Jim Thorpe: World’s Greatest Athlete

Jim Thorpe with punters
Jim Thorpe with Indiana punters

I recently caught the documentary “Jim Thorpe, The World’s Greatest Athlete” on WFIU. I love documentaries and this one is worth a watch. But unless I missed it, they never mentioned the time this legend spent at Indiana University!

If you do not know the story, Thorpe, a Native American, began his athletic career at Pennsylvania’s Carlisle Indian Industrial School in 1907 where he played baseball, football, and was a member of the track team. He excelled in football and under the tutelage of Glen Scobey “Pop” Warner, Thorpe became a star on the Carlisle team. Before long the small school was winning against the likes of Harvard and Yale.

In 1912, Thorpe went to Stockholm as a member of the American Olympic track team. There he smashed previously held records, winning gold medals for the pentathlon and decathlon. He came home with $50,000 in trophies, including a chalice in the shape of a Viking ship presented to him by the Czar of Russia. Sadly, within a month, the Olympic Committee stripped him of his hard won medals, as it was learned that he had been paid a small sum for playing summer baseball – Jim Thorpe, they decided, was no amateur athlete.

This hardly meant an end to his sports career – quite the opposite, in fact. In 1913, he signed a contract to play baseball with the New York Giants, and went on to also play for the Chicago Cardinals and Canton (Ohio) Bulldogs. In 1920, he was elected president of the American Professional Football Association, the forerunner of today’s NFL.

Clearly, this guy was a big deal.

So where’s the IU connection?

Well, in 1914 IU hired C.C. Childs as its head football coach. In seeking out additional coaching staff, Childs considered — and passed over — job-seeker Knute Rockne (some of you may have heard of him) and remembered his fellow Olympic team member Thorpe. Thorpe was wrapping up a season with the Giants and he looked with interest at the opportunity to return to football. To assist with IU’s 1915 football season, he asked for $1000 plus a room for his family at a Bloomington hotel. A deal was struck and the students were thrilled to learn that the World’s Greatest Athlete would be joining the coaching staff. Sadly, his addition to the staff did not help lead the Hoosiers to glory that season. They finished with one victory, over Northwestern, and tied with Washington and Lee. Despite the poor record, Thorpe was welcomed as a hero on the campus and in the Bloomington community.

Thorpe left Bloomington to continue his professional athletic career in baseball and football. Throughout his life, Thorpe struggled with alcoholism and after retiring as a player, he found himself moving from job to job. When he died of a heart attack in 1953, he was penniless. Thorpe, however, would be long remembered for his athletic prowess. In 1983, the International Olympic Committee restored his Olympic medals and in 1999, Senator Rick Santorum sponsored a U.S. Senate resolution to name him Athlete of the Century.

“Man on the Floor!”: The Coming of Open Visitation

But alas, in this land, children are not always trained the way they should go. Still we welcome them with hope — we spurn none away without trial, even the surly and self-willed youth. We throw around him arms of love, pour into his ears the voice of entreaty, and bedew his cheeks with the tears of fraternal sympathy. – Indiana University President William M. Daily, 1856

For nearly 150 years, Indiana University managed students under in loco parentis – “in the place of a parent”. Discipline was to be meted out with a paternal, not punitive, hand. Rules regarding housing and social activities were plentiful and were to be followed. In general, there were more regulations guiding the lives of the coeds than for the male student population.

From the 1962-63 student regulations
From the 1962-63 student regulations

For many years, women could only participate in social functions on university property unless approved by the Social Affairs Committee; freshman women who held jobs requiring them to work 4 or more hours a day were not allowed to enroll for more than 10 credit hours without permission; and one we frequently hear about from alums — women’s hours. Unless previously approved, women had to be in their residence by a certain time because doors were locked. If they weren’t in by that time, they had to find a collaborator within the sorority or residence hall to stealthily sneak them in; otherwise, they had better be adept at climbing into a window!

The changing landscape of the 1960s brought an end to in loco parentis at Indiana University; women’s hours were discontinued, open visitation was ratified, and students were no longer required to live in university-approved housing.

Open Visitation?

After a considerable amount of work by student leaders, open visitation was approved by the Board of Trustees in 1968. Open visitation, or open guest privileges, meant three days a week, residents of university housing could have visitors of the opposite sex in their rooms if two-thirds of the residents in a given housing unit approved, determined via secret ballot. This change in university policy brought a firestorm of criticism from Indiana lawmakers, citizens, and, not surprisingly, parents.

60% of parents surveyed were against open visitation.
60% of parents surveyed were against open visitation.

IU’s new president, Joseph Sutton, prepared a letter for critics, stating, “Other state universities have instituted such a policy without public objection and I am puzzled why Indiana residents are so distrustful of their youth. Surely training in Indiana homes is just as effective as elsewhere.”

Despite the backlash, open guest hours remained in place and expanded for those who requested it. Although availability dwindled in numbers over the years, closed visitation housing remained an option for students until recent years, even if it was just a floor within a larger housing unit.

