Life in Woodlawn Courts

While working on the Board of Trustees project over the past year, I’ve become quite familiar with many of the unique happenings on the Indiana University campus between 1939 and 1953.  For example, did you know that following World War II the university purchased hundreds of trailers to serve as housing for veterans?  You can read more about the establishment of Woodlawn Courts in these excerpts from the Board of Trustees minutes:

Woodlawn Trailer Court
Looking Northwest over Woodlawn Trailer Court, November 1946.

With the end of the war, many veterans returned home with the hopes of earning an education and all across the country institutions of higher education were pressed to provide housing for a massive influx of students.  At Indiana University, efforts were made to ensure that any veteran who was accepted would not be turned away due to a lack of space.  In response to the housing problem, IU established Woodlawn Courts, a trailer community located just off of 10th Street, west of the former Memorial Stadium.  By October of 1946, the community had grown to 323 trailers and was one of the largest trailer communities on a campus in the United States.

Family at Woodlawn Court Trailer Store
Family at Woodlawn Court Trailer Store, January 12, 1948.

Three hundred of the units were used as housing for veterans and their wives (and sometimes children) while the remaining  were used for shared laundry, bathroom, nursery and recreation facilities.  Living in such close quarters was not easy, but these students and their families managed to make the best of it by establishing their own system of government, recreation, entertainment, and support systems. They even established their own cooperative grocery store in an effort to make buying groceries cheaper and more convenient than going off-campus.


With vastly different concerns from the larger campus community, the students elected their own mayor each year along with a Court Council consisting of one councilor for each unit of 15 trailers.  They held meetings to discuss current issues, listen to complaints, and plan social functions; beginning in 1947, they published a bulletin after each meeting to summarize their discussions and encourage participation from outside of the Council.

Mayor (Chairman) and Council of Woodlawn Courts
Mayor (Chairman) and Council of Woodlawn Courts, April 10, 1946.

One such social event was an outing to Cascades Park, organized by the Council in conjunction with the YMCA which arranged transportation so that the residents were able to escape their close quarters and enjoy the open spaces of the park. In the spring, residents of Woodlawn Courts planted and cared for flowers which were then exhibited at the Monroe County Fair. Additionally, there was an on-site community house and picnic grounds which could be reserved by the residents to hold social events and many of the men participated in intramural athletics.  Woodlawn Courts even selected its own athletic director!

Have you ever been known to sing in the shower?  Well, it was not uncommon to hear the residents singing in their shared shower facilities.  This impromptu choir later known as the Woodlawn Courts Chorus even held formal concerts in the summer of 1946: one on the steps of the Student Building and another at a Stadium movie on July 15.


Woodlawn Trailer 32
Woodlawn Trailer 32, October 25, 1957.

Although every effort was made to make life more comfortable for the families of Woodlawn Courts, there were some problems for which there was no simple solution.  To start, the trailers were small and close together.  In the winter they were drafty, and in the spring their roofs leaked which only became more of an issue as the trailers aged. Mud was also a problem in the spring — it was everywhere!

There was no running water, which often meant that the men had to get up early in the morning to haul buckets of water back to the trailer.  Termites, ants, and mice were attracted to the trailers as reportedly the space underneath the trailers was rarely cleaned. Security was an issue as well.  Women sometimes did not feel safe leaving their trailer alone at night so men found it necessary to escort their wives to the community facilities, which was undoubtedly an inconvenience.  Fire protection was inadequate and at one point a small fire broke out in one of the trailers, but fortunately nobody was hurt.

Trailer Courts Nursery
Children playing in playground at Trailer Courts Nursery, March 28, 1949.

Life was even harder for those with children.  As many of the veterans came to school at IU along with their wives, not surprisingly there was a large population of children.  It was said that the birth rate in this community was higher than any other comparably-sized community and thus this high concentration of children was an important concern for Woodlawn Court residents.  Since the trailers were so small, many of the children played outside.  Toys and bikes could be seen strewn across paths.  Speeding cars quickly became a safety issue.

One of the solutions to help in caring for this growing number of children was the establishment of a nursery for small children, ages 2-5.  In addition, there were classes in child care offered in the community’s recreation center.  Parents were given the resources they needed to manage raising children and going to school.  When one couple wanted a night out, they would ask another couple to watch their child(ren) and then reciprocate the favor another time.  It’s like the old saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.”

