The Campus of Purdue University: Student Life in the Details, by Kayla Miller

The Campus of Purdue University: Student Life in the Details, by Kayla Miller

Blog Entry One     //     Blog Entry Two    //     Blog Entry Three
To view a working bibliography for this project, click here.

Blog Entry One, March 11th 2016
The College Experience as Embodied by Purdue’s Campus

As we have been rummaging through the archives to portray the year of 1903-04 objects, I have been drawn to an object that embodies campus life from a broad lens: the 1903 map of Purdue. The physicality of Purdue and its buildings has led to changes within the student body through the construction of new buildings and growth of campus. The buildings where students passed their time on campus speak volumes about their lives at Purdue. To delve further into student life, I have chosen to research the Purdue Campus map, which will explore the body of 1903 through the layout and location of buildings on campus.


The map itself is about two feet long and one foot wide with black ink writing. The paper is faded in color and aged. There is an artistic border with rounded edges and delicate design. The map appears to be hand draw and rather artistic. It is entitled “Campus of Purdue Univ” in block letters, and has the name J.B. Truman written at the top. Various textures of shading and pattern differentiate between paths, buildings, and landscaping. The lines vary in thickness on the page, providing a third dimension in the map. From a bird’s eye vantage point, the map peers down over campus, which contains vast expanses of open and empty space filled with hand drawn grass, stones, and bushes. The sketches of grass produce a soft pattern along the majority of the map. Connected lines cross one another following a pattern of numbers, letters, and dots along specified angles on the map, but no legend is available to decipher their meaning. In the same way, there is no key for the buildings present on the map, suggesting that the users of this map would be familiar with campus. This map can be found in the Purdue Campus Maps Collection, box 1 containing maps from the time period of 1890-1928. Other maps in this collection are cross-referenced with this map to allow researchers to identify the buildings present. The chosen map can be compared with others to verify the name of each building, and those that in 1903 were under construction.

Initial Thoughts & Significance

The layout of buildings provides the opportunity to examine student life set apart from the size and shape of the architecture. Today, most first-year students who live in dorms have a long walk to the lecture halls as they tread the length of Third Street. With such a walking distance, students have opportunities to ride the bus, listen to music, and talk to friends as they make the journey to class. The amount of time spent walking to class creates the occasion for these types of activities. Similarly, the distance that students had to walk to class in 1903-04 allows us to speculate about their lives. How far did students have to walk to class? What did students do to pass the time to class? How close were the dorms to each other and to lecture halls? What does this tell us about peer relations and cultural views of socialization?

Furthermore, the buildings on a campus tell us about the cultural environment and the importance of certain majors at a university. For example, the numerous engineering buildings and engineering fountain today support Purdue’s identity as a strong engineering school. In 1903-04, the buildings similarly illustrate the priorities of the university. When we examine the university’s buildings, we observe how academia progressed in 1903 through the buildings that are present. Why is there no library or recreational center on the map? What does this tell us about student life and study habits? Why are there so many science buildings, but no liberal arts buildings? Again, what does this tell us about the view of liberal arts in comparison to sciences in land grants? When we understand the buildings at a university, we are able to view the priorities of the nation, and the strengths of the university.

Relation to Current Moment

The Purdue campus is currently undergoing changes through the construction of the new Honors College dorm and the new Active Learning Center building in the heart of campus. As the university grows and modernizes classroom buildings for students, their goals for the future are clear. In 1903-04, several buildings were under construction, including Fowler Hall, which was centrally located and became the spot for many student meetings and gatherings. Change in infrastructure, whether currently or in 1903, exemplifies the cultural identity of the university. Fowler Hall and its focus on entertainment and performance exemplify a significant cultural change of the student experience on campus. Fowler Hall was built in the very middle of campus, which signifies a rise in the importance of entertainment. As we currently undergo construction at Purdue, it sparks my curiosity to find a connection between the planning processes of developing new buildings in 1903-04 compared to now. Perhaps the living and working conditions of campus were more similar than we would realize.

Next Steps

To delve deeper into the research of this map to depict 1903-04, I hope to speak with some of the administration about the construction of the ALC in order to compare the process and motivations behind building to those of 1903-04. I also plan to further research what students actually did in their free time and when walking to class. So often today, we use technology to pass time. Driving cars, watching Netflix, listening to music, and using social media take up most of our free time today. I am especially interested in what students actually did in their spare time.

Blog Entry Two, May 7th 2016
The Meaning Behind the Lion Fountain

The 1903 campus map of Purdue guided me toward several paths, as a map often does. Throughout my first couple of days researching, I found out that the map was actually created by a student at Purdue. I also learned that there were several additional buildings on campus that were not yet drawn on the map. Some of these sites that were either built during the 1903 school year, or donated during that year were finished after the map was completed. Of the missing items I found, such as Fowler Hall and the lion fountain, I decided to focus on the fountain. This distinct water fountain situated south of today’s Bell Tower is made of four stone lion heads, and a waterspout emerges from the mouth of each lion. Unless you stop to look at the date and plaque on the fountain, you would never realize that it was the class gift of 1903. This came to my attention when I was reading through the Exponent and I read a comment from a student:

“One may find water to drink in the Gymnasium, Mechanical and Agricultural Buildings, but what we need is drinking places in more conspicuous parts of the campus. When the spring and summer come, we will not care to walk a square or more to a fountain, around which many students are already gathered.”

