The Woman Behind The IU Trident

Black-and-white drawing of a building, a baseball player, a net, and other ephemera along with an interlocking "I" and "U" with a star on it.
From the Athletics section of the 1898 Arbutus yearbook. Courtesy of IU Archives.

When Maura Young Johnston, BA’97, MIS’99, received her 2021 edition of IMAGINE magazine, something caught her eye.

“I saw your mystery and went looking,” she wrote in an email to the IMAGINE editor. “I’m a genealogist and a librarian and love a good mystery.”

Johnston was intrigued by Who Is KDVD? An IU History Mystery, a story that took a closer look at Indiana University Archives image P0026900. The image is an illustration from the 1898 Arbutus yearbook. According to the image description, this illustration features the first-known appearance of the interlocking I and U symbol, or as we know it: the IU trident.

The trouble was, the artist only signed the illustration with their initials: KDVD. “Who was KDVD?” we wondered.

IU Archives Curator of Photographs Brad Cook suspected that KDVD was an artist for the Indiana Illustrator Company, which provided many of the illustrations in the yearbook that year. The designer of IMAGINE hypothesized that the illustrator might be Indiana artist Will Vawter, born in 1871.

A clip from an old newspaper that begins, “Funeral services for Mrs. Katherine V. Danenhower will be held at 2 p.m. today at Mann’s Chapel. The Rev. E. N. Hopper will officiate. Burial in Woodlawn Cemetery.”
Obituary for Mrs. Katherine V. Danenhower from the September 4, 1938, edition of The Knoxville News-Sentinel newspaper.

But it wasn’t until Johnston emailed us that the answer started to become clear.

A Break in the Case

“I think KDVD might be Katherine Devol Van Dusen Danenhower,” Johnston wrote.

Johnston had found an obituary in the September 4, 1938, edition of The Knoxville News-Sentinel. The obituary said that Mrs. Katherine V. Danenhower was born in 1873 in New Albany and had attended schools in Indiana and studied art.

“In 1900, she was living in New Albany with her parents at age 24. That makes her approximately 22 at the time of the yearbook,” Johnston wrote. “Could she have been a student at IU at that time?”

We connected Johnston with Cook from the IU Archives, who delved into historical documents housed at one of IU’s climate-controlled preservation and storage facilities. It seemed like we were right on track to solving this mystery. Then we got another email.

An Alternate Theory

This new email, signed by Lisa Scully, Ethan Bernhardt, and Monte O’Neal (staff from IU’s Office of Enrollment Management), introduced us to Margaret “Maggie” Wylie Mellette, the daughter of the cousin of Andrew Wylie, IU’s first president.

“[Maggie] was very artistic and is credited with creating the IU trident logo, which she painted on a teacup that is now on display in the Wylie House,” Scully wrote in the email.

White teacup and saucer featuring magenta floral décor and an interlocking I and U (IU trident) embellished with gold accents.
One of a pair of hand-painted teacups and saucers decorated and painted by Margaret Wylie Mellette as Christmas gifts for her sister, Louisa, and Louisa’s daughter, Marie. Courtesy of Wylie House Museum.

“We hope that the original trident artist will receive her due, and we wish you the best of success on solving this puzzle,” concluded the email. “Thank you for helping keep the history of IU alive and reminding us of those whose footsteps we follow.”

Once again, we connected these intrepid IU history investigators with Cook from the IU Archives. Turns out, the teacup in question at the Wylie House is from Christmas 1901, a few years too late to be the first-known appearance of the IU trident.

With that red herring out of the way, the identification of KDVD as Katherine Devol Van Dusen Danenhower became even more plausible. Within just a few days of Johnston’s first email with her hypothesis, we had our answer.

The Smoking Gun

“We are all set now on just who KDVD was, and I attach the smoking gun from the October 6, 1898, edition of The Indiana Daily Student (known as The Student at that time),” Cook wrote in an email. “How LUCKY could we get with such a short blip in the paper?”

“KDVD was definitely Katherine Devol Van Dusen (Mrs. Washington Danenhower),” Cook declared.

Scanned image of a yellowed newspaper blurb reading, “Miss Van Dusen, the artist on the ’98 Arbutus is in Brooklyn studying Art.”
The “smoking gun” connecting Katherine Devol Van Dusen to the KDVD-signed art in the 1898 Arbutus yearbook. Courtesy of IU Archives.

Cook thanked Johnston for her initial research, writing, “[I] could not have confirmed without the work you did first.”

“I think the coolest part for me is that I found Katherine using skills I was specifically taught by the IU Library School,” Johnston wrote.

“Katherine deserves a place of honor for her contribution,” Johnston continued. “Just today out and about I probably saw a couple of dozen IU tridents on IU branded merch. It’s a profound legacy.”

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Written By
Andrea Alumbaugh
A native Hoosier, Andrea Alumbaugh is a graduate of IU (BAJ’08) and a senior writer at the IU Foundation.