Mail Call: Correspondence at IU during WWII

“Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on that strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter.” — Sir Winston Churchill in My Early Life: A Roving Commission

War is never easy, especially for those serving in the armed forces and those they leave behind. Throughout the various wars in our short history, our military members and their loved ones have made countless sacrifices in order to defend our country and protect the freedoms which we all enjoy so dearly. Separation from our loved ones can be a particularly difficult thing to bear during these times of conflict.

But whereas we now have email, skype, and various other methods of communication to keep in touch with those on the battlefield, there were no such luxuries in the Second World War.  People relied on snail

“Mail Call” from the 1944-1945 Sycamore Logbook

-mail to receive news from the frontlines which, in some areas, could be less than frequent. Letters could easily be lost in the mail as well.

Letters to and from the front lines were a lifeline for service men and women fighting in WWII. One can imagine these soldiers clinging desperately to photos of their loved ones and sitting in their shelters or in the trenches reading and rereading those letters from home dozens of times over. All the while sitting. Waiting. Hoping for the end of hostilities so that they can once again return to their former lives.

It was no different for those at home. One can be sure that many individuals sat by the mail box waiting with bated breath as the postman came up to deliver the mail, hoping to hear some news from the front. Students at Indiana University seem to have been no exception to this rule. While I was processing a set of scrapbooks from Sycamore Hall (when it acted as a women’s residence hall), I stumbled upon this little gem embedded in Volume 5 of the Sycamore Logbook from the 1944-1945 academic year whose faded pages revealed what was going through many a young woman’s mind here at IU when it came time to receive the mail during WWII.

The following is a transcription of an account written by one of the copy editors of the Sycamore Hall dorm logbook:

Residents of Sycamore Hall, 1945 Archives image no: P0044228
Residents of Sycamore Hall, 1945
Archives image no: P0044228

Mail Call

Mail Call is the most important event in the day for almost all of us girls at the University. Even on days when we could sleep late, our alarm clocks will usually be set for ten a.m.

We jump out of bed, dress in a flash, and dash downstairs. In each of our hearts there is a solemn prayer that, maybe, today is the day a letter will come from the most important man in the Army, Navy or Marines.

Each of us goes downstairs with a happy look of expectancy written on her face. Some of us come away smiling and happy; others leave the mail boxes depressed and sad.

The conversation each morning rambles on something like this:

 “Hi, Kelly, is that a letter from Bob?”

“Yes, he got his wings yesterday, and he’ll be home next week. Barbs, you had better dust off the Wedding March because we are going to be needing that song.”

“That is grand, Kelly,” comes in a chorus from the girls.

There is a scream of delight as Kay rushes for her mail box, which is packed full of letters. She stands there laughing and crying at the same time, as she counts twelve letters from her Bill. Bill is a Navy flier, and he is in the South Pacific; mail from him comes only every six or eight weeks.

Cluching [sic] the letters as though her life depended on them, Kay dashes for the big chair in the living room. Incoherent phrases tumble from her lips.

“Jeepers, and gee, he is still my man! Oh, his is wonderful – – twelve letters!  Happy day, oh happy day!”

 “Darn! Just a letter from Carol,” comes the disgusted words from Ruthann.

“That’s my luck, too,” replies Donna.

“I know Dick is busy, but – -“

“Cut it, Ruthann; there is Janie, and she did not get a letter again today.”

No, I must not forget to tell about Janie. She is a little thing and pretty as a doll. She is the pet of every girl in the house. Her Marine is in the Philippines, and she has not heard from him since Manila was taken. Janie does not say anything about not hearing from him, but we know how worried she is; we sense the heartbreak she feels when she looks at her empty mail box. I guess she realizes we would all “crack up” if we put our feelings into words.

She saw us looking at her and smiled.

 “Everything is all right, chums; Jack is all right, and there is always tomorrow.”

Julia Ann Bookout

Little did these ladies know that they did not have long to wait for their loved ones to return. The war would soon come to an end with the Japanese surrender on August 15, 1945 with the formal surrender to follow on September 2nd (which is known today in the US as V-J Day). We can only hope that Jack returned with the rest of his brothers in arms to US shores to celebrate the Allied victory with Janie and the rest of his family and friends.

