University of Pittsburgh
May 17, 2006

Pitt's Nationality Rooms Program to Celebrate 80th Anniversary

The Pittsburgh "Cookie Table," featuring the world's most diverse selection of specialties, ethnic dance performances, and revelers in national dress will highlight festivities
Contact:  412-624-4147

PITTSBURGH-To celebrate the 80th anniversary of the University of Pittsburgh's Nationality Rooms Program and to honor the many immigrants who sacrificed their hard-earned funds and time to create and give the 26 beautifully appointed classrooms to the University, a celebration will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. June 11 in the Cathedral of Learning Commons Room, Fifth Avenue, Oakland.

In keeping with a time-honored Pittsburgh tradition, the world's most diverse "cookie table" with an assortment of delectable treats, including Indian Naan Khatai and Greek Kourabiedes baked by Nationality Room representatives, will be available for sampling. Copies of the cookie recipes also will be available. Chinese, Greek, Indian, Filipino, and Scandinavian dancers will perform, and various Nationality Room chairs and committee members will appear in national dress at the event. The rooms will be open to visitors during the afternoon.

The Nationality Rooms Program, begun in 1926 under the direction of Ruth Crawford Mitchell, provided the spiritual and symbolic foundation for the 42-story Gothic tower, which houses the Nationality Rooms. A long-time dream of Pitt Chancellor John G. Bowman, the Cathedral of Learning has long been known as the world's tallest schoolhouse. Ground was broken for the Cathedral in 1926, but construction was delayed by the Depression, and the building would not be dedicated until 1937.

Responding to an invitation by Bowman, nationality communities throughout the Pittsburgh area were asked to create classrooms that would represent highly creative periods or aspects of their heritage. Members of churches, schools, and fraternal, labor, and social organizations worked to finance the rooms and to present them as gifts to the University, where their descendents would be educated. The 26 Nationality Rooms encircling the Cathedral's Commons Room were completed between 1938 and 2000.

Among the documents placed in the Cathedral's cornerstone, set in 1937, is a copper plate engraved with a proclamation written by the Nationality Room committee chairs to the University. During the June 11 celebration, E. Maxine Bruhns, Nationality Rooms Program director since 1966, and representatives from each room will participate in a rededication of this proclamation, which reads: Faith and peace are in their hearts. Good will has brought them together. Like the Magi of ancestral traditions and the shepherds of candid simplicity, they offer their gifts of what is precious, genuine, and their own, to truth that shines forever and enlightens all people."

Rendered in wood and glass, iron and stone, fabric, color, and words, the Nationality Rooms hold a treasure trove of original or reproduced pieces from each of the countries they represent. All room designs predate 1787, the founding date of the University.

Artifacts from the London House of Commons, destroyed in the 1941World War II bombings, grace the English Nationality Room, dedicated in 1952. The room includes the fireplace from the Aye Lobby framed by the original linen fold paneling bearing the initials VR, for Victoria Regina. (More of these original artifacts can be found here than anywhere in the world). The floor mosaic in the Israel Heritage Room, dedicated in 1987, replicates the festival symbols segment of the sixth century mosaic in Beth Alpha Synagogue. A few original tesserae from Beth Alpha were placed in the Eternal Light symbol of this mosaic.

The African Heritage Room, dedicated in 1988, is the first room to represent a continent. Its design is inspired by an Asante temple courtyard in Ghana. Above the blackboard is a quotation by the queen of Sheba in Geez, "For I desire wisdom." The entrance door features carvings from Africa's ancient kingdoms of Egypt, Nubia, Ethiopia, Benin, Kongo/Angola, Kuba, Mali, and Zimbabwe.

The last completed classroom is the Indian Room, dedicated in 2000. The fourth and fifth century Buddhist Monastic University of Nalanda served as the inspiration for the room's design. The three murals reflect that women were admitted to this ancient university.

Several rooms are in the planning phase. They are Danish, Finnish, Latin American/Caribbean, Philippine, Swiss, Thai, Turkish, and Welsh.

To RSVP for the event, call 412-624-6150.

Nationality Rooms

In 1926, ground was broken for the Cathedral of Learning. Keeping pace with the energy and idealism that gave form to this soaring structure was the University of Pittsburgh Nationality Rooms Program, under the direction of Ruth Crawford Mitchell. Pittsburgh's ethnic communities raised funds and helped create these internationally famous Nationality Rooms as gifts to the University. Of museum quality, often designed by architects from the country they represent, the 26 classrooms adapt Classical, Byzantine, Romanesque, Baroque, Renaissance, Tudor, Empire, Minka, and folk styles to recreate the country's cultural periods prior to 1787, the year the University was founded. Today E. Maxine Bruhns directs the Nationality Rooms Program. There are eight rooms in the planning phase.

Existing Nationality Rooms

African Heritage (1989)

Armenian (1988)

Austrian (1996)

Chinese (1939)

Czechoslovak (1939)

Early American (1938)

English (1952)

French (1943)

German (1938)

Greek (1941)

Hungarian (1939)

Indian (2000)

Irish (1957)

Israel Heritage (1987)

Italian (1949)

Japanese (1999)

Lithuanian (1940)

Norwegian (1948)

Polish (1940)

Romanian (1943)

Russian (1938)

Scottish (1938)

Swedish (1938)

Syria-Lebanon (1941)

Ukrainian (1990)

Yugoslav (1939)

Rooms in Planning



Latin American / Caribbean






Cathedral of Learning

The Cathedral of Learning is a historic landmark. Long known as the world's tallest schoolhouse, it is the second-tallest education building in the world—42 stories and 535 feet tall. It also is the geographic center and traditional heart of the University of Pittsburgh's campus.

Begun by Chancellor John G. Bowman in 1926 and dedicated in 1937, the building was realized with the help of generous contributions from men, women, and children throughout the region and the world. At the peak of the Depression, when funding for the project became especially challenging, school children were encouraged to contribute a dime to "buy a brick."

In addition to the magnificent three-story "Commons Room" at ground level, the Cathedral of Learning also contains classrooms (including the internationally renowned Nationality Classrooms), the University's administrative offices, libraries, a computer center, a restaurant, and offices and classrooms for many liberal arts departments.

The Cookie Table

No traditional Pittsburgh wedding, shower, or momentous occasion would be complete without the veritable "cookie table." The wide variety of cookies at these occasions, baked mostly by family members and friends, include Pizzelles, Ladylocks, Biscotti, Thumbprints, and Nut Rolls. Although the exact origin is not known—many ethnic groups who settled in Pittsburgh claim it as their own—most fully accept the tradition. Newcomers to the Pittsburgh area sometimes are surprised by the custom yet, in time, willingly embrace it.