Dartmouth Moves Offensive Murals into Storage

Photo: Hood Museum/Dartmouth College

After decades of debate about what to do with the so-called Hovey Murals, Dartmouth has decided to move them from a former grill room in the campus dining hall into an off-campus storage facility. The Hovey murals, painted in 1938-39,  consist of four painted scenes depicting Dartmouth’s founding, inspired by a drinking song written by Richard Hovey, Class of 1885. In more modern times the murals were seen as offensive to Native Americans and women. 

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“Native Americans have long pointed out that the caricatures in the Hovey panels reflect white fantasies and stereotypes but bear little resemblance to Native peoples past or present,” said Prof. Colin Calloway, in a Dartmouth news release.

"In the first panel, (Dartmouth founder Eleazer) Wheelock, pulling along a five-hundred-gallon barrel of rum, is happily greeted by young American Indian men, whom he introduces to drunken revelry. The encounter, which takes place as the mural circles the grill room, also features many half-naked Indian women, one of whom reads Eleazer’s copy of Gradus ad Parnassum upside down," is how the murals are described on the Hood Museum's website.

 “The derogatory images in the Hovey murals convey disturbing messages that are incompatible with Dartmouth’s mission and values,” President Hanlon says. “Moving them off-campus to Hood storage is the right thing to do.”

Dartmouth did not make the move in haste. Last spring a committee was formed to consider the fate of the murals. The study group’s recommendation was “compelled by our institutional commitment to diversity and inclusion, our historic charter commitment to the education of Native American students and our dedication to preserving even offensive art works for critical examination and research.” 

But that was only the latest chapter in a long story.

The former grill room was locked beginning in the early 1970s, and the murals were covered with boards from the early 1980s to the 1990s. Since 2011, access to the murals has been restricted to use for teaching by faculty and museum staff. Over the last 7 years, the murals have been seen by more than 50 classes taught by 28 faculty members.

Click here to view images of the murals.

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