Rites of Spring – Indiana University May Festival

As springtime bloomed across Indiana University in 1908, an Indiana Daily Student reporter eagerly previewed an upcoming campus event. “Dainty maids in the picturesque garb of the English peasant or the flaxen-haired Norwegian will dance the complex, but graceful folk dances of long ago.” Who were these “dainty maids” and what was this dazzling-sounding spectacle? The new Indiana University May Festival collection (C693) at the University Archives tells us a history of a vernal campus tradition. Importantly, the Indiana University May Festival became an active space for female student participation in the early twentieth century.

A scene from the 1924 May Festival, IU Archives photograph. Eight women dance in a field.
A scene from the 1924 May Festival, IU Archives no. P0026270

The IU May Festival began in earnest in 1905, when the IU Lecture Association organized an event featuring orchestral and choral performances in the Men’s Gymnasium. A cantata rendition of “The Swan and the Skylark” and ballet music from Faust evoked a springtime feeling. Despite glowing reviews, the IULA-hosted May Festival suffered from poor student participation. An Indiana Daily Student reporter expressed disappointment in 1906: “The small attendance is inconceivable. If the singers of Bloomington and the University knew what the chorus is doing, there would be a regular attendance of 200 instead of 30 or 40.” The event satisfied a Bloomington audience, but didn’t impact enough IU students at the time.

Section of the program for the 1905 May Festival, IU Archives
Section of the program for the 1905 May Festival, IU Archives C693

Beginning in 1908, the Women’s Athletic Association and Department of Physical Education for Women hosted the event in the Women’s Gymnasium for an invitation-only audience. Female students demonstrated exercises like dumbbell handling and club-swinging “with all the vigor and skill of their brothers,” as an IDS reporter noted. In the afternoon, they transformed into “dainty maids” to dance and wind cream and crimson streamers around a tall May Pole. Interestingly, the IDS also notes that only a small number of male students received invitations to the 1908 event.

This iteration of the May Festival was a staple of campus life by the 1920s. By 1922, the Women’s Self-Government Association (WSGA) sponsored an integral feature of the event: the election and crowning of a May Queen. The 1924 May Festival program names Mildred Wight as May Queen, with her heralds Ethel Budrow and Dorothy Tousley. Following a procession with flower girls, crown bearers, maids of honor, and other attendants, “The newly crowned May Queen is entertained by the joyous peasants.” IU students in pastoral garb performed six folk dances for the May Queen, followed by the mythical dance program “Fantasy of Dusk and Dawn.” The programs in this collection show how the all-female May Festival committee staged a mythological renaissance for modern day Bloomington.

Program for the 1924 May Festival, IU Archives C693
Program for the 1924 May Festival, IU Archives C693

By the 1922 May Festival, the WAA and WSGA had moved proceedings to Dunn Meadow. Rather than an invitation-only event in the Women’s Gymnasium, the May Festival had turned into a public performance. This collection also includes a 25-cent ticket for “Sylvia” to attend the Dance Drama portion of the festival at Dunn Meadow in 1927. IDS articles from this time also list the delightful box lunches served to attendees (who could say no to shrimp and mayonnaise sandwiches?) at no cost. One reporter indicated that the WAA and WSGA prepared 800 of these lunches—enough for a huge crowd. The May Festival shows how women at IU transformed a small musical celebration into a popular event that highlighted their talents as athletes, dancers, singers, and artists.

It appears that the WAA and WSGA ceased sponsorship of the May Festival after the 1920s. The last program contained in this collection is from 1928. IU women, however, carried on celebrating the tradition into at least the 1940s, as documented in the IU women’s residence halls scrapbooks. Collection C631, which contains 82 such scrapbooks from 1925-1959, is open for research and offers images from these later unofficial celebrations.

May Day Festival participants Betty Higbee and June Hiatt, 1937. This image scanned from "The Towers" (yearbook / scrapbook / photograph album) compiled by residents of East Memorial Hall when it was a dormitory.
May Day Festival participants Betty Higbee and June Hiatt, 1937. This image scanned from “The Towers” (yearbook / scrapbook / photograph album) compiled by residents of East Memorial Hall when it was a dormitory. IU Archives image no. P0052722

To learn more about the May Festival collection or to view the collection yourself, please feel free to contact the University Archives to set up an appointment.

