New! Nineteenth century student life page

The Archives has added another exhibit to its on-line Omeka site at

This exhibit examines what it was like to be an IU student in the 19th century. What did the campus look like? What were the size and composition of the student body? What classes were offered, and what did students pay for tuition? Where did students live, and how much did it cost for room and board? What types of athletic and social activities did students participate in? Even a quick review of the documentation illustrates that the academic and social life of the 19th century student was very different than it is for today’s student. Some of the more dramatic differences were the ways that students participated in athletic events. For most of the 19th century organized sports were nonexistent or only in their infancy and for many, athletics meant intramural activities, and most notably a form of organized chaos known as the “Class Scraps.”

These scraps took many forms in the 19th century, but all basically had the same characteristics: 2 classes, typically freshman against sophomores, would engage in a physical and often violent contest or brawl to best the other team in some challenge. These contests often had very few rules, especially in the early days, but as time went on some basic rules and regulations were added. One of the more popular versions of the Class Scraps was popularly known as the “Burning of Horace.” This scrap was likely the first form of the class scrap enacted at IU.

Capture the flag, 1909
Capture the flag, 1909

According to an article in the IDS, the “first freshman-sophomore class scrap started one dark Washington’s Birthday night soon after the founding of the university in 1820. At that time the sophomores were required to study the works of Horace, and so great was their joy at having completed the course that they burned the books on the campus. That was a trivial happening to start ‘scrapping’ over – but the freshman objected to the ceremony and that was where the class ‘scraps’ at Indiana began.

Owen and Wylie Halls, circa 1885
Owen and Wylie Halls, circa 1885

The author of a master’s thesis on IU traditions writes that over time,

the sophomores enlarged upon the rituals. The sophomore class would secretly gather at a pre-designated spot on the campus…They would then prepare to give Horace the last sacrament. Somberly, speeches were made for the departed one. Then a small hole was dug to forever hold the ashes that once were Horace. Final orations were made and the ceremony was concluded…But the freshmen had other plans along similar lines. They would stop at nothing short of murder (and scraps have even come close to this) to prevent the sophomore class from deriving any pleasure whatsoever from the book of Horace.

So, we encourage you to take a look at the on-line exhibit, and enter the world of the IU student in the 19th century.

I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for IU….Ice Cream?

Despite what the calendar says, the Bloomington summer is FINALLY upon us, and along with this comes the traditional summer fare of ballpark hotdogs, corn on the cob, and oh yes, all those frozen treats. Nothing says summer to me quite like wandering by The Chocolate Moose after dinner on a warm summer night… While “The Moose” happens to be my favorite Bloomington ice cream destination, I recently learned a whole lot about the history of IU’s tasty variety as a result of a young patron.

You might be wondering: When did IU start making it’s own ice cream? And do they still do it? What flavors did they make and how much did they produce? Were there artificial additives? How was it manufactured and who was involved?

Thalia Halloran, 11 year old student in the University School ALPS program

Early this winter I sat down with a young scholar who was curious about these same questions for a class project which focused upon ice cream as an “influential” dessert. We both certainly learned a LOT about our favorite tasty treat along the way. When finished with her project, Thalia sent me an email to tell me that “many people were interested in the information that I shared on IU’s line of ice cream. It pulled the presentation together by making such a global topic local.”


While the first year of production remains unclear, it is known that in 1931, the IU Board of Trustees awarded the ice cream contract for the University Halls and Commons to the Johnson Creamery Company on the grounds of their competitive prices as well as well as their “splendid service.” By 1937, however, correspondence and reports show that IU employee Clare Cavin in the IU Stores department was then producing approximately 50 gallons of ice cream per day from a purchased ice cream mix to be served in the dorm cafeterias. Thus, campus production began sometime in the mid-1930s. Over the coming decades, production swelled to sometimes over 200 gallons per day with the number of available flavors by some accounts reaching 80 including unique  examples such as Irish mocha, walnut rum raisin, deep dish apple pie, creme de menthe, blackberry cordial, strawberry fromage, coconut fudge, red-hot vanilla, carnival candy and pink champagne to the more traditional chocolate, vanilla and strawberry varieties.

