent of a new campus wayfinding plan, the goal of which is “to create new building signs with a brief description of major programs/offices in each building,” Bonner said.

“Our consultants pointed out that it is confusing to have a building called ‘Humanities’ when many of the Humanities departments are housed in Old Main and much of the Humanities building is occupied by departments that are not part of the Humanities,” said Acting President Kathy Murray. “Changing the name to reduce the confusion gave us a perfect opportunity to honor President Neill.”

Bonner said he hoped the new signage for Neill Hall will be implemented before winter, “[b]ut as the sign is part of the much larger sign project it may not be until spring.”

The name change was made effective immediately, and Bonner said that “Neill Hall” will replace “Humanities” when information areas like the website are updated.
“We’ll change the signage attached to the building as soon as practical,” he said.

A document released following the Board meeting attributes the core Macalester values of “personal growth, self-reflection, rigorous work, leadership skills, and civic action” to Neill’s educational philosophy.

Trustees and college officials agreed the name change paid due homage to Neill.
“There were very few questions and no concerns expressed about the name change,” Vice President for Student Affairs Laurie Hamre said.

According to Murray, most of the trustees supported the decision to honor Neill.
“Trustees were excited to be able to recognize someone so important in the college’s history,” she said.

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