What led to the IU–PU hostility of the early 20th century?
Indiana University and Purdue University have battled on many fields. In the first decade of the 20th century, the two state universities fought over which institution would run a medical school in Indianapolis. The conflict was bitter, rancorous, unseemly, and sometimes dishonest. During this same period, between 1906 and 1908, IU and Purdue also suspended athletic contests. The sports hiatus has often been attributed erroneously to the tawdriness of the medical school dispute. Instead, it was the bad behavior of students exhibited at a baseball game that prompted the two-year break in athletic competition.
In 1903, IU President William Lowe Bryan received trustee approval to develop a two- year basic medical-sciences program, located in Bloomington, Ind. He envisioned a four-year medical school, located in Indianapolis, as the cornerstone for the university’s future growth. In 1904, Bryan began negotiations with the Medical College of Indiana and later with the Central College of Physicians and Surgeons (CCPS), the two proprietary medical schools in Indianapolis, to merge with IU. However, Purdue University President Winthrop E. Stone also yearned for a medical school for his institution.
In 1905, Stone got the jump on Bryan by securing an agreement with the Medical College of Indiana to merge with Purdue. Soon, the CCPS and the Fort Wayne College of Medicine also declared their intentions to combine with Purdue. It appeared Purdue had won the fight. However, CCPS had negotiated secretly with Purdue while in talks with IU. When Bryan and IU supporters discovered this double-dealing, they fought back using every weapon in their arsenal.
IU and Purdue administrators and supporters hurled accusations at each other and moved behind the scenes to secure the big prize. Gradually, amid tense acrimony, faculty rivalries between the proprietary medical schools and deft maneuvering by the president and other IU supporters in the General Assembly sank the merger with Purdue. President Stone and the Purdue trustees yielded—and in April 1908, IU was left to sweep in and salvage a merger with the faculty of the combined medical school in Indianapolis to create the IU School of Medicine, which commenced in 1908.
While the bad behavior and ill will between IU and Purdue leaders over their medical school rivalry was sordid, a violent incident at an IU-Purdue intercollegiate baseball game was even uglier. On May 31,1906, an IU baseball team defeated the Boilermakers 3 to 1 in a game played in West Lafayette, Ind., before a crowd of about 1,600 onlookers. According to an Indianapolis Morning Star report, the home team’s loss “robs Purdue of [state] championship chances.” After the game, members of the crowd surrounded the IU players and verbally insulted them. Purdue “rooters” then struck the IU players with rocks. When the visiting players were walking to their “hack” (taxi), the crowd massed around and attacked them again.
Within days, according to the Morning Star, the Purdue Athletic Association board, no doubt horrified by the violence, announced the “severance of all athletic relations with Indiana University.” The newspaper speculated that mischief started during the game when members of the crowd “guyed” (ridiculed) the umpire, who “forgot himself and hurled epithets at the bleacherites [sic]…in the presence of many ladies.” Still, the report added, “bitterness” between IU and Purdue teams originally dated to a football game played in Bloomington in 1901 and had only intensified with time.
For the next two years, IU and Purdue did not compete on the gridiron, track, diamond, or basketball court. The lack of games and meets between the rivals meant that ticket sales and other revenues suffered. Moreover, at a time when both IU and Purdue competed against athletes from Wabash, DePauw, Rose-Hulman, Notre Dame, and other big and small colleges in the state, the absence of IU-Purdue competition meant state champions could not be crowned. To repair this costly breach, in January 1908 the athletic associations of the two universities patched up their differences. The spirit of good sportsmanship resumed on Feb. 7, 1908, when the IU basketball team prevailed over Purdue 26-24 at West Lafayette. Press accounts reported no violence.
When IU and Purdue resumed play, newspapers noted that the reason for the sports hiatus was the May 31, 1906 baseball game, not the dispute over medical schools.
This myth is a strike out.
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.