In 1988 “The World’s Greatest College Weekend” Got Even Better

Little 500, May 12, 1951. IU Archives image no. P0057566

The Little 500 began in 1951 and students throughout campus were involved from the beginning. Women, however, were excluded from full participation for nearly 40 years. While they could participate in the Mini 500 trike race, women wanted an equal spotlight during “The World’s Greatest College Weekend.” In early 1980s, then-Dean of Women’s Affairs, Phyllis Klotman, proposed a separate women’s race after hearing talk of female students being unhappy because they felt like they were not a true part of Little 500. After Dean Klotman’s proposal, the planning took six years, but with a lot of persistence, the first race finally happened in 1988.

“We want women to know that if they have the motivation to do it, the opportunity and support is here for them.”

The rules for team building were the same as the men’s race: Only one Greek team per house, and the residence halls can have multiple teams, but they must be from different floors. The women’s race was half the length of the men’s: 100 laps (25 miles) as compared to the men’s 200 laps. And just to keep things fair, men were introduced to the Mini 500, which had been intended strictly for women.

For that first year, 37 teams were interested, but rules stated 33 teams were the maximum number allowed to race. It all worked out, as on race day, 30 women’s teams ended up competing. More than 11,000 spectators turned out to see the first-ever women’s race, a much larger turnout than projected. The top five finishing teams that year were:

  1. Willkie Sprint
  2. Kappa Alpha Theta
  3. Delta Delta Delta
  4. Alpha Epsilon Phi
  5. Notorious

The winning women’s team in 1988, Willkie Sprint, finished with a time of 1 hour, 10 minutes, 52 seconds, which averages out to a speed of 21.57 mph.

The Women’s council president for the 1988 Women’s 500, Sandi Miller, had some encouraging words for the women involved in the race, “We want women to know that if they have the motivation to do it, the opportunity and support is here for them.”

 

Women’s Little 500 is still as popular as ever and while there has been an annual race since 1988, Willkie Sprint’s time remains the fourth highest recorded. Today at 4:30 history will record the 30th Women’s Little 500.

Contact the IU Archives to learn more about the history of the Little 500, and view photographs of past women’s races here in the Archives Photograph Collection. We have also partnered with our colleagues in the IU Libraries Moving Image Archive to begin digitization of Little 500 films in our holdings! Visit Media Collections Online to see what is currently available and stay tuned for more!

China Remixed: Showin Wetzen Hsu, BA 1909

As part of China Remixed, a campus-wide initiative to celebrate Chinese culture, the Indiana University Archives is celebrating the long history of Chinese students at IU with a series of blog posts and an exhibit in the lobby of the Wells Library.

Showin Wetzen Hsu, 1930

Showin Wetzen Hsu was the first Chinese student to graduate from Indiana University, earning a Bachelor’s Degree in History in 1909. Hsu came to the US in 1905 and studied at the University of California until the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire compelled university officials to end the academic year early. He transferred to the University of Illinois, where he stayed for 2 years, but decided to continue his studies IU in 1908 to specialize in Political Science, International Law, and Diplomacy under professors he admired.

Showin Wetzen Hsu’s War Service Record detailing his judicial service in China until 1919

Shortly after graduation, in 1909, Hsu was recalled to China to serve as a law compiler in the Councilor’s department. Hsu rose through the ranks of the Chinese government quickly between 1911 and 1930. Hsu earned a master’s degree in 1911 and was appointed secretary of the Ministry of Education.  In 1912, Hsu was involved in transitioning the Chinese government from an imperial dynasty to a republic after the fall of the Qing Dynasty, a group that held power for more than 250 years. In 1912, the president of the newly established Republic of China appointed Hsu to serve as a justice of the Supreme Court of China. Hsu served in many high-level governmental and judicial capacities during his long career.

Letter from Showin Wetzen Hsu to President William Lowe Bryan, November 20, 1916 written on stationary from the Supreme Court of China

Hsu fondly remembered his time at IU even after his return to China. He corresponded with President William Lowe Bryan, donated money to IU causes, and frequently communicated with the IU Alumni Office. In October 1909, Hsu wrote a letter to William Lowe Bryan stating, “For the last whole academic year, I enjoyed my work in your university very much. I have been always proud of being the first Chinese graduate in Indiana and in the near future if I should be able enough to do any thing for my country is of course all due to your great supervision of our alma mater.” In January 1916, Hsu wrote to the Alumni Office to say that, although there were not enough IU graduates in Peking to hold a Foundation Day reunion, his thoughts were with his alma mater.

