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The Founder’s Week kickoff event, held in Irwin Library, marked the start of an important week at Butler University.
The highlight of the event was the unveiling of a greatly restored 1887 class photo. Gertrude Mahorney, the first African-American to graduate from Butler, was included in the photo. Mahorney’s historic degree was the perfect reminder of what Founder’s Week is all about.
Mahorney is also believed to be the first African-American female graduate of any college or university in Indiana. An informational packet given to the attendees of the event explained that after she graduated, she went on to teach elementary education in Kansas and later taught German in the Indianapolis Public Schools.
That original photo was not an easy thing to find. Butler Alumna Maribeth Fischer found the photo at a yard sale in the Meridian-Kessler neighborhood. She said that the photo caught her eye even though it was resting underneath a table.
“Keep in mind that in 1887, photography was very very rare,” Butler Librarian Sally Childs-Helton said. “Butler didn’t even have a yearbook until the 1890s.”
The photo served as a logical segue into a discussion about the importance of the history of Butler and how it is celebrated during Founder’s Week.
Founder’s Week at Butler is a celebration of diversity, opportunity and equality. The university had all of these traits earlier than most schools because of founder Ovid Butler.
The informational packet specified that Butler wanted a university based on “the common rights of humanity without distinction on account of sex, race or color.” The new 1887 class photo of Mahorney and her 17 classmates is a reminder of how this vision was carried out because of Mahorney’s presence in the photo.
“We are in a special place where we can look back with pride,” Provost Kathryn Morris said. “We can look back on a founder who spoke up against oppression.”
Founder’s Week at Butler University is full of events and will go until Feb. 13. Founder’s Day co-chair and LAS Professor Terri Jett encouraged the audience to celebrate and learn more about Butler University’s history by attending the other events during the week.
“Founder’s Week is a campus wide effort,” Jett said. “It’s just a wonderful celebration.”
A full list of Founder’s Week events can be found on Butler University’s website.