A Trio of Alma Maters

Alma Mater in its original home, the third floor of the University Bookstore, in the Indiana Memorial Union as seen in 1945. Photo courtesy of IU Archives, P0044047

Blashfield’s Alma Mater

In January 1924, IU President William Lowe Bryan, BA 1884, MA 1886, LLD’37, wrote a letter to muralist Edwin Howland Blashfield to ask if his painting titled Alma Mater was still available for purchase. The painting depicts a soldier coming to the defense of the personified university against a dragon devouring textbooks on the floor. Bryan admitted, “There has not been a time since I saw the picture that I have not ardently wished to have it here.” The two men discussed alterations to the painting, and, after making additions of iconic crimson paint and the IU seal to the soldier’s shield, Blashfield gladly agreed to sell it to IU for the price of $3,500 (about $52,000 today). This pleased the president, who fondly described Alma Mater as “The picture which I love so much. It is a great joy to me that my university is to possess it forever.”

Edwin Howland Blashfield, Alma Mater, 1924, oil on canvas, in honor of Charlotte Lowe Bryan, Indiana University Campus Art Collection, CA1924.2

In the years following the World War I, Bryan saw the dragon’s image as representing materialism and ignorance, threatening to destroy “the books which stand for the learning created and cherished by the University.” He used Alma Mater as a teaching tool, comparing students to the soldier in the painting, emphasizing that “the whole essential fate of the American university depends on which side that student-soldier and his mates finally decide to fight.” The president presented the painting to Indiana University during the 1924 Commencement and gifted it to the university in the name of his wife, Charlotte Lowe Bryan. He urged students and alumni to protect and defend their own alma mater, IU, much in the way he might have called soldiers to war. At an alumni induction ceremony later that day, the following command was issued by Paul McNutt, ’50, president of the Alumni Association:

“You are more important to the University than ever before … You must care for her as you would for your mother. Anticipate her needs. Believe in her. Support her. Love her. She has given you light and truth. Repay her with service and sacrifice.”

Funding for the Indiana Memorial Union began in 1921, and the president always intended for Alma Mater to hang in the finished building. When it officially opened in 1932, the painting was given a home on the third floor of the University Bookstore, paired with a quote from Abraham Lincoln: “I will study and get ready and then maybe the chance will come,” strengthening the connection between the soldier on the canvas and the students at IU.

There Alma Mater remained until 2011, when it became the centerpiece of a rotating exhibit, Women of Indiana University, because alma mater translates as “generous mother,” the ultimate depiction of the women of IU. The painting was later moved out of the exhibit for conservation and then placed near the Memorial Room, a chamber designed to honor the memory of students, staff, and faculty who have served in the military since the War of 1812. For the bicentennial, Alma Mater was hung in the East Lounge stairway, where it is seen by hundreds every day.

Hail to “Hail to Old IU”

It was the 1892–93 school year in Bloomington, and IU sophomore Joe T. Giles, AB 1894, faced a problem: He and his fellow glee club members had no alma mater song to perform for an upcoming competition, as was customary among collegiate singing groups. The Indiana Student, in its Nov. 1, 1892, issue also lamented the lack of a school song:

“What we need next is an alma mater song, for use on social occasions. Other institutions have their praises sounded in this way upon all festive occasions. Why can we not have such a feature? Have we not poets enough among us to evolve a song of real literary merit?”

It was not only for the glee club, but the entire university that Giles took up his pen and began to compose what we know today as “Hail to Old IU.” He borrowed the music from the 1857 ballad “Annie Lisle,” which over the years has proven a popular tune for alma maters, including those of Cornell, Kansas, Indiana State, Ball State, and the University of North Carolina. For the lyrics, Giles drew inspiration (and the word “Frangipana”) from a popular Hoosier cheer devised in October 1892.

The invention of the cheer, or “yell,” is a fascinating story in its own right. On Oct. 24, 1892, a group of about 50 IU students boarded the train to Lafayette to see the Purdue-Michigan football game. En route to the game, there was a consensus among students that they needed a new cheer to show their spirit, and they came up with the following lines:

Gloriana, Frangipanni [sic], Indiana.

Kazoo, Kazah! Kazoo, Kazah!

I.U. Hurrah! I.U. Hurrah!

Hooplah! Hooplah

State University!

Rah! Rah! Rah!

