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The Woman Behind The IU Trident

A person holding an old book with an illustration of various sports-related elements and an IU trident with a star in the sky.
KDVD's illustration in the 1898 Arbutus yearbook. Photo by Ben Meraz.

When Maura Young Johnston, BA’97, MIS’99, received her 2021 edition of Imagine magazine, something caught her eye. “I saw your mystery and went looking,” she wrote in an email to the Imagine editor. “I’m a genealogist and a librarian and love a good mystery.”

Johnston was intrigued by “Who Is KDVD? An IU History Mystery,” a story that took a closer look at Indiana University Archives image P0026900. The image is an illustration from the 1898 Arbutus yearbook. According to the image description, this illustration features the first-known appearance of the interlocking I and U symbol, or as we know it: the IU trident.

The trouble was, the artist signed the piece with only their initials: KDVD. “Who was KDVD?” we wondered.

IU Libraries University Archives Curator of Photographs Brad Cook suspected that KDVD was an artist for the Indiana Illustrator Company, which provided many of the illustrations in the yearbook that year. The designer of Imagine hypothesized that the illustrator might be Indiana artist Will Vawter, born in 1871.

But it wasn’t until Johnston emailed us that the answer started to become clear.

A smiling woman with short, dark hair parted on the side.
Alumna Maura Young Johnston, BA’97, MIS’99, helped identify the artist KDVD using skills she was taught as an IU library student. Photo by Ben Meraz.

A Break in the Case

“I think KDVD might be Katherine Devol Van Dusen Danenhower,” Johnston wrote.

Johnston had found an obituary in the September 4, 1938, edition of The Knoxville News-Sentinel. The obituary said that Mrs. Katherine V. Danenhower was born in 1873 in New Albany and had attended schools in Indiana and studied art.

“In 1900, she was living in New Albany with her parents at age 24. That makes her approximately 22 at the time of the yearbook,” Johnston wrote. “Could she have been a student at IU at that time?”

We connected Johnston with Cook from the University Archives, who delved into historical documents housed at one of IU’s climate-controlled preservation and storage facilities. It seemed like we were right on track to solving this mystery. Then we got another email.

An Alternate Theory

This new email, signed by Lisa Scully, Ethan Bernhardt, and Monte O’Neal (staff from IU’s Office of Enrollment Management), introduced us to Margaret “Maggie” Wylie Mellette, the daughter of the cousin of Andrew Wylie, IU’s first president.

“[Maggie] was very artistic and is credited with creating the IU trident logo, which she painted on a teacup that is now on display in the Wylie House,” Scully wrote in the email.

“We hope that the original trident artist will receive her due, and we wish you the best of success on solving this puzzle,” concluded the email. “Thank you for helping keep the history of IU alive and reminding us of those whose footsteps we follow.”

Once again, we connected these intrepid IU history investigators with Cook from the IU Archives. Turns out, the teacup in question at the Wylie House is from Christmas 1901, a few years too late to be the first-known appearance of the IU trident.

With that red herring out of the way, the identification of KDVD as Katherine Devol Van Dusen Danenhower became even more plausible. Within just a few days of Johnston’s first email with her hypothesis, we had our answer.

Mystery Solved

Yellowed newspaper clipping that reads, "Miss Van Dusen, the artist on the '98 Arbutus is in Brooklyn studying art."
The “smoking gun” from the October 6, 1898, edition of The Indiana Daily Student. Courtesy of IU Archives.

“We are all set now on just who KDVD was, and I attach the smoking gun from the October 6, 1898, edition of The Indiana Daily Student (known as The Student at that time),” Cook wrote in an email. “How LUCKY could we get with such a short blip in the paper?”

“KDVD was definitely Katherine Devol Van Dusen (Mrs. Washington Danenhower),” Cook declared.

Cook thanked Johnston for her initial research, writing, “[I] could not have confirmed this without the work you did first.”

“I think the coolest part for me is that I found Katherine using skills I was specifically taught by the IU Library School,” Johnston wrote.

“Katherine deserves a place of honor for her contribution,” Johnston continued. “Just today, out and about, I probably saw a couple of dozen IU tridents on IU branded merch. It’s a profound legacy.”


If you enjoy stories like this, we invite you to make a gift to the University Archives, part of the IU Libraries on the IU Bloomington campus.

This story appeared in the 2022 issue of Imagine magazine.

Written By

Andrea Alumbaugh

A native Hoosier, Andrea Alumbaugh is a graduate of IU (BAJ’08) and a senior writer at the IU Foundation.

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