Trailer Life.
“Can I borrow a cup of sugar?” February 1, 1946.

However, despite the lack of privacy due to the close proximity of the trailers combined with open windows on hot summer days, reports reveal that residents were respectful of their neighbor’s spaces. They were generally friendly to each other and their children played together.  Still gossip could be overheard in the shared washing facilities, but perhaps some of this is what made Woodlawn Courts a world unto itself. Everyone knew everything about each other, and it may be due to this strong community that some women actually said they would rather live in the trailers than in apartments.


Despite these hardships, the scholarly pursuits of the students living in Woodlawn Courts did not suffer.  According to a report published on November 1, 1946, the men of Woodlawn Courts were number one in scholastic standing in comparison with other campus communities, including fraternities, sororities, and dormitories.  These World War II veterans were able to successfully balance their studying, recreation, and family life, all while living in an area which would make life more difficult for some, but was a strong community as seen by those who lived in it.

Trailer Life
Ruth Richardson McConnell, Thomas P. McConnell, and their baby, 1946.

So what happened to Woodlawn Courts?  Once the extra housing was no longer needed and Indiana University had more permanent housing options in place, the trailers were sold at auction.  The last Woodlawn Court trailer was towed away in 1958.

The Edgeworthalean Society: Bloomington’s first female literary society

The year is 1841, you’re a resident of Bloomington, Indiana, and you would like to expand your mind … and oh yeah, you’re female. What opportunities are available to you? Indiana University wasn’t co-ed until 1867, so you cannot stretch your mind through higher education. Is it your lot to resign yourself to a life of quiet domesticity and motherhood?

These are some of the questions the charter members of the Edgeworthalean Society were asking themselves when they came together to form the first Bloomington, Indiana ladies’ literary society in 1841. Clearly these women were not resigned to keep quietly at home, and their decision to gather and learn among themselves was not without opposition,  as Mrs. M. E. Hughes, first society president, alludes to in her inaugural address. She also describes the purpose of the society as follows:

“Our object is the cultivation and improvement of the mind; and to effect this we have adopted such exercises and regulations as other societies of the same nature have found most conducive to the same end.”

Article 9 of the Edgeworthalean Society constitution states:

“The exercises of the society shall consist of recitations, composition arguments, Reading, writing, diction, analysing [sic] sentences or any such exercises as may be found to be conducive to the improvement of its members.”

Further in her address, M. E. Hughes states:

“In the progress of society the belief has been gradually gaining ground, that the station assigned to women in the social scheme, is one of much greater importance than it has hitherto been considered, and that her position in the various relations of daughter, wife, mother, mistress of a family and the acknowledged arbitress [sic] of the rules which regulate social intercourse, gives her an influence which may be powerfully wielded either for good or for evil. To enable her therefore to fulfil [sic] her destiny with credit and happiness to herself and advantage to others, philanthropists now deem it necessary to give her the aids of a solid and useful education.”

The minute book, which consists of the constitution and by-laws of the Edgeworthalean Society, as well as meeting minutes, contains the inaugural addresses of six society presidents from 1841 to the last entry dated June 1844. These speeches are rather rich in terms of early commentary on women’s education and position in society.

Monroe County Female Seminary, previously located at 7th Street and College Avenue in Bloomington, Indiana
Monroe County Female Seminary, previously located at 7th Street and College Avenue in Bloomington, Indiana

The Edgeworthalean Society met weekly, usually at the Monroe County Female Seminary at 7th Street and College Avenue, though it no longer stands. They also had fairly strict rules for entering the society, such as requiring a letter of petition with the support of two current members of the society. They aimed to remain respectable and include the role of “Censoress [sic] to generally supervise the moral character of the society” in their constitution.

Also in the contents of the minute book are philosophical/ideological questions posed for debate in the meetings.

Such questions include: Which most improves the mind: observation or reading? Which exerts the most pernicious influence over society, a Slanderer or a Murderer? Is manual labor a blessing or a curse? Which has the greatest reason to complain of their treatment, from the Whites, the Indians or Negroes? Which profession affords the best opportunities to benefit mankind — Law or Physics? Is Conscience an inate [sic] principle? Which would be most conducive to our happiness: to be at once created with all the knowledge to be acquired, or to obtain it by slow degrees? Did Napoleon exhert [sic] a good or evil influence over Europe? Is there more happiness found in the married, or in the single state? Should novels be abolished? Should capitol punishment be inflicted or not? Is happiness more dependent on the mind or surrounding circumstances? And these are only some of the questions debated through November 26, 1841!