New at the Archives: Esther Thelen papers 1977-2005

Professional headshot of Esther Thelen
Professional headshot of Esther Thelen, IU Archives P0078703

We are happy to announce that the papers of Esther Thelen (1941-2004), former professor of psychology at Indiana University Bloomington and a prominent figure in the field of developmental psychology, are now available for access at the University Archives.

After receiving her undergraduate degree in zoology from the University of Wisconsin in 1963, Thelen took a break from academia to begin her family before beginning graduate studies in zoology at the University of Missouri. It was there that she took a graduate course in animal behavior, which set off a chain of connections that would eventually lead to her impressive tenure as a professor and scholar in the field of developmental psychology.

Thelen and a tiny research subject during a study on infant coordination
Thelen and a tiny test subject during a study on infant coordination, IU Archives P0078729

While Thelen was conducting a study on the grooming behavior of wasps, the repetitive movements of the wasps reminded her of psychologist J. Piaget’s observation of circular reactions in the movement of human infants. Inspired by this connection, Thelen conducted a descriptive study of 49 different types of repetitive movements in infants, for which she earned her PhD in biological sciences in 1977.

After spending a few years as an assistant professor at the University of Missouri, Thelen came to Indiana University Bloomington as a full professor of psychology in 1985. While at IU, she founded and directed the Infant Motor Development Laboratory, where she and her colleagues studied infant movement, perception, and cognition. With a research output that included three books and over 120 scientific articles and chapters, Thelen made many revelations about infant motor development that influenced scholarship in fields as diverse as pediatric physical therapy, neuroscience, computer science, robotics, and kinesiology.

The Mobile Research Laboratory, a bus containing portable research equipment for the IU Department of Psychology
The Mobile Research Laboratory, a bus containing portable research equipment for the IU Department of Psychology, IU Archives P0078735

Thelen gave talks at universities, conferences, and workshops all over the world, and her influential work was often featured in national media sources. In this 1993 clip from the PBS program Scientific American Frontiers, the cameras follow along as Thelen and her colleagues take a ride in their “Mobile Research Laboratory,” a bus containing portable equipment essential to their studies of infant movement. This Mobile Laboratory enabled Thelen and her colleagues to travel to the homes of their infant research subjects in order to perform their studies remotely. The clip also shows Thelen working with her subjects in the Infant Motor Development Laboratory on campus.

During her tenure at Indiana University Bloomington, Thelen set a new standard for studying motor control and coordination in infants. Her collection at the University Archives includes materials such as personal files and correspondence; documents related to public speaking appearances, publications, and leadership roles in professional organizations and committees; educational materials from psychology courses taught by Thelen; and materials related to Thelen’s research, including handwritten notes, drafts of studies, and original U-Matic videotapes of research subjects.

To learn more about the Esther Thelen papers 1977-2005 or to view the collection yourself, please feel free to contact the University Archives to set up an appointment.

A Processing Story: The Claire Robertson papers, 1964-2012

The Claire Robertson papers, 1964-2012 are now available for research!

Claire C. Robertson (b. 1944) received her B.A. from Carleton College in 1966, her M.A. from the University of Chicago in 1968, and her Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin in 1974. She is the author or editor of eight books and numerous articles on women, class and gender relations, and African studies. Dr. Robertson was a professor at Ohio State University and a visiting scholar and adjunct professor at Indiana University, Bloomington. Robertson’s teaching and research focused primarily on the history and culture of women in Africa and on women’s studies. This collection consists of a portion of Robertson’s teaching materials, her research materials, manuscripts and writings, and other records relating to her career and professional activities. The collection arrived at the University Archives in multiple accessions between 2010 and 2012 totaling over 60 cubic feet of records.


Boxes from the Claire Robertson papers

Archival processing, a term that encompasses the tasks of arrangement and description for the collections in an archive, can often be a time-consuming task. Depending on the size of a collection, the level of organization that a collection has when it is donated to the archive, any preservation issues, and the level of detail which needs described in a finding aid, processing archival collections can take anywhere from a few days, to a few months, or maybe even years! Processing the Claire Robertson papers took some time between 2017 and March 2018 because of the size and condition of the collection.

Archivists often work on multiple tasks at a time. For student processors (like me!) this provides a great chance to learn how to ‘wear many hats’ so to speak. This project was ongoing while I managed other smaller projects and had the opportunity to learn more about different kinds of processing needs for different collections. The end result is an arranged collection and a detailed finding aid to help researchers access all parts of the collection!

