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History center showcases Notre Dame’s past

Meryl Guyer | Wednesday, February 4, 2004

As Notre Dame students, it is difficult to imagine that there was once a time when the campus saw “midday recreation” written into University regulations. This anecdote is one of many on a list of rules that applied to the University during its frontier days between 1842 and 1893 and is now displayed as a component of an exhibit at the Northern Indiana Center for History. The exhibit, entitled “Notre Dame: A Place in History,” opened in the Center’s Ernestine M. Raclin Gallery of Notre Dame History on Aug. 20, and will remain there for two to three years while undergoing minor changes, said Dave Bainbridge, senior curator at the Center. “[Notre Dame: A Place in History] portrays the transformation of the University of Notre Dame from a frontier school to a modern American Catholic university,” Bainbridge said. The exhibit showcases a life-size mural of University founder Father Edward Sorin, which dominates the entrance to the gallery. The portrait was painted in 1882 and discovered on the third floor of the Main Building during restoration between 1995 and 1997. Specially restored for the exhibit, the plaster mural was well preserved for over 100 years, Bainbridge said. Other artifacts included in the exhibit are a crucifix and a Bible Sorin brought to Notre Dame from France and an altar stone he used when giving mass at St. Peter’s. The walls in the gallery are replete with past architectural drawings of the campus, shown in a photograph of President Emeritus Father Theodore Hesburgh taken in the 1960s while he examined a plan for a modern chapel with high-rise dorms surrounding it. Photos and documents span the 150-year timeline represented in the exhibit, highlighting various aspects of campus life. The timeline begins with a description of boarding school life and follows the evolution of the institution through the World Wars, Vietnam, the growth of the football legacy and the admission of women to campus. The exhibit itself is divided into the following three time periods: 1842-1893, the inception of the University until the death of Sorin; 1894-1951, the two World Wars as well as the establishment of the graduate studies program; and 1952-1987, the shift from control by the clergy to lay governance and also the admission of women in 1972. In documents presented from the first period, visitors find vestiges of early campus life. The following are examples of rules that came from a list signed by former University President William Corby: Students will write home to parents or guardians each month and all mail can be opened by administrators; Students will be reviewed Wednesdays and Sundays with regard to their personal neatness; Intoxicating liquors are absolutely prohibited; No publications will be permitted on campus without being examined by the administration. This heightened surveillance comes from the French practice under which Sorin established the University, but in other documents, it is explained that Sorin stressed a more moderate approach because he didn’t want to drive students away, according to exhibit documentation.Visitors can also see the development of buildings on campus such as the log cabin, a main building that contained lodging areas, two dining halls, a bakery and the power plant. “One of the things people love is pictures … [in this exhibit] no matter where you look there is something that is different visually,” Bainbridge said referring to the changes in layout, buildings and general landscape of the campus. A report card from the period lists a range of materials including penmanship, music and behavior and diligence. In a time when 80 percent of schools founded before the Civil War ended in failure, Notre Dame survived multiple catastrophes and saw its admission jump from five students in the first year to 250 a decade later. Nearly every state was represented in the campus population by 1868. The later periods discuss the growth of football as an important source of funding for the school when an endowment did not exist. Revenues from the sport jumped from $3,508 during the 1919-1920 season to $529,400 a decade later. Also detailed is the creation of the “Touchdown Jesus” mural and Hesburgh Library, which opened in September 1963. The mural contains 5,714 separate pieces of materials collected from all over the world. “Notre Dame: A Place in History” is a collaborative effort of the Archives of Notre Dame and the Center for History. The Northern Indiana Center for History is located in the West Washington district of South Bend at the corner of Washington and Chapin Streets. The exhibit can be viewed between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and from noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Admission ranges from $3 to $8.