From the Arkansas Delta to Indiana University Administration: The Charlie Nelms Papers, 1967-2016

Charlie Nelms is an unparalleled force in higher education. From his early days as a graduate student at Indiana University to his executive leadership roles at IU and beyond, Nelms has deeply affected the landscape of higher education in the United States. I had the absolute pleasure of processing the Charlie Nelms papers, 1967-2016 (Collection C701) at the University Archives. This collection of writings, correspondence, reports, publications, audiovisual recordings, and ephemera documents Nelms’ life as a great leader, activist, orator, and educator. The potential uses of this collection are expansive. Anyone interested in diversity and race in higher education, university administration, philanthropy, public speaking, community outreach, mentorship, or memoir writing should definitely make use of this collection.

Charlie Nelms is shown sitting and reading a document.
Charlie Nelms, 1988. IU Archives Photograph Collection, P0028387

Charlie Nelms was born in Crawfordsville, Arkansas (in the Arkansas Delta) in 1946. Nelms was one of eleven children born to subsistence farmers and community organizers. Throughout his career and in his publications today, Nelms has reflected on growing up in the Arkansas Delta during the Jim Crow era. Many of these reflections appear in the Charlie Nelms papers, especially in the “Speeches” series (my favorite part of the collection). These anecdotes provide a powerful context to understand just how important his leadership at IU has been. Nelms shared a couple such anecdotes at the Black History Month Closing Reception at IU in 2005:

“Growing up in the Delta Region of Arkansas at a time when African Americans weren’t as fully integrated into society as they are today, Negro History Week took on special significance for my rural classmates and me. Back then you seldom saw a black face on television. In fact, very few black people even owned a television set. Popular programs included Amos and Andy, the Friday night boxing match, church sponsored box suppers and Sunday worship. And yes, there was the mourner’s bench, getting religion and being baptized in the local creek. As for me, I got religion and was baptized in a local lake known as Buck Lake. As painful as our history is, including everything from the middle passage to slavery, emancipation, segregation, desegregation, and integration, it is a history that we dare not forget lest we repeat it.”

In a 2004 speech for the Black Alumni Weekend at University of Kansas, Nelms detailed:

“School was some place you went after the cotton crop was harvested;

Decided I wanted to make the world a better place rather than wasting my energy on being angry;

Although my parents were barely literate, they had an abiding faith in education; Mama and Papa told us to get a good education because no one could take it away from you;

I know from experience that education is the engine of opportunity. The research is clear, unless you are born rich, education is the best vehicle for improving the quality of life for individuals, communities, and nations.”

These are important points to understand Nelms’ narrative: he has long understood education as the core of a just, democratic society. The biographical note on his personal website, www.charlienelms.com, states it succinctly:

“While poverty and discrimination shaped Charlie as he sought to escape their grip, he has never felt the need to escape his responsibility for eradicating their pernicious effects. Charlie deeply believes that equity and excellence are core principles of democracy, and both are achievable.”

For his undergraduate degree, Nelms stayed close to home and attended University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. After he received his B.S. in chemistry and agronomy there in 1968, he came to IU for his graduate work. He received an M.S. in higher education and student affairs in 1971 and an Ed.D. in higher education administration in 1977. The “Personal” series of the collection contains some materials from his graduate school days, such as newspapers and articles he used for research.

Like so many in academia, Charlie Nelms worked for many different universities throughout his career. After graduate school, Nelms worked at IU Northwest as a Professor of Education and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs from 1978-1984. The “Other Institutions” series of the collection includes teaching files, reports, and tenure dossier materials from his time at IU Northwest. The series also documents his next job as Vice President for Student Services at Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio. In 1987, Nelms was hired as Chancellor and Professor of Education at IU East (in Richmond, Indiana). The Indiana University East series documents his time there from 1987-1994. The series provides a window into IU East at the time, including a campus dialogue on race in America, efforts to increase black student enrollment, and general strategic planning efforts. The series also contains materials (including a lovely photo album) from Nelms’ cultural ambassador trip to a Japanese primary school in 1991.

Charlie Nelms sits at a desk. Two women and two men stand nearby. On the desk are pieces of paper with Japanese character calligraphy.
Charlie Nelms tries his hand at calligraphy while on a cultural ambassador trip to Japan, 1991.

In 1994 Nelms left Indiana entirely to become Chancellor and Professor of Education at University of Michigan-Flint, a position he served in until 1998. His time in Flint is documented in the “Speeches” series through transcripts and notes from speeches he gave at area community organizations—including the Urban League of Flint, the Flint Neighborhood Coalition, the Flint Public Library, Flint Community Schools, and Mott Community College.

