Freshman Ben Kane had not noticed the crumbling concrete statues until the Campus Times had asked him about them. The set of statues outside of Meliora Hall and the Simon School of Business are lesser known—or, at least, unnoticed—despite the relative ease of finding information on the general history of the campus.
Having been moved to the River Campus when the University relocated from Prince Street in 1930, these statues have been on campus since the very beginning. Nevertheless, while reference to the sphinxes outside the tunnel entrance between Lattimore and Morey receive reactions of familiarity from students, the “Meliora Madams” are remembered a little differently—if they are remembered at all.
There were originally eight statues, commissioned from Europe by industrialist Hiram Sibley, but legend has it that two of the statues were lost while being transferred by boat in either the Hudson or the Erie Canal. One group of statues are located on the third-floor terrace in front of Meliora Hall. These are known as the “Meliora Madams,” which originally stood outside of Sibley Library on the original Prince Street campus. Each of them holds a different artifact, so that each “Madam” is meant to symbolize a different branch of knowledge: Navigation (a chart), Geography (a globe), Astronomy (a smaller globe), Science (holding three books and a magnifying glass), Commerce (three links of chain), and one unnamed statue with her hand placed on a wheel, similar to the Industry statue on the grand staircases inside Rush Rhees library.
Only four of the six statues remain, as two of them are said to have been lost when Sibley Hall was razed in 1968. The Class of 1954 sponsored the restoration of the statues and their placement on the River Campus in 1980.
Despite the restoration, the statues are in a state of modest disrepair today. “They definitely need to be redone”, said Freshman Emily Martell, in reference to their crumbling features.
“Commerce” was only returned to the University in the past few years, as it had been in the backyard of Toronto resident and former UR English Professor James Carley. He was offered one of the statues in 1977 by then-Vice President and Associate Provost Frank Dowd. The statue now stands in the Florescue von Manstein Plaza, the courtyard between Dewey Hall and the Simon School of Business, in tribute to the study of business and commerce.