Alma Mater (New York sculpture)

Daniel Chester French Four Continents (French) New York City
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Alma Mater
2014 Columbia University Alma Mater closeup.jpg
ArtistDaniel Chester French
Dimensions2.6 m × 1.8 m × 1.9 m (8.6 ft × 5.9 ft × 6.2 ft)
LocationNew York City
CoordinatesCoordinates: 40°48′28.2″N 73°57′43.7″W / 40.807833°N 73.962139°W / 40.807833; -73.962139
OwnerColumbia University

Alma Mater is a bronze sculpture 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. It is a personification of the traditional image of the University as an alma mater, or "nourishing mother". French designed the statue in 1901 and installed it in September, 1903.[1] It was donated in memory of alumnus Robert Goelet of the Class of 1860 by his wife, Harriette W. Goelet.[2] Alma Mater has become a symbol of the university.

An owl, a symbol of knowledge and learning,[2] is hidden in the folds of Alma Mater's cloak near her left leg[3] 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.[4][1] Over time, the original gilding wore off and the few remaining flakes were removed in 1950.[5] In 1962, the University made the decision to have the gilding reapplied; however, the new gilding was removed after protests.[6]

Alma Mater in 2020

In the early morning hours of May 15, 1970, a bomb was planted on the statue. The resulting explosion caused significant damage to Alma Mater's throne.[7] 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.[5]


  1. ^ a b "Unveiling Alma Mater | Public Outdoor Sculpture at Columbia". Retrieved 2017-01-19.
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ Durante, Dianne. Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan: A Historical Guide (New York University Press, 2007), p. 230.
  4. ^ "The Project Gutenburg ebook of International Congress of Arts and Science, 1906, Volume 1, edited by Howard J. Rogers". Retrieved 2017-01-19.
  5. ^ a b "Alma Mater: In the 20th Century". Retrieved April 27, 2019.
  6. ^ White, Norval; Willensky, Elliot & Leadon, Fran (2010). AIA Guide to New York City (5th ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. p. 497. ISBN 978-0-19538-386-7.
  7. ^ "Jackson Police Fire on Students" (May 15, 1970), The New York Times.