History & Traditions

History & Traditions

For more than 130 years, Drake has been a place for forward-thinking leaders, and it all started with our founders: George T. Carpenter, a teacher and preacher with a fresh educational vision, and Francis Marion Drake, a Union general in the Civil War, a railroad magnate, and a governor of Iowa.

Together they founded a university that expanded traditional study in theology and Classics to include science, law, and other fields. Coeducational from the start and welcoming students of all races, we enrolled our first international students within five years of our founding—welcoming arrivals from China, Persia, Armenia, and Japan.

The decades that followed saw progress of every kind:

Programs expanded—from a one building college with 77 students to the nationally recognized University we know today, comprised of seven colleges and schools.

The University made architectural history—with the work of renowned architects Eero and Eliel Saarinen—visionary designers of Drake’s campus plan and several University buildings.

Strong leaders extended Drake’s progress—from Daniel Morehouse, an astronomer who discovered a comet that bears his name, to Earl F. "Marty" Martin, who leads the University today.

Drake basked in the national spotlight—when President Harry Truman visited and later President Bill Clinton; when athletes like Carl Lewis, Michael Johnson, and LoLo Jones appeared at the Drake Relays; and when nationally televised presidential campaign debates brought candidates of both parties to Drake in 2007 and Republican presidential candidates in 2011.

Athletes excelled—including All-American running back Johnny Bright in 1951; the 1969 men’s basketball team, which made it to the NCAA Final Four; Lewis Lloyd, in 1981, who went on to an NBA career; and Lindsay Whorton in 2009, a basketball standout and Drake’s most recent Rhodes Scholar.

Traditions deepened and evolved—to encompass an eclectic array of social and athletic events.

  • Street Painting—a colorful way for members of student organizations to decorate areas of Carpenter Avenue (and often each other)
  • Hubbelling—a winter downhill sport named for the trays from Hubbell Dining Hall, which for years took the place of traditional sleds
  • Drake Relays—going strong since 1910, when the first Relays were held in a blizzard; a magnet for the greatest track and field athletes in the world ever since
  • Kissing Rock—once a favorite spot of sweethearts under a historic campus elm tree, and still a popular meeting point—minus the elm, which was lost to disease in 1969
  • Homecoming—a weeklong celebration with a carnival, a picnic, window painting (and a football game)
  • Beautiful Bulldog Contest—a pageant drawing proud pups and owners from across the country, with the winner honored as the official mascot of the Drake Relays

Of course, the great thing about traditions is that there is always room for new ones, as creative Drake students keep demonstrating.