Remembering IU Southeast’s first student: A trailblazer from across the river

18th February 2016

By Kristin Kennedy

One September afternoon in 1941, a black woman crossed the river from Louisville and became the first student to enroll in the Indiana University Falls City Area Center, the historical foundation of IU Southeast.

The woman’s name was Lyda Jeannetta Radford. IU Southeast remembers Radford in honor of Black History Month and the University’s 75th anniversary.

Radford was born Lyda Sparks in 1900 in Kentucky. Before she enrolled in the Falls City Area Center, she was a student at IU Bloomington for a semester in 1937.

She enrolled at the Falls City Area Center on Sept. 12, 1941, for the fall semester, the first semester the center was open. At the time, the Falls City Area Center’s classes were taught in local middle and high school classrooms.

On Oct. 14, 1949, Floyd McMurray, founder of the Falls City Area Center and director of the Indiana University Jeffersonville Extension Center, wrote a letter to Radford. The Falls City Area Center had become the Jeffersonville Extension Center in 1945, and a story was being written about its history. In the letter, McMurray asked Radford to confirm if she was the first enrolled student at the Falls City Area Center.

McMurray letter

Five days later, Radford responded to the letter, confirming she was enrolled in the fall 1941 semester and reflecting on the center’s growth.


Dear Sir:

One afternoon, when the noise of traffic had not subsided and night’s silence was not over Jeffersonville I enrolled for two courses for the first semester of 1941. It seems but yesterday that you and your assistant very graciously gave me information concerning enrollment. All that I can say in memory of the center’s growth is – ‘from an acorn a big oak has grown,’ and as another poet has said –

“’Tis stress and strain with moth or man

That free the folded wings!”

Very truly yours,

(Mrs.) Lyda Jeannetta Radford

Radford’s quote in the letter, “From an acorn a big oak has grown,” describes the transition from the Falls City Area Center to the Jeffersonville Extension Center. Today, it also describes IU Southeast’s transition through the decades of its history.

Since its beginning in 1941 as the Falls City Area Center, IU Southeast has added numerous degree and certificate programs, campus organizations, and other enhancements. This semester, IU Southeast has about 6,000 students, according to the spring 2016 campus report from the IU Southeast Office of Institutional Effectiveness.

Radford passed away in 1981 in Louisville. Her legacy lives on at IU Southeast today, as the campus continues to experience growth and change now and decades in the future.

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