The Mystery of the Ivy Trowel

By schwartzsa | May 6, 2011

By Sarah R. Schwartz ’10

A mysterious tradition from Arcadia’s past is the Planting of the Ivy Ceremony, which occurred annually during senior week. It was an honor given to the junior with the highest academic standing. The “Ivy Girl” earned the right to plant a single sprig of ivy on campus using a silver trowel donated by the Class of 1926. The ceremony was not only a celebration of academic excellence but also an indication of each class’s firm roots in the legacy of the University. The last student to receive this award was Eileen G. Robinson ’68 in 1967.

“Though it was 44 years ago, I remember walking with Dr. Edward Gates, the President of the University at that time,” says Robinson. “Members of the Board of Trustees processed behind us. I was given a pair of gloves to put on, handed the silver trowel and the ivy to plant on the gully between the Castle and Murphy. The ceremony commenced in the courtyard of Murphy Hall.”

In spite of the fortitude of the ivy tradition, by the 1960s it was viewed less as a proud symbolic campus ornament and more as an outmoded ritual in light of current events. Many student traditions were lost due to changing social mores: hoop-rolling contests, the lantern procession, and father-daughter dances were replaced with civil rights and anti-war rallies. However, the changes didn’t occur overnight, nor were the wavering social sentiments immediately evident.

“Even as the Student Government Organization President as a senior, I had no idea I was the last one,” says Robinson. In fact, in more recent years, even the silver-plated ivy trowel has gone missing, adding intrigue to the tradition’s mysterious end.

Ivy Day lost its place on the University’s calendar, and though gradually but inevitably much of the ivy itself has been lost, the root system of Robinson’s ivy sprig still adorns the gently sloping banks between Grey Towers Castle and Murphy Hall. Robinson’s name is still displayed on a placard hanging on a wall of the Murphy Hall courtyard, along with the names of 35 preceding Ivy Girls. They serve as oblique reminders of those who came before us and shaped the character of Arcadia University.

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