A history 100+ years in the making

The Indiana Memorial Union’s rich history dates back to the early twentieth century. In 1909, tensions between freshmen and sophomores and between fraternity members and unaffiliated students at Indiana University reached a breaking point, leading to physical altercations on campus. Dismayed by the uncivil campus climate, an IU student named John Whittenberger decided to form a student organization that would encourage unity and collegiality among students.

With the help of IU’s president, William Lowe Bryan, and members of the faculty, Whittenberger founded the Indiana Union on December 6, 1909. Whittenberger served as the first president of the organization, which had 15 charter members.

The Union should be a great force making toward unity of University spirit and life.

William Lowe Bryan, IU president, 1902–1937

The early years

For the first 20+ years of its existence, the Indiana Union was housed in the east wing of the Student Building. Membership, which was open only to men at that time, cost $1 per year. (Women were first allowed to join in 1952.)

The Indiana Union provided a variety of social activities for its members. Students could play billiards, dance to live bands, and watch theatre groups perform. A film series that featured popular silent movies was established in 1909—and it still runs today, making it the country’s longest-running college film series.

A place of its own

In 1921, the Memorial Fund Drive was established to raise funds for three buildings to honor members of the IU community who had served in the U.S. military during times of war: a stadium, a residence hall, and a building with a large auditorium—the building that would become the Indiana Memorial Union.

Construction on the building, which was designed by the architectural firm of Granger and Bollenbacher, began in 1931 and was completed in 1932. At IU’s Commencement ceremony on June 13, 1932, the Indiana Memorial Union was dedicated to “the sons and daughters of Indiana University who had served in the wars of the Republic.”

This building became the home of the Indiana Union student organization that had been founded by John Whittenberger more than 20 years earlier.

The Memorial Room is a small room on the first floor of the IMU that pays tribute to those in the IU community who have served in the U.S. military. The centerpiece of the Memorial Room is the Golden Book, which documents the names of IU’s service members dating back to the War of 1812.

Learn more about the Golden Book
The Indiana University Golden Book in the Memorial Room in the Indiana Memorial Union
The Memorial Room in the Indiana Memorial Union

A lasting legacy

Since its construction nearly 85 years ago, the IMU has undergone several expansions, including the addition of a bowling alley and a food court. In 1960, the Biddle Hotel and Conference Center was added to foster personal and professional growth through conferences, workshops, and seminars. Named for the IMU’s first director, Ward Gray Biddle, it features 189 guest rooms and more than 50,000 square feet of meeting space.

Today the IMU has over 500,000 square feet of space and hosts more than 17,000 events each year. It brings together thousands of students, faculty, staff, alumni, and visitors who walk through its doors each year. Thanks to the visionary leadership of John Whittenberger more than a century ago, the IMU is more than just a student group or a building—it’s an essential part of the IU Bloomington experience.