University Library

Our History Blog

Describing Xavier's Photographic Past

By Molly Linkous, Office of the Registrar Staff and University Archives and Special Collections Intern, March 2024, with support from University Archives and Special Collections, Xavier University Library

My name is Molly Linkous, and I am currently interning for University Archives and Special Collections while I complete the final semester of my Master’s in Library and Information Sciences at IUPUI. I also happen to work in Xavier’s Office of the Registrar. My primary project with University Archives has been creating titles and descriptions for 756 images in the Xavier University Photographic Negative Collection as part of the workflow to share them online in Exhibit, the institution’s digital repository. Many of the originals in this collection were nitrate and acetate negatives, which pose significant preservation challenges. In 2007, University Archives contracted with the Northeast Document Conservation Center to digitize all the negatives. While the digital files were retained, the originals were destroyed after the project due to their fragility and preservation risks. During this digitization process, whatever information was recorded on the envelope that housed the original negatives was documented, but these identifications were often sparse. Many of the negatives were also found loose, so no such markings or notes were available for those.

These image descriptions contribute to the creation of image metadata. Metadata is data about data, and includes information like title, date, location, and keywords. Metadata provides a structured reference point to label the characteristics of an object or file. A clear, detailed description can make these images accessible, organized, and searchable. Metadata helps provide identification and context for current and future generations.

The process of creating descriptions varies depending on the level of previous information available for the images, the significance of the image, and its contents. I use digitized yearbooks and student newspapers as my primary research tools. Especially when a date is recorded for an image, I will first turn to yearbooks. If an image is loose, I will use image content like clothing, activities, or people, to narrow down possible time frames and subjects. Sometimes I recognize a person or the image itself from my previous research.

This image was a loose image, meaning it had no envelope noting its original date or subject matter. I could tell it was a group of adult men, not students, which narrowed down the types of organizations or events it could have been from. Luckily, this image is quite distinct and leaves an impression, and I recognized it. There had been only a handful of yearbooks that I had recently searched through, so I went back through all of them, focusing on the adult groups like the Faculty, Alumni, and the Dads’ Club. Sure enough, there it was on the Dads’ Club yearbook page in 1941, along with a short caption. The image shows a “Group of Freshmen dads being initiated into the Dads' Club.” While the original negative is undated, it was likely captured around 1940 or 1941 because it appears in the 1941 yearbook.

Since time and resources are limited, not all images receive this in-depth research for their description. Still, it’s gratifying when I can put the pieces of the puzzle together and share the information.


A group of men being led blindfolded in freshmen dads initiation, 1941








“Freshmen dads initiated,” 1941, XUA125-n00271, XUA-125 Xavier University Photographic Negative Collection, University Archives and Special Collections, Xavier University Library


A group of men being led blindfolded in freshmen dads initiation, 1941


Musketeer, 1941, University Archives and Special Collections, Xavier University Library


How St. Xavier College Became Xavier University: 1919 to 1930

By Thomas Kennealy, SJ, August 2023, with support from University Archives and Special Collections, Xavier University Library

During its almost 200-year history, Xavier University has had three names. When the University was first established in 1831, its founder, Bishop Edward Fenwick, O.P., called it the Athenaeum. When the Jesuits arrived and took over in 1840, they changed the name to St. Xavier College. In 1930, the institution became Xavier University.

Construction on Bishop Fenwick’s new college in the diocese of Cincinnati, Ohio started in 1829 and finished in 1831. The college was located on the west side of Sycamore Street between Sixth and Seventh Streets in downtown Cincinnati. The phrase “Athenaeum: Religioni et Artibus Sacrum,” (the Athenaeum Dedicated to Religion and the Arts) was inscribed above the main entrance. This motto summarized the goals of the college: the promotion of religion and the education of the young in the liberal arts.

