Skip to main content

Lang Family Honors Swarthmore Women in STEM by Naming New Building for Maxine Frank Singer '52, H'78

May 13th, 2019

Swarthmore’s new building for biology, engineering, and psychology will be named Maxine Frank Singer ’52 Hall, President Valerie Smith announced at the Board of Managers meeting on Friday, May 10. The naming in Singer's honor was proposed by the family of Eugene (Gene) Lang ’38 H’81, who committed $50 million—the largest gift in the College’s history— to the project prior to his passing in April 2017.

“My grandfather knew and admired Maxine,” said Lucy Lang ‘03 at the meeting on behalf of her aunt Jane Lang ‘67 and the Lang family. “But at the heart of our choice is the belief that Maxine has lived a life in science that is exemplary in every dimension. By naming the building for Maxine Singer, we seek to expand recognition of the women who graduated from Swarthmore who have made significant contributions to the sciences in research, writing, and leadership.”

Maxine Frank Singer '52

“Swarthmore has been and remains a place,” Singer wrote in The Meaning of Swarthmore, “where young women can get an extraordinary start in science.”

Photo from Carnegie Institution

Singer Hall will be one of only a very few science buildings named for a woman on an American college campus.  In support of the College’s desire to increase the representation of under-acknowledged luminaries, 18 managers responded to the announcement by pledging a combined $160,000 in gifts to recognize two more Swarthmore women scientists.

Originally from Brooklyn, Singer graduated from Swarthmore with High Honors in chemistry and biology and received her Ph.D. from Yale in biochemistry. Like the Langs, the Singers are largely a Swarthmore family. Maxine and husband Dan ‘51 have four children, two of whom—Amy ’82 and Ellen ’83—graduated from the College.

“That my name is now a part of Gene Lang’s gift to the sciences at Swarthmore is deeply touching,” Singer said when she learned of the tribute. “I am truly honored.”

Singer is a pioneering molecular biologist whose research is widely admired for its rigor and creativity. She has also been an influential science administrator and a leader in science policy, ethics, and advocacy. She has championed the cause of women and minorities in science, promoted equal access to postgraduate training and career opportunities, and helped build programs to improve science education in public schools. Singer has also urged scientists to exercise their ethical and political responsibilities on such issues as genetic engineering and the safety of genetically modified organisms.

When the College announced the Changing Lives, Changing the World campaign in March 2017, one of its explicit priorities was to create vital spaces, including a building that would bring new interdisciplinary connections and community gathering spaces to campus, and shape how scientific knowledge is discovered, expanded, and applied at Swarthmore. Singer Hall is the realization and expansion of that vision, and will shape scientific discovery and the growth and application of science at Swarthmore. With flexible classrooms, indoor and outdoor common areas, including a pavilion overlooking the Nason Garden, the building will be a place for all campus community members to study individually and learn collectively in a creative and collaborative environment. The project's environmentally intelligent construction practices include thoughtful engagement with the surrounding landscape, reflecting the College's commitment to sustainability.

From 1980 to 1987, Singer was chief of the Laboratory of Biochemistry at the National Cancer Institute, where she led 15 research groups engaged in various biochemical investigations. She served as president of the Carnegie Institution from 1988 until 2002 and, in that role, created the department of global ecology and established science education programs for Washington, D.C., students and teachers. Her many honors include election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. She is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and has received four honorary degrees (including from Swarthmore), the Public Welfare Medal from the National Academy of Sciences, the Distinguished Presidential Rank Award granted by the U.S. government, and the National Medal of Science, the nation’s highest honor in science.

In her essay “The Nurturing of a Scientist” published in The Meaning of Swarthmore, Singer reflected on the ability of women of her generation and later ones to find their place in the sciences. “Swarthmore has been and remains a place,” she wrote, “where young women can get an extraordinary start in science.”

In Singer Hall, the Psychology Department seminar room will honor eminent psychologist, ethicist, and educator Carol Gilligan '58, H’85. Gilligan, University Professor of Humanities and Applied Psychology at New York University, is the author of the acclaimed book about gender and human development, In a Different Voice. The Biology Department’s “front porch” will be named for Isaac H. Clothier, Jr. Professor of Biology Amy Cheng Vollmer, who has educated generations of students since joining the College faculty in 1989. Vollmer, who directs the College's Summer Scholars Program, is a Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar and a fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology.

Amy Vollmer and Carol Gilligan

In Singer Hall, the Biology Department "front porch" will be named for Amy Cheng Vollmer (left) and the Psychology Department seminar room will honor Carol Gilligan '58, H’85.

“I’m grateful to Jane and Lucy Lang for recognizing a remarkable woman, and for inspiring others to do the same,” said President Smith. “Singer Hall will serve as a reminder to all who pass through it of the important learning that goes on within its walls, and of the legacy of Swarthmore scientists—past, present, and future.”

“Everything about this moment brings honor and distinction to our College—Maxine’s achievements, the impact of Gene Lang’s generosity, and the Lang family’s incredible thoughtfulness in bringing those two things together to inspire others,” said Board Chair Salem Shuchman ’84. “This is a meaningful reminder of the value of a Swarthmore education.”

The first phase of construction on Maxine Frank Singer ‘52 Hall, including all space for the Engineering Department and teaching and research laboratory space for the Biology and Psychology Departments, is slated for completion this summer. Phase two, including faculty and staff offices and the shared commons and outdoor spaces, is scheduled to open in fall 2020. Final landscaping will be installed the following year.

You can continue to expand the vision represented by Singer Hall with your gift. Learn about available naming opportunities by contacting Karl Clauss at kclauss1@swarthmore.edu.

Submissions Welcome

The Communications Office invites all members of the Swarthmore community to share videos, photos, and story ideas for the College's website. Have you seen an alum in the news? Please let us know by writing news@swarthmore.edu.