The Edgeworthalean Society minute book is in the Indiana University Archives and has been recently digitized by the Libraries Digital Projects & Services Team! Just follow the link!

Pakistan Gets Wired: The Development of a Computing Center at the University of Islamabad

During my processing of four collections about Indiana University’s involvement in higher education programs in Pakistan in the 1960s, I’d gotten used to seeing the same kinds of files – budgets, correspondence, personnel, reports, computers. Wait…computers? Really? In Pakistan in the 1960s? They couldn’t mean real computers, could they? They must be using it as a term for a fancy calculator. Sure enough, they really were talking about computers, not calculators. I always pictured computers in the 1960s and 1970s as being room-sized behemoths too costly for anyone other than NASA and eccentric millionaires. As it turns out, computers weren’t quite so elusive at that time.

It all began in 1968 when Lynne L. Merritt, Vice President and Dean of Research and Advanced Studies, and Joseph R. Hartley, Associate Dean of the Faculties, conducted a survey to determine the government and university needs for computers in Islamabad. Indiana University had already been present in Islamabad for two years assisting with a program to establish a postgraduate institution for the sciences. A computing center, and by necessity a complementary computer science program, seemed like a natural extension for an academic establishment focused on the sciences.

Panoramic image of the University of Islamabad campus from a 1967 booklet about the university.
Panoramic image of the University of Islamabad campus from a 1967 booklet about the university.

Preliminary reports from 1967 and 1968 found that the addition of computers in the area would be beneficial not only for the university, but for the surrounding government and research institutions as well. The computing center would create post-graduate level training in computer science for the nation, enhance research at the nearby Pakistan Institute of Nuclear Science and Technology (PINSTEC), create a means for storing and retrieving government data, such as census data, tax records, and economic data, and assist with routine administrative support services for the national government, including payrolls, inventory records, and bookkeeping functions. The University of Islamabad was chosen as the location for the computing center because the computers could be used for both computing and instruction at that location, with remote computers at other locations added later. Banks, airlines, and laboratories in the area were already using IBM computers, so recommendations were made for the purchase of the same brand.

The Indiana University Team decided that a staff of 12 would be necessary to run the computing center. This included one keypunch operator, two machine operators, two systems analysts, two systems programmers, four application programmers, and a director who would be selected from the University of Islamabad faculty. Dr. Stanley Hagstrom, Associate Professor of Chemistry at Indiana University, was selected to serve as a computer consultant to assist in training and installing the computing center. Additional training in scientific and business management data processing would be necessary, much of which would be obtained abroad.

Image of the University of Islamabad Institute of Mathematics
An image of the University of Islamabad Institute of Mathematics, which later housed the computing center.

The next big problem was figuring out how the computing center would be funded. Reports estimated the cost of the computer plus required equipment, a printer, a generator, and shipping at $448,383.  A request for funding was made to the United Nations Special Fund in 1968, but they were unable to provide assistance. A letter from 1970 states that the Ford Foundation donated $250,000 towards the cost, but there is not documentation in this collection to confirm where the rest of the money came from.

During the summer of 1970, an IBM 360 Model 30E was purchased for the University of Islamabad. This computer was not at all what we commonly think of when we think about computers today. Rather than a lab full of individual computers, their computing center consisted of one large mainframe computer half the size of a small room. It was designed primarily for computing structured arithmetic computations, sometimes requiring days to complete, and for storing and retrieving data.

The entire system consisted of a motor generator measuring 4×8 feet, a switchboard measuring 4×7 feet, and batteries stored in a separate ventilated room measuring 2×16 feet each. The square inch area of the Islamabad computer, including two batteries, is about the size of 712 MacBook Pros laid side by side in a rectangle on the floor. This IBM model had 32 kilobytes of memory and a maximum storage capacity of 64 kilobytes. Most new desktops today come with a minimum of 2 gigabytes of memory and 500 gigabytes of storage. That is over 2 billion times more memory and a gazillion times more storage space than I know how to calculate compared to the Islamabad model. Now I’m not really a math person, but I can tell you that’s a lot.

