Ivy Day and Ivy Stones, a Penn Tradition

Steeped in tradition and cemented in the walls of buildings all over campus, Ivy Day stones are permanent reminders of Penn alumni and eras gone by.

The first stone was unveiled 137 years ago by the Class of 1873 to commemorate Penn's move from Center City to its new West Philadelphia campus and to mark the opening of College Hall. The class held a small ivy-planting ceremony at graduation and decided to place a marble slab shaped like a shield and inscribed with the words: "Ivy planted by the class of '73 June 7, 1873," on the north side of College Hall.

The following year, when the class of 1874 placed a similar stone on College Hall next to the 1873 stone, the ivy sprig planting and stone unveiling officially came to be known as Ivy Day.

Tradition holds that students in each graduating class choose the placement and design of the Ivy Day stone. Almost all the stones are designed with an ivy motif. Some are simple, inscribed with just the words "Ivy Day." Others feature elaborate designs. They all are etched with the year of the class they represent.

Each stone reflects the interests and characteristics of the class presenting it. Take the Class of 1945 Ivy Day stone, for example. Penn's men's class of 1945 sought to commemorate Houston Hall's 50th anniversary by placing the 1945 Ivy Day stone at the building's main entrance. The stone reprises the 1895 stone's composition but its differences are significant.

The intricately designed 1895 stone has a fancy border surrounding a mortarboard and diploma atop a plaque carved with the words "Ivy Day June 1895" cast on a patch of ivy with an unfurling ribbon inscribed "Vivere Militare Est," which is Latin for "To live is to campaign." The 1945 stone bears a GI helmet atop a plaque and the words "Ivy Day June 1945." It too has the Latin inscription "Vivere Militare Est," but in wartime those words carried an even deeper meaning. Missing altogether from the 1945 stone is the ivy motif, making this stone one of the most somber on Penn's campus.

Learn more about the history and lore of the Ivy Day at http://www.library.upenn.edu/exhibits/pennhistory/ivystones/ivystones.ica.html.

Text by Jacquie Posey

Photos by Steven Minicola & Scott H. Spitzer