History of
Helen M. Kirby Hall

Helen M. Kirby Hall

Helen M. Kirby Hall was built by the Methodist Board of Missions in 1924, serving as one of the first dormitories for women attending The University Texas at Austin. It was designed by Sanguinet & Staats, an architectural firm based in Fort Worth whose many projects are included on the National Register of Historic Places. Helen M. Kirby Hall is recognized as an Austin Historic Landmark.

The graceful and sturdy red brick edifice was named for Helen M. Kirby who was credited with making co-education a reality in colleges throughout Texas, and served as the first Dean of Women at The University of Texas at Austin.

Helen Marr Kirby

Helen Marr Kirby, the first Dean of Women at the University of Texas (UT), was born in Mobile, Alabama, on January 17, 1837, to Dr. Richard J. and Margaret M. (Connor) Swearingen. Her family later settled in Chapel Hill, Texas, where Dr. Swearingen was a founder of Soule University. Helen was educated at Wesleyan Female College in Macon, Georgia where she received a BA in 1855 and an honorary MA ten years after.

In 1858, she married Jared E. Kirby, a wealthy planter, and they then moved to a large estate, Alta Vista, near Hempstead. The couple had three sons. After her husband died in 1865, Helen operated a girls’ boarding school, the Alta Vista Institute, in her home from 1867 to 1875. She then moved with her sons to Austin in 1876 where she reestablished the Alta Vista Institute in her home in Austin.

Helen accepted the position of “Lady Assistant” (after declining the title of “Matron”) at the University of Texas in 1884. She remained in charge of women students for the next thirty-five years. Beginning in 1903 she held the title of Dean of Women, and when she retired in 1919, she became Dean Emerita.

Helen’s landmark contributions to women’s studies greatly influenced the education of two generations of women at the University of Texas. In 1904 the women students and alumnae presented the university with a marble medallion of Kirby executed by Elisabet Ney, and in 1911 the Women’s Council commissioned Robert J. Onderdonk to paint her portrait for the university. The Texas chapter of the American Association of University Women established the Helen Marr Kirby Fellowship in her honor.

Mrs. Kirby was also president of the Methodist Women’s Mission Society for more than 25 years.

Also named for her is Helen M. Kirby Hall, a former dormitory for women at UT; in 1976 the dorm became a private school serving curious young learners (currently from PreKindergarten through middle school).

Kirby Hall Clippings

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