In 1938, the status of an all-female Co-Ed 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.
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.”
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.
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.
Doubtless, you’ve at least once wondered what historians would assume about your historical setting based on something you’ve left behind. Every day, we write something down, we send an e-mail, we file away something important, or we send a quick text to a friend. Our habits of communication–perhaps unknowingly– document specific snapshots of the world at the time of creation. And this has always been the case, although we’re much more digitized in today’s age than we used to be. So imagine you’ve written a letter to your sweetheart every day over a span of quite a few years. You may not realize it, but the subtle trends of history may have been written into your words.
This is what makes a collection like the John and Hilda Jay family papers so priceless: its ability to provide a series of snapshots through which we can study history, while also revealing the rich, fascinating details of a unique family. The collection, donated to the archives by Ms. Ellen Jay, consists primarily of a series of letters, the bulk of which were written between her parents, John and Hilda Jay, between the years of 1939-1946. John and Hilda were both IU alumni, John graduating in 1941 and Hilda graduating in 1945. They began their relationship during their time together at school, and married in 1942– a union that was hastened due to the country’s new involvement in World War II and the potential of John being called to duty.
That particular chapter of their story began on December 7th, 1941, when the Japanese attacked by bombing Pearl Harbor. At the time, the couple was separated; Hilda continued her schoolwork at IU, and John was in Connecticut beginning his career at the Remington Arms Company. Their letters suggest that they did, eventually, intend to marry, but more than likely not until after Hilda had completed her degree. Then, the news of the bombing sent waves of media response across the country.
On December 7th, 1941, Hilda wrote to her sweetheart: “I hardly know what to write you tonight. Just as we all came out from the concert we were encountered by news boys shouting “Extra-etc.” There was a rush to get the papers, then a grim, determined calmness evident…I wonder what the result of this will be so far as we are concerned.”
And the day after, John responded: “Well, we’re actually in it now. It has happened so fast I can hardly get over the shock. I had begun to feel that we wouldn’t get into war for at least 6 months yet, and possibly a year, when, bingo, the radio flashes word that Japan was bombing Hawaii.…The thing that hurts worst now is what’s going to happen to us. I hope we can pull through it, but gad, what a lot of faith it takes to think about even pulling through it.”
Evidence from their letters suggests that the entire family was trying to approach the question of what to do– postpone the marriage until after the war is over, or hurry it along before John is called away? There were unquestionably thousands of young couples in the same predicament across the country at that time. Plans had to be put on hold or rushed. Hilda’s mother suggested that she wait until “after this is all over.” Hilda, however, confided in a letter to John on December 13th that she didn’t see that happening: “Now as for how I look at it. This thing is going on for years–plenty of them…I’m not sure it would be wise to say ‘after this is all over’ for I think that is never…I think it all depends on what sort of service you get yourself into.” The uncertainty of the situation gripped tightly onto their plans for the future.
As it turns out, they decided to get married in July of 1942. Hilda would give up, or at least postpone, her education for the sake of their new marriage and move to Connecticut with her husband. This situation lasted for about a year before John was enlisted into the U.S. Navy in 1944. They stationed him at the Portsmouth Navy Shipyard, where he remained until boarding the U.S.S. Washington. With her husband off serving, Hilda returned to school at I.U. and was able to complete her degree by 1945.
The letters from John’s time aboard the U.S.S. Washington reveal telling anecdotes about Navy life during World War II. For instance, read below a description that John wrote after finding out about Hitler’s suicide and Germany’s surrender in May 1945:
This excerpt illustrates John’s personal feelings on the matter, as well as the discourse between Navy men immediately following the announcement.
The Jay family papers has more to offer than just a glimpse at life during World War II; the entirety of the collection spans from the early 20th century to the early 21st century, featuring letters written by several members of the Jay family, including their children, Ellen and Sarah. Ellen and Sarah also attended IU during the 1960s, and much like their parents, maintained correspondence with their own parents during their time apart. This extensive, interesting collection is brimming with both local and global history throughout crucial moments in the past.
The word Panthygatric looks and sounds unappealing. However, the women it involved would tell you otherwise. In the late 1890s through the early 1920s, sorority women from the then-four houses on the Bloomington campus would come together to plan an exciting banquet. The idea actually stemmed from the fraternities, who were forming an extremely elaborate and expensive party. They called it the “Pan-Hellenic” dance. Originally, women were invited, but the more elaborate the planning got, the more they wanted it to be without females.
Rule 1: Never mess with a woman and her party plans.
To spite the fraternities, the women decided to throw an even better party. They chose not to invite the men, and in a fun twist of fate, the fraternities Panhellenic dance was cancelled, whereas the women’s dance became an annual tradition.
