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Volunteer Symbol Committee Papers

Identifier: AR-0776

  • Staff Only

The first three folders in this collection remain with original organization intact. The first folder contains the 1931 Volunteer Symbol Competition Program as presented by the University of Tennessee’s All-Student’s Club. Inside, a short paragraph on the meaning of the Volunteer Symbol and a page on the conditions of the competition are found. The second folder contains mixed materials relating to the history of the Torchbearer. The third folder contains entry blanks for voting in the Volunteer Symbol competition, as well as correspondence, rough drafts, and regulation materials directly related to the competition and use of the symbol following the competition.

Folders 5-38 contain correspondence sorted by decade and organized chronologically within by month and year of the decade. Correspondence in the 1920s is primarily concerned with the planning of the Volunteer Symbol Competition. In the 1930s, correspondence covers a broad range of topics that can be categorized as relating to the competition itself, the resulting usage of the symbol, quote requests to foundries for creating the larger model of the Torchbearer, quotes for creation of smaller Torchbearer replicas for sale, and requests and receipts for these smaller models upon creation. Correspondence in the 1940s and '50s is centered upon inquiries for quotes regarding the price of creating the larger statue. In the 1960s correspondence is still yet focused on price inquiries, finally resulting in the creation of the statue. It ends with correspondence related to the unveiling of the Torchbearer.

The final folder in this collection contains other, undated materials relating to the Torchbearer. This folder contains various pictures, posters, and cutouts of the Torchbearer, many drafts of interpretations and articles relating to the Torchbearer, and some papers merely scrawled with price estimations, dimensions, directions, or notes.


  • 1929 - 1968


This collection is in English.

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Conditions Governing Use

The UT Libraries claims only physical ownership of most material in the collections. Persons wishing to broadcast or publish this material must assume all responsibility for identifying and satisfying any claimants on for detailed information. Collections must be requested through a registered Special Collections research account.


0.5 Linear Feet ([1 half box])


The Volunteer Symbol Committee Papers Collection documents approximately 40 years of the history of the University of Tennessee's Torchbearer statue, with correspondence headed by Robert W. Frost, General Secretary of the Christian Associations following the merger of the YMCA and YWCA. The collection contains correspondence relating to the Volunteer Symbol Competition, production and sale of Torchbearer replicas, inquiries regarding the price of creating the larger statue, and documentation of the final unveiling. This collection also contains programs, historical documents, entry blanks and rough drafts for publications, and mixed materials such as pictures, posters, articles, and price estimations.

Biographical/Historical Note

This collection is a compilation of papers from the Volunteer Symbol Committee that documents the history of the University of Tennessee’s Torchbearer statue. Ralph W. Frost headed the Volunteer Symbol Competition and subsequent acquisition of a life-size Torchbearer over three decades: Frost returned to UT after graduation in the year 1926 to work as Assistant Secretary of the YMCA under Vic Davis and was promoted to general secretary in 1928. He became the General Secretary of the Christian Associations after the merger of the YMCA and YWCA in 1934, and retired in 1970.

A Volunteer Symbol Competition was announced by the All-Students Club in May of 1930, raising $1,000 for prospective design of a symbol representing UT’s dedication to service. Specifically, the competition program details a call for a symbol that specifically represents “a youth holding a torch of intellectual and spiritual liberty […] (portraying) the spirit of volunteer service not only in times of war but in the economic, social, intellectual, and spiritual development of the Commonwealth.”

One year later, Yale student sculptor Theodore Andre Beck won the competition, citing UT traditions of Torch Night and Aloha-Oe as inspirations for his creation. Upon securing copyright privileges in 1932, the Torchbearer appeared in the Volunteer Yearbook, on the freshman handbook, and on university stationary. Six-inch tall replicas were also reproduced and sold. Beck’s original design (a three-foot tall plaster figure and miniature torch) burned from the hand to elbow during the 1934 Aloha-Oe event.

Unfortunately, the Great Depression and World War II contributed to financial constraint and funding issues that ultimately delayed creation of the actualized nine-foot tall statue until its formal unveiling in April of 1968. The Torchbearer’s debut was met with controversy, with students protesting the “archaic” design of statue. Since then, the Torchbearer has endured the elements, construction projects, vandalism, and an energy crisis; in the 1970’s, university officials shut down the natural gas line fueling the Torchbearer’s flame in efforts to conserve energy. This was not the only period in which the flame has been extinguished, however: in addition to occasional strong winds putting out the flame, in the summer of 2015 Torchbearer Plaza and Circle Park renovations resulted in the Torchbearer remaining unlit as a safety precaution.

Previous Citation

This collection was previously listed as part of AR.0164: University Christian Association Records.

Repository Details

Part of the Betsey B. Creekmore Special Collections and University Archives, University of Tennessee, Knoxville Repository

University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Knoxville TN 37996 USA