In 1998, Nelms became a Hoosier again and began serving as Vice President for Institutional Development and Student Affairs at IU Bloomington (he served in this role until 2007). During his service here, Nelms led a team of university administrators from across the country to design and implement 20/20: A Vision for Achieving Equity and Excellence at IU-Bloomington. 20/20 implemented a host of recommendations made by Nelms’ team on how IU could ensure the campus actively promoted a racially and ethnically diverse student, faculty, and administrative body. Nelms embodied the goals of this plan throughout his leadership on Bloomington’s campus, particularly through collaborative efforts to fund diversity initiatives. He worked with Purdue University to secure a $3 million National Science Foundation grant to increase minority enrollment in STEM fields; helped secure $26 million in funding to construct and dedicate the Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center; and launched the $5 million Jimmy Ross Endowment Fund for Diversity Initiatives. Materials across the Nelms papers document these efforts and more.

Charlie Nelms stands with his wife and young son outside.
Charlie Nelms with his wife, Jenetta, and his son, Rashad, 1988. IU Archives Photograph Collection P0028383.

Nelms left Bloomington in 2007 to become Chancellor at North Carolina Central University (NCCU), a public, historically black university (or HBCU). The “Other Institutions” series contains notes, reports, and publications from his tenure at NCCU. Although he officially retired from NCCU in 2012, Nelms has remained an active author, public speaker, and consultant. His books include Lessons Taught, Lessons Learned (Bookmasters, 2004) and From Cotton Fields to University Leadership: All Eyes on Charlie (Indiana University Press, 2019). A portion of the proceeds from From Cotton Fields to University Leadership are donated to HBCU scholarships.  In 2019, Nelms was awarded an honorary doctorate from IU for his exemplary leadership.

As I mentioned, my favorite part of the Charlie Nelms papers remains the “Speeches” series. Not only does it reveal the depth and breadth of his community engagement, it shows how Nelms has woven his commitment to justice and education throughout his career. Even beyond this series, however, the Charlie Nelms papers documents a life and career we should all aspire to. As our late winter doldrums trudge on, it’s easy to become stressed and disheartened with our workloads as university students and employees. I urge you to check out this collection when you need a reminder of why your education and work (here at IU, at another university, or anywhere, really) matters for the betterment of our democracy. If you are interested in viewing this collection, please feel free to contact us and set up an appointment!

The Neighborhood of Make-Believe…in the Archives?

Readers recently got to experience the joys of Indiana University’s former Audio Visual Center (IUAVC) in Hannah Osborn’s post “Chucky Lou: The Story of a Woodchuck…and Captive Wildlife in Indiana.” I’m happy to report that as we process this collection at the archives, we continue to find plentiful moments of joy in the documents and materials that represent the IUAVC’s history. Not too long ago, Director Dina Kellams was perusing the collection to pull some material for an undergraduate class when she stumbled across a folder with the handwritten label: “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” To celebrate a joyful new year and A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, which starred Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers and premiered November 22, let’s take a look at the relationship between the AVC and this beloved touchstone of educational television.

At first glance it might not be obvious why this folder exists in the IUAVC collection. It is comprised of news releases issued by National Educational Television (NET) from 1967-1969. The releases detail specific Mister Rogers’ programs as they were aired, including initial broadcast dates, program lengths, medium information, indications if the program was in color or black and white, and synopses. These synopses are admittedly pretty adorable and endearing in and of themselves:

                “Program #41: What to do if you’re frightened? Misterogers explains that people can express their feelings in all sorts of ways. X the Owl spends the day making a rainbow from cardboard and doing scientific experiments. Henrietta Pussycat is upset by the thunder and lightning. Lady Aberlin suggests it is because the noise is unexpected. A game of “peek-a-boo” helps Henrietta; so does the explanation that lightning helps light up dark places. Misterogers turns the lights off and on to show that everything in the room is the same, even when it’s dark.”