The inclusion of “Frangipanni [sic]” was the inspiration of student Ernest H. Lindley who had seen that name (also known as plumeria) on a perfume sold in his father’s drug store. Giles kept the term for the alma mater (inexplicably dropping Kazoo, Kazah, and Hooplah) but altered the word to Frangipana to better rhyme with Indiana.

Courtesy of Arbutus 1894

The IU Glee Club debuted “Hail to Old I.U.” at the state oratorical contest in Indianapolis on March 10, 1893, and the song went on to be performed at various IU athletic and ceremonial events. The score and lyrics appeared in the first Arbutus yearbook in 1894, and the song was first published in 1908.

And the rest is history…almost.

“Hail to Old I.U.” has faced some stiff competition over the years from Hoagy Carmichael’s, BS’26, DM Hon’72,  composition “Chimes of Indiana,” which the class of 1935 presented to the university as a gift in 1937, for the status of the IU alma mater. Forty years later, the IU Alumni Association presented a resolution to the IU Board of Trustees requesting alma mater status for Carmichael’s composition. The trustees compromised and made both songs alma maters in 1977. And thus “Frangipana” lives on.

The Mother of College Presidents

In 1921, the indefatigable Ivy Chamness, editor of all IU official publications, noted that Indiana University had the reputation as the “Mother of College Presidents” because so many of her graduates had been called to the presidencies of universities, colleges, and normal schools. Citing both recent examples as well as older cases, she traced the phenomenon to the influence of David Starr Jordan, IU’s seventh president, who served from 1885 to 1891.

Jordan, who introduced the elective system for students and reorganized the faculty into departments, was preoccupied with improving faculty quality in the face of limited financial resources. As he recounted in his autobiography:

“My next important move was to bring trained and loyal alumni into the faculty. Up to that time vacancies had often filled by professors released for one reason or another from eastern institutions. Among my own early selections were a few young teachers from the seaboard universities, but most of them failed to adapt themselves, appearing to feel that coming so far west was a form of banishment. Indeed, as a whole, they seemed more eager to get back east than to build up a reputation in Indiana. Moreover, I found among the recent graduates several of remarkable ability; to them, therefore, I promised professorships when they had secured the requisite advanced training in the east or in Europe.”

Included among the many alumni he inspired were Indiana faculty stalwarts: Joseph Swain, William Lowe Bryan, Carl Eigenmann, James A. Woodburn, David Mottier, and William A. Rawles. IU was without endowed wealth or accumulated prestige, so Jordan took a page from Hoosier agricultural heritage and populated the faculty with homegrown talent.


The “Spirit of Indiana” holds the IU cornucopia of buildings in Bloomington and Indianapolis. Indiana University News-Letter, June 1924. Photo courtesy of IU Archives, P0033867

In 1938, the IU alumni magazine published an article, “Why is Indiana the ‘Mother of College Presidents’?” Based on a survey of the 47 living alumni who headed colleges and universities, it probed the reasons for this phenomenon. One leader suggested: “Young men had no basis for a great economic career, coming as they did from the rock-ribbed hills, but they had ambition, the outlet for which was in the field of education.” Another answered that, “although Indiana did not have great buildings or great financial resources, she did have some great men” and a remarkable camaraderie among students, faculty, and administration.

In 1940, a sociological study of 300 current college presidents was published, revealing that they had been graduated from 180 baccalaureate institutions. Harvard was the leader, with nine presidents. Indiana and Yale were next, with six presidents apiece. The article lent a measure of empirical support to what IU boosters had been saying for two decades.

By virtue of its postwar program in College Student Personnel Administration, so many African American educators came to IU to get advanced training that it extended its reputation to become the “mother of black college presidents.”

The Bicentennial Office has created a historical database that contains over 400 IU alumni that have served as college and university presidents. For nearly all of its 200-year history, IU has nurtured academic leaders, serving a myriad of institutions in the United States and abroad.

Since 1828, when the office of the president of Indiana College (later University) was created, 18 individuals have held that post. Six of them were alumni, and their combined tenure equals 93 years. American higher education as well as Indiana University has significantly benefited from the institution’s role as a fountainhead for leadership.


This article originally appeared in the April 2020 issue of 200: The IU Bicentennial Magazine, a special six-issue magazine that highlights Bicentennial activities and shares untold stories from the dynamic history of Indiana University. Visit 200.iu.edu for more Bicentennial information.

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