History of the Freshman Induction Ceremony

With the start of a new academic year, it seemed appropriate to review one of IU’s older, still existing traditions – the Freshman Induction Ceremony.

When did it start: The first Freshman Induction Ceremony was held in 1933 and was organized by George Ezra Schlafer, a member of the IU Department of Physical Education (later part of HPER). The event continued to be held annually through 1969. For the next eleven years from 1970 to 1980, Freshman Induction ceremonies were not convened. The event reappeared in 1981 and is still a prominent feature of Freshman Orientation events.

Where was it held? The first Freshman Induction ceremony was held in front of what was then called the Men’s Gymnasium (now called Wildermuth Intramural Center). Here is a brief description of that ceremony from the IDS of Sept. 9, 1933: “Orientation will be climaxed Monday night by a formal induction of freshmen into the ranks of the student body beginning at 6:55 pm in front of the Men’s Gymnasium. The procession will go from there to the Sun Dial and to the Gymnasium terrace to take part in the welcoming ceremony in honor of new students at 7:15 pm.” In 1934 the event was moved to the area in front of the Student Building. This remained the site until 1948 when the event was transferred to the Auditorium, where it continues to be held.

The Spirit of Indiana. Behind her stands President Herman B Wells and President Emeritus William Lowe Bryan.

What occurs at this event? What is its meaning? From 1933 until 1969 the Freshman Induction ceremony followed the same basic script. The ceremony began with music, followed by the processional of faculty and the platform group, and the playing of the National Anthem. The first person first to speak was a female IU student dressed in a white robe as the “Spirit of Indiana,” who represented the University’s search for truth and knowledge. The Spirit’s speech is too long to reproduce here, but here are some excerpts:

“The spirit that greets you here is the rich heritage of a glorious past made possible by students, who like yourselves entering the university, feel strangely far from home and intimate friends, but who soon adapted to their new environment. The university covets for each of you a like experience…Make the most of the opportunities while here, acquaint yourself with the best traditions of the university, leave them richer in tradition than when you entered it. Such is the Law of Progress. All that has been and all that is of the spirit of Indiana University welcomes you unreservedly.”

The next speaker was the IU President who read the Charge to the students:

“I am for those who see our University as it is, with all its strengths and yet with all its needs, and who therefore know it is at its best—its resolute integrity, its allegiance to the whole truth, its long service in bringing the young people of this State toward the fullness of the life of the mind, its passion for a clean and just democracy. I am for those who see through the superficialities to the University’s basic purpose: the intellectual development of her sons and daughters. It is in their growth that she exults, for by their excellence they will judge her. Across the earth, these sons and daughters join you in the pledge of the Psalmist of old: ‘If I forget thee, let my right hand forget her cunning. Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I remember thee not.’”

Upon finishing the Charge the IU President asked the students to repeat the Pledge to the University adopted from an oath delivered by Athenian youth pledging to dutifully meet their civic, military and religious duties.

“I will not disgrace the University for which I have received my education, nor will I abandon the comrade who stands by my side.”
“I will fight for its best interests, whether I stand alone or have the support of others.”
“I will revere and preserve its ideals and traditions, and will incite like reverence in others”
“I will strive always to quicken among my fellows the sense of social and civic duty.”
“I will cherish the sacred institutions of my country.”
“In all these ways I will strive to transmit this, our heritage, not less, but greater and better than it was transmitted unto us.”

With the conclusion of the Pledge, the IU President offered some personal remarks and then declared the freshmen to be official members of the IU student body. At the end of the President’s statement, the Dean of Music led the audience in the singing of “Hail to Old I.U,” after which the Grand Marshal led the recessional off the stage.

When the Freshman Induction Ceremony was resurrected in 1981 three major changes occurred in the script. A painting entitled the “Spirit of Indiana” replaced the IU student dressed in a white robe, and the President of the IU Student Association (in 1981 this was Bloomington’s present mayor Mark Kruzan) now delivered the “Spirit of Indiana” speech. In addition, the Pledge to the University was eliminated from the ceremony. However, the induction of freshman as official members of the student body remained as a central feature of the ceremony.

