Ivy Day Stones Brochure

ICA Ivy Stone Brochure

The Institute of Contemporary Art
University of Pennsylvania

The Ivy Day Stones

The University of Pennsylvania on
Exhibit Since June 7, 1873

Since June 7, 1873, every class graduating from the University of Pennsylvania has placed at least one Ivy Day stone somewhere on the university campus. Each class’s stone is unveiled during a ceremony, held a few days before Commencement, in which a sprig of ivy is planted, a tradition whose origins are lost in the early history of Penn. This tradition, currently called Ivy Day, seems to have started as a modest ceremony involving speeches and the planting of ivy by the graduating class to commemorate its time at the university. Like many traditions, these ceremonies paid tribute to the past and to lessons learned, while also pointing toward the future. Collectively and individually, the one hundred fifty-five Ivy Day stones embody the past and present as well as the future by forming a visible, tangible continuum. They constitute a continuing and ever-growing exhibition of one history of the university that can be seen in the stones’ content, design, and placement.

A typical Ivy Day stone is a piece of carved stone, approximately one-by-two feet, placed slightly below eye level at a campus site chosen by the graduating class. Some are simple, with just the text Ivy Day, the year, and an ivy motif, while others have designs that include intricate carving, inscriptions, and Penn symbols. All the stones have in common the year of the class that placed it, and virtually all have some ivy motif, to symbolize the planting of the ivy sprig at the stone’s unveiling.

The university’s move from Center City to the new campus in West Philadelphia, and the completion of College Hall, inspired the class of 1873 to make a permanently identifiable addition to the ivy-planting ceremony. This memorial on the north side of College Hall is the first Ivy Day stone. A passage from The University Record of 1873 gives an explanation and description of the event:

The first class to graduate from her new abode, and associated with her in old and new life, it seems peculiarly fitting that ’73 should leave some memorial to bear witness in the future to her devotion to the University. With this idea in view, it was resolved early in the year to revive the picturesque custom of planting an ivy upon graduation. With some difficulty, the best spot about the building, on the front with northern exposure [of College Hall], was obtained, and, with a piece of ivy from Kenilworth [Castle in Scotland], kindly supplied by Prof. Jackson, we were prepared for our task….

The situation of this highly interesting but at present insignificant plant was further designated by a neat marble slab, in the form of a shield, fixed in the wall directly above it, which bore the inscription: “Ivy planted by the class of ’73, June 7th, 1873…

The remark was frequently made that this festivity should be repeated in succeeding years, and we cannot doubt that such a course would conduce to the pleasure of all parties concerned, as well as redound to the reputation of class and college.

Not to be outdone, the class of 1874 placed a similar memorial on College Hall next to the 1873 stone, and also gave a name to the occasion, Ivy Day. The 1874 stone was inscribed, “Ivy Day, class of ’74, June 13th, 1874, Nunc est laborandum [Now it is necessary to work].” This appears to be the first evidence of the event being called Ivy Day. The 1875 stone contributed an innovation of its own: although its text is similar to the previous stones, the 1875 stone is carved not as a shield but as a leaf of ivy. This ivy motif is a crucial addition to the iconography of the Ivy Day stone; by symbolizing the act of planting ivy, the stone itself–its appearance and placement–became the focus of the tradition. In fact, some later stones (e.g., 1889 and 1986) are far from ivy. Thus, while the planting aspect diminished in importance, another took its place-that of a memorial embodying and marking the ephemeral ceremony.

The next thirteen graduating classes all placed their stones on the front of College Hall. Some of these stones (e.g., 1883, 1894, and 1910, and the two of the fractious class of 1885) were remarkably designed, yet it became clear that design alone could not call attention to a stone when it was placed so close to so many others. The 1889 and 1895 classes made a new contribution to the Ivy Day stone tradition, choosing to place their stones on the two new centers of undergraduate life-the University Library (later Furness Building) and Houston Hall, respectively. These stones established that placement as well as design could be a way for a class to demonstrate its individual interests. In most subsequent stones, placement has superceded design as the primary means of showing these interests. Then, as now, these decisions of placement and design were made by the students themselves. Currently, the Senior Class Board serves as a jury for the design selection and, by informal consensus of its class, finds the desired location for the stone.