Processing the Claire Robertson papers at the IU Archive
Processing the Claire Robertson papers at the IU Archive

The Claire Robertson papers contains materials relating to Robertson’s time in graduate school, her teaching files from classes taught at places other than OSU, manuscripts and drafts of her many articles and books, items relating to her professional activities, and a large amount of research and data that she created and used while writing her books Sharing the Same Bowl and Trouble Shows the Way. Much of her research involved surveying participants in Accra, Ghana and Nairobi, Kenya, and then compiling the data to analyze with a computer. But, in the 1980s and early 1990s computers weren’t very advanced. The print-outs of the computer data fill numerous oversize boxes on their own!

Robertson’s collection contains her drafts, manuscripts, research, and other materials relating to her many books and other publications

As a professor and instructor, Robertson taught history, African studies, and women’s studies courses at a number of universities, including Indiana University, Bloomington. She is also the author or editor of eight books and numerous articles on women, class and gender relations, and African Studies. In 1985, she was the winner of the African Studies Association’s  Herskovits Book Award. In 1987-1988, she held a Fulbright Fellowship to study the development of Kenyan trade and market women in the Nairobi area. Robertson was a professor of history and women’s studies at The Ohio State University for over twenty years, and active on numerous committees and projects.

She also served in various capacities at Indiana University throughout her career. Beginning in 1978 she served as a Faculty Research Associate in the African Studies Program and in 1984 she was the Co-Director of the Office of Women’s Affairs. From 1992 until 1993 she was appointed as a Visiting Scholar in the Women’s Studies Program, and she has since served as a Lecturer and been involved in IU’s Fair Trade Bloomington selling artisan-made items to benefit two projects. The Indiana University Press published her books, Sharing the Same Bowl: A Socioeconomic History of Women and Class in Accra, Ghana in 1984 and Trouble Showed the Way: Women, Men, and Trade in the Nairobi Area, 1890-1990 in 1997. Much of the archival collection consists of Robertson’s data and analysis for her various research projects and publications.

Central Accra Market Photos, 1978, Claire Robertson papers, Collection C633, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.

In Bloomington, Robertson now works on two projects to provide help to children affected by AIDS and to assist women in Kenya. For each of the projects, Ndethya wa Ngutethya Women’s Group and Spurgeon School for AIDS Orphans in Kenya, Robertson raises funds in the U.S. to buy clothing for African women and children, and then travels to Kenya and brings artisan-made items back from the Nairobi markets to sell at Fair Trade Bloomington and other fundraisers to benefit the Kenyan artists.

Claire Robertson’s papers in the IU Archives are now open for research. Anyone interested in the research process, or in topics relating to African Studies or Women’s Studies will find this collection to be full of interesting material!

In the Claire Robertson papers there are many items that she collected relating to her interests in Africa and women’s studies

In addition to items relating to Robertson’s work, the collection contains some other materials relating to her interests which she collected throughout her career. Contact the IU Archives for more information.

Portions of the collection such as African Newspapers and journals are now part of African Studies Collection here at IU, and  files documenting her teaching activities at the Ohio State University  were transferred to the OSU Archives.

“Reflections on Diversity:” Highlights from the Eugene Chen Eoyang papers

“I began thinking about diversity in an almost visceral way.  It puzzled me why people forget their diverse origins time and time again…”

-Eugene Eoyang, The Coat of Many Colors: Reflections on Diversity by a Minority of One

Eugene Chen Eoyang is Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature and of East Asian Languages and Cultures and was a part of Indiana University for more than twenty years, teaching in both the Department of Comparative Literature and the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures.

The Coat of Many Colors: Reflections on Diversity by a Minority of One, 1995

Born on February 8, 1939, in Hong Kong, Dr. Eoyang came to America at a young age with his family and attended school in New York.  He received his B.A. in English Literature from Harvard University in 1959, his M.A. with high distinction in English Literature from Columbia University in 1960, and his Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Indiana University in 1971.

Dr. Eoyang worked as an editor at Doubleday & Company before coming to Indiana University in 1969, eventually becoming a Professor of Comparative Literature and of East Asian Languages and Cultures, as well as chair of the East Asian Languages and Cultures Department.  In 1985, he founded the East Asian Summer Language Institute at Indiana University, which he was director of for five years.  In addition, Dr. Eoyang is a former board member and chair of the Kinsey Institute, as well as Associate Dean for the Office of Research and Graduate Development at Indiana University.