Herald-Times, March 26, 1998

For the 1981-1982 year, this equated to 1,383,876 individual servings of ice cream either in the form of ice cream or frozen yogurt cups, nutty buddies, vanilla ice milk cups or frozen strawberry pies. The IU Seal (shown here) was imprinted on the lid of each of these servings!

At a production facility located on the corner of 10th and Rogers Street, for decades production began with long-time IU employee Don Spriggs (IU’s Master ice cream maker) and a mix consisting of milk, cream, stabilizers and 10 percent  butterfat from Bloomington’s Johnson’s Creamery and later, Maplehurst Dairy in Indianapolis. The ice cream was then pumped through a freezer and when only partially frozen natural flavorings such as fresh fruits, nuts, candies, and even chocolate flavoring specially ordered from Wisconsin were added.

Partially resulting from the rise of ice cream chains such as Häagen-Dazs and Ben and Jerry’s and the changing dining habits of the student population, by 1998 ice cream production demand had fallen to under 200 gallons per week and the IU Food Services department made the tough decision to cease production permenantly. Don Spriggs and his then assistant Tim Stout produced their last 100 gallons of ice cream in December of 1998.

If you’re dying for some university produced ice cream, you can take a road trip to the University of Wisconsin – Madison which has been producing its own ice cream since the 1920s.

To learn more about the history of ice cream production at IU, as well as specifics on what was served in the dorm cafeterias, contact the IU Archives!

Faculty wife of the past spotlight: Orah Cole Briscoe

“Dear Herman, Last fall I said I wished you had a wife — and I think I startled you.”

Orah Cole Briscoe
Orah Cole Briscoe, 1929 Arbutus

So begins Orah Cole Briscoe in a 1941 letterto a young Indiana University President Herman Wells.

When I read that first letter, I was so taken by her frankness and the vivacity that came across loud and clear through her words that I ended up reading through the entire file of correspondence and then searching to see what else I could find out about her.

Born Orah Elberta Cole in 1907 in Liberty Center, Indiana, Orah entered IU in September 1925. In 1928, she married IU faculty member Herman Briscoe, who was 14 years her senior. By the next year, they had begun their family with the birth of daughter Catherine and Orah had earned her BA in Latin. Their family grew as Orah continued to pursue her education, earning a MA in English in 1934. Together the couple had 4 children, though they tragically lost son James Frederick in 1944.

In reading through her letters to Herman Wells, Orah clearly had opinions about the happenings of the University and was an active member of the university community, oftentimes serving in a role as University hostess to lighten the entertainment responsibilities of President Wells. In 1953, she wrote to Wells, expressing her support for his backing of Alfred Kinsey and his research, saying,

“Do you want to know how come I was a Kinseyan before Kinsey? It came ultimately from me being a passionate feminist. They ain’t gonna classify ME along with wine and song as one of the corrupters of men; they ain’t gonna make a sin outa ME. I’m a human (and how!) being, same as a man is…”

Orah also kept up regular correspondence with President Emeritus William Lowe Bryan, though her letters took a decidedly less casual tone. This did not mean, however, that she tempered her opinions in her letters to him, and Bryan clearly liked Orah. In 1948, he wrote to her, “I wish you had known Mrs. Bryan. You would have known how to value each other.”

I encourage you to spend some time reading through her letters, they really are delightful. We have digitized all of her letters to both Wells and Bryan and they can be found attached to the finding aids for their respective collections: Herman Wells papers ; William Lowe Bryan papers. Additionally, we have a small collection of Orah’s papers, which consists primarily of her work on her Master’s thesis on Indiana authors but also includes some of her poetry, and a smattering of correspondence received upon Dr. Briscoe’s death.