Rites of Spring – Indiana University May Festival

As springtime bloomed across Indiana University in 1908, an Indiana Daily Student reporter eagerly previewed an upcoming campus event. “Dainty maids in the picturesque garb of the English peasant or the flaxen-haired Norwegian will dance the complex, but graceful folk dances of long ago.” Who were these “dainty maids” and what was this dazzling-sounding spectacle? The new Indiana University May Festival collection (C693) at the University Archives tells us a history of a vernal campus tradition. Importantly, the Indiana University May Festival became an active space for female student participation in the early twentieth century.

A scene from the 1924 May Festival, IU Archives photograph. Eight women dance in a field.
A scene from the 1924 May Festival, IU Archives no. P0026270

The IU May Festival began in earnest in 1905, when the IU Lecture Association organized an event featuring orchestral and choral performances in the Men’s Gymnasium. A cantata rendition of “The Swan and the Skylark” and ballet music from Faust evoked a springtime feeling. Despite glowing reviews, the IULA-hosted May Festival suffered from poor student participation. An Indiana Daily Student reporter expressed disappointment in 1906: “The small attendance is inconceivable. If the singers of Bloomington and the University knew what the chorus is doing, there would be a regular attendance of 200 instead of 30 or 40.” The event satisfied a Bloomington audience, but didn’t impact enough IU students at the time.

Section of the program for the 1905 May Festival, IU Archives
Section of the program for the 1905 May Festival, IU Archives C693

Beginning in 1908, the Women’s Athletic Association and Department of Physical Education for Women hosted the event in the Women’s Gymnasium for an invitation-only audience. Female students demonstrated exercises like dumbbell handling and club-swinging “with all the vigor and skill of their brothers,” as an IDS reporter noted. In the afternoon, they transformed into “dainty maids” to dance and wind cream and crimson streamers around a tall May Pole. Interestingly, the IDS also notes that only a small number of male students received invitations to the 1908 event.

This iteration of the May Festival was a staple of campus life by the 1920s. By 1922, the Women’s Self-Government Association (WSGA) sponsored an integral feature of the event: the election and crowning of a May Queen. The 1924 May Festival program names Mildred Wight as May Queen, with her heralds Ethel Budrow and Dorothy Tousley. Following a procession with flower girls, crown bearers, maids of honor, and other attendants, “The newly crowned May Queen is entertained by the joyous peasants.” IU students in pastoral garb performed six folk dances for the May Queen, followed by the mythical dance program “Fantasy of Dusk and Dawn.” The programs in this collection show how the all-female May Festival committee staged a mythological renaissance for modern day Bloomington.

Program for the 1924 May Festival, IU Archives C693
Program for the 1924 May Festival, IU Archives C693

By the 1922 May Festival, the WAA and WSGA had moved proceedings to Dunn Meadow. Rather than an invitation-only event in the Women’s Gymnasium, the May Festival had turned into a public performance. This collection also includes a 25-cent ticket for “Sylvia” to attend the Dance Drama portion of the festival at Dunn Meadow in 1927. IDS articles from this time also list the delightful box lunches served to attendees (who could say no to shrimp and mayonnaise sandwiches?) at no cost. One reporter indicated that the WAA and WSGA prepared 800 of these lunches—enough for a huge crowd. The May Festival shows how women at IU transformed a small musical celebration into a popular event that highlighted their talents as athletes, dancers, singers, and artists.

It appears that the WAA and WSGA ceased sponsorship of the May Festival after the 1920s. The last program contained in this collection is from 1928. IU women, however, carried on celebrating the tradition into at least the 1940s, as documented in the IU women’s residence halls scrapbooks. Collection C631, which contains 82 such scrapbooks from 1925-1959, is open for research and offers images from these later unofficial celebrations.

May Day Festival participants Betty Higbee and June Hiatt, 1937. This image scanned from "The Towers" (yearbook / scrapbook / photograph album) compiled by residents of East Memorial Hall when it was a dormitory.
May Day Festival participants Betty Higbee and June Hiatt, 1937. This image scanned from “The Towers” (yearbook / scrapbook / photograph album) compiled by residents of East Memorial Hall when it was a dormitory. IU Archives image no. P0052722

To learn more about the May Festival collection or to view the collection yourself, please feel free to contact the University Archives to set up an appointment.

