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!

Behind the Curtain: Sophia Phillips, Processor and Encoder

Behind the Curtain is a series highlighting IU Archives staff, partners from various departments of the IU Libraries, and students who make all of our work possible. Continue to follow over the coming months to read how and who make the magic happen!

Role: Sophia assists with the Modern Political Papers collection, where she helps to inventory and organize the papers of the Richard Lugar collection (see here for an inventory of the Lugar Legislative Activity Files, 1977-2010). In the fall of 2016, she also worked as an encoder with the IU Board of Trustees and Bloomington Faculty Council minutes.

Educational Background: B.A. in Spanish from University of Colorado–Boulder with a minor in History; Current MLS student at IU

How she got here:  Before attending IU, Sophia completed an internship with the Stephen H. Hart Library and Research Center at the History Colorado Center in Denver. Her internship involved doing a research survey of the library’s Research Services Inc. collection. She identified the subjects of the records, which covered a variety of subjects such as education surveys and political polls. Then, she compiled all of this information into an Excel spreadsheet to create an informal finding aid.

She was interested in working at the IU Archives to gain more first-hand experience with archival materials, and try to learn about as many different activities involved in archives as possible. She also wanted to see how a university archives operates to understand how it differs from other archival institutions.

Projects: Sophia used TEI to encode the historical minutes of the Board of Trustees and make them available online. She worked her way through the early 1900s. She also encoded the Bloomington Faculty Council minutes from the past two years.

Favorite experience in the IU Archives: Sophia enjoys being able to work with such a wide variety of material types, from photos, to press clippings, to memorabilia.

What she’s learned from working here: She’s learned more about some of the major figures in IU history, such as David Starr Jordan and Daniel Kirkwood. She says it’s interesting to recognize names from buildings and streets that she sees every day, and to find out who they were named for.

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.

Behind the Curtain: Elizabeth Peters, EAD Assistant

Behind the Curtain is a series highlighting IU Archives staff, partners from various departments of the IU Libraries, and students who make all of our work possible. Continue to follow over the coming months to read how and who make the magic happen!

elizabeth_petersRole: EAD Assistant at the IU Archives and the Lilly Library

Educational Background: BA in Linguistics from Haverford College in Pennsylvania; Current MLS student with a specialization in archives and records management

How she got here: Elizabeth started working in archives as an undergraduate at Haverford College. She loved her experience so much that she decided to pursue archives further. One of her favorite things about working in the archives at Haverford was gaining a connection to the broader College community through learning about other people who had been there. At IU, as a graduate student, she knew it would be harder to make personal connections to the institution. By working in the University Archives, she feels that she can gain that sort of connection through interacting with the community’s history.

Elizabeth has had internships at the Higgins Armory Museum in Worcester, MA, the National Anthropological Archives in Washington, DC, and the Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies in Philadelphia, PA. At IU, Elizabeth previously worked as an Archives Assistant at the IU Archives last fall, and has been the EAD Assistant since January 2015.

C597 Doris Joan Richards Neff scrapbook, 1945-1946 which includes everything from dance cards, a cookie, a frog eye lens, and chewed gum

Favorite item in the collection: Elizabeth’s favorite items in the IU Archives’ collection are D. Joan Neff scrapbooks. She had lots of fun processing them, because each page turned yielded a new surprise. One page squished a bit, and there she discovered a (70-year-old) cookie. Another page made an odd swishing sound, and there were some dried roses. She notes that the best part is that, in addition to being anecdotally exciting, the scrapbooks really are a valuable resource for learning about student experiences during the late 1940s.

Current projects: Elizabeth serves as the EAD Assistant for the IU Archives and the Lilly Library. She encodes the online finding aids for these two repositories.

Favorite experience in the IU Archives: Elizabeth enjoyed when the descendants of Carrie Parker, the first African-American woman to attend IU, came to visit the archives. She was staffing the desk in the reading room at the time, and found it was really exciting to be confronted with the sort of power archives can have when they insist on valuing and appreciating the accomplishments of people who might otherwise consider themselves perfectly ordinary.

What she’s learned from working here: Elizabeth has been impressed by the extent that IU has grown over the past century. She once came across a story from the 1950s about a dispute over whether a particular house was in the Bloomington town limits or not. Looking at the address, she realized that she lives even further from campus than that address, yet her apartment is definitively within town limits.

 

No Men Allowed: A Look Inside the Mysterious Panthygatric Dances of the Early 1900s

Panthygatric Dance, 1896 Arbutus
1896 Arbutus

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.

Costumed attendees of the Panthygatric dance, unknown year.
Costumed attendees of the Panthygatric dance, unknown year.

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.

IDS headline: Dean Breed Defends Last Panthygatric. April 19, 1906
Daily Student, 19 April 1906

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.

Advertisement seen in the IDS shortly before the Panthygatric event (The Daily Student, March 1, 1907)

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.