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Our History

Occuli

The Indiana Historical Society is one of the United States' oldest and largest historical societies. Indiana's Storyteller™ is housed within the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center, located at 450 W. Ohio St. in downtown Indianapolis in The Canal and White River State Park Cultural District with neighbors such as the Indiana State Museum and the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art. We are the oldest state historical society west of the Allegheny Mountains.

Since 1830, IHS has connected people to the past by collecting, preserving, interpreting and sharing the state's history. A private, nonprofit membership organization, IHS maintains the nation's premier research library and archives on the history of Indiana and the Old Northwest. IHS also provides support and assistance to local museums and historical groups, publishes books and periodicals; sponsors teacher workshops; and provides youth, adult and family programming, including Indiana's participation in National History Day. We also appoint and train 92 county historians. IHS opened a new 165,000-square-foot headquarters in downtown Indianapolis in July 1999, built on the site of the prior Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church.

The Beginning

The Indiana Historical Society was started on Dec. 11, 1830, which was the 14th anniversary of Indiana statehood. A collection of Indianapolis movers and shakers decided to start a historical society and sought to obtain many objects relating to Indiana's history. The goal was to hold a “collection of all materials calculated to shed light on the natural, civil, and political history of Indiana, the promotion of useful knowledge and the friendly and profitable intercourse of such citizens of the state as are disposed to promote the aforesaid objects.”

In 1831, the Indiana General Assembly granted IHS a charter. In the few years afterward, two of IHS’s prevalent backers died, and between its founding in 1830 and 1886, only 12 annual meetings were held to promote it. Its collections were located in the old Indiana State Bank and old Indiana State Capitol. IHS in those days was described by a historian to be a “a small private club for publishing local history.”

J.P. Dunn
Jacob Piatt Dunn

In 1886, IHS was reorganized under the direction of Jacob Piatt Dunn. With trusted associates, Jacob Dunn started a policy of annual meetings that continues to this day. Dunn was able to motivate Hoosiers of several occupations to gather resources for IHS, focusing on editors, professional historians, lawyers, librarians and writers. Jacob Dunn's attempt to allow women to join IHS failed in 1888. It wasn’t until 1906 that a woman, editor Eliza Browning, would be admitted. Thanks to Dunn, the Indiana Historical Society had an office at the state capitol building from 1888 to 1914.

IHS would continue to affect and be affected by the happenings of the Indiana Historical Bureau (originally the Indiana Historical Commission), the Indiana State Museum and the Indiana State Library. IHS’s executive secretaries acted as directors of the Historical Bureau for more than 50 years, from 1924 to 1976. The 1922 will of philanthropist Delavan Smith allowed IHS to establish its William H, Smith Memorial Library, as he not only willed IHS a vast sum of money, but also a sizable collection of books.

Eliza Browning
Eliza Browning

Beginning in the 1950s, IHS started publishing works related to the history of Indiana. The most important of these was a 1966 multivolume set about the history of Indiana in celebration of the sesquicentennial anniversary of Indiana's statehood. Other notable books included the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Old Northwest in 1950. In 2009, we celebrated the 20th anniversary of our award-winning, quarterly, popular history magazine Traces. We also publish the family history magazine THG: Connections twice a year.

Our Collections

W.H. Smith
William Henry Smith

IHS Collections and the William H. Smith Memorial Library both preserve and make accessible one of the largest archival repositories of material on the history of Indiana and the Old Northwest, including more than 1.7 million photographs, 45,000 cataloged printed items, 3,500 pieces of sheet music, 5,300 processed manuscript collections, 3,300 artifacts, 1,460 cataloged maps, 780 broadsides and 90 paintings. More than 50,000 searchable digital images are currently available on our website.

The IHS collections include many significant items, including Virginia Gov. Patrick Henry's 1778 "secret orders" to Lt. Col. George Rogers Clark to organize troops and capture British forts north of the Ohio River, thus extending the Revolutionary War with the Battle of Vincennes. IHS also holds the Presidential Decree of 1793 to the Wea Tribe of the Miami – near present-day Lafayette – signed by President George Washington and first Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson after Arthur St. Clair's defeat and before the Battle of Fallen Timbers. Other interesting items include a letter from Sarah Harvey in 1835 near Richmond containing several references to "Hooshers" and the earliest original manuscript reference to the word "Hoosiers" at IHS; maps from 1588 and 1801 showing what is now Indiana well before and on the eve of statehoood; and one of the nation's most extensive collections of historical Abraham Lincoln images, plus a rare original page of Lincoln's 1820s sum book he wrote in as a young man in Indiana.

Subject strengths of our collections include Architecture, Agriculture, American Civil War, Business, Communities, Education, Ethnically and Racially Identified Groups, Families, Government, Journalism and Communications, Medicine, Military Affairs, Notable Hoosiers, Old Northwest Territory, Organized Labor, Politics, The Professions, Religion, Social Services, Transportation (including Railroad and Interurban History) and Women.

Operations

The Board of Trustees oversees the operation of the Indiana Historical Society, which includes a staff of approximately 80 working in Administration, Collections, Conservation, Development, Press, Marketing and Public Relations, and Public Programs. They continue to oversee actions to promote the history of Indiana. Official legislation of the Indiana General Assembly provided property to IHS, upon which we constructed the current History Center.

Our current CEO and president, John A. Herbst, joined IHS in September 2006.

Growth

By 1970, the membership of the Indiana Historical Society reached 5,000. The most noted of these was Eli Lilly, whose donations allowed for the building additions in 1976, and whose will helps the general financial welfare of IHS to this day. By 1993, the membership rose to 10,000, with 40 percent of IHS’s members living in the Indianapolis metropolitan area.

Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center

For years, the headquarters was in the Indiana State Library and Historical Building, but in 1999, it moved to its current headquarters along the Central Canal. The 165,000-square-foot building includes a 300-seat theater, the William H. Smith Memorial Library, a vault to house IHS's priceless collections, the Stardust Terrace Café, Conservation and Preservation Imaging labs, classrooms, Basile History Market, the Cole Porter Room, Eli Lilly Hall and several interactive experience spaces.

In December 2007, we launched our Campaign for the Indiana Experience and renamed the building the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center in honor of the Glicks’ gift to the campaign. The History Center was renovated in 2009 and reopened March 20, 2010 with the Indiana Experience, a new way to live history.