New at the Archives: Esther Thelen papers 1977-2005

Professional headshot of Esther Thelen
Professional headshot of Esther Thelen, IU Archives P0078703

We are happy to announce that the papers of Esther Thelen (1941-2004), former professor of psychology at Indiana University Bloomington and a prominent figure in the field of developmental psychology, are now available for access at the University Archives.

After receiving her undergraduate degree in zoology from the University of Wisconsin in 1963, Thelen took a break from academia to begin her family before beginning graduate studies in zoology at the University of Missouri. It was there that she took a graduate course in animal behavior, which set off a chain of connections that would eventually lead to her impressive tenure as a professor and scholar in the field of developmental psychology.

Thelen and a tiny research subject during a study on infant coordination
Thelen and a tiny test subject during a study on infant coordination, IU Archives P0078729

While Thelen was conducting a study on the grooming behavior of wasps, the repetitive movements of the wasps reminded her of psychologist J. Piaget’s observation of circular reactions in the movement of human infants. Inspired by this connection, Thelen conducted a descriptive study of 49 different types of repetitive movements in infants, for which she earned her PhD in biological sciences in 1977.

After spending a few years as an assistant professor at the University of Missouri, Thelen came to Indiana University Bloomington as a full professor of psychology in 1985. While at IU, she founded and directed the Infant Motor Development Laboratory, where she and her colleagues studied infant movement, perception, and cognition. With a research output that included three books and over 120 scientific articles and chapters, Thelen made many revelations about infant motor development that influenced scholarship in fields as diverse as pediatric physical therapy, neuroscience, computer science, robotics, and kinesiology.

The Mobile Research Laboratory, a bus containing portable research equipment for the IU Department of Psychology
The Mobile Research Laboratory, a bus containing portable research equipment for the IU Department of Psychology, IU Archives P0078735

Thelen gave talks at universities, conferences, and workshops all over the world, and her influential work was often featured in national media sources. In this 1993 clip from the PBS program Scientific American Frontiers, the cameras follow along as Thelen and her colleagues take a ride in their “Mobile Research Laboratory,” a bus containing portable equipment essential to their studies of infant movement. This Mobile Laboratory enabled Thelen and her colleagues to travel to the homes of their infant research subjects in order to perform their studies remotely. The clip also shows Thelen working with her subjects in the Infant Motor Development Laboratory on campus.

During her tenure at Indiana University Bloomington, Thelen set a new standard for studying motor control and coordination in infants. Her collection at the University Archives includes materials such as personal files and correspondence; documents related to public speaking appearances, publications, and leadership roles in professional organizations and committees; educational materials from psychology courses taught by Thelen; and materials related to Thelen’s research, including handwritten notes, drafts of studies, and original U-Matic videotapes of research subjects.

To learn more about the Esther Thelen papers 1977-2005 or to view the collection yourself, please feel free to contact the University Archives to set up an appointment.

A Processing Story: The Claire Robertson papers, 1964-2012

The Claire Robertson papers, 1964-2012 are now available for research!

Claire C. Robertson (b. 1944) received her B.A. from Carleton College in 1966, her M.A. from the University of Chicago in 1968, and her Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin in 1974. She is the author or editor of eight books and numerous articles on women, class and gender relations, and African studies. Dr. Robertson was a professor at Ohio State University and a visiting scholar and adjunct professor at Indiana University, Bloomington. Robertson’s teaching and research focused primarily on the history and culture of women in Africa and on women’s studies. This collection consists of a portion of Robertson’s teaching materials, her research materials, manuscripts and writings, and other records relating to her career and professional activities. The collection arrived at the University Archives in multiple accessions between 2010 and 2012 totaling over 60 cubic feet of records.


Boxes from the Claire Robertson papers

Archival processing, a term that encompasses the tasks of arrangement and description for the collections in an archive, can often be a time-consuming task. Depending on the size of a collection, the level of organization that a collection has when it is donated to the archive, any preservation issues, and the level of detail which needs described in a finding aid, processing archival collections can take anywhere from a few days, to a few months, or maybe even years! Processing the Claire Robertson papers took some time between 2017 and March 2018 because of the size and condition of the collection.

