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University of Indianapolis

Indianapolis, Indiana




The Indianapolis Journal covered the formation of the University of Indianapolis and school events—especially sports—until around 1904.  Hyman’s Handbook of Indianapolis gives the history of each of the schools in the university.  Some images of U. of  I. sports teams appear in the Butler University yearbooks.



The University of Indianapolis was a consortium of four existing private colleges.  Butler College (founded 1850) was to be the liberal arts department of the university; Medical College of Indiana (founded 1869) was to be the medical department; Indiana Dental College (founded 1878) was to be the dental department) and Indiana Law School (founded 1894) was to be the law department.  The university was organized in February 1896.   The goal was to form “a great school commensurate with the city’s importance and including all departments of learning.”  According to Bishop White, the model was Oxford or Cambridge.  Among the trustees was former President Benjamin Harrison. 


Initial reaction expressed through newspaper accounts was very enthusiastic.  A school seal was created—with promise of a more elaborate one later. This appeared on diplomas issued beginning in 1997.  Royal purple became the school color. Students even adopted a university yell (See upper right).


Students at each school generally maintained their own organizations and activities.  But Washington’s Birthday became an unofficial University Day as students came together for a parade in downtown Indianapolis.  There also was a university glee club and a university band to provide music.  A university debate team engaged in contests with Notre Dame and Indiana University.   


Initial enrolment approached 700—with 231 students at Butler, 209 at the medical school, 157 at the dental school, and 95 at the law school.  Reports were that enrollment quickly approached 1,000.


The University of Indianapolis remained an amorphous entity.  Plans to create a central campus and to expand the number of departments never materialized.  Within a few years each college began to find its own destiny.  By 1905 the medical school had merged with two other schools, becoming the Department of Medicine of Indiana University in 1908. The dental college and the law school also later became parts of I.U.  Butler University today is a major university in its own right.


The name “University of Indianapolis” was last used by the law school in 1936. 

Bricks and Mortar

Indiana Law School, Indiana Dental College and Medical College of Indiana were located in downtown Indianapolis around the capitol and the courthouse.  Butler College was located in the eastern suburb of Irvington, some distance away, creating problems for university athletic and music practices.  So early discussions involved finding a location where all four schools could be housed.   The U.S. Army arsenal complex became available in 1903, but was taken as a site for a new technical college. 


Of buildings associated with the University of Indianapolis only the Bona Thompson Memorial Library of Butler College and the Central State Hospital for the Insane, used by the medical college, remain.

The Bona Thompson Memorial Center at Irvington.  Image by kcflood ( accessed 12-11-2017

The 1898 University of Indianapolis football team.  Image from the 1899 Butler Drift ( accessed 12-14-2017


            School Colors: Royal purple


The University of Indianapolis lost no time in initiating a football program “represented by men from each school.”  The first game was against Miami of Ohio, a 6-0 loss in November 1896.  That team also lost to Indianapolis AC 14-0.  The 1898 team defeated Franklin 11-0, lost to Earlham 10-0 and played a scoreless draw with De Pauw.   In 1902 U. of  I. went after larger opponents, losing to Kentucky, Purdue and Chicago by a combined 180 points.   The last game I found was a 47-0 loss to Wabash in 1904. 


Difficulties in scheduling practices led Butler to field its own team in 1901.  Medical College did likewise in 1903.

Note: Images are used in accordance with their “terms of use” as I understand those terms.  Recopying or republishing these images may be restricted or forbidden.

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