A Banner Year: Washington University’s Sesquicentennial, 2003–2004

Over the 2003-2004 academic year, Washington University celebrated its Sesquicentennial. Visitors came to campus from near and far to participate in special anniversary events—and even George Washington made an appearance.

Over the course of its first 150 years, Washington University made remarkable progress, growing from a college educating local men and women to an internationally known research university with students and faculty from approximately 110 countries. During the sesquicentennial, Washington University recognized this historical transformation with a series of celebratory events chaired by Robert Virgil, M.B.A. '60, D.B.A. '67, trustee and former dean of the business school.

"This was a special time to look back on our distinguished past and reflect upon the university's continuing role as a leader in education and research and as a valuable asset to our community, our nation, and the world," said Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton.

The history book, “Beginning a Great Work: Washington University in St. Louis, 1853-2003,” written by Candace O'Connor, was first available February 23, 2004, on William Greenleaf Eliot Day. On this day, the university also unveiled a portrait of Eliot, by artist Gilbert Early, B.F.A. '59, in Holmes Lounge. o o Highlighting the university's long history of student performances, student a cappella groups were featured in a compilation CD, Vibrant Voices. Mailed to homes near the university’s campuses, the CD featured musical styles ranging from European madrigal to gospel to contemporary pop.

To observe the signing of the university's charter in 1853 (established as Eliot Seminary), note the birthday of the university's namesake, and generate excitement for the upcoming yearlong celebration, the university and student groups sponsored a week of events, culminating on February 22, 2003, with a George Washington Birthday Party in the Athletic Complex.

In September 2003, Founders Week was the "official" kickoff of the Sesquicentennial. Another week's worth of activities began with a birthday party open house on Sunday, September 14, 2003, and ended with the Founders Day dinner on Saturday, September 20.

At the 150th Birthday Party, the university opened its doors on both campuses to the St. Louis community, alumni, students, faculty and staff. An estimated 15,000 visitors participated in more than 200 activities and events, ranging from lectures, readings and performances, to health screenings, sports clinics and interactive mock trials. In the evening, a capacity crowd in Brookings Quadrangle enjoyed a free concert by the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra.

Other Founders Week highlights included lectures commemorating the 200-year anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase and 100-year anniversary of the 1904 World's Fair and Olympian Games in St. Louis; and the annual Founders Day dinner, which recognized outstanding faculty, alumni and university friends. The honorable Robert J. Dole was keynote speaker, and he spoke on "Leadership and Values in the 21st Century."

At the Gallery of Art, in the fall of 2003, “Influence 150: 150 Years of Shaping a City, a Nation, the World” showcased how Washington University positively influenced the growth and development of St. Louis, the United States and the world over its 150-year history. The exhibit moved to the medical school during the spring.

Each school sponsored events as well. “Conversations,” sponsored by Arts & Sciences, was a "forum for reflection on issues that affect the future of the university, the community and the world." Faculty and distinguished guest speakers discussed four major topics: "What Kind of International Borders Will Exist in the 21st Century?;" "The Future of Freedom;" "Public Intellectuals;" and "Modern Human Origins."

School of Engineering & Applied Science special events included the dedication of Uncas A. Whitaker Hall for Biomedical Engineering, in October 2003, and a "Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Colloquia" in December to honor the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers’ flight.

The School of Art—along with the School of Law, Olin School of Business, Olin Library Special Collections, the Department of Art History & Archaeology and the American Culture Studies Program (both in Arts & Sciences)—presented “Typographically Speaking: The Art of Matthew Carter” at the Des Lee Gallery in the fall semester.

Other School of Law events included its Sesquicentennial Lecture with Lee C. Bollinger, president of Columbia University and law professor. A conference, "Globalization, the State, and Society," explored issues and debates over the relationship between globalization and sovereignty, and the prospects for the modern social welfare state and state-society bargains in an increasingly global economy, sponsored by the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies, the Whitney R. Harris Institute for Global Legal Studies, and the Department of Political Science in Art & Sciences.

At Givens Hall, the School of Architecture presented an exhibit and timeline (1948-present) illustrating notable post-war examples of modern architecture in St. Louis and the role and development of the international visiting architect's program with the university. The major highlight for architecture and the visual arts on campus, however, was the April 14, 2004, groundbreaking of the Sam Fox Arts Center's 65,000-square-foot Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum and the 38,000-square-foot Earl E. and Myrtle E. Walker Hall.

Under the theme: "Learning from the Past, Charting the Future," the School of Social Work hosted a conference series including "Civic Service: Impacts and Inquiry, an International Symposium;" "Strengthening the Research Capacity of Schools of Social Work;" "Strategies to Empower Women and Girls;" and "Social Work's Research Agenda in the Field of Addictions and HIV Research."

The School of Medicine hosted lectures and symposia, too. The William H. Danforth Scientific Symposium, "Medicine at the Millennium," honoring Dr. Danforth, chancellor emeritus, highlighted important advances in biomedical research and investigative activities at the university.

At Commencement, faculty and graduates wore a distinctive gown, designed by Leslie Lambeth, lecturer in fashion design at the Sam Fox School of Art. Green with black velvet trim, the gown has the university shield on both sleeves at the shoulder.