Archivists often work on multiple tasks at a time. For student processors (like me!) this provides a great chance to learn how to ‘wear many hats’ so to speak. This project was ongoing while I managed other smaller projects and had the opportunity to learn more about different kinds of processing needs for different collections. The end result is an arranged collection and a detailed finding aid to help researchers access all parts of the collection!

Processing the Claire Robertson papers at the IU Archive
Processing the Claire Robertson papers at the IU Archive

The Claire Robertson papers contains materials relating to Robertson’s time in graduate school, her teaching files from classes taught at places other than OSU, manuscripts and drafts of her many articles and books, items relating to her professional activities, and a large amount of research and data that she created and used while writing her books Sharing the Same Bowl and Trouble Shows the Way. Much of her research involved surveying participants in Accra, Ghana and Nairobi, Kenya, and then compiling the data to analyze with a computer. But, in the 1980s and early 1990s computers weren’t very advanced. The print-outs of the computer data fill numerous oversize boxes on their own!

Robertson’s collection contains her drafts, manuscripts, research, and other materials relating to her many books and other publications

As a professor and instructor, Robertson taught history, African studies, and women’s studies courses at a number of universities, including Indiana University, Bloomington. She is also the author or editor of eight books and numerous articles on women, class and gender relations, and African Studies. In 1985, she was the winner of the African Studies Association’s  Herskovits Book Award. In 1987-1988, she held a Fulbright Fellowship to study the development of Kenyan trade and market women in the Nairobi area. Robertson was a professor of history and women’s studies at The Ohio State University for over twenty years, and active on numerous committees and projects.

She also served in various capacities at Indiana University throughout her career. Beginning in 1978 she served as a Faculty Research Associate in the African Studies Program and in 1984 she was the Co-Director of the Office of Women’s Affairs. From 1992 until 1993 she was appointed as a Visiting Scholar in the Women’s Studies Program, and she has since served as a Lecturer and been involved in IU’s Fair Trade Bloomington selling artisan-made items to benefit two projects. The Indiana University Press published her books, Sharing the Same Bowl: A Socioeconomic History of Women and Class in Accra, Ghana in 1984 and Trouble Showed the Way: Women, Men, and Trade in the Nairobi Area, 1890-1990 in 1997. Much of the archival collection consists of Robertson’s data and analysis for her various research projects and publications.

Central Accra Market Photos, 1978, Claire Robertson papers, Collection C633, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.

In Bloomington, Robertson now works on two projects to provide help to children affected by AIDS and to assist women in Kenya. For each of the projects, Ndethya wa Ngutethya Women’s Group and Spurgeon School for AIDS Orphans in Kenya, Robertson raises funds in the U.S. to buy clothing for African women and children, and then travels to Kenya and brings artisan-made items back from the Nairobi markets to sell at Fair Trade Bloomington and other fundraisers to benefit the Kenyan artists.

Claire Robertson’s papers in the IU Archives are now open for research. Anyone interested in the research process, or in topics relating to African Studies or Women’s Studies will find this collection to be full of interesting material!

In the Claire Robertson papers there are many items that she collected relating to her interests in Africa and women’s studies

In addition to items relating to Robertson’s work, the collection contains some other materials relating to her interests which she collected throughout her career. Contact the IU Archives for more information.

Portions of the collection such as African Newspapers and journals are now part of African Studies Collection here at IU, and  files documenting her teaching activities at the Ohio State University  were transferred to the OSU Archives.

Behind the Curtain: Sara Stefani

Behind the Curtain is a series highlighting IU Archives staff, partners from various departments of the IU Libraries, and students who make all of our work possible. Continue to follow over the coming months to read how and who make the magic happen!

Sara Stefani, IU Archives Volunteer

Role: Sara is a volunteer at the IU Archives.  As part of her work, she assists the Director, Dina Kellams, with a variety tasks including: accessioning and processing new collections, assisting with reference questions, scanning and digitizing items, preparing exhibitions, and assisting with the very necessary and less “glamorous” things like filing. This has given Sara the opportunity to learn a little bit of everything that happens in the IU Archives.  Sara has also had the opportunity to work with and learn valuable information from other archives staff.  She has learned how to process born-digital items, create blog posts and exhibitions, and assist in managing records at the IU Warehouse.

