Alma Mater (New York sculpture)

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Alma Mater
2014 Columbia University Alma Mater closeup.jpg
Artist Daniel Chester French
Year 1903-04
Type Bronze
Dimensions 2.6 m × 1.8 m × 1.9 m (8.6 ft × 5.9 ft × 6.2 ft)
Location New York City
Coordinates Coordinates: 40°48′28.2″N 73°57′43.7″W / 40.807833°N 73.962139°W / 40.807833; -73.962139
Owner Columbia University

Alma Mater is a bronze sculpture of the goddess Athena by Daniel Chester French which is located on the steps leading to the Low Memorial Library on the Morningside Heights campus of Columbia University in Manhattan, New York City. Using Audrey Munson as a model,[1][2] French designed the statue in 1901 and installed it in September, 1903.[3] It was donated in memory of alumnus Robert Goelet of the Class of 1860 by his wife, Harriette W. Goelet.[4] Alma Mater has become a symbol of the university.

An owl, a symbol of knowledge and learning,[4] is hidden in the folds of Alma Mater's cloak near her left leg[5] and college superstition has it that the first member of the incoming class to find the owl will become class valedictorian. The legend at another time was that any Columbia student who found the owl on his first try would marry a girl from Barnard.

When the statue was originally installed it was gilded in gold.[6][3] Over time, the original gilding wore off and the few remaining flakes were removed in 1950.[7] In 1962, the University made the decision to have the gilding reapplied; however, the new gilding was removed after protests.[8]

In the early morning hours of May 17, 1970, a bomb was planted on the statue. The resulting explosion caused significant damage to Alma Mater's throne. The damage remained until 1978, when the statue was removed from Columbia. The throne was recast and the sculpture was cleaned, refinished with a new patina, and returned to the Low steps.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Meet the most popular model in New York you've never heard of". 2016-03-07. Retrieved 2016-09-02. 
  2. ^ "Untapped Cities". 2016-04-15. Retrieved 2016-09-02. 
  3. ^ a b "Unveiling Alma Mater | Public Outdoor Sculpture at Columbia". Retrieved 2017-01-19. 
  4. ^ a b Richman, Michael. Daniel Chester French: An American Sculptor (The Preservation Press, 1976, reprinted 1983), pp. 90–96: discussion of the commission, creation and installation of the sculpture.
  5. ^ Durante, Dianne. Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan: A Historical Guide (New York University Press, 2007), p. 230.
  6. ^ "The Project Gutenburg ebook of International Congress of Arts and Science, 1906, Volume 1, edited by Howard J. Rogers". Retrieved 2017-01-19. 
  7. ^ a b "/cuarchives/resources/almaearly/alma20cent.html "Alma Mater: In the 20th Century". Retrieved January 18, 2017. 
  8. ^ White, Norval; Willensky, Elliot & Leadon, Fran (2010), AIA Guide to New York City (5th ed.), New York: Oxford University Press, ISBN 9780195383867 , p. 497.

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