Program Information NATIONAL EDUCATIONAL TELEVISION 10 Columbus Circle New York, New York 10019212 JUdson 6-0055 TO: FROM: SUBJECT: DATE: All Stations Elinor Solomon (Information Services: Bunny Heller) MISTEROGERS' NEIGHBORHOOD PROGRAMS #39 THROUGH #45 February 27, 1968 The following is program information on programs #39 through #45 in the Misterogers' Neighborhood series. Additional information will be forth¬coming on subsequent programs in the series. PROGRAM #39: Invitations and zip codes and a men's fashion show! King Friday invites everyone to a royal reception for Sara Saturday tomorrow. He wants people to write their replies. Handyman Negri gathers his confidence and decides he will try. to play his guitar for the King at the reception. But what should he wear for such a special performance? Mrs. Frogg's fashion show of men's clothing from cave-men days up to today offers exciting and unusual costumes. PROGRAM #40: King Friday commanded a special reception for Sara Saturday and today's the day! A congo drummer, a baton twirler, and a guitar player who looks exactly like Handyman Negri all help to enter¬tain. They even have S-shaped cookies! PROGRAM #41: What to do if you're frightened? Misterogers explains tha-t people can express their feelings in all sorts of ways. X the Owl spends the day making a rainbow from cardboard and doing scientific experiments. Henrietta Pussycat is upset by the thunder and lightning* Lady Aberlin suggests it is because the noise is unexpected. A game of "peek-a-boo" helps Henrietta; so does the explanation that lightning helps light up dark places. Misterogers turns tne lights off and ou to show that everything in the room is the same, even when it's dark. PROGRAM.#42: Today is a day for trading! Misterogers makes paper airplanes; once he traded them for buckeyes. In the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, X the Owl is delighted with the scarf Lady Aberlin knitted for him. He offers her a walnut to take to Grandpere's new "Tour D'echange" (Trading Tower) in exchange for a piece of chocolate.. The King's visitor, Bernard Goldberg, symphony flutist, plays from Bach's Suite No. 2. Misterogers suggests that anyone can have a trading tower. PROGRAM #43: What can you do when you really miss someone? Playing out your feelings can help. King Friday's visitor from the Metropolitan Opera Company, John Reardon, sings an aria about a bird-catcher from the opera, "The Magic Flute" by Mozart. The King then commands John -- more
Information for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood programs 39-43. February 27, 1968.
Program Information NATIONAL EDUCATIONAL TELEVISION 10 Columbus Circle New York, NrW York 10019 212-JUdson 6-0055 TO:All Stations FROM: Bunny Heller SUBJECT: MISTEROGERS' NEIGHBORHOOD PROGRAMS #94 through 100 MAILING DATE: June 10, 1968 INITIAL BROADCAST DATES: LENGTH: MEDIUM: COLOR OR BLACK & WHITE: June 27, 28, July 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 1968 Thirty minutes Videotape Black & white Program #94: Flowers to wear, flowers to hold, flowers for King Friday's guestl Lady Aberlin pretends she's a flower. Mr. Lee, the neighborhood florist, visits Misterogers. Program #95: A day for pasting. Misterogers and Handy¬man Negri make collages by pasting different things on paper. King Friday watches a wallpaper hanger paste wallpaper on the wall of the new room at the Castle. Program #96: Moms and Dads help each other because they care about each other. Lady Aberlin and Daniel blow bubbles from liquid detergent and wonder if King Friday and Sara Saturday will get married. Misterogers tries waxing his floor. Program #97: TBA Program #98: Every stone is different, just as every person is different. That’s why everyone is special. Neighbor Farnum and his daughter Cindy show Misterogers how to cut and polish stones. Mr. Anybody returns and decides to be a stone-man today. Program #99: Today is an "S'* day, for Scotland. Mr. Any¬body is a Scotsman today, and he even has a Scotty dog named Mac. There are performances in the S-Room of the Castle of a Scottish sword dance and the highland fling to the music of the Barker Bagpipers. Program #100: It doesn't hurt a bit to get weighed and measured and checked at the Doctor's office. Misterogers and Mr. McFeely weigh each other. Lady Elaine Fairchilde is afraid to have a check-up and acts silly about it until she finds out it doesn't hurt.
Information for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood programs 94-100. June 10, 1968.

These descriptions give us a picture of the major themes, characters, and lessons we came to know and love in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe. The associated information, such as broadcast dates and other administrative data, give us some historical understanding of the show’s trajectory in the late 1960s. But why are these releases in a folder used by the AVC? A document nestled about halfway through the folder, titled “INDIVIDUAL PROGRAM DATA” from June 1, 1967, gives us some clues. The document includes a general description of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, biographies of Fred Rogers and other featured talent, and descriptions for the first 100 Mister Rogers’ programs. The document is created by “ETS Program Service, Bloomington, Indiana.” I wasn’t sure what ETS stood for (I ventured to guess “educational television service”), so I did a quick Google search for “ETS Program Service Bloomington Indiana 1967.” This isn’t always the case, but sometimes a well-phrased Google search can be an archivist’s friend. I immediately found the answer in a digitized copy of The Public Broadcasting Act of 1967. A section of the act included facts about educational television stations—or ETS. It detailed:

                “The ETS Program Service was established in 1965 at Bloomington, Indiana. It is operated by Indiana University Foundation under contract to Educational Television Stations, NAEB. This service provides an exchange of a variety of programs selected from the best productions originating at local stations. There is a small per-program use charge to offset distribution costs. This nation-wide program distribution facility was made possible through grants for the National Home Library Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.”

