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Leo R. Dowling International Center

From Bloomingpedia

The International Center was a dedicated social center for international students and scholars at Indiana University from 1951 until 2012. The most recent building was named after Leo R. Dowling, an IU professor of French and business administration who was appointed "counselor to foreign students" in 1943.


  • From December 1951 the Cosmopolitan Club met in the first "International House" at 111 South Jordan Avenue (which had previously been known as Jordan Manor or Gray House).
  • From 1953-4 a building on 3rd St known as "Thomas House" (after physician Harry B. Thomas) was used as an "International House".
  • From 1955 a mock-Tudor house designed by Myron Pugh on South Jordan Ave, which had been used by the Alpha Chi Omega sorority, became the "International Center". In 1992 it was re-inaugurated as the "Leo R. Dowling International Center".
  • At the start of the 2012 academic year the Dowling Center building was appropriated to house the Office of International Admissions and staff involved with International Programs and Events were moved to offices in the Poplars Building where no space was allocated for social events.


In the summer of 1950, Indiana University President Herman B. Wells compared numbers of international students at Indiana University with numbers at other institutions and was not satisfied. He jotted a quick memo to the assistant dean of faculties, “How could we boost our foreign student enrollment next fall?” Wells was very likely looking over their first volume of Education for One World (1948-49) where he would have found six of the Big Ten schools on the list of US universities receiving the largest number of international students. IU was not among them.

Wells had a strong commitment to a global view of education. In the early 1940s, he divided his time between IU and the US State Department and was active in the precursors to the United Nations. Recognizing the importance of international students to the university, he created the position of counselor to foreign students in 1943 when international enrollments numbered fewer than 50. He chose for that position a young faculty member, Leo R. Dowling. Dowling had taught French and then business administration; Wells had worked with him in a banking institute in the School of Business. As well as advising foreign students, Dowling continued teaching and assisted with Veteran’s Affairs.

During the 1940s, the needs of international students moved more and more to the center of Dowling’s activities. He helped to set up the National Association of Foreign Student Advisors. In the spring of 1951, Wells was still pondering ways to increase IU’s international enrollments and brought Dowling into a brainstorming session. Dowling reminded everyone of an idea he had been promoting for three years. IU should create a center where international and US students could meet. He knew just the place: a small bungalow at 111 South Jordan Avenue known as Jordan Manor or Gray House. He related this conversation to the university vice president and treasurer in a memo from May 1951:

Having a central place of social and educational activity for foreign students would give a definite stimulus to our overall program, it was felt. We had in mind a place that offered (1) facilities so that the foreign students could entertain their teachers and friends with teas or dinners which they themselves would prepare, (2) office space for the foreign-American social clubs, (3) a small library with international appeal, (4) a foreign record library, etc. In short, our thinking was in the direction of facilities for an international relations workshop on the student level.

At the time, four IU dieticians resided there. Wells agreed and in December 1951, the Cosmopolitan Club held its first party at the new facility. With the motto, “Above All Nations is Humanity,” the Cosmopolitan Club had provided the social glue for US and international students since 1916. In the 1920’s, it established an annual International Night that for fifty years attracted several hundred members of the university community to its international food, music, exhibits and dancing. And it established a Friday tradition that continues to this day of an evening social event at the center, each week featuring a different country and culture.

Just months after it opened, the International House was slated for demolition as part of a residence hall project that came to be known at the Read Residence Center. But the house was in frequent use, especially at the weekend. Faced with this success, no one questioned the need for an international house, and administrators scrambled to find a substitute. Many suggestions were put forward. In July 1952, President Wells scrawled in his own hand at the bottom of a memo listing possible sites, “Why not consider the Thomas House also?”

When IU physician, Harry B. Thomas, died in 1945, the university purchased his farmhouse on six acres along Third St. Dr. Thomas’s widow agreed to sell only after Wells promised her he would look after some grand old trees on the property. It was here that the International House moved in 1953 or 1954. In the announcement for the new facility, Walter Burnham, a newly hired assistant director under Leo Dowling, touted the resources of the new venue: “It has a well equipped kitchen, a well stocked Coca Cola machine, and a quiet atmosphere in which the foreign students can entertain themselves and their friends.” As with the earlier venue, supervision of the facility was given over to an international couple who lived in an apartment on the premises. The new International House was available in the afternoons and evenings; student organizations had to arrange ahead of time to use it.