What happened at these mysterious Panthygatrics? Sorority sisters would wear their house colors but they each had unique costumes. These included everything from a sailor, to a boy, to a ballerina, to a football player. They wore masks to keep their identity concealed and were very secretive as to how they would arrive at the venue to avoid their identity being given away. There was dancing, toasts, and lots of food. Women were able to talk and meet new people without any of the typical social pressures. Ironically enough, the mysteriousness of the dance and its activities is what gave it all of its publicity and attention.
In 1906, three men were caught looking into the window, trying to get a glimpse of this unique event. While they were caught before getting a decent look and escorted out, one of them decided to turn that quick peek into a scandal. Writing a letter to the The Daily Student (the present day Indiana Daily Student), he wrote (under the initials G.A.R.) of the Panthygatric scene he saw, saying how unladylike and wrong it was for young, respectable women to dress and act in such a disturbing manner. This letter sparked a response from Mary Breed, the Dean of Women, who had been in attendance that night. She argued there had not been any shenanigans; her accounts insist everything was innocent and fun. The editor of the The Daily Student, Robert Thompson, was told to write a retraction since the article from G.A.R. made the women who attended look bad to the public. Robert refused, saying the note was a joke and should have been taken as such. He also noted that he was not there to clear the article before it was published, so he should not be punished for it.
The Trustees declared him in the wrong and suspended both him and William Mattox (another member of The Daily Student) until they resigned from the student newspaper. When they finally left the newspaper staff, they were reinstated to Indiana University at students. Before you start feeling bad for William and Robert, A Bedford Weekly newspaper article states that this was not the first incident with the boys putting “alternative facts” in The Daily Student. They had been warned to stop numerous times.
The Panthygatric continued for years to come, with different incidents involving men arising over the years — from the guys sneaking in to steal desserts or dressing as women in an attempt to slip in unnoticed. Bouncers were placed at the doors, but if anyone got around them, they were met with women holding buckets of cold water. Even local businesses got into the spirit, selling products geared toward the dance!
During World War I, the Panthygatric was cancelled and resumed for only a few years following. In its heyday however, hundreds of female students and faculty attended and enjoyed the event.
In the early to mid-twentieth century, students didn’t make friends on social media or find a date through an app. They went to student sponsored socials and dances, with chaperones and live bands. The women were asked to dance by a different male student for almost every song, and they needed cards to avoid scheduling one dance with two different boys. They knew how to have fun and even got to hear some great music! Who wouldn’t want to hear Hoagy Carmichael or Louis Armstrong?
The Myra Montgomery Arthur Dance Card Collection and the Indiana University Archives Dance Card Collection hold numerous examples of inventive miniature booklets once used by female students to schedule their dance partners when at a social event. The two collections together contain over 50 different dance cards from dances and parties held at IU for students between 1900 and 1955. The ‘cards’ are often about the size of a person’s hand or smaller, with several pages provided for listing names. Some are in different shapes, such as a clover for a St. Patrick’s Day dance, or a football for the Foot-Ball Dance, held on the eve of the Syracuse-Indiana game in 1925. Others are attractive metal or leather booklets with a ribbon or string for a young lady to loop around her wrist while dancing. Parties and dances were sponsored by sororities, fraternities, and other student clubs and groups such as the Boosters Club, and there were always annual dances like the Annual Senior Siwash or the Junior Prom. There were so many dances, sock hops, and events to attend, a student could not only have a full dance card each night, but also a full schedule for the week!
Inside the inventive and colorful covers of a dance card was a lady’s promised dances, but also a list of chaperones, the name of the student organization sponsoring the dance, and who performed the live music. Many of the performers were local or college bands that played at IU often, but some were upcoming or established stars of the jazz and big band era! It turns out Hoagie Carmichael and Carmichael’s Collegians performed at a few of the student dances between 1924 and 1925 as his career was beginning. The students who planned The 1939 Junior Prom even somehow found a way to book Louis Armstrong!
Hoagy Carmichael was a Bloomington native who, after graduating from IU with a bachelor’s degree and law degree in 1925 and 1926, went on to become one of the most significant composers and musicians of his time. Famous for writing well known hits like “Georgia on My Mind” and “Stardust” among others, Carmichael is an icon of the jazz and big-band eras. He worked with Johnny Mercer on a number of projects including collaborating with him on “Skylark” in 1942, and his songs were performed by many famous singers including Louis Armstrong.
The young men and women who were lucky enough to attend a student dance where Hoagy Carmichael or Louis Armstrong were performing during the 1920s and 1930s not only had the chance to fill their dance cards, but also to see some of the era’s most famous musicians!
Throughout IU’s history, there have been countless examples of greatness and outstanding achievement by its African American students. It is important to remember those students who, despite being faced with overwhelming social challenges due to their race, made ripples through academia that have lasted for years. For this year’s Black History Month, we remember one of those students whose accomplishments made it possible for others to strive towards the same goal: Elbert F. Cox. Cox was the first African American in the country, and allegedly the entire world, to receive his PhD in mathematics, but not before receiving his undergraduate degree from IU.