ETS Program Service Bloomington, Indiana INDIVIDUAL PROGRAM DATA June 1, 1967 MISTEROGERS > NEIGHBORHOOD Number of Programs: 100 (5/week) Length: half-hour Produced by: WQED, PittsburghType: VT General Description: The imaginative Neighborhood of Make-Believe and a playroom filled with songs, stories and happenings, encourages Fred Rogers’ viewing guests to enjoy and wonder, to trust and learn about the feelings and things which they can experience together. Designed for children from 6 to 9* the series also includes these members of the Neighborhood: TROLLEY, the little streetcar who expresses himself with his tinkling bell; DANIEL STRIPED TIGER, who lives in a clock; CORNFLAKE S. PECIALLY, manager of the ROCKIT (ROCKING CHAIR) FACTORY; HENRIETTA PUSSYCAT, governess of NINE NICE MICE: MR. X THE OWL: and KING FRIDAY XIII, who celebrates his birthday "when the day of the week is Friday and the day of the month is thirteen". Featured Personalities: Fred Rogers, ordained a minister of the United Presbyterian Church in the United States in 1963, presently teaches children's work at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is a consultant in creative media for children at the Arsenal Child Study Center, a division of Western Psychiatric Institute of the University of Pittsburgh. Fred Rogers worked in production at NBC early in television's history. From 1953 through 1961 he produced and performed on CHILDREN'S CORNER over WQED. In 1955 the series won the Sylvania Award for the best local children's show in the country. For six years he worked for CBC TV doing specials and a daily 15-minute program. At the present time he is doing a series of "specials" for CBC, continuing a sponsored show in Pittsburgh, and the MISTEROGERS' NEIGHBORHOOD series. Other series talent includes: Don Brocket; members of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra; Vija Vetra; Frank Napier, naturalist; Francis Alder, WQED's science teacher; the poet- lady, Emilie Jacobson; and other Pittsburghers disguised as interesting imagination drawing characters. MISTEROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD is a 1966-67 production of WQED, Pittsburgh. Directed by David Chen.
Individual Program Data for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Issued by the ETS Program Service, Bloomington. June 1, 1967.

ETS members such as IU’s ETS Program Service were responsible for preparing regional and national conferences on education and media, communicating educational television issues to national government and private agencies, compiling reports that documented educational television progress, and disseminating information to other educational television stations. This last point helps clarify the purpose of this June 1967 document: The ETS Program Service in Bloomington likely distributed this informational sheet to area television stations and other entities (such as schools and libraries) who would be interested in showing Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

It is pretty cool to see IU’s educational television services represented in the congressional act that established the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and set the path for establishing the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and National Public Radio (NPR). The Public Broadcasting Act also had a strong connection to Fred Rogers himself. Rogers was a key supporter of the act and, two years later in 1969, testified before the Senate to defend the CPB and public broadcasting as a whole. The footage of the testimony has become iconic, in part because it played a central role in the 2018 documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? Rogers’ testimony is celebrated as a meaningful moment in American public rhetoric, and featured goose bump-inducing quotes such as:

“This is what I give. I give an expression of care every day to each child, to help him realize that he is unique. I end the program by saying, “You’ve made this day a special day, by just your being you. There’s no person in the whole world like you, and I like you, just the way you are.” And I feel that if we in public television can only make it clear that feelings are mentionable and manageable, we will have done a great service for mental health.”

You can view the video of his testimony and read a transcript of it here!

Now that we know why the ETS Program Service would have a folder on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, we can better understand the multifarious functions of the IUAVC. IUAVC was originally called the Film Archives’ Educational Film Collection and was launched in the 1940’s through IU’s Extension Division. The center amassed tens of thousands of 16mm films, which it would rent out to schools, libraries, and educational groups for low fees. IUAVC became a leader in the field of instructional technology and media in the mid-twentieth century. It worked in tandem with the National Instructional Television Library (NIT), which was located and operated by the IU Foundation (NIT became an independent entity in 1968 and renamed itself the Agency for Instructional Technology—AIT—in 1984. Learn more about AIT at the IU Libraries Moving Image Archive!). The IUAVC was also the exclusive distributor of films produced by National Educational Television (NET), the predecessor to PBS. Going back to Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, the first nationally broadcast season of the show was aired on NET in 1967. This means the IUAVC played a central role in the rise of Mister Rogers’ popularity in the late 1960s.

As we continue to process this exciting and important collection we’ll be sure to share more gems with you. In the meantime, you can get in touch with our friends at the IU Libraries Moving Image Archive to access IUAVC films and videos! And remember: You always make each day a special day. You know how: By just your being you!