A history of IU fires

Leading up to the anniversary of the disastrous 1883 fire that changed Indiana University Bloomington’s future, intern Ava D. provides a short history of some of the most significant fires IU has faced in its nearly 200 years. Stay tuned for the story of the 1883 disaster! 


The rebuilt New College Building at Seminary Square. Note the fire escape in case of repeat disaster.
The rebuilt New College Building at Seminary Square. Note the fire escape in case of repeat disaster.

Eighteen years after its creation, the New College Building at IU’s original Seminary Square campus was consumed in fire from a still-unknown source, along with its valuable contents. According to Theophilus Wylie, who would later blame himself for IU’s second major fire in 1883, the April 1854 fire resulted in the total destruction of “its small, though valuable, library, its chapel, recitation rooms, the neatly fitted up Philomathean and Athenian Society halls, with their library and furniture.” While the incident resulted in an estimated loss of $15,000 worth of property, including the 1,200-volume library collection, it also spurred the creation of the IU Alumni Association to help support and rebuild the school; the IUAA continues as an important member of the IU family.


The only known photograph of the fire.
The only known photograph of the fire.

The third major fire in IU history, the February 7th fire of 1900, damaged a portion of Wylie Hall, one of two original buildings on the Dunn Woods campus, IU’s home to this day. Wylie housed classrooms and workspace for students of chemistry, mathematics, and law; the fire, though not confirmed, is thought to have originated in the chemistry department from a chemical fire. Most of the “valuable apparatus and chemicals” were saved, according to IU’s student paper The Student, (now IDS) but the fire still cost the university $20,489 in structural damage and an estimated $6,000 in books and apparatus. In order to reach the only phone on campus located at Maxwell Hall, then-Professor William Lowe Bryan (IU President, 1902-1937) hoisted Professor Morton on his shoulders and helped him through the transom, a comical image later featured in a cartoon in the 1900 Arbutus.


Third IU power plant from 1901-1929.
Third IU power plant from 1901-1929.

On September 22, 1929, a short-circuited generator inside IU’s third power plant caused a fire that resulted in over $100,000 in damage to the roof and equipment at IU’s power plant. Members of IU’s ROTC chapter controlled the crowd of students as the fire department fought the flames. Once again, the city of Bloomington provided for IU in the wake of a fiery disaster and temporarily provided lighting services for the campus. The Indiana Daily Student, whose headquarters were located in the old power plant next door and whose electricity was subsequently lost in the blaze, was displaced and moved to share space with the Bloomington Evening World in order to report the news in a timely fashion.


Construction on East Hall in 1948.
Construction on East Hall in 1948.

From modest beginnings as a repurposed WWII airport hangar, the now-razed East Hall provided significant and important performance and practice space for IU’s School of Music.  The “temporary” building served as headquarters for operatic performances until 1968, when defective wiring in the stage area led to a fire bringing $445,246 in structural and property damage. Up in flames went many historically and culturally important operatic materials, from costumes for upcoming shows to musical scores and props from past performances to a several-thousand-dollar Steinway piano.


The aftermath of one of the arson attacks on the IU Graduate Library, 1969.
The aftermath of one of the arson attacks on the IU Graduate Library, 1969.

Before becoming the Student Services Building, the building later christened Franklin Hall once held the IU Undergraduate Library, with the Graduate Library spilling into the Student Building next door. In 1969, the library was the target of two arson attacks, first on February 17, then on May 1. Though not confirmed, the civil unrest on campus at the time, in part stemming from the Indiana governor’s demand to stymie tax dollars to increasingly growing university and library costs, may have been the impetus for the fires. The first fire caused $165,000 in property damage and $500,000 in collections, destroying 75,000 volumes and badly damaging 20,000 more. Though the second fire destroyed only 30,000 volumes in comparison, the collections replacement cost $600,000, while the property damage totaled up to $1 million.

A sampling of damaged books from the Feb. 20 fire.
A sampling of damaged books from the Feb. 20 fire.

