The first officially acknowledged museum on the Indiana University campus opened its doors in 1943. For the next 20 years the institution acquired objects and exhibited them to the public, but was not formally chartered by Indiana University. After much urging by faculty from the Department of Anthropology and other university administrators, the Indiana University Museum was created under the directorship of Wesley R. Hurt, in 1963.
In December 1965, the museum opened its first exhibit, and by 1970, the museum’s collections and exhibits had expanded to the point that a move into a new building was necessary. Improved facilities and additional storage and exhibition space led the museum staff to apply for accreditation by the American Association of Museums. The accreditation was awarded to the museum in July 1971.
Ten years later the museum prepared for a new home. In October 1980, the groundbreaking ceremony was held for the William Hammond Mathers Museum--the institution being renamed in honor of the youngest son of Dr. Frank C. Mathers. Dr. Mathers, a chemistry professor at IU, was the principal building fund donor for the new facility. In April of 1983, the building was dedicated, and for the first time, the institution's collections and exhibits were housed in a facility specifically designed for museum purposes.
In July 1983, Dr. Geoffrey W. Conrad accepted the directorship of the William Hammond Mathers Museum and served as the director until 2012. During those decades, the museum's range of programming and exhibits increased. In 2013, Jason Baird Jackson was appointed director of the Mathers Museum of World Cultures, as the institution began its 50th year.