New! William W. Spencer papers, 1872-1911

A finding aid is now available for the William W. Spencer papers, which offer a glimpse into the work of a nineteenth century student and his impressive career following graduation.

University Superior Moot Court summons from the 1870s

Spencer was born October 7, 1851, in Indiana, and he attended the University in the early 1870s, receiving his B.S. in 1875. He went on to study in the Department of Law where he participated in the University Circuit Moot Court, a required activity for students in the department at the time.

Among the moot court papers in the collection are several trial records. A couple of records dated April Term 1876 pertain to a widow’s suit for damages from a railroad company after her husband died in a train accident while traveling through Buffalo, New York. Another record dated February Term 1877 simply states that the case lacks sufficient facts and is followed by pencil-written notes.

Trial record from the University Superior Moot Court, February Term 1877

Following his graduation in 1877, Spencer moved to Marion County, Indiana, where he began his political career.

According to Rebecca A. Shepherd’s A Biographical Directory of the Indiana General Assembly, he was active in the Marion County Democratic Central Committee from 1881-1892, serving as both the secretary and later as the chairman. In both 1904 and 1908, he was chosen as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention.

He was then elected member of the Indiana House of Representatives from Marion County in 1911 and served until 1914, participating as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.

An undated essay titled "Temperance Bill" begins, "Gentleman; in appearing in this position before you tonight, I trust I shall command your attention."

Some of his writings appear to date from his time in the legislature, such as an address on the Temperance Bill, while others are short essays on various topics, including the teaching profession and the electoral college.

After his time in the General Assembly, he served as a commissioner on the state Board of Elections from 1918-1938. He died December 9, 1938 in Indianapolis.

To learn more about William W. Spencer and his time as a law student, please contact the Archives!



New! Nineteenth century student life page

The Archives has added another exhibit to its on-line Omeka site at

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.