The Women’s Liberation Movement at IU

In the early 1960s, women across the nation started to rise up to further combat the social and cultural inequalities they were experiencing. They yearned for equality in the workplace. They wished to see changes in custody and divorce laws, so that they could go to court confident in their ability to actually win their cases. Many wanted to draw attention to domestic violence issues. Overall, women wanted to break down the barriers being placed in front of them and have their voices be heard. Their efforts eventually culminated into what is known today as the Women’s Liberation Movement, which continues to do its part in changing our world today.

These very same sentiments took hold of the women at IU and within the Bloomington community in the late 1960s. Alumni Ruth Mahaney (’70) and Nancy Brand(’73) discuss this in detail in their interview with the IU Bicentennial Oral History Project.

According to Ruth, she and other women became more interested in the issues surrounding women’s rights following their involvement in the Vietnam War Protests because they felt that they were not seen as equals in the movement. At one point in the interview, Nancy describes her feelings of inferiority after talking to her husband about a rally she attended in DC saying:

After learning more about what other campuses were doing across the country, Ruth and many other women dived headlong into the Women’s Liberation Movement and started up support groups for women on campus. Nancy states in the interview that by the time she came to campus in 1969, IU already had multiple support groups fully established.

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Front Page Aug-Sept 1974

IU’s Women’s Liberation Movement soon grew out of support groups and went on to achieve a number of notable accomplishments. In the early 1970s, members created a newsletter entitled the Front Page to bring attention to important topics related to the feminist movement and discuss local issues regarding women’s rights. It also acted as an outlet for women to publish their more creative endeavors.

At first the Front Page seemed to publish anything that came across their doorstep. They mainly printed critiques, essays, articles, poems, and illustrations. Some issues, however, contained interviews with various women trying to make their way through various working conditions or perhaps describing prejudices they’ve encountered in the world.

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IU’s Women’s Center

Ads for self-defense classes, daycares, civil rights conventions, women’s groups, and even piano lessons plastered its pages. The wide-ranging focus of the newsletter was perhaps an attempt to include all women who wished to get their thoughts and stories out into the world. After the January-February 1975 newsletter, the editors introduced more topical themed issues to better focus the content.

It was also around this time that the group procured a house and established a Women’s Center which, according to Mel Dennison, “…was formed to be a meeting place, crash pad, information service, clearing house of feminist ideas and repository of feminist literature” (from the Nov-Dec 1974 issue of the Front Page).  IU’s Women’s Handbook Spring ’75 contains a write-up on the house advertising its services and describing some of its accomplishments.

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Women’s Handbook Spring ’75 article on the Women’s Center

One of the things listed was that the house acted as a meeting place for the Front Page newsletter. In the lower right hand corner of the article (see below), you can see a woman holding the August-September 1974 issue of the Front Page.

According to Nancy, some of the other achievements included the establishment of the first international conference for groups trying to set up cooperative daycare centers. Their efforts also eventually produced a rape crisis center which developed into Bloomington’s Middle Way House.

To find out more about more about these issues, contact the IU Archives.

Sincerely Yours: The IU Coed Band

In 1938, the status of an all-female Coed Band on IU’s campus was in trouble. The band was organized in 1936 by Vivien Green, a flute instructor and the wife of IU’s band director, Frederick Green. The band provided an opportunity for women on campus to hone the musical abilities they cultivated in high school band programs. At this time, IU was one of only two schools in the entire world to offer such a program and the only state university to do so.

Enthusiastic women participated in the band for two years despite receiving no university credit for their efforts.  In 1938, fifty-one women attended the first meeting of the semester, but within a month, the women learned that the band could not continue without university support. Parents, high school band directors, and women involved in the band sent angry letters addressed to President Herman B Wells and the Board of Trustees.

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One woman wrote, “Don’t you think it is no more than fair that the Board of Trustees give credit to the Girls’ Co-Ed Band as it does to the glee clubs and Boys’ Band?” The Musical Supervisor of Bedford City Schools wrote that he was saddened that IU would no longer offer the Coed Band because 20-25% of students involved in high school band were women. A letter from another woman stated, “Where time is valuable, students cannot spare it for a half-hearted institution…I honestly feel that a feminine organization supplementing the splendid Marching Hundred would add greatly to the showmanship and interest of this university.” One irate woman wrote, “I came to IU because it had a band for girls. That is saying a lot, since my major subject is Home Economics; and you know and I know that Purdue offers a much more complete course in that subject area than does Indiana.”

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IU Archives, Image no. P0055903

With the deluge of complaints, Frank R. Elliott, the Director of Admissions, implored President Herman B Wells to address the problem. President Wells presented the petition to the Board of Trustees on October 10, 1938, but the issue remained unresolved. The Board insisted that the issue of credit was for the faculty to decide.  Mrs. Green took the issue to Kate Mueller, the Dean of Women, in December 1938 who advised the group operate as an extracurricular organization. In a small concession, a Girls’ Drum Corps was organized by the Military Science and Tactics staff as a separate unit from the Marching Hundred.  Still, the women did not receive credit for their work, as explicitly noted in the IU Course Bulletin for 1940. The Girls’ Drum Corps had uniforms, traveled with the Marching Hundred, and even sponsored a winter dance.