An article in the April 1969 Indiana Daily Student muses on the identity of the culprit, offering insight into the cultural environment of the incidents: “Is there something sinister going on around the campus today? Are the dissidents indeed Communists? To this, I.U. President Sutton answers that Communists wouldn’t touch today’s handful of campus radicals with a 10-foot pole. Neither would the vast majority of students or faculty. If the radicals were to be characterized, most people think, it would be the anarchists on campus back in the ‘30’s.” On June 28, 1969, a library employee was arrested as the arsonist in question. Once again, though devastating, the fire proved to yield long-term benefits for the university as it solidified (and possibly accelerated) the creation and move to a new undergraduate library, the building now known as the Wells Library. After all, as librarian Cecil K. Byrd said, “can you imagine trying to run a university without a library?”


In the midst of the 1990 Little 500 celebration, a series of fires determined to be arson swept through the Bloomington campus. During the last two weeks of April, a series of escalating fire-related incidents were extinguished, beginning in the Business School with furniture doused in flammable liquid and set afire. While this incident was caught early enough to cause little damage, the arsonist’s next stop was the School of Music, where 10 pianos burned and created over $20,000 in damage. Fires in the reception area of the Law School and the stage of the Fine Arts Auditorium followed, luckily resulting in minimal damage due to the quick actions of bystanders. The Fine Arts building was targeted again the following weekend, this time beginning in a metal cabinet full of craft supplies on the fourth floor. A number of other incidents, from furniture set ablaze in Ballantine to a trash can fire at HPER, peppered the two-week period with thirteen mysterious incidents of arson. The culprit was never found, despite the implementation of a 24-hour patrol in all University buildings.


The Student Building's clock and bell tower ablaze on Dec. 17, 1990.
The Student Building’s clock and bell tower ablaze on Dec. 17, 1990.

A campus landmark that inspired Hoosier composer Hoagy Carmichael’s “Chimes of Indiana,” the IU Student Building was originally intended by President Joseph Swain’s wife Frances as a space for female students to congregate between and after classes. A letter from John D. Rockefeller, Jr. suggesting that they include a male wing to the building – as well as a hefty donation – led to a co-ed building with two gendered wings separated by a common space, built in 1905-1906.  Besides the trademark clock and bell tower, the building was also the one-time home to a gymnasium for women, a barber shop, a billiards room, and a cafeteria in the basement. On December 17, 1990, while the building was undergoing renovations, the building caught fire and a number of the custom-made bells from the Netherlands of the beloved clock tower were broken and, in some cases, melted. IU was awarded $1.9 million for the damages, which were caused by welders who did not properly extinguish the hot coals used in their work, sparking the late-night fire.

Stay tuned for the story of the fire that led to some major changes for IU Bloomington!

“Aviation Adventures”: Amelia Earhart’s Lecture at IU

Eighty-eight years ago today, Amelia Earhart departed from Trepassy, Newfoundland in a Fokker F7b-3M named Friendship to begin her successful flight across the Atlantic Ocean. Co-pilots Wilmer Stultz and Louis Gordon were also on the flight that took over 20 hours before landing safely in Wales, making Earhart the first woman to fly across the Atlantic.

Amelia Earhart at the cabin door of the Friendship, 1928. Photo from the Purdue University Archives.
Amelia Earhart at the cabin door of the Friendship, 1928. Photo courtesy of the Purdue University Archives.


In 1936, Agnes E. Wells, Dean of Women at Indiana University, corresponded with O. B. Stephenson of The Emerson Speakers Bureau in hopes of having Earhart speak at IU. In short time, Wells received the good news that Earhart would, indeed, speak at the university for a fee of $350. “Dear Miss Wells, A letter this morning from Miss Earhart accepts your lecture engagement the evening of October 22.”


Several newspapers, including the Indiana Daily Student and the Bloomington Evening World, excitedly reported that Amelia Earhart would be giving her lecture “Aviation Adventures” at Indiana University in Alumni Hall at 8 pm on October 22, with an informal reception to follow. The reception was an opportunity for the public to meet and question Earhart and was sponsored by A.W.S. and St. Margaret’s Guild, Bloomington Charity Organization.