Herman B Wells Speeches to Incoming Freshmen, during World War II and Today

When I think back to starting my freshman year of college (in enemy territory at Purdue University), I remember one main feeling: overwhelmed! Even though it has been more than a decade since then, I get butterflies in my stomach when I recall orientation activities, my first meals in the dorms, and meeting classmates for the first time. Though Purdue had a ton of welcome activities for incoming freshmen, the Indiana University traditions of Freshman Convocation and the Freshman Induction Ceremony are utterly charming. This year, the Freshman Induction took place August 21 at Skjodt Assembly Hall. We’ve covered the history of the Freshman Induction Ceremony in the past, so in this post I would like to focus on some wise words spoken at Freshman Convocations over the years. Specifically, this post will highlight Herman B Wells’ resolute and poignant addresses over the World War II years. His advice should be relevant for all freshman coming to Bloomington now, in an uncertain and overwhelming time.

Black and white photograph of Freshman convocation - a large crowd of seated students surrounds a central stage.
Freshman Convocation, September 15, 1938. IU Archives image no. P0031218

It is well known that our beloved Herman B Wells was a fantastic orator, so it is no surprise that his remarks are still impactful many decades later. During his 1937 speech to incoming freshmen, Wells reminded students of precarious conditions in America and the world:

“It is true that the world is beset with problems of such gravity that they sometimes challenge hope for the future. On the front pages of the newspapers almost every day reference is made to some of these problems—war, assault upon the democracies of the world by the rise of dictatorships, charges that the capitalistic system and the democratic philosophy of government are incompatible—in a word, questions that attack the very foundation of the institutions under which we are living.”

Pretty heavy words for the opening of a Freshman Convocation speech. He continued on to describe the depletion of natural resources and perilous state of natural conservation. He ended this section by saying:

“Wars, rumors of war, political unrest, dissipation of the vitality of our physical and human resources—certainly these create a dismal outlook for the future.”

Though these statements are grave, we can see obvious connections with our contemporary situation. Wells then placed the impetus for changing this outlook on the incoming freshmen:

“You need not be discouraged by the number and seriousness of these problems. They can all be solved, and they will be solved by our people if we are guided by an intelligent and informed leadership…And society, through government and through the sacrifices of individual families, has supported higher education generously in this country largely because we as a people believe that college-trained men and women offer us our best source of social, political, and economic leadership.”

One of Wells’ most extraordinary skills was to turn insurmountable challenges into inspiring moments of change. Against the backdrop of the rise of fascism (the Luftwaffe bombing of Guernica occurred in April of that year), Wells acknowledged the frightening realities of IU freshmen while simultaneously encouraging them to lead the charge for change. I hope the incoming freshman class today can harness this same courage.

Black and white photograph of the Freshman Induction ceremony. Robed faculty and staff including President Wells stand on the front steps of the Student Building.
Freshman Induction (Herman B Wells can be seen just to the right of the microphone), September 19, 1940. IU Archives image no. P0033994

In September 1940, one year before the United States officially entered World War II, Wells emphasized the university’s role in defending democracy.  He outlined three types of defenses for democracy: physical, intellectual, and spiritual. After summarizing mobilization activities on campus such as Civilian Pilot Training at the Bloomington airstrip and IU’s R.O.T.C. unit, he spoke to intellectual and spiritual defenses:

“You cannot be intellectually lazy and be an effective citizen in democracy. There is no dictator to tell you what is socially desirable and undesirable. Questions of social policy must be thought through for yourself, and you must think with sufficient clarity and originality, if you aspire to be a leader, so that you can win your colleagues to your point of view.”

Although young people today often hear calls to independent thinking, Wells’ thoughtful consideration of how free thought fosters a democratic environment should be especially relevant today. As to spiritual defenses of democracy, Wells spoke these compassionate words:

“Democracy is a way of life in which we are responsible for each other, in which our human relations must be governed, in a very real and practical sense, by self-restraint and mutual respect for the rights of others.”

In an age of rapid-fire and divisive communications I think incoming IU students would do well to embody mutual respect and feel responsibility for one another. We can update Wells’ words to apply to fostering a democratic society online, too.

