William T. Patten

William T. Patten was born August 10th, 1867, on a homestead farm in Sullivan County, Indiana. Several members of his family served in the Union Army during the Civil War, including his father, grandfather, and four uncles. He attended school sporadically while working on his family's farm and then taught in the county schools for two years before enrolling at Indiana University at the age of 21. Patten was a diligent student. While working his way through college he also found time to participate in oratorical contests and to serve as associate editor of the Indiana Student newspaper. He received his AB degree in 1893 in history and maintained his interest in the subject throughout his life.
After graduation, William Patten settled in Indianapolis, where he made a career in real estate and politics, including service as county auditor. During the First World War he was deeply involved in relief efforts organized by the Red Cross and the Salvation Army. He remained appreciative of the educational opportunities that IU had afforded him, and toward the end of his life established the foundation that bears his name. He died in 1936 following several years of ill health and was buried in Sullivan, Indiana.


The Patten Legacy

In 1931 William T. Patten willed virtually his entire estate to IU. At that time it was the largest single gift ever pledged to the Bloomington campus. The gift was in the form of Liberty war bonds and Indiana municipal and county bonds which were held in trust by the university. Patten, not a wealthy man, received income from the trust funds until his death in 1936 when the university endowed the William T. Patten Foundation. Patten designated his remarkable gift "for the sole purpose of bringing to Indiana University, a succession of persons...of high distinction in some field of learning, or art." A strong supporter of public higher education, he believed that private philanthropy was necessary to enhance its quality.

The Patten Lecture Series

At a time when Indiana University was somewhat isolated and provincial, William T. Patten envisioned the Patten Lectures as a way to enrich the intellectual life of the campus.

The Patten Lectures remain the preeminent lecture series on the Bloomington campus. Since the first Patten Lecture by the German business economist Alfred Manes in 1937, more than 200 world-renowned scholars have lectured at Indiana University under the auspices of the Patten Foundation. Noted specialists in their fields, speakers have been chosen for their ability to convey the significance of their work to a general audience. Among the earliest lecturers were the English biologist Julian Huxley, the Belgian-American historian of science George Sarton, the British political scientist Harold J. Laski, and the American composer Roy Harris. Later visitors have included the writers Jorge Luis Borges and Toni Morrison, the feminist theorists Donna Haraway and Evelyn Fox Keller, the linguist Noam Chomsky, the Nobel Peace Laureate Oscar Arias, and the astronomer Geoffrey Marcy.
Chosen by a campus-wide faculty committee, Patten Lecturers have represented over 50 academic departments and programs. The diversity of their presentations, which have included readings of poetry and works-in-progress, is reflected in the following small sampling of past lecture titles to the right.

Until the mid-1970s, Patten Lecturers normally visited the Bloomington campus for six weeks, presenting a series of weekly lectures. Subsequently, the Patten Committee extended the scope of its support to include a Patten Professor who would be in residence for as much as a full semester, and teach as well as deliver two or more public lectures. At present, the committee selects annually several Patten Lecturers who stay on campus for one academic week, during which time they deliver two public lectures and interact with faculty and students in classes and in informal gatherings. Many of the early Patten Lectures were published; however, since the mid-1970s, most have been tape-recorded and are available at the Media and Reserves desk in the Main Library. Many recent lectures are also available for viewing.

I have always been proud to be a Hoosier. I am proud to be a graduate of our great Hoosier state university. Whenever you find Indiana University alumni, you find men and women who are taking an important place in the affairs of their community—college presidents, teachers, doctors, lawyers, business and professional leaders, home makers.  

William T. Patten

MARY TILTON 1942–2006 Former Executive Director of the Patten Foundation

For thirty years until her unexpected death in December 2006, Mary Coffman Tilton served as the Executive Director of the Patten Foundation.

During her tenure, she welcomed such renowned scholars and leaders as writers Umberto Eco and Toni Morrison, linguist Noam Chomsky, astrophysicist Jeremiah P. Ostriker, Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, Indian development economist Amartya Sen, zoologist John Richard Krebs, and composer Joan Tower.

Mary’s commitment to the IU and Bloomington community did not , however, stop at the Patten steps. Much of her professional, charitable, and volunteer activities centered on music: she held a Bachelor of Arts degree in music from Wooster College and a Master of Arts degree from the Yale School of Music. Her doctorate degree, in literature and performance of early music, is from the School of Music at Indiana University. A talented harpsichordist, she taught and performed throughout her life, and encouraged the study and appreciation of Baroque music. As president of the board of Early Music Associates, she helped firmly establish the annual Bloomington Early Music Festival. A member of the Trinity Episcopal Church, she performed in the choir.

With great sadness, but with lasting appreciation, Indiana University—and the Patten Foundation in particular—honor Mary Tilton and her contribution to enriching all of our lives.

A tree has been planted in her memory near the southeast corner of the Musical Arts Center. Click here for map. A music scholarship endowment, the Mary Coffman Tilton Memorial Fund, has also been recently established. Those interested in making a gift to this fund may do so by contacting the IU Foundation: 812-855-8311 or 800-558-8311.

Education is our outstanding asset. Our American system of education is what has made these United States one of the outstanding nations of the world... Education is our surest guarantee of maintaining our present high standing and of providing for our future advancement.

William T. Patten