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The Centennial Anniversary of Sigma Gamma Rho: A Historical Look at the Sorority and Butler University

The History of Butler University

College Avenue Campus

The first academic building on the first campus of Butler University—previously North Western Christian University—near 13th Street and College Avenue near downtown Indianapolis. Butler University operated on this campus from 1855 to 1875. The building no longer stands.

Approximately 70 years before Sigma Gamma Rho was chartered, Butler University was founded in 1855 as North Western Christian University (NWCU). Members of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), a Protestant denomination, founded the institution. From its inception, NWCU accepted men, women, and people of color as students and made no restrictions on admittance based upon gender, race, or religion. It was one of the first institutions in Indiana to do so. Its first campus was located on the near-north side of Indianapolis at what is now 13th Street and College Avenue.

In the fall of 1875 NWCU moved to a new campus located in a recently incorporated town east of Indianapolis: Irvington. This second campus was bounded by Emerson Avenue, Butler Avenue, and two railroads. In 1877—two years after moving—the institution was renamed Butler University in honor of its major financial supporter and primary founder Ovid Butler. Butler University resided on this campus from 1875 to 1928.

Sigma Gamma Rho was founded while Butler University was located in Irvington. Prior to the professional Sorority’s founding, collegiate sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha had a Butler chapter, and fraternities Alpha Phi Alpha and Kappa Alpha Psi accepted students from Butler as well as from other Indianapolis schools. These three Black Greek letter organizations are members of the National Pan-Hellenic Council—or The Divine Nine.

Irvington Campus

A scenic view of Butler University’s second campus located in Irvington on the east side of Indianapolis. This postcard and photograph show the two academic buildings: Burgess Hall (left) and the Main—or Administration—Building (right).

Bona Thompson Memorial Library

The only remaining building on the site of Butler University's Irvington campus is the Bona Thompson Memorial Library, located at the intersection of University and Downey Avenues. The building was built in 1904 and served as the library until the University’s departure from the Irvington campus in 1928. Today the Irvington Historical Society operates out of the building.