Newspaper highlighting the publication of The Coat of Many Colors: Reflections on Diversity by a Minority of One, January 29, 1995

This Indiana University Archives exhibition, open through February 14, 2018, hosted by the Office of the Bicentennial, examines both the institutional teaching and personal research of Dr. Eoyang, highly focused on the areas of translation theory and practice, Chinese literature, Chinese-Western literary relations, globalization, cross-cultural studies, and literary theory.

Some of the items featured in this exhibit include photographs, presentation notecards, conference booklets, correspondence, conference papers, and book publications.  These materials will provide the viewer with an inside look into the diverse work and outreach of an internationally renowned scholar in the field of comparative literature and translations.

“If the rainbow has been part of American’s neglected past, and if it is the unrecognized backdrop for America’s present, it will also be a critical part of America’s future…The multicultural rainbow is in America’s past, present, and future.  The rainbow is no sentimental symbol: it is the American reality.”

-Eugene Eoyang, The Coat of Many Colors: Reflections on Diversity by a Minority of One

East Asian Summer Institute, Earlham College, undated; Pictured: Eugene Eoyang, third row from top, fifth from left

The entirety of the Eugene Chen Eoyang papers has been processed and can be viewed in person by appointment by contacting the IU Archives!  To learn more about this exhibition, refer to the brochure or view the exhibition in person at:

The Office of the Bicentennial

Franklin Hall 200

Hours: 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.; weekdays

601 E. Kirkwood Avenue, Bloomington, IN 47405

Through the Airwaves: The Indiana School of the Sky

We all enjoy our podcasts, niche radio shows, and morning news during the drive to work or school, but the history of radio has a far reaching past beyond our modern version of it. For much of the twentieth century, radio was the entertainment and news medium of choice — not television, and radio has a particularly interesting history here at IU!

Class listening to School of the Sky, Archives image no. P0050223

The Indiana School of the Sky radio program of the Indiana University Department of Radio and Television began broadcasting educational radio programs in 1947 and continued through the early 1960s. The program reached schools throughout Indiana and nearby states and led to new course offerings at IU. IU students performed in the radio programs originally intended for children ages 4-8 which aired for 15 minutes during each school day.

Eventually the program’s popularity called for further programming for high-school students, and later adults tuned in as well.  Topics in every subject from history and music to current events and news were covered during the various episodes of the program.

The School of the Sky series discussed possible careers for students, music and literature, how to find a job, dating and growing up, and current events.  In many ways the program’s subjects seemed to help students learn both educational topics and how to be a part of society.  Other episodes focused on the news and events of the time that were likely difficult for students to understand.

To explain the Cold War and Communism to audiences in 1962, as part of the “How It Happened” series the School of the sky performed a skit about West Germany. From the view of an airplane and from the ground, the actors describe West Berlin as an “island surrounded by Communism.”  The narrator and the characters in the show provide listeners with the history and problematic results of World War II.  Students learned, through the vivid description of the show’s script, the differences between East and West Berlin, Check Point Charlie, and the Berlin Wall.  The picture the program paints shows the effects of Communism and the grim reality in Berlin on the other side of the Wall.  On the ground in West Berlin, the narrator explains that East Berliners have a very different life than West Berliners and the listeners in the United States:

President Wells speaking for the opening of the School of the Sky, Archives image no. P0048605

“The Communists, in fear of having everybody run away to freedom, have built a wall to stop them.  This wall is the ugliest thing I have ever seen.  It is also a very sad thing to see, because behind it are people who want freedom, want to live like you and me, but the wall holds them in.  If they try to get over the wall, the Communists shoot them.  Many young students have died trying to get over into West Berlin.”

The Indiana School of the Sky, 1961-1962, How It Happened Series, Volume 3 of 3. Program #10, Aprill 11, 1962, George Strimel, Jr. Page 96.

The program effectively brought a faraway place and the conflict of the Berlin Wall and Cold War home to the listeners in Indiana.

The students here at IU were the radio show’s writers, performers, and producers. The Indiana School of the Sky eventually reached thousands of classrooms and children while also providing college students with invaluable radio experience.

Oscar winners in “School of the Sky”, Archives image no. P0052037

The bound volumes containing the scripts of the program and the teaching manuals found in the IU Archives’ Indiana School of the Sky records offer enlightening insight into the stage management, acting, and preparation that was necessary for each episode.

In 2009, the Media Digitization and Preservation Initiative (MDPI) at IU found numerous lacquer discs containing recordings of The School of the Sky. These are now digitized and available online through Media Collections Online.