Margaret Bell Women's Swimming Pool

Architect’s Sketch of Women’s Swimming Pool

The dedication of the Women's Swimming Pool on April 17, 1954, marked the completion of one important project in the over-all plan for a new and modern women's athletic building, which was planned to meet the needs and interests of students in a present-day program of physical education.

As early as 1923 recommendations for a women's pool had appeared in the annual reports of Dr. Margaret Bell, chairman of the Program of Physical Education for Women, and in 1928-29 provisional plans for a swimming pool were submitted to the Board in Control of Athletics. In 1937, upon receiving the approval of the Board of Regents, the Women's Athletic Association sponsored a drive for funds. Many student organizations and alumnae groups contributed to the project. By 1940 about $10,000 had been accumulated in gifts or pledges. By the time construction of the Pool began approximately $28,000 had been donated to the Women's Athletic Association fund.

In November, 1949, the Board in Control of Intercollegiate Athletics advised the Regents that they were prepared to begin construction of the pool “at an estimated cost of $775,000” provided the University would furnish the necessary site and maintenance (Regent's Proceedings, 1948-51, p. 574).

The site chosen was the west part of the block facing Forest Avenue between Geddes and North University avenues. This area, except for three University-owned houses, was occupied by private dwellings. Authorization was given for appraisal of those properties not owned by the University, and within a year the site had been secured. Eight houses were removed before construction could begin. In September, 1950, the Regents approved a contract with Alden B. Dow, of Midland, Michigan, and Kenneth C. and Lee Black, Associated Architects, of Lansing.

A water show by the women's swimming group followed the official ceremony. In all, four performances were given during the two-day event, with approximately 3,000 persons in attendance.

The new building was modern in design, of red brick construction. Inside were two spacious lobbies, with cream and green mosaic rubber tile floors, attractive furnishings and plants. Two locker rooms, with facilities for 724 persons, were furnished with hair dryers, full length mirrors, and private dressing booths. A conference room and a check room were also available. In the instructors' office was an FM radio and phonograph and underwater speakers and microphones connected with a public address system which could be switched to all parts of the building.

The pool room included a grandstand area with seating for more than 700 persons, a six-lane pool basin, 75 by 44 feet, surrounded by a wide tile runway, high and low diving boards, outlets for television cameras and sound apparatus, and a window through which underwater swimmers could be observed.

The building was opened on March 10, 1954, for the first formal swim. Built at a cost of $1,070,000, it served the growing needs of the Women's Physical Education Department and other University and community groups. It was used not only for scheduled classes but for correctional swimming by students and University staff members. Elementary and intermediate swimming classes were offered as well as diving, synchronized swimming, life saving, water safety instruction, and competitive swimming.

Arden Jervey (The University of Michigan: An Encyclopedic Survey, p.1588)

Women’s Swimming Pool Groundbreaking
President Harlan Hatcher (left) Margaret Bell (center) Fritz Crisler (right)

At the May, 1966 Regent's Meeting, on the recommendation of H. O. Crisler, Chairman of the Board in Control of Intercollegiate Athletics, the Women's Swimming Pool was named the Margaret Bell Pool.  In making his recommendation, Mr. Crisler said, “It would be most rewarding in the twilight of Dr. Bell's existence for her to learn that her early dream of a new women's swimming pool had been named in her honor. Dr. Bell became associated with the University in 1923 with an appointment in the dual role as Director of Physical Education for Women and as a physician on the Health Service staff. For thirty-four years her dedicated service in the aims and objectives of the University, together with her unselfish contributions to the welfare of women students, were of the highest order. As she crossed their paths in the lives of students, they became better citizens as a result of the experience. Her flaming spirit will stand high in the memories of those whose good fortune it was to know her.” (Regent's Proceedings, May, 1966, p. 1430)

Dr. Margaret Bell
Associate Professor of Physical Education
Physician to the Health Service