Educational background:  Sara already has an advanced degree in Russian literature.  Currently, she is working to finish her Masters in Library Science with a specialization in Archives and Records Management.

Previous Experience   Prior to her work in the University Archives, Sara worked at a rare book library for three years.

What attracted her to IU Archives:   Sara began her M.L.S. with the intention of working in special collections libraries and took several classes held at the Lilly Library.  While taking the Manuscripts course taught by Erika Dowell, Sara realized that the idea of archival work was just as fascinating to her as working with special collections.  She then enrolled in a course taught by Phil Bantin, former director of the IU Archives.  Phil suggested that Sara look into volunteering at the IU Archives.  Sara says she has loved every minute of working in the IU Archives and is very glad that Phil made the suggestion.  She says: “The people who work at the IU Archives, both the permanent staff and the other students, are some of the most wonderful people I know.  I also really love the variety of tasks I get to do – I’m not just doing the same thing all the time, every day is different.  And I’ve learned a lot of really cool things about IU and handled some amazing materials.”

Members of the Hennel family, IU Archives image no. P0042977

Favorite item or collection in the IU Archives:  Of the many collections held by the IU Archives, Sara says she’s a little bit in love with the Cecilia Hennel Hendricks Family Papers.  There’s so much in the collection that Sara has used it for several of the IU Archives pop-up exhibits.   There were three Hennel sisters who attended IU in the early twentieth century and later went on to become faculty.  After marrying in 1913, Cecilia moved to Wyoming with her husband to run a bee farm (how cool is that?!).  Upon the passing of her husband, she returned to IU to teach in the English Department. Cecilia’s sister Cora was the first person to receive a PhD in Mathematics from Indiana University.  The collection is full of Cecilia’s letters home describing all of the events in her life and the food she cooked.  It also contains items and information about beekeeping, local and international politics, mathematics, travel, IU life, and so much more.  There’s also correspondence from various family members which leaves you with an understanding of just how much they all loved each other.

Another collection Sara has found to be of great interest and has enjoyed working with is the Avis Tarrant Burke Papers.  Like the Hendricks Family Papers, this collection contains items from multiple individuals of the Burke Family, including love letters from each generation.

Current projects:   Currently, Sara is processing records from the Indiana University Honors Program in Foreign Languages.  The Honors Program is host to intensive foreign language study that includes study abroad opportunities.  Since their inception in 1962, the program has expanded from three study abroad programs to twelve!  The program is specifically for Indiana high schools, and many students from the local schools participate.  The collection Sara is processing contains drawings and letters from students to host families, as well as photographs.  Sara goes on to say that: “It’s a really wonderful collection!  They all look so happy and it seems like an amazing experience!  I wish I’d had that opportunity when I was in high school!.”

Favorite experience in the IU Archives:    It had only been a few days since Sara had begun her volunteer work with the Archives when a new collection arrived from an office on campus.  While part of the collection had been neatly collected in boxes, the rest had been collected in three garbage bags!  The office had initially intended to throw the items away, but at the last minute decided to donate it on the chance that the Archives might want the items.   Sara was thus able to get hands-on experience of the disarray a collection can be in when it is received; an experience which is fairly common in archival work.  “I had read that sometimes things show up in an archive like that, and there I was actually experiencing it.”  Sara and Dina sorted through the bags together, with Sara taking the opportunity to ask questions about the kinds of things that should be kept.  “It was also a great opportunity to learn methods of appraisal.  Maybe I’m just weird, but I loved getting to go through those garbage bags!”