The issue of placement is important: placement allows the juxtaposition of stones from different eras to show both similarities and differences among classes. The placement of stones between 1911 and 1922 on the dormitories in the Quadrangle demonstrates that undergraduate life during this time included not only the intellectual pursuits of College Hall and Furness Building but also the growing social aspect of university life. This trend first can be seen with the 1895 stone on Houston Hall, the first student union in the United States, and the 1902 stone on Bodine Dormitory in the Quadrangle, one of the first completed dormitories at Penn. Significantly, where stones are not placed can be just as telling as where they are: the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania has never held much significance for undergraduates; it has no Ivy Day stones, even though it is situated near many buildings with stones.

The use of the Ivy Day stone to reinforce and differentiate the interests of various classes can be seen in the 1895 stone and the 1945 men’s stone. On the fiftieth anniversary of Houston Hall, the men’s class of 1945, wishing to commemorate the still important role of the building, placed its stone opposite the 1895 stone on the main entrance. The 1945 men’s stone took the 1895 stone’s composition, but with important differences. The 1895 mortar board representing student life was changed to a 1945 GI helmet. The Latin inscription taken from the 1895 stone, Vivere militare est [To live is to campaign], took on a more somber meaning in an era of war. This somber intention is accentuated further by the absence of an ivy motif, something also omitted in the 1944 stone.

The role of women at Penn is another aspect of university life found in the Ivy Day stones. For each year between 1926 and 1961, there are two stones, one placed by women and one by men. In 1925, Bennett Hall (named after Mary Alice Bennett, the first woman to receive a doctorate from Penn) was completed, and the women’s classes from 1926 to 1958 placed their own Ivy Day stones here. Bennett Hall was to the early campus life of women what College Hall had been to the newly relocated, male university in 1873. The women’s stones from 1959 to 1961 were placed on a new center of women’s life, Hill House, then a dormitory for women.

The men’s and women’s stones of the 1926-61 period are so similar that their placement is the primary means of distinguishing them. The women’s stones are located on what were at one time the centers of women’s life, while the men’s stones are spread out over the campus on such then-new edifices as the Chemistry Laboratories (1942) and ‘Dietrich Hall (1952). Additional means of distinguishing between the stones of this period are their orientation and inscriptions. The vast majority of the men’s stones include the date of Ivy Day and are generally vertical in orientation; the women’s stones are virtually a horizontal and do not include the date of Ivy Day.These differences in the women’s stones subtly suggest a complementary but discrete identity for women undergraduates during this thirty-five year period. The subsequent, improved integration of women in campus life can be recognized by the single 1962 stone placed on the newly completed Van Pelt Library. Sadly, this stone (along with the 1964 and 1969 stones) currently resides in Physical Plant Storage due to another aspect of university life, building and renovation. And, in fact, from 1962 to 1975, the placement of Ivy Day stones on the many buildings constructed or renovated in this period reflects the consolidation and growth of the present campus.

In the 1980s, two trends became evident in the placement of stones. One was to locate stones at sites of significant events that occurred during the just completed school year, such as the 1983 stone marking the twenty-seven yard line at Franklin Field where Dave Schulman’s field goal won Penn its first Ivy League championship since 1959. Another trend was a renewed interest in the placement of stones to display ties to the past. One example is the 1987 stone on Junior Balcony, the site of another undergraduate tradition, Hey Day. Renovations in McClelland Hall prevented the class of 1987 from celebrating its Hey Day on Junior Balcony, so the class placed its stone there to commemorate the renovation and also to link the class of 1987 to previous and subsequent Hey Days, just as the stone itself links the class to previous and subsequent Ivy Days.

Unlike moribund traditions such as the Bowl Fight, the Ivy Day stone tradition has remained an active part of Penn because its original purpose is as valid for each graduating class as it was for the class of 1873 “to leave some memorial to bear witness in the future to her devotion to the University.” Individually and collectively, the Ivy Day stones function as effective public art can: to foster a sense of place and common purpose by using a visual vocabulary of design, text, and placement. Thus, each class remembers and is remembered in the greater context of the University of Pennsylvania.

Andrew 0. Robb, College ’87


This pamphlet has been produced by ICA in celebration of the University of Pennsylvania’s 250th anniversary, May 1990.

The author wishes to thank the following people for their help and support: the University of Pennsylvania’s 250th Anniversary Celebration Committee, Albert Moore, James Mann, Sandra Markham, Christina Moxham, Gerald Zeigerman, Alice Norris, Frances and David Robb, Sara Yorke, Susan Nitzberg, Joshua Lott, Joanna Sadowska, David Taylor, Julia Null, Greg Adams, Eric Lidman, Robert Shapiro, Mary Burke, the advisory board and staff of ICA, Director Patrick Murphy, and especially Assistant Director Judith Tannenbaum without whom this project would never have been realized.