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The battle may have begun 1938, but it took more than 30 years for women to achieve equality in terms of college credit for band membership. It was not until 1973 that the Marching Hundred accepted female members.

The John and Hilda Jay Family Papers

Doubtless, you’ve at least once wondered what historians would assume about your historical setting based on something you’ve left behind. Every day, we write something down, we send an e-mail, we file away something important, or we send a quick text to a friend. Our habits of communication–perhaps unknowingly– document specific snapshots of the world at the time of creation. And this has always been the case, although we’re much more digitized in today’s age than we used to be. So imagine you’ve written a letter to your sweetheart every day over a span of quite a few years. You may not realize it, but the subtle trends of history may have been written into your words.

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This is what makes a collection like the John and Hilda Jay family papers so priceless: its ability to provide a series of snapshots through which we can study history, while also revealing the rich, fascinating details of a unique family. The collection, donated to the archives by Ms. Ellen Jay, consists primarily of a series of letters, the bulk of which were written between her parents, John and Hilda Jay, between the years of 1939-1946. John and Hilda were both IU alumni, John graduating in 1941 and Hilda graduating in 1945.  They began their relationship during their time together at school, and married in 1942– a union that was hastened due to the country’s new involvement in World War II and the potential of John being called to duty.

That particular chapter of their story began on December 7th, 1941, when the Japanese attacked by bombing Pearl Harbor. At the time, the couple was separated; Hilda continued her schoolwork at IU, and John was in Connecticut beginning his career at the Remington Arms Company. Their letters suggest that they did, eventually, intend to marry, but more than likely not until after Hilda had completed her degree. Then, the news of the bombing sent waves of media response across the country.

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On December 7th, 1941, Hilda wrote to her sweetheart: “I hardly know what to write you tonight. Just as we all came out from the concert we were encountered by news boys shouting “Extra-etc.” There was a rush to get the papers, then a grim, determined calmness evident…I wonder what the result of this will be so far as we are concerned.”

And the day after, John responded: “Well, we’re actually in it now. It has happened so fast I can hardly get over the shock. I had begun to feel that we wouldn’t get into war for at least 6 months yet, and possibly a year, when, bingo, the radio flashes word that Japan was bombing Hawaii.…The thing that hurts worst now is what’s going to happen to us. I hope we can pull through it, but gad, what a lot of faith it takes to think about even pulling through it.”

Evidence from their letters suggests that the entire family was trying to approach the question of what to do– postpone the marriage until after the war is over, or hurry it along before John is called away? There were unquestionably thousands of young couples in the same predicament across the country at that time. Plans had to be put on hold or rushed. Hilda’s mother suggested that she wait until “after this is all over.” Hilda, however, confided in a letter to John on December 13th that she didn’t see that happening: “Now as for how I look at it. This thing is going on for years–plenty of them…I’m not sure it would be wise to say ‘after this is all over’ for I think that is never…I think it all depends on what sort of service you get yourself into.” The uncertainty of the situation gripped tightly onto their plans for the future.

As it turns out, they decided to get married in July of 1942. Hilda would give up, or at least postpone, her education for the sake of their new marriage and move to Connecticut with her husband. This situation lasted for about a year before John was enlisted into the U.S. Navy in 1944. They stationed him at the Portsmouth Navy Shipyard, where he remained until boarding the U.S.S. Washington. With her husband off serving, Hilda returned to school at I.U. and was able to complete her degree by 1945.

The letters from John’s time aboard the U.S.S. Washington reveal telling anecdotes about Navy life during World War II. For instance, read below a description that John wrote after finding out about Hitler’s suicide and Germany’s surrender in May 1945:

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This excerpt illustrates John’s personal feelings on the matter, as well as the discourse between Navy men immediately following the announcement.

The Jay family papers has more to offer than just a glimpse at life during World War II; the entirety of the collection spans from the early 20th century to the early 21st century, featuring letters written by several members of the Jay family, including their children, Ellen and Sarah. Ellen and Sarah also attended IU during the 1960s, and much like their parents, maintained correspondence with their own parents during their time apart. This extensive, interesting collection is brimming with both local and global history throughout crucial moments in the past.

Contact the IU Archives, to schedule a visit to view the John and Hilda Jay family papers.

Behind the Curtain: Elizabeth Peters, EAD Assistant

Behind the Curtain is a series highlighting IU Archives staff, partners from various departments of the IU Libraries, and students who make all of our work possible. Continue to follow over the coming months to read how and who make the magic happen!

elizabeth_petersRole: EAD Assistant at the IU Archives and the Lilly Library

Educational Background: BA in Linguistics from Haverford College in Pennsylvania; Current MLS student with a specialization in archives and records management

How she got here: Elizabeth started working in archives as an undergraduate at Haverford College. She loved her experience so much that she decided to pursue archives further. One of her favorite things about working in the archives at Haverford was gaining a connection to the broader College community through learning about other people who had been there. At IU, as a graduate student, she knew it would be harder to make personal connections to the institution. By working in the University Archives, she feels that she can gain that sort of connection through interacting with the community’s history.