Black and white photograph of President Herman B Wells standing underneath the Service Flag. Uniformed male students stand in the foreground listening.
President Wells Speaking at Dedication of the Indiana University Service Flag, August 22, 1943. IU Archives image no. P0039468

As the United States officially entered the War, we see a shift in Wells’ tone for incoming freshmen. 1942 was a particularly devastating year—by September of that year mass extermination of Jews had begun at Auschwitz, Sobibór, Treblinka, and Belzec; thousands of lives were lost as Axis powers sunk Allied ships during Second Happy Time; and Executive Order 9066 authorized the United States military to incarcerate Japanese Americans in detention camps. Wells’ 1942 freshman address echoed an atmosphere of severity:

“We hear much just now about the necessity of maintaining morale on the home front. These are days of unusual stress and strain for all of us. Home front morale will depend in no small measure upon our courtesy to each other. Acceptable manners, both public and private, insure proper consideration for the convenience and rights of others. Therefore this subject of good manners, always timely, is of especial significance at the present.”

Even in a dark hour, we see that Wells highlighted freshmen’s responsibility to treat others with respect and dignity. And as we can see from his 1946 address to the incoming class, that attitude continued after World War II as well. That year he remarked:

“The nervous system of the human body is a complex mechanism consisting of millions of cells. Yet a single nerve cell can register pain or pleasure which is felt throughout the entire body. Each person in the campus body, from the youngest student to the oldest professor, has an essential role. Each is, as it were, a cell in the nervous system of the University community.”

Black and white photograph of President Herman Wells greeting students with suitcases in hand at the entrance to Bryan Hall.
Herman B Wells welcoming World War II veterans who lived in the board room / conference room of the Administration Building during the postwar housing shortage, October 1946. IU Archives image no. P0023889

Cooperation and mutual respect were truly central to how Wells envisioned a democratic society. As the IU Class of 2023 settles in, I hope we all can exemplify Wells’ ideals to each other on and off campus. Most all of us were overwhelmed and frightened freshmen at one point. If Wells could set an example of strength against the backdrop of World War II, we should be able to pass these virtues on to the Class of 2023.

To see more transcripts of Herman B Wells’ speeches, check out the finding aid for Collection C137 or contact an archivist.

Sincerely Yours: Edna Hatfield Edmondson Describes a Tokyo Earthquake in 1922

As southern California re-stabilizes from two serious earthquakes on July 4 and 5, it may be sensible for us in southern Indiana to revisit some earthquake safety precautions. After all, Bloomington is situated near two significant fault lines: the New Madrid Seismic Zone and the Wabash Valley Seismic Zone. And although Hoosiers might not be too familiar with earthquakes (though some of us might remember the 5.2 magnitude quake in 2008—I know I sure do!), a letter from Edna Hatfield Edmondson shows how a group of Indiana University (IU) athletes handled a large quake back in 1922.

Black and white photograph of 14 members of the IU baseball team and their coach in front of their hotel
The 1922 baseball team at the Tsukiji Seiyoken Hotel. April 14 or 15, 1922. IU Archives image no.
P0042249

Hatfield Edmondson served as a faculty member for the IU Extension Division from 1919-1942. She and her husband, Clarence Edmund Edmondson (a physiology and social hygiene professor and later Dean of Men at IU), chaperoned the IU baseball team during a landmark trip abroad to Tokyo, Japan from March-April, 1922. The University Archives is fortunate to have a collection of letters and postcards that Hatfield Edmondson wrote during this trip. Her letters include attentive recaps of games the baseball team played, descriptions of events to welcome the group in Tokyo, travelogues, and photographs. A particularly lively letter addressed to the IU Director of Publicity (Frank R. Elliot) on April 30, 1922 describes the team’s experience during a large earthquake (see the letter in its entirety at the bottom of this post). She begins:

“The Indiana baseball team is getting the worth of its money on this trip. All sorts of stunts have been staged for me—such as stormy seas, hotel fires, (and the Imperial Hotel was to have housed us but was too full—this we learned the day after our arrival).

Now an earthquake.

The earthquake did itself proud—the worst since 1894. For fear we might be disappointed it jolted us up and down, north and south, and east and west. We were quite “shaken up” by the incident.”

The 1894 quake to which she refers was indeed terrible. The 6.6 magnitude quake occurred on June 20, 1894 and affected downtown Tokyo, Kawasaki, and Yokohama. In addition to widescale physical destruction in these cities, it claimed 31 lives and injured 157 people. Japan has a long history of earthquakes because it is situated on four different lithospheric plates; as such, Japan’s written record of earthquakes goes back around 1,500 years. Fortunately for Edna and the team, this earthquake wasn’t nearly as bad. Her descriptions of how team members fared, however, illustrate how dangerous earthquakes can be in a city full of buildings:

“Lynch, Gilbert, Sloate, Gause, and Wichterman were upstairs in an ivory shop. The proprietor yelled “earthquake” and vanished. The boys rushed to the stairway and stuck there. Gilbert said they rattled around like dice in a box and opened up a new entrance to that shop trying to get out.