Racial Tensions in Evansville
Cox was born on December 5th, 1895 in Evansville, Indiana. Evansville, like a majority of the towns at the time, had a segregated school system that saw African American students receiving an inadequate, underfunded education. But Evansville may have been even more racially divided than many of the other towns in Indiana, and the tensions between black and white citizens would come to a violent head more than once during Cox’s lifetime. A four-day race riot in 1903 occurred when a mob of white citizens stormed the county jail after the murder of a white policeman, which resulted in 12 deaths and could only be stopped when the Indiana governor called in a militia of 300 men to subdue it. Later, in 1920, the Ku Klux Klan would make its Indiana headquarters in Evansville.
Still, Cox’s family was among those who did not flee the city after the riot in 1903. They lived in a racially mixed neighborhood called Baptistown, where a majority of African Americans lived in Evansville at the time. Despite the adversity they faced from the white community, Cox had positive role models in Evansville. He could look up to the black teachers in his school, who promoted literacy and education. It is also possible that his father (one of his most essential inspirations) was a key reason for them to remain there after the riot, as he served as principal and educator for schools in Evansville and would do so for up to 50 years.
Indiana University and the Euclidean Circle
From Evansville, Cox made his journey to Indiana University in 1913 to study physics and mathematics. The math department at IU had several noteworthy professors at the time who would shape his education and help with his later academic endeavors. Some of his most influential educators were mathematics instructors/professors Cora Hennel, Schuyler Davisson, and Tobias Dantzig, who were all involved in some way with IU’s Euclidean Circle.
The purpose of the Euclidean Circle was to organize the faculty and students within the mathematics department, discuss mathematical questions, and share information. They initiated Cox on March 15th, 1915 as the first African American student to the group.
Cox also made his place within other organizations such as the Physics Club, where he acted as secretary in his senior year. That year his brother, Alvalon, also joined him in the club. The African American fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi, accepted him in 1915. He truly had an abundance of positive influences here at IU—but he, and the other African American students, still faced unfair treatment in different aspects of their education. His transcripts would read “colored student” across the top. He would be listed at the end of the graduates in the Arbutus in 1917, along with the other three African American graduates. And finally, he would be denied membership in the honor society Phi Beta Kappa despite his outstanding academic achievements. It is possible that they denied him purely because of his race. That being said, Cox (understandably) may have had mixed feelings about IU by the time he left.
Cornell’s Perfect Fit
Cox spent some of his time after IU as a math and physics teacher in the segregated schools of Henderson, Kentucky. In a letter to IU President William Lowe Bryan, he revealed that he had been inducted into military service and requested a letter of recommendation. This service would take him to Des Moines, Iowa and France for around nine months.
He later told his sons that he enjoyed being in the military and serving his country.
From there, he went to Shaw University in North Carolina for three years as a professor of the sciences and eventually became the head of the Department of Natural Science. However, by 1921, he was ready to further his education, and began the application process for a doctoral program at Cornell University.
Two of those professors from IU who had guided him during his time as an undergrad were happy to provide him with letters of recommendation during his application process. Davisson wrote in his letter, “[Cox] surpasses any colored man I have known as a student in mathematics.” Dantzig wrote two letters, worried that Cox would have “certain difficulties…because of the fact that he is of the colored race,” but that Cox would “develop into a man of whom the American mathematical world may be justly proud.” With these recommendations, Cox was able to gain acceptance after another candidate dropped from the competition.
The founder and the first president of Cornell University made sure that Cornell would be a perfect fit for Cox. Ezra Cornell (1807-1874) founded the university with hopes that it would provide equal opportunities for all who wished to be educated, and greatly opposed the practice of slavery. Andrew Dickson White (1832-1918), the first president of Cornell, promoted the admittance of both women and people of color into his university.
Cox was granted his PhD degree on September 26th, 1925. He completed a dissertation, which he published in the Tohoku Mathematical Journal in Sendai, Japan (after being declined by publishers in England and Germany) nine years after his graduation. One of his professors suggested publishing abroad to help legitimize his position as the first African-American in the world to receive his PhD in mathematics.
Life Beyond Cornell
Cox didn’t receive as much recognition during his life as he did after he passed away in 1969, but he was the first African American to be admitted into the American Mathematical Society. He worked as a professor at West Virginia State College (which was then an all-black institution) and then later Howard University in Washington D.C. Unfortunately, many scholars and professors refused to recognize his thesis as legitimate.
Regardless, he was said to be a popular professor who enjoyed his career. In 1954, he became the head of the mathematics department at Howard University. For many students, he would have acted as that same role model that his black teachers in Evansville were to him half a century earlier. After his death, he gained recognition as an African American pioneer of mathematics, and to this day is still thanked for the boundaries that he broke.