In recent times much about the ceremony has changed. The “Spirit of Indiana” symbolism and speech are gone, as are the traditional Charge. The Pledge has been reinstated, but it has been shortened and modernized and renamed the “Indiana Promise.” In this statement students promise that:

“I will be ethical in my academic work.
I will take personal responsibility for what I say and what I do.
I will respect the dignity of others, treating them with civility and understanding.”

Even though the Freshman Induction Ceremony has changed over the years, it still serves the same purposes: to provide a celebration of student’s academic aspirations and to officially welcome the freshman into the IU student community.

New online exhibition: IU Student Traditions!

Indiana University Junior Prom dance card from the scrapbook of Pauline Day.
Indiana University Junior Prom dance card from the scrapbook of Pauline Day.


Just a brief note to let you know the Archives has added a new Omeka exhibit to its Student Life at IU site!  The exhibit is called IU Student Traditions, and features 11 traditions, all but one of which (traditions associated with the Well House) have died away.  Some of these traditions may be familiar to you, e.g. the burning of Jawn Purdue, while many others will be completely new.  As usual, the exhibit includes a brief history of the tradition, supported by images of photos and documents.   We hope you enjoy the exhibit, and will share your stories about participating in these or other student traditions.

New! Nineteenth century student life page

The Archives has added another exhibit to its on-line Omeka site at http://www.dlib.indiana.edu/omeka/archives/studentlife/.

This exhibit examines what it was like to be an IU student in the 19th century. What did the campus look like? What were the size and composition of the student body? What classes were offered, and what did students pay for tuition? Where did students live, and how much did it cost for room and board? What types of athletic and social activities did students participate in? Even a quick review of the documentation illustrates that the academic and social life of the 19th century student was very different than it is for today’s student. Some of the more dramatic differences were the ways that students participated in athletic events. For most of the 19th century organized sports were nonexistent or only in their infancy and for many, athletics meant intramural activities, and most notably a form of organized chaos known as the “Class Scraps.”

These scraps took many forms in the 19th century, but all basically had the same characteristics: 2 classes, typically freshman against sophomores, would engage in a physical and often violent contest or brawl to best the other team in some challenge. These contests often had very few rules, especially in the early days, but as time went on some basic rules and regulations were added. One of the more popular versions of the Class Scraps was popularly known as the “Burning of Horace.” This scrap was likely the first form of the class scrap enacted at IU.

Capture the flag, 1909
Capture the flag, 1909

According to an article in the IDS, the “first freshman-sophomore class scrap started one dark Washington’s Birthday night soon after the founding of the university in 1820. At that time the sophomores were required to study the works of Horace, and so great was their joy at having completed the course that they burned the books on the campus. That was a trivial happening to start ‘scrapping’ over – but the freshman objected to the ceremony and that was where the class ‘scraps’ at Indiana began.

Owen and Wylie Halls, circa 1885
Owen and Wylie Halls, circa 1885

The author of a master’s thesis on IU traditions writes that over time,

the sophomores enlarged upon the rituals. The sophomore class would secretly gather at a pre-designated spot on the campus…They would then prepare to give Horace the last sacrament. Somberly, speeches were made for the departed one. Then a small hole was dug to forever hold the ashes that once were Horace. Final orations were made and the ceremony was concluded…But the freshmen had other plans along similar lines. They would stop at nothing short of murder (and scraps have even come close to this) to prevent the sophomore class from deriving any pleasure whatsoever from the book of Horace.

So, we encourage you to take a look at the on-line exhibit, and enter the world of the IU student in the 19th century.

New Resource! Student Life at IU web site

Any decent university archives will have tons of records documenting the activities of its students. However, when one looks more closely at the records, it quickly becomes apparent that most of this documentation represents an official student record, such as a transcript, an enrollment record or basic vital statistics about the student. Another characteristic of student records within most archives is that the records reflect the perspective of the IU administrators and faculty. In other words, many of the records in university archives related to student activities and culture were created by presidents, deans and directors. Consequently, these records provide a view of student life which is largely one dimensional or one sided, in that the documentation on student life is defined largely through the eyes of non-students.

