Cumnock, an outstanding orator, joined the Northwestern faculty around 1870 and quickly caught the attention of the student body with his spirit and talent, drawing a number of aspiring ministers and women to his courses. In response to the growing interest, Cumnock developed a two-year certificate in elocution in 1878.
In 1893, one year after the Board of Trustees created a full-fledged, degree-granting oratory program, Cumnock requested a new building to house his rapidly expanding enrollment. The trustees agreed, but in the midst of the Panic of 1893, Cumnock had to secure the funding.
Cumnock, the founding dean of the School of Oratory (now School of Communication), appealed to Swift to help fund the school’s headquarters. Swift, who had made a fortune in the meatpacking business thanks to his development of the refrigerated railcar, provided $12,500. Cumnock turned down the honor of having the building named for him, and the University dedicated the building to the memory of Swift’s daughter, former Northwestern student Annie May Swift (WCAS1888), who died in 1889.
The building, completed in 1895, is one of the oldest on Northwestern's Evanston campus.
Stories by Stephanie Haines (WCAS15), Margaux Pepper (C14) and Danny Moran (J13).
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Ever wonder about those strange designations we use throughout Northwestern to identify alumni of the various schools of the University? See the complete list.