I know I am not doing this subject justice, but truly, one could write a book about student regulations at IU! If you are interested in researching this topic, let us know! We have extensive clippings files, student handbooks, university administrative records, as well as the records of student and faculty groups that could prove valuable.

Women’s History Month: IU’s First Coed, Sarah Parke Morrison

In 1867, Sarah Parke Morrison became the first woman admitted to Indiana University.

Morrison’s parents, John and Catherine, were themselves well-educated. John graduated from Miami University in Ohio in 1828, at which time he returned to his hometown Salem, Indiana and opened the Washington County Seminary. At the Seminary John was in charge of Catherine Morris’ education for six years. In 1830, Catherine’s parents sent her to the Quaker-run Westtown Boarding School near Philadelphia, where she studied for two years. Upon her return to Salem, John proposed to Catherine and they were married September 11, 1832. Their first child, Sarah, was born in 1833.

In addition to the Washington County Seminary, John and Catherine worked together to open the Salem Female Seminary in 1835. Instead of hiring the customary male teaching assistants, they employed young female teachers from the East, a rarity in this time.

After a considerable amount of home schooling, Catherine decided it was time for her daughter Sarah to receive more formal training. Sarah attended Mount Holyoke Seminary, graduating from that institution in 1857. She went on to Vassar College, where she was a pupil-teacher and later to Williams College to do post-graduate work.

After studying at Williams, Sarah returned home to Salem. While preparing to attend the 1867 Indiana University commencement, Sarah’s father, formerly president of the IU Board of Trustees and now Treasurer of the State, remarked to Sarah that it was time for the University to open its doors to women and offered Sarah $5 to prepare an appeal to the Board of Trustees.

This Sarah did, and the Trustees found nothing in the University’s charter that barred women from entering the University. They declared women could enter under the same terms as men. Sarah, at 34 years of age and years of education behind her, had no desire to attend Indiana University and hoped some other woman would step forward. To her disappointment, no young woman did, so Sarah entered as a freshman in the fall of 1867.

It was the fashion then to wear large sun hats, with a rather broad ribbon going over the crown and tied under the chin. The young men were not dangerous to me nor I to them, but I was thankful for the protection that hat afforded me from six hundred eyes presumably furtively ‘casting a sly glance at me’.

Sarah completed the four year program in two years, graduating in 1869. Four years after her graduation, Sarah was appointed tutor and in 1874 she became IU’s first female faculty member when she was named adjunct professor of English literature. Despite Sarah’s success as a student, the male students did not readily accept her as their superior. She only stayed at IU for one more year, at which time she left for other pursuits.

Sarah remained an active alumna of the University, however, frequently writing the Board of Trustees inquiring why women have not been placed as members of the various University boards. To voice her protest, she began returning her alumni ballots for the Board of Trustees marked “for some woman.”

Sarah Parke Morrison died in 1919 and is buried in Indianapolis.

The Archives holds a small collection of Sarah’s papers, which includes, among other things, a handwritten account of her entrance to IU as well as the frequent letters written to university administrators admonishing the lack of female representation among its ranks.

"Pardon me, but why have ladies not been placed upon the Board of Visitors? What is the use of so many men?"
“What is the use of so many men?”

Knightstown, Ind. Jan 19, 06

To Isaac Jenkinson, President and the Board of Trustees:

Honored Friends,

Pardon me, but why have ladies not been placed upon the Board of Visitors? To think that ever since 68 you have declared the half of the kingdom theirs, and yet they have not even a name among you as co-workers. You do not wish to increase the number upon the Boards? Certainly not. What is the use of so many men?

Click here to read her letter in its entirety: Morrison

Happy Birthday, Indiana University!

“It shall be the duty of the General Assembly, as soon as circumstances will permit, to provide by law for a general system of education ascending in a regular gradation from township schools to a State University, wherein tuition shall be gratis, and equally open to all.”

Dear Indiana University,

Baynard Rush Hall, Indiana University's first professor
Baynard Rush Hall, Indiana University's first professor

It’s your birthday today! Wow, 191 years. Do you think the framers of the state constitution could have ever imagined what you would become when they wrote the lines above? From humble beginnings of two buildings – one, housing for the lone professor, Baynard Rush Hall, the other, classroom and chapel space – you now have “Eight Front Doors through which children from all corners of the world have passed. You have touched them all in your own way and given them the tools to succeed in life, as any good mother would.

And on this day, your 191st, the Indiana University Archives presents you with a gift we hope will please you: this blog, through which we will reach out to those you have touched and will continue to teach them about your traditions and family. We will show them the letters, reports, photographs and records (and heck, probably a juicy diary or two) that sustain you and change you. We’ll ask for their help from time to time and we know they’ll respond, because you are Indiana University and those you touch bleed cream and crimson.

This is Blogging Hoosier History.

Happy Birthday, Indiana University!!!