The Cosmopolitan Club continued to meet there weekly, and international student organizations, such as the Arab Students Association, would use the facility for its meetings. But space was tight and a house built as a personal residence could not withstand the wear and tear of constant use. International student enrollments were growing: less than 200 in 1948; 234 when the first International House opened; and 359 in 1955. International students had outgrown the Thomas House and needed a more suitable home. Opportunity came in 1955 when the Alpha Chi Omega sorority decided to leave the house they had built on South Jordan in the late 1920’s. The attractive, brick building in Tudor style sat on a hill overlooking the Jordan River. By 1955, Read Hall towered behind it. Indiana University High School was bustling just down the street. Directly across the street was East Hall, a military surplus building, actually a redesigned airplane hanger; it housed music practice rooms and the opera theatre. The sorority house was bigger and more centrally located than the current international house, and President Wells quickly agreed that the international student center should move there. Like the first international house, the venue on Third St. was slated to be to be razed to make way for more student housing. It stood almost exactly where the main entrance to the Forest Residence Center stands today. Some of the old trees that Wells promised would be protected, can still be seen in the grassy meadow behind Read and Forest Centers. The sorority left the building in 1957, and in early 1958, the university completed its renovations.

The new venue, grander than its predecessors, needed a new name, so International House became International Center, and it inherited the address of the original International House, 111 South Jordan Avenue. The symbolic importance of the new facility was noted by faculty and students alike. A. Kumar Parikh, then president of the club, wrote in appreciation to President Wells. “I am sure the foreign students on the campus are proud of their new American home,” he said, and all recognized the president’s “exalted desire to lay roots of international understanding in their youthful hearts.” Wells responded, “Of course all of us hope that our students from abroad will find this Center a happy and convenient place, and that it may serve the purpose of bringing together our foreign students and American students in a relaxed and home-like atmosphere.”

The center continued to be supervised by an international couple residing on site in a second-floor apartment. Stavrous, Naylor, and Thompson were names of directors in the early years. The Cosmopolitan Club continued its weekly meetings there until it disbanded in 1970. About ten years later, a new International Club began with some of the same goals as the older organization. Service to international student organizations of all nationalities continued unabated, as did the Friday celebrations which moved from evening parties to coffee hours.

Greater space and vastly increasing numbers of international students—from 531 in 1960, to 1,442 in 1970, to almost 2,000 in 1980—resulted in an expansion of the center’s activities. International student orientation, forums on current global issues, practical help sessions on finances, employment, and returning home, conversation circles—these were some of the events that the center offered the university community in the new facility. When Leo Dowling retired in 1977, he could be proud that his original vision of a modest place to meet and eat had grown into a bustling center with activities integral to the mission of the campus.

By the early 80’s, the decades of wear were beginning to show, and the Office of International Services began a fund drive to renovate the center. Major repairs were undertaken in 1982, but these assured only that the infrastructure could support continued operation. When Dowling died in 1986, his memory spurred interest in the center, but it wasn’t until the 1990’s that the center saw the benefit of these fundraising efforts, and the building went through changes that would assure that the center could serve future needs.

With plans afoot to transform the interior of the International Center, those that had worked with the center over the years proposed a rededication and a recognition. In February 1992, with IU President Thomas Ehrlich presiding, the home of international student activities became known as the Leo R. Dowling International Center. In his 34 years of service to IU international students, it is said that Leo Dowling entertained every international student in his home at least once. The national organization he helped to build is now NAFSA: Association of International Educators, the largest of its kind in the world. During his tenure, international student enrollments went from 29 to more than 1,500. The international center that he began in 1951 had come to symbolize concern, commitment, and respect for international students, which Leo Dowling conveyed to generations of students by his own example.

A student from the 1950s, suddenly transported 50 years into the future, and set down outside the Leo R. Dowling International Center, might be startled by the Calder statue and Musical Arts Center across the street, but the student need only turn around to discover a completely familiar sight. The exterior of the center has changed little during its life. It still humanizes the giant buildings around it. But were that student to walk inside, nothing would seem the same.

The first major changes came in the mid-90s. The first floor was opened up with a large entry area; a lounge fills the west end of the building and a quiet conference room the east end all in a contemporary design, and all with a central sound system so that speakers can be heard through the first floor. Coffee hours, which continue on Friday afternoons to this day, had more room for presentations and conversation. A few years later, the center saw infrastructure improvements and a conversion of the cramped second-floor rooms and apartment into office space.

When the center first opened in 1958, the Charles Mayer & Co. of Indianapolis donated a grand piano. Many will remember the instrument with the walnut veneer being played at parties and events. A few years ago, the center began its Friday noon recital series. The once excellent piano was not equal to the talent of the performers, and an anonymous donor donated funds to purchase an instrument to flatter rather than punish its performers. Other donations have included a video system in memory of a former member of Bloomington Worldwide Friendship, a library of education resources on Spain, donated by the Spanish government.