By: Brett Roberts, Wylie House Museum Bicentennial Project Assistant
“IU is home” says the t-shirt adorned by thousands of freshmen Hoosiers this past fall. That phrase is relatable to many Indiana University students as we reflect on our time as undergraduates in Bloomington. Whether we lived in Briscoe or Wright, study business or music, we have all made Indiana University our home in some way. Within this community we call home, there is quite a bit to be proud of. The top ranked public school for music in the nation, the #4 undergraduate business school, the #1 school for public and environmental affairs. Not to mention the top ranked programs in psychology, folklore, opera, and much more. IU is home to 24 NCAA National Championship teams and 145 NCAA National Individual Champions, not to mention our nearly unrivaled success in the Big Ten. All of these things fill each Hoosier with pride to be a part of a storied institution of success.
However, none of this would have been possible without one man’s risk (and I’m not talking about Herman B Wells). His name was Andrew Wylie, the first President of Indiana University. In 1828, the Board of Trustees wrote Andrew, saying “under the guidance of so experienced and able an instructor, our institution will flourish and become a praise, and a glory, to our young and rising state.” This proposition was a daunting one for Andrew. Bloomington in 1828 was on the frontier of the young state of Indiana, which was very different from Andrew’s native Pennsylvania. It was an offer to build something out of nothing in the middle of nowhere. Fortunately for 200 years of proud Hoosiers, Andrew Wylie took the job.
From 1828 until 1895, Andrew Wylie and his cousin, Theophilus Wylie, played some of the most formative roles in the founding and sustaining of Indiana University. Their history and ideas of the university have been relatively unexplored for many years. Herman B Wells bought the Wylie House in 1947 and restored the house from 1960-1964 to rediscover this critical part of our past. The museum now includes the original library of Theophilus Wylie, countless letters from the Wylie family discussing the events in the university and of the day, as well as diaries and heirlooms from the family. Why does all of this matter today though?
As I began going through 200 year old books and letters, I often asked myself that very question: why does this matter? However, as I was going through the letters and diary entries that I read and reread multiple times, I found the untold story of the people that helped build the foundation of Indiana University. In one entry was Theophilus’ reaction to the second time the university burned down in 1883. Or Andrew’s thoughts on the state sending agents to ensure the university was doing its job. A personal favorite was Theophilus’ reactions to the state government chartering that school in West Lafayette. I found that these letters, books, and diaries all had a story that enrich the story and legacy of Indiana University.
If you’ve spent any time around Bloomington in the recent years, you’ll notice that the university is preparing for its Bicentennial. This presents an opportunity for every Hoosier to look back at those stories of our University to reflect on how far we’ve come and where we still have to go. Leadership at Indiana University: Andrew and Theophilus Wylie, 1820-1890 provides students, faculty, and all Hoosiers the chance to do just that. The collections involved in this project show how they dealt with calamities such as the Civil War and how students at IU would have been impacted by the work of the Wylie’s. Looking back to the foundations of our university laid by Andrew and Theophilus Wylie allow us to move forward inspired by the past.
The little university established on the frontier of a new nation in 1820 has grown into a world renowned center for research, performance, and teaching. Indiana University has been a catalyst of change for the betterment of Indiana, and the world. IU is home to some of the world’s brightest thinkers, leaders, and to all Hoosiers, past, present, and future. We owe all of this to the life and work of Andrew and Theophilus Wylie. When you think, “IU is home” or see the 5 NCAA Basketball Championship banners in Assembly Hall, or just simply stand in awe of one of America’s most beautiful college campuses, we hope you look back at these men and their formative role in the university you know and love today. As our Alma Mater today proclaims, “She’s the Pride of Indiana,” fulfilling the Board of Trustees’ vision in inviting Andrew Wylie to become president so many years ago.