Margaret McDonald Stanton first came to Iowa State in 1871 to be part of the faculty as matron and later perceptress and instructor of French and English. In 1875 she became an assistant professor in Mathematics. While teaching at Iowa State, she met and married Professor E. W. Stanton on Feb. 22, 1877. After her marriage, she taught for two more years, but quit to start a family. She remained preceptress, or the female head of the school, until 1879.
Stanton was born in New Concord, Ohio on October 22, 1845. The events of the Civil War and the fight over slavery greatly influenced her as she grew to adulthood, and she developed a keen sense of justice. She studied French with an educated French family, and became a French instructor at Iowa State in 1871. As one of the only female instructors on campus, she played a key role in shaping the educational opportunities for women at Iowa State. The yearbook wrote that “it was certainly largely due to her wise management that co-education was here successful” and that “the fields of higher education are here open to them [women] on the same basis as to men.”
After ending her teaching career, Stanton made her home on campus into a warm, inviting sanctuary for visitors to the campus and students who sought her guidance. She raised four children in Ames and was honored by the university when it named the new woman’s building after her. Margaret Hall was dedicated a week before her death on July 25, 1895.
Margaret Hall, ca. 1900
After her death, The Bomb eulogized her as one of the greatest supporters of Iowa State. Her death, according to the yearbook, cast “such a gloom of sadness over the whole school. By her death the college lost one of its truest supporters.” It went on to describe her true love of Iowa State. “As a teacher she was very successful and loved by her devotion and tact in the varied duties she was called upon to perform. By her perfect womanliness, by her sweet sympathy with those in distress or those in gladness, by her earnest wishes and efforts for the best welfare of the College she endeared herself to everyone with whom she came in contact. She loved the college for its own sake, for the wondrous possibilities that she saw embraced in its scope and plan.”
To remember her dedication to Iowa State, from 1897 to 1899 the university erected a tower in her honor. Her husband, Professor Stanton, paid six thousand dollars for ten bells weighing as much as three thousand pounds and contributed two thousand dollars for the tower. The university added a clock. Today in the heart of Iowa State’s campus, the campanile rises into the sky as a testament to Stanton’s dedication to Iowa State.