What she learned from working here:    “Honestly, everything that I know about IU I learned by working in the Archives!” says Sara.  Even though she’s been a member of the faculty here at Indiana University for nine years, she says that “…as a faculty member, I pretty much just stay in my own world of my classes and my department.  I’ve never really felt connected to the university as a whole, and I really had no sense of its history.”  She states that since starting her work at the IU Archives, she has really started to get a sense of Indiana University’s history.  Her work with the Cecilia Hennel Hendricks papers, as well as working with some of the other faculty papers have contributed to this understanding.  Assisting in answering reference questions has also taught Sara a lot.  “I learned that IU used to have an intensive summer program for business executives to help them succeed in their careers (see previous post about that here), and during the years of World War II they also had a naval training program on campus.  I’ve also learned a lot about the history of women on the campus.  I’ve been able to see a bigger history of the country and the world reflected in the history of IU.”

India Remixed : Indian Independence in Indiana

On August 15, 1947, India, one of the oldest and most populated nations in the world, gained independence from Great Britain. The British East India Company controlled India, from the 1700s until the Indian rebellion of 1857. After the suppression of the revolt, the British Crown took control of the region from the Company. In the years after 1857 and during British rule of the region, calls for reform and Indian self-rule grew. But it wasn’t until 1947, after years of growing movements, the rise of Gandhi’s non-violent civil disobedience movement, the “Quit India” movement of the Indian National Congress Party, and after revolts and mass strikes, that India gained its independence. After 90 years of fighting against British Raj (British Rule) and calls for Indian Self-Rule, the Indian Independence Act of 1947 was signed.

Students, professors, and other members of the IU community were certainly aware of the struggles of Indians well before the 1940s. One faculty member, Cecilia Hennel Hendricks, Associate Professor of English, wrote to her family members about a lecture regarding India that she attended at IU in 1931. In her letter, Cecilia describes meeting a man who had met Gandhi and learned why he opposed British rule:

Letter from Cecilia, 1931, Cecilia Hennel Hendricks family papers, Collection C413, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.

“He told of some conversations he had with Ghandi, and said when he asked Ghandi why he opposed the British rule, Ghandi answered that after all India was the country of the Indians, who had owned and ruled it for centuries before England ever existed, and that there were thousands of Indian people as well educated and trained as any English people, and fully able to manage their own government.”

Letter from Cecilia, 1931, Cecilia Hennel Hendricks family papers, Collection C413, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.

Independence Day is now one of only three national holidays in India. It’s celebrated on August 15 and is commemorated with a speech from the Prime Minister, references to the Indian Independence Movement, and celebration through cultural events. Flag hoisting events and kite flying in some areas are also hosted around India as a part of the celebration. Around the world, Indian emigrants celebrate with parades and events of their own, sometimes referring to the day as ‘India Day.’

Indian Students Invite President Bryan to attend Independence Celebration. C69, Box 3.

At Indiana University, Indian Independence was celebrated as early as 1948. Indian student Ramnarase Panday was particularly active while attending Indiana University. He and another student, Raghubir Bhatia, organized that first Indian Independence Day celebration at IU. They asked President Wells to speak at the event at Alumni Hall, and invited others from around campus, including President Emeritus William Lowe Bryan, to attend the celebration.

Panday was from Beharr, India and attended the College of Arts and Sciences at IU. He earned his A.B. in Government in 1950 and his M.A. in History in 1952. He was a very active member of the college community. As an undergraduate, Panday was in the Cosmopolitan Club, a student organization for international students and cultures, and once in graduate school, he joined Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity.

Ramnarase Panday with President Wells, July 28, 1948. IU Archives image no. P0073656.

The celebration of India’s first Independence Day at IU must have been a momentous occasion for everyone who attended. While we have been unable to find further records documenting the event or information on additional students who assisted with the celebration, we suspect that Panday and Bhatia were likely the only two students organizing the event.

President Herman B Wells spoke at the inaugural celebration in Alumni Hall:

“Birthdays are happy occasions whether they mark the passing of a year in the life of an individual or a nation. We are met tonight to celebrate an unusually significant birthday which marks the end of the first year of independence for one of the world’s oldest and largest nations – a nation rich in physical resources, in manpower, and in cultural acheivement. It is a privilege therefore to join with you in extending our congratulations and good wishes to the Indiana University students from India and through them to the great nation which they so ably represent.”

C137 Wells’ Speech on India Independence Day at IU, August 8, 1948 – click on image to read Wells’ full speech

This celebration marking India’s independence was significant and marked the growing diversity of the university.