In an effort to address the lack of documentation on student life as documented by students, a number of university archives have initiated programs or special projects to collect the records generated by student organizations, including student government groups at all levels and fraternities and sororities. In the last five years, the IUB Archives has identified the collection of the records of student organizations as a high priority. A big part of this initiative was to actively contact student organizations about their records and to offer our services in preserving and making the records accessible. Overall the initiative has been relatively successful; we have accessioned hundreds of linear feet of records from a wide variety of student organizations.

Newsletter produced by the Progressive Reform Party, a student political organization at Indiana University Bloomington.

The Student Life at IU web site is a critical piece of the larger strategy to highlight student life and culture. The primary goal of the site is to depict and describe the cultural, social, and political activities of students during their time at Indiana University. In this portrayal we attempt to provide a more multi-dimensional picture of events by presenting both the “official” administrative view and response and the student perspective on the issues and events.

As our first exhibit, we chose to depict the 1960s, and specifically the major demonstrations, strikes and protests at Indiana University during that tumultuous decade. To describe these events we have pulled together from the Archives a wide variety of documents representing various perspectives on the issues and events. Among these records are photos; newspaper articles; resolutions, bills and official statements created by student organizations; statements on events generated by the IUB administration; and newsletters and flyers distributed by student groups.

In future exhibits on the IU Student Life site we are planning to explore the following topics: Student Life in the second half of the 19th Century; student life at IU during WWII; student life as depicted by diaries and journals created by IU students.

We would love to hear from you with any suggestions for future exhibits on the IU Student Life site. In the meantime, please explore Student Demonstrations at IU!

The Tradition of the Spring Break at IU

With the approach of another spring break, I thought I might address the question: when did the tradition of a spring break or vacation begin at IU?

The best and most convenient sources of information on this topic are the official calendars which until recently were printed in the IU Bulletins, the first of which was published in 1829.

No Spring Break As We Know It Today
From 1829-1850, IU divided the school year into two terms or sessions each five months long. The first session typically began in November and ended in March, and the second session began in May and ended in September. There were two, month long vacations each year in April and October. No other vacations or breaks are listed in the Bulletins for this time period, so presumably there was not a spring break as we know it today.

In 1850, IU went to a three term or session schedule of the type that we have at the present time, but for the period from 1850-58 the pattern differed somewhat from what we have today. The first or fall session began sometime in September and ended a few days before Christmas. The second or spring session began the first week of January and ended in the first week of April. The third or summer session began in the first week of May and ended the first week of August. The vacations were during the seven week period between summer and fall sessions, and the four week period between spring and summer. Although the four week recess between the spring and summer sessions could be called a spring break (although officially it was not), its length in no way resembles our modern day spring break. One can say, I believe, that this month long vacation belongs to the older nineteenth century tradition of long breaks between sessions with little or no time off during the term or session.

Spring Break Tradition Established
In 1858 the pattern changed. The fall term stayed the same but the other two sessions were altered: the second or spring term ended late in March rather than early April, and the summer session began a week later in April and ended at the end of June or early in July. There is no formal mention of a spring break in the Calendars, but the one week period in early April between sessions has the “look and feel” of a spring vacation that resembles the modern day version. In fact, in the 1872-73 calendar we find the first mention of a “Spring Vacation” occurring in the first week of April 1874.

So, one can safely say that the tradition of an IU spring break that resembles what we have today began in 1858, though if one wants to establish an official date, the year 1874 when the term appeared in the Calendar might be the better choice. However, over the years the exact dates of the spring break or vacation moved between mid to late March and early April. In addition, the length of the break varied. For example, in 1887, the spring break which had been a week or ten days including the weekend was reduced to four days including the weekend. However, in 1891 the break was again extended to ten days including the weekend, which was the pattern until 1913 when the spring vacation was again reduced to four days. The four day pattern persisted until 1942, when the War Service Plan formulated by a University Administrative War Council changed the school year to three semesters, discontinued the summer session, and lengthened the spring break to ten days. After the war, in 1945, the school year reverted back to the two semesters and a summer session pattern, and the spring break was again reduced to four days including the weekend. However, in 1949, the spring break was lengthened to seven days plus the weekend, and that pattern has persisted until the present day.