During her visit, Earhart gifted this photograph to Indiana University, with an inscription written by her on the back: “To the Indiana Union. Amelia Earhart, October 22, 1936.”EArhart                                   Autographed photograph of Amelia Earhart, IU Archives image no. P0046625

The Education Vacation: Mini University

 Each year, hundreds of individuals flock to Bloomington to attend what Fromer’s Travel Magazine has consistently referred to as one of the best learning vacations in the United States. With record setting attendance over the last few years, Indiana University’s widely popular Mini University now consistently sells out. However, the program came from much more modest beginnings.
Founded in 1972 as a result of a partnership between the Indiana University Alumni Association and the Bloomington Office of Continuing Studies, the first program hosted approximately 75 participants and functioned more as a family summer camp for both children and adults. Spanning the course of a week, participants brought their families to campus, lived in the dormitories and attended a variety of lectures and courses while their children attended their own programs. Adults chose from an option of 25 course listings taught by some of the most distinguished members of the university faculty. Courses were divided into six different categories: compelling issues of the ’70s on topics such as “China in the ’70s”, international issues, the family in contemporary society such as “After Spock, What?”, women’s changing role in society, creative participation in arts and the humanities, and preparing for retirement.
Mini University, ca. 1978-1981
Picnic, ca. 1978-1981
Children (over the age of five), on the other hand, were loaded each day onto a London double-decker bus for transport to the Health, Physical Education and Recreation Building (HPER) for recreation, games, and swimming. Children under the age of five could attend a day nursery. Evening entertainment options for the whole family included rap sessions, visits to the Brown County Playhouse, the IU Fun Frolic as well as a picnic and beach party with campfire along the shores of Lake Lemon. By 1978, the program had expanded to include nearly 60 course options covering topics on the humanities, domestic issues, human growth and development, business, international affairs, science and the arts.
Today, the program is significantly different – there is no longer a children’s program and attendees now stay primarily in the Indiana Memorial Union where the majority of courses are taught.  Open to all adults, not just Indiana University alumni, including qualified teachers seeking continuing renewal credits, the program has now expanded to include more than 100 course selections ranging in topics from business and technology, domestic issues, fine arts, health and fitness, international issues, humanities, music, theater and science. Mini alums receive a newsletter called Mini Happy Returns to keep them abreast of upcoming events. Each year the professors are chosen based upon recommendations from the chairs of their department or other faculty for being outstanding teachers. The 2016 Mini University program reads much like a who’s who of the university faculty and administration such as Lee Hamilton (Center on Congress), and James Madison (History) whose personal papers are all included in the University Library collections, as well as several of our esteemed library colleagues such as Dina Kellams (IU Archives), Carey Beam (Wylie House Museum), and Lori Dekydtspotter, Cherry Williams, Craig Simpson, Rebecca Bauman, and Andrew Rhoda (all Lilly Library).
The University Archives also holds the Mini University records as well as those of the School of Continuing Studies.
For those interested in registering for next year’s program, you can request a brochure here – just remember Mini U sells out QUICKLY!

The Travel Scrapbook of Dolores Whitney

Dolores Whitney completed a degree at Wesleyan University in 1945 and graduated with a M.S. from Indiana University in 1950. While we don’t know much regarding her life after IU, one box of documents and ceramics that she donated to the IU Archives in 1965 leaves us clues. In particular, a small scrapbook recording her time in Japan from 1947 to 1948 as a U.S. Civil services employee really stands out.

Front Cover of Dolores Whitney Japan Scrapbook

Bound in a soft leather cover, Dolores’ time in Japan is encapsulated. Like most scrapbooks, it is filled not only with photographs of the places she went and people she went with, but also ephemera documenting her time there. She includes maps, brochures, pamphlets, postcards, and even a drawing of herself done by a young Japanese student artist. All these commemorate her adventure away from home and I can only imagine her sitting with family and friends showing them all that she did during her time away.

Drawing of Dolores Whitney
Drawing of Dolores Whitney
Map in Dolores Whitney's Japan Scrapbook
Map in Dolores Whitney’s Japan Scrapbook
Photos in Dolores Whitney's Japan Scrapbook
Photos in Dolores Whitney’s Japan Scrapbook


This item really had me connecting with Dolores Whitney because sixty or so odd years later, I also make scrapbooks of my travels. Last May I took a trip to Ireland. It was my first trip out of the country. Like Dolores, I hoarded all the tickets, maps, postcards, and brochures I came across. When I got home I bound them into a homemade scrapbook to document my time across the pond. Probably like Dolores, I showed this to my curious family at Thanksgiving. While my scrapbook is not tied together in soft leather, it still serves the same purpose: to hold the scraps of a trip that I will want to tell my grandchildren about someday.