Coach, Mrs. Levis, Kidd and Minton were making a call on a Buddha in a temple at the time but lost confidence and deserted the shrine.

Walker was alone in his room on the third floor, waiting for the final blow before jumping along with the tiles from the roof.

Denny and Macer were playing billiards and were only a few jumps behind the Japanese who were playing with them, in getting into the open.”

Edna continues to describe how she and her husband dealt with the shaking, all the while showing her sense of humor about the event:

“Mr. Edmondson and I looked across the table in our room at each other, laughed, then opened up our eyes, rose as one man and found ourselves at the window ready to slide down a telephone pole.”

We know now that proper earthquake safety procedure is to drop onto your hands and knees, cover your head and neck, and hold on to something sturdy. Edna’s jape about sliding down the telephone pole would in fact have been a very dangerous thing to do! The next two players she accounts for experienced firsthand the scary physical consequences of the quake (still with Edna’s trademark sense of humor):

“Clay has always believed his number elevens were a firm

Portrait of Leonard Ruckelshaus in his baseball uniform
The heroic Leonard Ruckelshaus, 1922. IU Archives image no. P0042596

foundation until he saw the sidewalk meeting him in all directions, where he lost confidence.

Kight was shaken out of a sound sleep and came to in the middle of the street—he doesn’t know whether he reached the street by fair means or foul.”

Edna ends her account on a more positive note, describing team member Leonard “Ruck” Ruckleshaus’ bravery:

“Ruckleshaus proved himself the only hero in the crowd by rescuing a beautiful young lady. Trust Ruck!”

We can see the impact the baseball team had on the local community! None of the team members were injured, and in fact they went on to play their next game in the series on May 2. Although the IU team lost more games than they won (the final series record was one victory, one tie, and five losses) they had many thrilling experiences. Aside from the earthquake, they experienced Mount Fuji, the largest tea house in Japan, and the Tokyo Imperial Palace. You can view many images of the team’s Japanese tour in our database.

Scene of a moat surrounding the Imperial Palace in Tokyo
Image from the photo album kept by James Byron Walker who was captain of the 1922 baseball team. A note found on this page reads, in full: “This is a moat that surrounds the Imperial Palace & grounds.” IU Archives image no. P0085306

In the end, it was fortunate timing for Edna and the IU team to experience a Japanese earthquake in 1922. In September 1923 the Great Kanto Earthquake struck the nation and left a devastating path of destruction, killing 140,000 people in resulting fires, floods, and physical destruction. The event is a chilling testament to the tragic potential of earthquakes.

On a more positive note, you can learn more about the IU baseball team’s trip to Japan in multiple places. Be sure to check out previous blog posts here and here, the Edna Hatfield Edmondson correspondence collection (C705), and the Leonard C. Ruckelshaus papers (C519). Both the Edmondson and Ruckelshaus collections are digitized for your perusal. If you have further questions, be sure to contact an archivist.

Scan of page 1 of Edna Hatfield's April 30, 1922 letter to Frank R. Elliot - written in cursive handwriting. Scan of page 2 of Edna Hatfield's April 30, 1922 letter to Frank R. Elliot - written in cursive handwriting. Scan of page 3 of Edna Hatfield's April 30, 1922 letter to Frank R. Elliot - written in cursive handwriting. Scan of page 4 of Edna Hatfield's April 30, 1922 letter to Frank R. Elliot - written in cursive handwriting. Scan of the envelope of Edna Hatfield's April 30, 1922 letter to Frank R. Elliot - includes Japanese stamps.

A Biplane, A Walnut Tree, and an Uncomfortable Laugh at Dunn Meadow

Here at the Indiana University Archives, we usually blog about our more inspirational and heartstring-pulling stories. Today, though, I want to share with you a thrilling tale of daring and disaster. Our director Dina Kellams recently perused IU’s new subscription to NewspaperARCHIVE, a tremendous resource to more than 1,000 historical newspapers in Indiana. She shared a 1911 clipping from The Tribune (from Seymour, Indiana) detailing an airplane crash in Dunn Meadow here at IU.

Plane crash on Dunn Meadow, Arbutus yearbook p.113. IU Archives image no. P0022444

On October 11 that year, the adventurous aviator Horace Kearney attempted an exhibition flight at Dunn Meadow. In front of a crowd of hundreds, Kearney took off and almost immediately crashed into a walnut tree.  I must admit that the paper’s description of the crash put me into a fit of laughter. As someone who grew up in an era of The Simpsons and Johnny Knoxville, I have always been tickled by slapstick comedy and stunts-gone-wrong. Fortunately Kearney survived the crash (I would not have laughed if he hadn’t!), but his story shows the real dangers of aviation as entertainment. It also gives us an opportunity to see what Dunn Meadow looked like in 1911.

