Did You Know?
The following is a list of interesting facts about Illinois Wesleyan University. While
many notable events in the life of the University are listed here, as well as notable
alumni achievements, this is by no means a comprehensive list. We hope you learn something
new about IWU, and we hope you share it with your friends!
The founder of Toastmasters International, Ralph C. Smedley, was a 1903 graduate of
The first commencement held at IWU was on July 3, 1853. Two degrees were awarded that
day, and the very first Illinois Wesleyan BA degree went to James Hugh Barger.
The first day of classes at IWU was Monday, October 28, 1850. Seven students attended,
and tuition was $3 to $5 per quarter! At that time, there was no president or board
The first female graduate of IWU was Hannah I. Shur, who received her diploma in 1872.
She was the 74th student to receive a diploma from the University.
IWU played its first organized football games in 1887. School colors were then navy
blue and gray. The Titans beat the school that is now ISU twice in that season.
IWU was almost forced to move to Springfield in 1920. Alumni and local businesspeople,
determined to keep IWU here in Bloomington, banded together to raise $600,000 to save
The first issue of The Argus was printed on September 17, 1894.
During the 1982-83 basketball season, the IWU men's team defeated the University of
Arizona, a Division I opponent, 67-64 in a game held at Arizona. Both Illinois Wesleyan
and Arizona would go on to win their respective national championships in 1997.
Comedian Andy Dick attended Illinois Wesleyan University but did not graduate. John
Belushi applied but was not accepted.
Illinois Wesleyan initiated the first distance learning program in the United States,
offering nonresidential or "external" degrees from 1873-1910. Modeled after a system
at the University of London, the program was attributed to the leadership of IWU President
Alfred O. Coffin, a 1889 graduate of Illinois Wesleyan, was the first African-American
in the U.S. to earn a Ph.D. in Biology.
Bill Damaschke '85 is chief creative officer at DreamWorks Animation. He was an Academy Award Nominee in the category Best Animated Feature at the 77th
annual Academy Awards for the film Shark Tale.
James R.L. Diggs, a member of the IWU Class of 1906, was the first African-American
in the U.S. to hold a Ph.D. in Sociology.
IWU graduate George L. Fox was one of four military chaplains who gave their lives
in World War II while serving on the U.S.A.T. Dorchester, a military transport ship.
On February 3, 1943, the ship was hit by torpedoes while traveling from New York to
Greenland. Offering everything they had, including their own life preservers, the
chaplains helped the frightened and chaotic soldiers onto lifeboats, and were seen
leading those left behind on deck in prayer and song as the Dorchester sank. The Four
Chaplains are honored with a plaque in a small chapel upstairs in the Memorial Student
Ralph S. Freese, a member of the IWU Class of 1911 and a football player, wrote the
music to The Cheer Song during the 1910-11 school year. The song is still played at
home basketball and football games.
For years, the motto GET THE GOAT decorated floats and events surrounding games with
Millikin University. An actual stuffed goat was passed between the schools after each
victory. Between 1905 and 1912, the goat moved back and forth 31 times.
An 1898 Daily Pantagraph report is credited as the first mention of green and white
as Illinois Wesleyan's colors.
Turn on TBS and you might just find a Titan at work. Actress Kirsten Gronfield, IWU
Class of 2000, plays Ingrid on the comedy 10 Items or Less.
IWU faculty member Glenn Dillard Gunn, "one of America's foremost pianists" in the
20th century, could command $6 for an hour-long lesson when school tuition was $36
Hedding Hall burned down in 1943, and IWU lost almost all academic records in the
fire. Hedding Bell, on the south end of the quad, was saved from the building. The
Bell is now mounted because of our past rivalry with ISU. We used to steal their bell,
but they couldn't get ours because it was mounted.
In 1928, IWU formally absorbed Hedding College and its alumni. This was not the first
time IWU had adopted another school, either. IWU absorbed Chaddock College in 1878.
Gus A. Hill, Class of 1880, was the first African-American graduate of IWU.
IWU defeated the University of Illinois 16-0 in the Illini's first-ever football game.
In 1889, Y. Osawa and K. Tanaka became the first international students at Illinois
Wesleyan when they arrived from Tokyo.
The last regular season IWU-ISU men's basketball game was in 1970. The Titans beat
the Redbirds 69-68.
Character actor Richard Jenkins, Class of 1969 -- best known for his work as the deceased
father, Nathaniel Fisher, on HBO's Six Feet Under -- won an Oscar nomination for his
starring role in the 2008 independent film, The Visitor. He has since received rave
reviews for his roles in Eat, Pray, Love and Let Me In.
John Wesley Powell joined IWU's faculty in 1865. In 1867, he took IWU students to
the Rocky Mountains, one of the first expedition of its kind in higher education.
In his honor, the University now hosts an annual undergraduate research conference
in his name.
Members of IWU's Board of Trustees played a large role in Abraham Lincoln's election
as President. Trustee Kersey Fell first encouraged Lincoln to run, and trustee David
Davis was a Lincoln confidante.
Carl Marvel, IWU Class of 1915, is known as "the father of Polymer Chemistry." Polymer
Chemistry is the basis of all plastics.
The Memorial Center was named in honor of IWU students and alumni who died in WWII.
There is a small chapel dedicated to George Fox, one of the Four Chaplains, upstairs.
In 1951, Harry Truman dedicated the Chapel of the Four Chaplains in Valley Forge,
Known as the Voice of the Chicago Cubs, longtime announcer Wayne Messmer, '72 has
sung the national anthem for Cubs home games since 1985.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke at IWU on two separate occasions, the last time
in 1966. Hear or read his 1966 speech
Actress Christine Moore, IWU Class of 1995, joined the cast of MADtv in 2003 and also
replaced Lisa Robin Kelly as Laurie Forman on the hit TV series That 70's Show.
On January 2, 1855 Illinois Wesleyan suspended operation due to low enrollment. After
reopening, Oliver Munsell was elected IWU's president in July, 1857. He is credited
with almost single-handedly saving the University.
Astronaut Frank Borman dedicated the Mark Evans Observatory shortly after commanding
Apollo VIII, the first manned space flight to orbit the moon.
The Eckley Quadrangle was lined with Elm trees prior to the 1960's, when Dutch Elm
disease killed all of them. In 1968, Dr. Robert Eckley, IWU's 15th President, replanted
over 50 different types of trees so it wouldn't happen again.
"Scientia et Sapientia" -- IWU's seal means Knowledge and Wisdom. It was created by
John Wesley Powell, who was a Civil War hero, Grand Canyon explorer, and IWU Professor.
Marietta Brown Reed Shay, IWU Class of 1879, was the first female graduate of Illinois
Wesleyan's law school and the sixth woman admitted to practice law in Illinois.
Famous conductor John Philip Sousa conducted a marching band on IWU's campus in 1927-28.
Toward the end of the 1914-15 school year, IWU President Theodore Kemp suggested the
need for a student government. That spring, The Student Council was formed. The name
was changed to The Student Union in 1933 and finally The Student Senate in 1957.
Brian Udovich, '98, produced A Necessary Death, which won the Audience Award for best
feature film at the American Film Institute's 2008 festival, and co-produced The Wackness,
which won the Audience Award at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival.
Memorial Gymnasium (now Hansen Student Center) was dedicated on December 14, 1922,
in memory of IWU community members who lost their lives in World War I.