A Question of Loyalty: Controversies Surrounding All Things German at Indiana University during World War I

“President Bryan made a statement to the Board concerning the German situation at the university”—Board of Trustee Minutes, April 17, 1918.

For the past several months, I’ve been working to slowly transcribe the WWI-era hand-written minutes of the Board of Trustees for inclusion in this searchable online portal and one question has continued to weigh on me. What exactly was “the German situation”?

While the Great War raged in Europe, anti-German feelings ran high state-side and Indiana University was not exempt from coming under fire for associations with the enemy. After some investigation, the exact “German situation” is still a little vague; however, there are still some fascinating stories from the era.

C286 War Mothers letter, June 1, 1918

One of these controversies involved  the teaching of the German language. By mid-1918 enrollment in German language courses at Indiana University had declined and only two professors, Bert J. Vos and Carl Osthaus, remained on the faculty. Across the country, teaching German in the schools (including universities) became a contentious issue. In June 1918, IU President William Lowe Bryan received a letter from the War Mothers of Monroe County which argued that “one of the most fruitful sources for dissemination of insidious enemy propaganda has been through the contact of things German with our schools.” They further stated that “it is therefore RESOLVED: — That no good purpose can be served by the continuation of the teaching of German in Indiana University, that much harm may come therefrom.” President Bryan coolly responded that the teaching of German would remain  “as a means of fighting Germany.” When further questions poured in from individuals such as  Dr. Perry Dickie of the American Defense Society, President Bryan responded that “German is not required for entrance” but that “we provide a few classes in German for students who desire it.” Additionally, by the fall of 1918 students enlisted in the Student Army Training Corps were learning German for military purposes.

James McDonald portrait painting P0056332
James McDonald portrait painting

While controversy surrounded the teaching of German, two professors also found themselves at the center of the debate. History professor James McDonald found himself the subject of a Senate investigation when a German by the name of Dr. Karl A. Fuehr included him in his “important list of names” which the the Department of Justice stated were all pro-Germans.  McDonald, however, demonstrated to the Senate Investigation Committee that the accusation was erroneous and that he was a loyal American citizen, stating that “Ever since the sinking of the Lusitania I have not merely privately but also publicly both in class and in the press strongly advocated the entrance of the United States into the war against Germany, as my students and associates can readily testify” (from a letter to the Chairman of Senate Investigating Committee, December 11, 1918). McDonald would go on to work first for the League of Nations and then for President Roosevelt’s Advisory Committee on Political Refugees in Europe. He recognized early on the danger the Jewish people faced from Hitler. McDonald would also become the first US Ambassador to Israel.

Zeuch002
Hopkinton Iowa Leader, November 8, 1917

The second and most controversial case was that of Professor William Zeuch. A young Iowan, Zeuch was hired in 1917 to teach economics at Indiana University. In November of 1917, Zeuch had replied to an Iowan newspaper’s anti-German statements, stating that the newspaper was printing propaganda and because the recent German atrocities were not unique to Germans as a race, the newspaper was thus offending German-Americans.

Newspaper's reply
Newspaper’s reply

The newspaper replied by thoroughly denouncing Zeuch. News spread to Bloomington, where Zeuch found himself under investigation by the Monroe County Council of Defense and a committee of professors at the University. The Bloomington Indiana Daily Student on November 14 reported: “Mr. Zeuch affirms that he had no intention of being disloyal or unpatriotic when he wrote the letter to the Hopkinson Leader. He said to a representative of The Student that he had been incensed at the attempts which have been made to arouse hatred against the German race, but that he wished to condemn its autocracy.” Newspapers across the state reported on the scandal and Zeuch was asked to resign from his position. He did and joined the Army, from which he was honorably discharged in 1918. After the war, Zeuch co-founded a short-lived college in Arkansas, Commonwealth College, with a program that reflected his sentiments for socio-economic reform.  He was also a Guggenheim fellow in the 1930s and worked for the Department of the Interior.

Zeuch co-founded a short-lived college in Arkansas, the Commonwealth College, with a program that reflected his sentiments for socio-economic reform.

To learn more about either of these incidents or more about Indiana University during WWI, contact the IU Archives.

The Girl Friday Club

Named for the slang term of the period for a personal assistant or female office worker, the Girl Friday Club was established in 1964 as a social club for the office workers and secretaries of Indiana University. Initially organized by Jack Ray (then Personnel Director for Indiana University) to foster friendships between the women and encourage interdepartmental cooperation, the club was ultimately run by a Steering Committee of women who organized a variety of events.

