The University Record, May 9, 1994

Margaret Towsley’s ‘impact on the University a lasting one’

Margaret Grace Dow Towsley, Ann Arbor civic leader and philanthropist, died of a stroke May 2 at St. Joseph’s Mercy Hospital. She was 88.

A generous supporter of the Univer-sity, Towsley was vice president and trustee of the Harry A. and Margaret D. Towsley Foundation, a philanthropic organization founded in 1959. She was the first woman to serve on the Ann Arbor City Council, was founder and director of the Children’s Play School in Ann Arbor, and received an honorary degree from the U-M in 1993.

“What a remarkable life Margaret Towsley led,” said President James J. Duderstadt. “She cared deeply about her community, and the University of Michigan was a recipient of her remarkable energy, compassion and wisdom.

“Her impact on the University is a lasting one—generation after generation will come to understand her vision and commitment. How fortunate we were to know such a special person and to have experienced the love of Margaret


Among Towsley’s contributions to the U-M were gifts to the Willard Henry Dow Laboratory; Schembechler Hall, where the museum on the first floor is named in her honor; the rehearsal and performance center of the School of Music, where a wing is named for her; Center for the Education of Women; University Musical Society; Tappan Hall; Kellogg Eye Center; Gerald R. Ford Library; Alumni Association; and the Medical School’s Towsley Center for Continuing Medical Education.

Born Jan. 3, 1906, and raised in Midland, Towsley was the wife of the late Harry A. Towsley, professor emeritus of pediatrics and communicable diseases and professor emeritus of postgraduate medicine. Her father, Herbert Henry Dow, founded Dow Chemical Co., and her brother was the late architect Aldon Dow.

Towsley was deeply committed to child development issues. After receiving a bachelor’s degree from U-M in 1928 and a master’s from Columbia University Teacher’s College in 1930, she taught nursery school for two years at the University Elementary School.

In 1935, she founded the Children’s Play School, which stressed the role of play in child development and its value in developing self-confidence and a sense of self-worth. She also was founding director of the Ann Arbor Family and Children’s Board.

A staunch supporter and founding member of what is now the Mid-Michigan Chapter of Planned Parenthood, Towsley also led the successful fight for a gender-integrated Ann Arbor “Y”—one of two in the nation that had male and female members as early as the 1940s.

A two-term Ann Arbor City Council member in the 1950s, Towsley supported many Ann Arbor institutions, including the Ann Arbor Community Center, Women’s City Club, Greenhills School, Ann Arbor Civic Ballet, Zonta International, P.E.O. Sisterhood, Michigan Historical Collections, Washtenaw County Cerebral Palsy Association, Salvation Army, American Red Cross and United Way.

Towsley also received many awards for her commitment to the University and Ann Arbor community, including the

U-M Presidential Society Leadership Award, Republican Party Women’s Outstanding Service Award, Planned Parenthood’s Margaret Sanger Award, Human Relations Award from the Ann Arbor Junior Chamber of Commerce, U-M Alumnae Council Recognition Award and honorary doctorates from Eastern Michigan University and Cleary College.

She is survived by daughters Judith Dow Alexander of Ann Arbor; Margaret Ann Riecker of Midland; Lynn Towsley White and Susan Towsley Wyland of McLean, Va.; 10 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. She was preceded in death by her husband in 1993 and her daughter Janis Towsley Poteat in 1991.

Tributes may be made to Catherine McAuley Health Center-Campaign for Elderly Care.