Have you been by the Archives lately? Santa Wells is out and ready to greet you!
The long-standing tradition of IU President Herman B Wells donning a Santa suit seems to have begun in 1948 at the Association of Women Students Christmas Eve party. In its December 13, 1948 newsletter, the AWS teased, “Yes siree kids, here’s your one and only chance to see red-faced, jolly old Saint Nick himself. Laden with his bag of gifts, he will circulate through the holly bedecked building all evening to hand out free gifts to all good and lucky little coeds and eddies.” In announcing the party, the IDS reported that the true identity of Santa was a closely guarded secret and would only be revealed at the party.
Despite his costume, the IDS reported that most in the crowd recognized their beloved IU president immediately. If his appearance was not surprise enough, then his announced gift to the Union Board and Association of Women Students surely would have been – a new cabaret piano tied with a red ribbon.
In my research, I did not find anything on why this tradition began but word is Santa Wells became an eagerly-anticipated annual tradition. I am not certain what Wells wore that first year, but I do know he wrote the below to Colonel Robert Shoemaker, Dean of Students:
What? You can’t read Wells’ notoriously bad handwriting? How about his secretary’s interpretation:
Apparently they were able to make this happen, as the following year AWS Social Chairman D’Alice Coburn wrote President Wells a thank you for his repeat Santa performance, stating, “I hope the Santa suit was satisfactory…I feel quite sure you were the best dressed Santa in Bloomington.”