The 1969 Girl Friday Steering Committee
The 1969 Steering Committee

These events centered around monthly luncheons featuring a variety of entertainment. Guest speakers included football coach John Pont, professors from various subject areas, and influential women such as Mrs. Esther Bray who was an associate professor at IU as well as the wife of a US Representative. Other campus clubs and organizations sometimes provided entertainment, such as theater production previews and fashion shows. The group also organized the annual Girl Friday award.

The IU Archives holds a single scrapbook from the Girl Friday Club spanning 1964-1973, which offers some interesting insights into the office culture of the time. Interested in knowing more? Contact the University Archives!

New Exhibit – “Here I Met My First True Radicals:” Student Reform Movements at Indiana University

Dean Rusk Demonstration, October 31, 1967 - Elwood Martin "Barney" Cowherd
Dean Rusk Demonstration, October 31, 1967 – Elwood Martin “Barney” Cowherd. P0029020

For freshman Theodore Dreiser in 1889, Indiana University served as fertile ground for his future literary endeavors, but to him “the life of the town, the character of its people, the professors and the students, and the mechanism, politics, and social interests of the University body proper” were far more influential. For generations of students such as Dreiser, the University has served as their first opportunity at self-expression and to react to the political, cultural and social events of their time. Drawn from the collections of the IU Archives, this exhibit highlights groups of students who sought to shape the world around them, whether it be at the local level in their search for self-government and greater gender and racial equality on campus, or as a reaction to national events such as the rise of the Ku Klux Klan in Indiana, the refugee crisis of WWII, McCarthyism, the Vietnam War, apartheid in South Africa, and the AIDS crisis. This exhibit was co-curated by Carrie Schwier (Public Services and Outreach Archivist) along with graduate students Alessandro Meregaglia and Elizabeth Peters.

You can visit the exhibit at the IU Archives (Wells Library E460), Monday – Friday 8-5pm.

Watch for future posts highlighting portions of the exhibit in more detail!

Missed it by that much – The Folklore Institute Ventriloquism Project

The archive of an unfunded project is a strange thing to behold. It recounts a set of best-laid plans that never quite came to fruition. Proposals and correspondence describe the viability of an enterprise, and organizers explain themselves with eloquently written prose and carefully curated documentation. In the present, we review these files knowing the inevitable outcome. Although many people worked hard trying to bring their idea to life, it did not succeed in the way it was envisioned.

A case in point here is the Ventriloquism Project, a proposed collaboration of the Indiana University Folklore Institute and Radio and Television Services. For much of 1988, a small but committed core of researchers sought funding for a documentary that would have explored the contemporary practice of ventriloquism in the United States.

In the end, the project was not of interest to the many sources who received an appeal for funding. The Folk Arts Media sector of the National Endowment for the Arts said no. The Walt Disney Company’s educational films division said no. Jim Henson said no through a personal assistant, who explained that ventriloquism is not the same thing as puppetry (or in this case, Muppetry), which forms the basis of “Jim’s interest and experience.”

Ventriloquism ad
A page in the 1984-85 catalog from One Way Street, a Colorado-based puppetry and ventriloquism resource center

Notwithstanding, those who supported the Ventriloquism Project—folklorists Gail Matthews, Inta Carpenter, and Sandra Dolby, as well as filmmakers John Bishop and John Winninger—produced a significant body of work in their attempts to acquire funding. University Archives and Records Management makes this material available now. The archive of the Ventriloquism Project comprises a rich review of ventriloquial art in the United States in the twentieth century. The files included here could serve as a springboard for anyone researching ventriloquism, whether for a documentary, journalistic article, or academic publication.

At issue in many of these papers is the nature of ventriloquism as a folk art. Researchers argued that its decline in popularity in the early twentieth century marked a transition from popular culture to folklore. Their interpretation of this process is nicely summarized in a proposal to the NEA. They write: “The lay person may think that ventriloquism died out with the arrival of television, when in fact, it merely faded from popular media visibility. Over the years, ventriloquists have constituted a small but solid and growing community of interest.”

The archive’s ephemera provide extensive evidence of this community as it existed in the late 1980s. Gathered materials include advertising literature from Vent Haven, a ventriloquism museum in Kentucky; and correspondence with One Way Street, a puppetry and ventriloquism resource center in Colorado. Additional pamphlets, letters, and business cards from a variety of sources suggest the breadth of the proposed project. Had it gone forward, film crews would have captured footage in Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, South Carolina, and elsewhere.

The documentary was not meant to be, however, and the Ventriloquism Project was shelved until further notice. That notice is now, as it were. The preparatory work that researchers did has been made public after a dark age of about 25 years. Interested parties are invited to view this archive, which, even though it was not funded, provides a valuable resource for aficionados of ventriloquism.

To view this material, and to access the finding aid that indexes it, visit http://libraries.iub.edu/archives, or call (812) 855-1127.