Pages four and five of letter from Showin Wetzen Hsu to IU President William Lowe Bryan, October 12, 1909: “I have been  always proud of being the first Chinese graduate in Indiana.”

Showin Wetzen Hsu paved the way for many Chinese students to attend Indiana University. Within 10 years, more than 10 Chinese students would find their way to IU.

Feel free to contact the Indiana University Archives if you would like to learn more about the history of Chinese students at IU.

The Legendary Prankster: Leon Varjian

It’s April Fools’ Day, which means that it’s officially the 42nd anniversary of the first-ever Banana Olympics held on the Indiana University campus. As ridiculous as it sounds, yes, it was a very real event—and a political one, at that, as it was held as a fundraiser for the campaign of graduate Leon Varjian, who in 1975 was running for mayor of Bloomington. Some of the very, very serious campaign promises included: turning Indiana University into a theme park similar to Disney Land called “IU-Land,” constructing a giant Monopoly board in downtown Bloomington around the Courthouse Square, a 100% unemployment rate (as everyone will become, instead, a civil servant, taking over new posts such as the town drunk or the resident derelict), carpeting all of the sidewalks, and replacing all of the parking meters with bubble gum machines. Still don’t believe me? Have a look for yourself:

Yes, Leon Varjian was a real person, and a real clown (okay, not a literal clown, but he was a hilarious guy.) Unfortunately, Varjian passed away in 2015, but the archives recently received his papers from his time in Bloomington. I’ve been given the task of processing them, and it’s been one of the most fun projects I’ve ever had during my time at the archives. Several times during the processing of these papers I’ve been caught in an unstoppable fit of giggles.

Right-click on the image to open it in a new tab, zoom in and read the article. Trust me, it’s worth it.

Varjian showed up in Bloomington in 1972, and from that moment on, nothing was the same. Originally hoping to receive his graduate degree in mathematics, he ended up with that and more—a reputation for being the funny man on campus. He was politically active from the start, running first for student government representing the “Birthday Party,” then for mayor of Bloomington on the “Fun City” ticket, and finally for IU Trustee on an equally ridiculous, nonsensical platform. I’m not sure if he won a seat on the student government, but he tragically did not become mayor of Bloomington (coming in third out of four candidates with 776 votes) or the IU Trustee. But if I’ve learned anything about Varjian from his papers, it’s that he was certainly a politically active and opinionated person, even if his campaigns weren’t serious at all. He collected numerous newspapers and clippings with political stories and held onto documents he received from the “War Tax Resistance” in the early 70’s. I have an inkling that he did want to make a difference, and his campaigns did in their own way. Larry A. Conrad, Indiana’s Secretary of State at the time, certainly seemed to think so.

He was smart, too. You can tell by the hundreds of loose leaf papers found in this collection that have free-form notes scribbled over them, which you could probably glean something from if you had the time and patience to make sense out of them. The notes could be anything from political notes to song lyrics to article ideas for one of the several publications he was involved with, such as Fun City. Fun City was an alternative publication that ran from 1975 to at least 1976, but probably discontinued after that when Varjian left Bloomington to pursue a short-lived career as a computer programmer in D.C. Anyone remember seeing one of the 13,000 weekly copies of this floating around on campus?

Some of the other publications he might have had a hand in were The Daily Stupid and The Daily Horrible-Terrible, both of which we have copies of in this collection. They were mock versions of the Indiana Daily Student and The Herald Times that came out annually, filled with satire articles and parodies. If you come in to see the collection, I recommend giving them a read.

When he left D.C. after only a short time, he returned to school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where his trickster ways gained national fame. He teamed up with friend Jim Mallon (future executive producer of Mystery Science Theater 3000) and pulled off a couple of enormous (albeit harmless) pranks. They covered historic Bascom Hill with a thousand pink flamingos for a fundraiser and put a huge replica of the Statue of Liberty’s head and torch on Lake Mendota while it was frozen over.

 

Imagine the time they spent planning this.

So today, on April Fools’ Day, we remember and celebrate prankster legend Leon Varjian. He certainly brought a smile to my face– and I think he brought about laughter and happiness during a time when America desperately needed a little sunshine. I’ve had a great time processing this collection, and I only wish I could have met the man himself.

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.

front-page-1974
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.

womens-center-pic
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.

womens-center
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.

girlsband001

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.”

coedband
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.

girlsband

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.