Elizabeth has had internships at the Higgins Armory Museum in Worcester, MA, the National Anthropological Archives in Washington, DC, and the Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies in Philadelphia, PA. At IU, Elizabeth previously worked as an Archives Assistant at the IU Archives last fall, and has been the EAD Assistant since January 2015.

C597 Doris Joan Richards Neff scrapbook, 1945-1946 which includes everything from dance cards, a cookie, a frog eye lens, and chewed gum

Favorite item in the collection: Elizabeth’s favorite items in the IU Archives’ collection are D. Joan Neff scrapbooks. She had lots of fun processing them, because each page turned yielded a new surprise. One page squished a bit, and there she discovered a (70-year-old) cookie. Another page made an odd swishing sound, and there were some dried roses. She notes that the best part is that, in addition to being anecdotally exciting, the scrapbooks really are a valuable resource for learning about student experiences during the late 1940s.

Current projects: Elizabeth serves as the EAD Assistant for the IU Archives and the Lilly Library. She encodes the online finding aids for these two repositories.

Favorite experience in the IU Archives: Elizabeth enjoyed when the descendants of Carrie Parker, the first African-American woman to attend IU, came to visit the archives. She was staffing the desk in the reading room at the time, and found it was really exciting to be confronted with the sort of power archives can have when they insist on valuing and appreciating the accomplishments of people who might otherwise consider themselves perfectly ordinary.

What she’s learned from working here: Elizabeth has been impressed by the extent that IU has grown over the past century. She once came across a story from the 1950s about a dispute over whether a particular house was in the Bloomington town limits or not. Looking at the address, she realized that she lives even further from campus than that address, yet her apartment is definitively within town limits.

 

No Men Allowed: A Look Inside the Mysterious Panthygatric Dances of the Early 1900s

Panthygatric Dance, 1896 Arbutus
1896 Arbutus

The word Panthygatric looks and sounds unappealing. However, the women it involved would tell you otherwise. In the late 1890s through the early 1920s, sorority women from the then-four houses on the Bloomington campus would come together to plan an exciting banquet. The idea actually stemmed from the fraternities, who were forming an extremely elaborate and expensive party. They called it the “Pan-Hellenic” dance. Originally, women were invited, but the more elaborate the planning got, the more they wanted it to be without females.

Rule 1: Never mess with a woman and her party plans.

Costumed attendees of the Panthygatric dance, unknown year.
Costumed attendees of the Panthygatric dance, unknown year.

To spite the fraternities, the women decided to throw an even better party. They chose not to invite the men, and in a fun twist of fate, the fraternities Panhellenic dance was cancelled, whereas the women’s dance became an annual tradition.

What happened at these mysterious Panthygatrics? Sorority sisters would wear their house colors but they each had unique costumes. These included everything from a sailor, to a boy, to a ballerina, to a football player. They wore masks to keep their identity concealed and were very secretive as to how they would arrive at the venue to avoid their identity being given away. There was dancing, toasts, and lots of food. Women were able to talk and meet new people without any of the typical social pressures. Ironically enough, the mysteriousness of the dance and its activities is what gave it all of its publicity and attention.

In 1906, three men were caught looking into the window, trying to get a glimpse of this unique event. While they were caught before getting a decent look and escorted out, one of them decided to turn that quick peek into a scandal. Writing a letter to the The Daily Student (the present day Indiana Daily Student), he wrote (under the initials G.A.R.) of the Panthygatric scene he saw, saying how unladylike and wrong it was for young, respectable women to dress and act in such a disturbing manner. This letter sparked a response from Mary Breed, the Dean of Women, who had been in attendance that night. She argued there had not been any shenanigans; her accounts insist everything was innocent and fun. The editor of the The Daily Student, Robert Thompson, was told to write a retraction since the article from G.A.R. made the women who attended look bad to the public. Robert refused, saying the note was a joke and should have been taken as such. He also noted that he was not there to clear the article before it was published, so he should not be punished for it.

IDS headline: Dean Breed Defends Last Panthygatric. April 19, 1906
Daily Student, 19 April 1906

The Trustees declared him in the wrong and suspended both him and William Mattox (another member of The Daily Student) until they resigned from the student newspaper. When they finally left the newspaper staff, they were reinstated to Indiana University at students. Before you start feeling bad for William and Robert, A Bedford Weekly newspaper article states that this was not the first incident with the boys putting “alternative facts” in The Daily Student. They had been warned to stop numerous times.

Advertisement seen in the IDS shortly before the Panthygatric event (The Daily Student, March 1, 1907)

The Panthygatric continued for years to come, with different incidents involving men arising over the years — from the guys sneaking in to steal desserts or dressing as women in an attempt to slip in unnoticed. Bouncers were placed at the doors, but if anyone got around them, they were met with women holding buckets of cold water. Even local businesses got into the spirit, selling products geared toward the dance!

During World War I, the Panthygatric was cancelled and resumed for only a few years following. In its heyday however, hundreds of female students and faculty attended and enjoyed the event.