This comment pointed me directly toward the donation of the lion fountain. From there, I was hooked. This student got me thinking about water. How often do we see students today carrying water bottles to class? Almost every student owns one, and carries them around to class. Just check the lost and found if you don’t believe me! There are countless water bottles everywhere. I never realized the importance of water, but nevertheless, we need it, and it is part of our daily lives. We shower with it, we brush our teeth with it, we use the restroom with it, we make food with it, we drink it. Our very survival depends on it. I hope to research how students in 1903-04 bathed, cooked, and drank water in their homes. How was their water cleaned? Did students often rely on the Wabash for their hygiene? Did students use canteens to carry water with them to class, or did they just have to wait until they passed the nearest fountain?

The lion fountain statue raised other questions about why the students chose lions. The mascot at the time was a dog – not a lion. The Purdue seal had a griffin on it – not a lion.  So what was so significant about a lion? I did some digging, and I found a couple of different possibilities for why the class of 1903-04 chose lions to represent their class gift.

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The Lion Fountain at Purdue University, West Lafayette

At first look, the lion fountain appears to simply be a statue – a work of art. Art has been the means by which humans express themselves for centuries. In fact, Nicholas Saunders in his book Icon of Power argues that “art is one of the ways in which people represent how they conceive of themselves, and their place in the world.” This led me to wonder how a lion would depict how the class of 1903 viewed themselves and their place in the world.

First, I found that a lion symbolizes power, excellence and high status. From my research about the class of 1903, I have gathered that they were extremely successful and proud of the legacy they left at Purdue. They were the only class to win the Tank Scrap both their freshman and sophomore years, they did very well in their studies, and they were successful in athletics.

Saunders expanded on the symbolism of felines in his book as he suggested that they represent power. He added that lions exhibit the traits of power, ambition, and strength. The lions on the fountain potentially stand to remind those at Purdue of the stigma that the class of 1903 had on campus. As the president of the class gift committee commented in the Debris, “Our ambition to excel in all things has been in no place better shown than in our gift to the University.”

My research of the lion fountain has also led me to another possible conclusion of the meaning behind the lions of the fountain. For many years, the lion fountain has been the subject of myths circling around romance and sexuality.  In his article Lion fountain at Purdue ready to ‘roar’ again, Matt Holsapple explains that every time a virgin passed the fountain, it was believed that the lions would roar. According to Holsapple, rascally college boys were often found hiding behind the fountain to roar at the nearest co-ed to pass the statue.

In the Debris of 1903 and 1904, the word “lion” was exclusively used to suggest sexual prowess. Its only appearance in the 1903 Debris makes a remark about one of the seniors boy’s romantic endeavors: “as to whether or not he is the lion of femininity he claims to be, we will leave to the girls.” In the same way, the two times “lion” was used in the 1904 Debris, it carried the same connotation: “He was a lion with the ladies in his Freshman year, but apparently has ‘fallen from Grace,’ as he affirms that he expects to remain a bachelor”, and “he had aspirations at one time to become a military man, but his interest has been transferred to the study of the fair sex, with which he is a lion.” From these narrow uses of the word “lion” in the Purdue Debris during these years, we can see that students at Purdue in 1903-04 were used to this connotation.

Although we may never know the true reasoning that the class of 1903 had in choosing lions for their class gift fountain, we can gain insight into their motives and intentions behind the fountain through their words in the Exponent and the Debris. Lions exist as a symbol of power and ambition – the way that the class of 1903 viewed themselves. Additionally, the lions suggested a sexual prowess that the class of 1903 may have wished to invoke on campus.

Blog Entry Three, May 9th 2016
Putting the Pieces Together: Being a Student in 1903

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Throughout the research process of the class of 1903, I have had several different possible avenues of study. I learned that archival research leads to various paths that intertwine and lead to diverging destinations. Although I first felt that all of the research I conducted was sporadic and unrelated, I eventually found common ground amidst my research. Being a student, whether in 2016 or in 1903, is only made possible by the resources and experiences we are given. My research started with the map of campus, and led me to question what students did in their free time or on their way to class. I was curious as to what they spent their time doing and how long it took them to walk between buildings. How did students eat, and where did they sleep? Did they have water on campus?  They had to do more than study; otherwise, they would not be able to function as human beings. I wanted to know what made being a student possible in 1903.

To gain insight into student activity, I began my research by looking into the creator of the map. His name was J.B. Truman, a 1903 graduate studying civil engineering. Although his story led me to a dead end, I learned that students at Purdue worked for the community, and often found jobs around Lafayette and West Lafayette. The work and career options that Truman experienced as noted in the Municipal Journal and Engineering are representative of what life as a student at Purdue was like in 1903.

Next, my research led me toward the lion fountain, the class gift of the class of 1903. The Exponent suggested that this fountain was the saving grace for the student body because they desperately needed more drinking places on campus. With such long walking distances between classes and few areas to access water, students needed this fountain to continue in their studies. Without a fountain in this prominent location, it would be much harder for students to take care of their physical needs so that they could function as students.

After researching the fountain more, I decided that I would focus the rest of my research on water. Water is everywhere, and yet it is invisible. One of the biggest traditions of the era, the Tank Scrap, took place at a water tower.  The need for water fountains on campus was a dilemma that needed solving so that students could quench their thirst between classes. Today, students carry around personal water bottles to refill and drink during class. Without potable and accessible water, students are unable to meet their basic needs. If these needs are not met, how can they be expected to fulfill their obligations as a student? They needed a source of water nearby.

As my overall research project, I have decided to explore my interest in what students did on camps so that I can understand the moving parts that made life as a student what it was. The work students do in the classroom, the activities they enjoyed, stories and myths the circulate campus, and even water fountains encompass the condition of being a student.


To view a working bibliography for this project, click here.

About the Authors

To find out more about all of the student researchers, click here!