Here! or Absent? Student Chapel Attendance in the 19th Century Chapel Roll

When most of us began college, we never expected to have to attend any kind of prayer service or religious exercise.  Such activities have always been a choice for our generation. Millennials may have gotten off easy though. We’ve grown up in a time when religion has had little influence on our public education. But this wasn’t the case for the IU students of the early 19th century!

Until after the 1887-1888 school year, students were required to attend religious services at the chapel at IU. Throughout its existence in different locations as a State Seminary, as the Indiana College, and finally as Indiana University, the campus has had a long relationship with chapel services. Student attendance and excused or unexcused absences were meticulously documented in the Chapel Roll.

Chapel inside the First University Building. ca. 1876

A large brown leather bound book, the Chapel Roll is a record of student names, their rank as seniors, juniors, sophomores, or freshman, and their attendance at the mandatory chapel services from 1883 until 1891. It is interesting to look through the pages and see the numbers of students in each year and to try to decipher the chapel’s attendance system. Though the ornate writing in the book is attractive at times, it was likely a record that many students would have disliked. Most of us now probably can’t imagine having to sit in a religious service every day as a part of the college experience. And as student attendance was mandatory, any unexcused absences may have had consequences for early Hoosiers!

First University Building
The First University Building ca. 1856, also known as the Old College Building was used to house the Chapel, several academic departments, and other activities. A room in this building served as space for the Chapel from 1856 to 1896.

Though the location of the chapel and the content of the services eventually changed, and even though attendance was no longer required after the school year of 1887-1888, the Chapel Roll still kept a record of attendance for the difference activities held at the chapel. It can be found at the IU Archives.

For more information about the history of student attendance at chapel services here at IU, see Camille B. Kandiko’s 2005 article “Pray! Or Not to Pray: The History of Chapel at Indiana University an Illumination of Institution Practice and Policy.”

Contact the IU Archives to schedule a visit to view the Chapel Roll in our reading room.