Filed Under Traditions

SU's Bells: Trash or Treasure?

The South Western Bell & the Rutersville Bell, revered today, have not always been considered so important.

Today, Southwestern holds near and dear the traditions and values of its two bells, the South Western Bell and the Rutersville Bell. But, this has not necessarily always been the case.

For reference, the South Western Bell sits outside the Charline and Red McCombs Campus Center, and the Rutersville Bell sits underneath the stairs in the McCombs Campus Center’s Rockwell Rotunda when it is not being used ceremonially at SU community events. The Rutersville Bell is involved in presidential inaugurations, matriculation, and commencement ceremonies, as it rings five times at these ceremonies to signify SU and its four root colleges. So, I assume that the vast majority of Southwestern students are perhaps more familiar with this bell and its practices of tradition than the South Western Bell.

The South Western bell sits dormant in a roundabout of the sidewalk near the Academic Mall, unable to be rung. Even with its dormancy, the plaque that rests below the bell asserts the bell’s ties to “university history, traditions, and culture.” With this claim, and with the ceremonial practices of the Rutersville Bell, one would think that Southwestern has always cherished its roots, traditions, and possessions tied to these bells… but that is not exactly the case.

With the selling of Old Campus (where the South Western Bell was first in use for the University), Southwestern’s administration attempted to sell the bell “for the best possible price,” for over three months. When nobody took up this offer, the administration put the bell out of use, storing it in dormant and off-campus spaces for many years (see other pins in this theme of Placing Memory to read its full story).

Ironically enough, the Rutersville Bell, SU’s other claimed symbol of community ties, was also once put on the market. After the Rutersville College building was dismantled in 1895, the bell was transferred to the Methodist Episcopal Church of the Southern German Conference. After staying dormant there for over forty years, the bell was then purchased in 1943 by Dr. D. E. Sloan, for the Memorial Baptist Church of Houston. He claims that the bell “was advertised for sale in a Houston paper in the middle forties,” and as a former SU student himself, he took up the offer.

To me, this signifies a greater issue within Southwestern’s practices of recalling history and is an exemplar of why this Placing Memory project is crucial. Oftentimes, Southwestern seems to claim items and events such as these bells, through modern plaques or practices, without delving into the entire history or story of those items and events, and smoothing over contradictions while claiming them as the institution’s own. With this case of the two Southwestern bells, claims to longevity are made, but the stories that are retold exempt parts that may admit to a time where “history, traditions, and culture,” were not sustained.

The pin for this entry is situated at the site of the original Physical Plant Warehouse, where maintenance materials and equipment are stored, which was located to just to the north of LK Hall for years before being relocated to its current location on North Campus. Both bells, after being reclaimed by Southwestern’s administration, spent time in this warehouse before being reinstated into campus practices/displays. Although uncovering the “truth” about these bells may seem minuscule, the practice of misremembering or forgoing parts of our history points to the need for this kind of research.

Images

Two Bells--South Western and Rutersville Source: creator Creator: Teddy Hoffman Date: 2023

Location

Metadata

Teddy Hoffman '24, “SU's Bells: Trash or Treasure?,” Placing Memory, accessed June 15, 2024, https://placingmemory.southwestern.edu/items/show/35.