IBM System 360 Model 30
An IBM 360 Model 30 computer from the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA. This is the same make and model computer purchased for the University of Islamabad in 1970. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia via the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

The computer center was situated inside the mathematics building with an area of 5,000 square feet allocated for the center itself. Delivery problems and postponements occurred because the construction of the new center was behind schedule. The latest available document in the collection, dated September 1970, states that delivery of the computer equipment was postponed until June 1971. Since there is no correspondence or information beyond 1970, it is uncertain exactly when the computers arrived and what effect they had on the university and surrounding areas.

The University of Islamabad project is one of four programs Indiana University administered in Pakistan around this time period, but it is the only one that included the purchase of computer equipment. If you’re interested in learning more about Indiana University’s historical involvement with Pakistan, contact the IU Archives!

Commencement: Where there’s pomp and also circumstance …

It’s that time again: Commencement! All your years of hard work have finally paid off, and a diploma will soon be in hand (at least the commencement ceremony will provide you with the idea of the diploma while the real one will take a couple of months to be mailed to you). Incidentally, what do you know about the commencements of yesteryear?


The modern day commencement address and speaker were introduced to Indiana University in 1892, when student presentations had been whittled down to a few orations and poems delivered two days before the actual commencement ceremony took place.

With over 10,000 undergraduates eligible to graduate this May, the size contrast to IU’s class of 1912 is rather startling:

IU graduating class of 1912.

December 1942 marked the first time a winter commencement took place, with 580 graduates.

First winter commencement, December 10, 1942.

On December 7, 1941, the United States officially entered into WWII after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The Indiana Daily Student (IDS) of December 20, 1942 addressed the many changes that Indiana University underwent in 1941, including the inauguration of the “speed it up” program.

The IDS reported: “New military units for university students, the establishment of a training school for both men and women in the Navy and a war-adjusting curriculum within a year made life on campus quite different for the students who had entered school when America was still saying ‘if,’ instead of ‘when we get into the war.’”

There was also a Spring commencement that year:

Spring commencement, May 10, 1942

The university stopped conducting December commencement ceremonies after December 1944. Intermittent February commencement ceremonies took place until 1954, when Indiana University went back to a single commencement ceremony at the end of the academic year.

Due to an increasing number of college students, May 1980 was the first time the university conducted two spring commencements, one in the morning, and one in the afternoon on the same day. In 1984, commencement was separated into three ceremonies, spanning two days. In 1988, the university conducted the first outdoor commencement ceremony in 17 years, allowing for a single ceremony for all graduates that year.

In 1989, a resurging interest in winter commencement led to winter graduates being given a reception in their honor.

A newspaper clipping from January 1989 reported:

“About 1400 students graduating in December 1989 might have a commencement if a university committee discovers enough interest. The University hasn’t conducted winter commencements since World War II, when many soldiers couldn’t attend Spring ceremonies. Currently, December graduates may attend commencement in the Spring before or after their actual graduation date.”

A November 1989 clipping stated:

“December grads will have reception in their honor on December 9 in the Musical Arts Center. Kenneth Gros Louis, University vice president and Indiana University Bloomington chancellor, said about 20 percent of IU grads finish their coursework in December.”

In 1994, the university replaced the December graduates’ reception/luncheon with ceremonies in the graduates’ individual schools. It was then noted that a mid-year commencement could be added in the future if the number of December graduates continued to increase. Finally, 1997 saw the first reinstatement of midyear graduation since 1944, and a winter commencement was held on December 22, 1997.

In 2010, for the first time, Indiana University implemented separate commencement ceremonies for undergraduates and graduate students.

A November 2009 press release stated:

“Moving to a separate ceremony for graduate students will allow more time to focus on their distinct achievements and observe the academic tradition of hooding Ph. D and doctoral candidates. Likewise, the undergraduate ceremonies … will focus exclusively on the undergraduate experience and include new emphasis on undergraduate achievement, including the addition of undergraduate voices to the official program.”

You can read more about IU’s commencement history, including an extensive listing of commencement speakers and speech titles (if available), since 1892 on the IU Archives website.

Logo from the 1901 commencement program.

And congratulations, grads!


And just because I have to get this in: Did you know that Teddy Roosevelt spoke at IU during spring commencement in 1918?

1919 Arbutus p68.Who shot image? H.T. Sthepenson?

Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt at left, and William Lowe Bryan at podium.