(June 4, 1854-Aug. 21, 1930). A noted teacher and civic activist, Donnan was born in Indianapolis and lived her entire life in the house her father built at 232 North Capitol Avenue. She graduated from Indianapolis Normal School, taught grade school for a few years, and then went to the University of Michigan for AB and MA degrees. Returning to Indianapolis for a position at Indianapolis High School (later Shortridge High School), she taught history, civil government, political economy, Latin, and geometry.

In 1887, Donnan founded the Indianapolis High School Senate, an institution that was to last nearly 100 years and be widely copied by schools around the country. Students took names of U.S. senators and debated the issues of the day, following the strict parliamentary procedure that Donnan insisted on. As “senators” graduated, their names became available to underclassmen who were eager to assume their roles, which Donnan assigned personally. 

In 1899, Donnan became the first sponsor of the Shortridge Daily Echo, the nation’s first daily high school paper. For three years, she read and proofed the Echo every day, but after 1902, she shared that responsibility with other faculty members. 

During 1902 she also was instrumental in establishing the Shortridge Night School, for which she served as principal. Its purpose was to make high school education available to working people who could not attend during the day. The first year 57 persons, Black and white, ages 15-57, took advantage of the opportunity.

Donnan taught at Shortridge for 45 years. She was also active in civic affairs, a strong supporter of women’s suffrage, and an advocate of civil rights. After retirement, she remained active until a few weeks before her death.

Revised February 2021

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