By 1839, it was clear to Fenwick’s successor, Bishop John Baptist Purcell, that the college was facing serious problems which required immediate attention if the school was to survive. Bishop Purcell decided to offer the college to the Society of Jesus, a religious order of men popularly known as the Jesuits, one of whose primary apostolates was establishing and operating Catholics colleges. On September 30, 1840, eight Jesuits led by Father John Elet, the former president of St. Louis University, left Missouri for Cincinnati. On November 3, the college opened its doors as a Jesuit institution. The Jesuits changed the school’s name to St. Xavier College in honor of St. Francis Xavier, one of the early companions of St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, and a famous missionary.

Discussions about changing the name of St. Xavier College began as early as 1919, after the college had relocated from downtown to its current Avondale property. Should the college become a university, a title that a number of American colleges, even Jesuit institutions, were assuming? Should the name “Xavier” be abandoned? Many found it difficult to spell and even more mispronounced it.

At first, the administrations of both the Jesuit order and the college were cool to the idea of changing the name. The Superior of the Missouri Province, to which St. Xavier belonged, was opposed to changing from college to university. In 1919, he wrote to Xavier president Father James McCabe, stating his opinion, “St. Xavier’s is making a fine start towards a university, but I feel that we should not burden it with too big a name. Let me know what you feel in the matter.” Father McCabe replied that he, too, was opposed to Xavier becoming a university.

However, not everyone agreed. At its meeting on January 11, 1922, the St. Xavier Alumni Association adopted the following resolution and sent it to Father. McCabe:

      “Be it resolved by the St. Xavier Alumni Association that it is the sense of this body that the matter of change of name of St. Xavier College be suggested to the authorities for consideration and action at some appropriate future time, and that a copy of this resolution be transmitted to the Reverend Rector of the College.”

As the debate continued, many names were proposed. One was Newman University after John Henry Cardinal Newman, the well-known English writer and theologian. Another was Gibbons University in honor of James Cardinal Gibbons, the former Archbishop of Baltimore, and a third name was Bellarmine University after Robert Cardinal Bellarmine, the noted Jesuit theologian. An alumnus wrote to Father Brockman with the following comment: “Any name is apt to sound poorly until one gets accustomed to it. One name that occurred to me was the University of Southern Ohio.”

By early 1930, the administration of the college, including its Board of Trustees, was convinced that a name change was urgent. Accordingly, in May 1930, Father Brockman submitted to the Jesuit superior of the Chicago Province and the superior general of the order in Rome a request to change the school’s name from St. Xavier College to Xavier University. In his petition, Father Brockman sighted ten reasons for the new name. He pointed out that St. Xavier College had added a number of new departments, programs, and colleges, which gave it both the structure and dimensions of a university in the American model. His major reason, however, was the urgent appeals from many quarters. After expressing the displeasure of alumni and benefactors in the lack of a name change, he noted that many graduates confessed to being ashamed of the fact that their alma mater was just a college and not a university.

Rome’s reply arrived on June 4, 1930. The Jesuit Superior General approved the name change on the condition that the Archbishop of Cincinnati, John T. McNicholas, O.P., grant his approval in writing. The following month the Archbishop gave his written permission.

At a meeting on July 31, 1930, the Board of Trustees unanimously approved an amendment to the Articles of St. Xavier College changing the institution’s name to Xavier University. The following day, Father Brockman sent a certification of the amendment to the Ohio Secretary of State and the Department of Education of Ohio requesting their formal recognition and approval. By an act of the Ohio Board of Education on August 4, 1930, St. Xavier College became Xavier University.

For Fr. Kennealy’s full account on the name changes of Xavier University, visit eXhibit, Xavier University Library’s digital repository.


Letter Midwest Province to Xavier 1919Letter from the provincial of the Midwest Province of the Society of Jesus to Xavier’s president from Box 1, Folder 5, XUA-124 Xavier University Collection of Governance Records, University Archives and Special Collections, Xavier University Library.







Telegram Father Ledochowski 1919

Telegram from Fr. Ledóchowski, SJ, Superior General of the Society of Jesus, approving the name change from Box 1, Folder 5, XUA-124 Xavier University Collection of Governance Records, University Archives and Special Collections, Xavier University Library.