The University's motto of "Learning and Labor", honored so eloquently in Regent Gregory's 1873 University Hymn, finds physical elegance in Lorado Taft's Alma Mater sculpture. Unveiled on Alumni Day, June 11, 1929,  the statue depicts "a benign and majestic woman in scholastic robes, who rises from her throne and advances a step with outstretched arms, a gesture of generously greeting her children".  Behind her stand the twin figures of Labor and Learning, joining hands in a bronze incarnation of the University's motto. At its base, two quotes are inscribed into the granite: To thy happy children of the future, those of the past send greetings, and Her children arise up and call her Blessed - Proverbs 31-28. At Labor's feet rests a map book and rumor holds that within its pages can be seen an early map of campus. In fact, closer inspection reveals that the markings are generic engineering symbols.
Conceived in 1922,  Alma Mater was cast in 1929 by the American Art Bronze Foundry and Jules Berchem and Sons, Chicago  and paid for by donations by the Alumni Fund and the classes of 1923, 1924, 1925, 1926, 1927, 1928, and 1929.  It was crafted by Taft as "his gift to the University in commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of his graduation".  The Alma Mater rests on a granite pedestal conceived by Charles Platt. 
The statue was originally placed directly behind the Auditorium and at night spotlights cast twin shadows of Labor and Learning onto the rear wall of the Auditorium, making them truly larger than life.  By 1962, the Alumni Association had been in internal discussions for 3-4 years  to find a new campus location for the statue and at its Board of Directors meeting on June 2, 1962, it approved the location suggested by the Physical Plant Department  of "area in front of Altgeld Hall and the Illini Union facing the intersection of Wright and Green Streets"  and voted to provide the funding to move the statue. On June 20, 1962,   the Alumni Association made a formal presentation to the Board of Trustees about moving the statue. Following its public announcement of the proposed move, "a number of letters were received from students objecting to the proposed relocation of the statuary, and some letters were received from alumni and others in support of the change".  Finally, on August 22, 1962, the sculpture was moved to its present location in front of Altgeld. 
The long flowerbed stretching from the front of the Alma Mater to the corner of Greet Street and Wright Street is known as the Alma Mater Plaza. It was donated by Atius, the Sophomore Activities Honorary Society, and Sachem, the Junior Activities Honorary Society. Monetary support was provided by the classes of 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, and 1991.