When Kearney came to Bloomington for his October 1911 flight, he had been flying for only two years. The St. Louis native started aviation only six years after Wilbur and Orville Wright made their historic Kitty Hawk flight in 1903. Kearney was a flier for the Curtiss Exhibition Co., a company that hired fliers and sent them on tours across the U.S. to exhibit aviation for an excited public. Fliers such as Kearney led a life of glory and possible disaster. Fellow aviator Baxter H. Adams claimed he learned to fly after he heard Curtiss was paying Kearney $600.00 per flight (more than $15,000 today). The rewards, however, came with significant risks. Baxter claimed Kearney broke fourteen bones just training to fly. An Indiana Daily Student preview for Kearney’s Dunn Meadow flight reveals:

“While flying in St. Louis in August, Mr. Kreary [sic] had the misfortune to run out of gasoline directly above a house. As he could not make an immediate descent he lost control of his machine and was hurled to the ground. He received injuries placing him in the hospital for several weeks.”

Like other daredevils such as skateboarders or BMX riders, aviators simply had to expect crashes. Obviously, though, the risk of serious injury or death was more severe for aviators. When I expressed my horror about this, University Archives photographs curator Brad Cook explained to me how biplanes were built to withstand inevitable crashes. They were lightweight enough to allow pilots to “glide” to the ground. Even so, gravity was not kind to Kearney on October 11, 1911. He came to Bloomington for Booster Day, a city celebration featuring entertainment and merchant sales. Kearney was to make two flights: one around IU’s campus and another around downtown Bloomington. The crash happened early in the first flight. The IDS described his unsuccessful takeoff at Dunn Meadow:

“Kearney came sweeping down the field at about forty miles an hour clip in an endeavor to get under headway, when he saw a wire fence a short distance ahead which forced him to go into the air too soon. With his attention riveted upon righting his machine, Kearney shot into the air and straight toward a walnut tree…The machine brushed against the tree and fell. Kearney was hurled to the ground, lighting upon his neck and shoulders.”

The paper continued to describe the public spectacle of the crash. The people of Bloomington rushed the crash site:

“When the machine came crashing to the ground the great crowd that had assembled to witness the flight remained motionless for a moment, and then stampeded toward the fallen man like a herd of wild cattle. Men, women, and children fought to get a sight of Kearney and the damaged machine.”

This is important because it brings me to my first point in this post: why was my initial reaction laughter? This IDS passage shows how that reaction is predicated on a history of people being wildly entertained by crash disasters. And the Class of 1912 Arbutus even made a witty goof of the event:

“October 11: The Dunn meadow aviator took a fall. About 300 students, who had previously expressed their willingness to accompany the aviator, were now glad that they had been overlooked when the invitations were sent out.”

In other words, people have been finding thrills and comedy in disaster for quite a while. So what happened to Kearney? He recovered after convalescing at a Bloomington doctor C.E. Harris’s home, he returned to St. Louis for biplane repairs (the plane itself was a total loss, but the engine and some parts were unharmed in the crash) and continued as an entertaining aviator. Tragically, but perhaps unsurprisingly, Kearney died about a year later (December 1912) in a hydroaeroplane accident near Los Angeles. Kearney and a journalist, Chester Lawrence, were found at sea shortly after they took off in a Curtiss Hydroaeroplane (affectionately named “Snookums” by Kearney) near Redondo Beach. Kearney’s death is evidence of both the extreme dangers of early aviation and the determined adventurousness of early aviators. To put his final flight in context, Amelia Earhart’s first flight across the Atlantic Ocean was not until 1928—a full sixteen years after Kearney’s final flight into the Pacific Ocean. Earhart’s final flight was not until 1937. Indiana University witnessed an extraordinarily early aviation event when Kearney flew his Curtiss biplane into that walnut tree in 1911.

I hate to leave this post on such a morbid note, so let’s take one last look at Kearney’s amusing Bloomington flight. We can also use this event to give us some historical detail about Indiana University. Specifically, Kearney’s flight shows us what Dunn Meadow was like in 1911. I thought it was odd that Dunn Meadow could provide enough runway space for an airplane. It turns out that before the 1920’s, Dunn Meadow was much larger—it extended all the way to 10th Street. Dunn Meadow also served as a golf course at this time. Take a look below:

Dunn Meadow Golf Course, ca. 1917. IU Archives image no. P0025683
Dunn Meadow Golf Course (HPER building to right), ca. 1917. IU Archives image no. P0022957
Dunn Meadow Golf course, ca. 1900. IU Archives image no. P0049306