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!

A Day in the Life: Pauline Day’s University Years Through Her Scrapbook

A picture is worth a thousand words. I would argue that a scrapbook is therefore worth tens of thousands of words. Scrapbooks are ways for people to collect photos, objects, and other items they deem important in order to reminisce on them later. Of course, as years go by, the value of the scrapbook changes. For modern researchers, scrapbooks become windows into a world that does not exist anymore, or at least one that is very different.

Pauline Day pictured with two unknown men
Pauline Day (foreground), circa 1915.

Pauline Day’s scrapbook is no different. She lived in Indiana her entire life, starting when she was born in Dunkirk, Indiana in 1894. She and her parents lived in Winchester for most of her life. She came to Indiana University in the fall of 1912 to get her degree in English, though she also took several courses in education. Looking in the Arbutus yearbook of 1916, one might wonder what Pauline did in her spare time, considering she was not part of any student group or sorority chapter. For all intents and purposes, it seemed like she wasn’t very involved in anything. Her scrapbook tells a different story.

Continue reading “A Day in the Life: Pauline Day’s University Years Through Her Scrapbook”

Into the Unknown: Theodore Bowie and “The Arts of Thailand”

Theodore R. Bowie, an art historian known for his work in what was at the time an underrepresented field – the history of Asian art- wore many hats during his time at Indiana University. A newly acquired and now-processed collection of Bowie’s papers containing a large number of photographs, letters, lecture notes, publications, and preparatory documents for perhaps the largest undertaking of his career, i.e. a 1960 exhibition named “The Arts of Thailand,” has allowed me a peek into the life of this prolific academic. Partially complete drafts of his memoir paint an inspiring picture of the man whose unflinching eagerness for professional involvement, passion for learning and travel, and unwavering confidence managed to bring the art of Thailand to the United States for the first time in history.

Cover of the softcover catalog for the 1960 opening of “The Arts of Thailand”

Originally educated and trained in the study of French literature, Bowie first displayed the nimbleness with which he moved through his career, throughout a multitude of academic positions and areas of expertise, when he moved into the discipline of art history. Bowie joined the Art Department as an associate professor at Indiana University in 1950. His relative lack of background in the field made him an uncertain candidate for tenure. Noticing his supervisor’s hesitancy in granting tenure, Bowie suggested his own installation as a librarian and guardian of the department’s new Fine Arts Library, a position which provided the ambitious and optimistic professor the opportunity to become involved in curating.

After mounting five shows dealing with the arts of Japan and China, in 1955 Bowie was approached by Henry Radford Hope on behalf of then-president Herman B Wells asking for a show demonstrating the art of Thailand. This request for a Thai art show came at a time when IU was one of multiple state schools participating in an exchange program with the Southeast Asian country. American universities sent faculty in a variety of disciplines and their families to Thailand for eighteen to twenty-four months and, in turn, Thailand sent undergraduate and graduate students to study at its partner universities. Bowie agreed to take on the immense task, despite having no knowledge of Thai art. After inquiring with the National Gallery in DC as a location to inaugurate the show, he was met with a polite but firm “no.” Although “The Arts of Thailand” would go on to travel to a number of large internationally recognized museums across the US, Western Europe, and Japan, contributing institutions agreed that the show would open, for the first time, in Bloomington, Indiana in 1960.

Promotional material for “The Arts of Thailand” at Indiana University.

For Bowie, the formation of his selection committee was critical in facing the large task that now confronted him. He brought on Kojiro Tomita, a specialist in Japanese art from the Museum of Fine Arts Boston; Alexander Griswold, an archaeologist and paleologist specializing in South Asian art; and Prince Subhadradis Diskul, the curator in chief of the national museum in Bangkok, to assist him in the project and teach him the ins and outs of Thai art. One of the few rules Bowie had in organizing the show was that none of the works were to be on loan from dealers, but rather from personal collections. A large number of the pieces featured, therefore, ended up coming from the collections of the Thai royal family. Bowie writes in his memoirs of the collectors hesitancy to let their best pieces travel, a cautiousness which was remedied by both Griswold’s personal connections and Bowie’s assertion that if Thailand wanted the global exhibition of its art to be on par with those of its East Asian neighbors, he would only accept the best.

Once the loans of the nearly three hundred and fifty works of art, many of which were large sculptural pieces, were secured, Bowie employed a Thai photographer to document them for the catalog. One of Bowie’s biggest challenges with the exhibition was transportation of the loaned pieces. As the show traveled around the world, Bowie was effectively responsible for each piece’s safety for the entire two years for which it toured. The pieces were stored in crates made from native Thai teakwood. During the entire duration of the shows global lifespan, the items were packed or unpacked over twenty times. Transported by large naval ships, the crates had to be stored on the top decks and protected from the elements, as opposed to in the more enclosed holds. This unique accommodation was necessitated by the sacred nature of a number of the items and the belief that to stand or walk above or on an image of the Buddha was sacrilegious. The Thai curators who accompanied the works abroad had never had the experience of traveling works of art across continents, and these logistical considerations provided additional job training and experience for them.

Pieces for the exhibition being transported using ships belonging to the US Navy.

On a local level, Bowie was confronted with the complication that what would become the IU Art Museum was still under construction (part of the present day Fine Arts Building)– a problem which he solved by creating a dynamic show spread across three locations: IU’s Auditorium, The Lilly Library, and the Art Center Gallery (what is now the Grunwald Gallery). The unconventional settings, although facilitating greater access and public engagement, presented security concerns, as the various locations were not equipped with surveillance or guards. The safety of the Thai art work was ensured, however, by a detachment of university ROTC officers who provided twenty-four hour security. The Auditorium held sculptures from a variety of periods, with many of the larger pieces having to be displayed on the floor because of their weight. The Art Center Gallery displayed paintings from the collection of the King of Thailand and theatrical masks, while the Lilly featured displays of Thai books, manuscripts, and richly decorated lacquer cabinets. A number of the visitors to these exhibition areas would have, on their way to other events on campus, stumbled across lobbies for the three exhibition areas decorated in vibrant silks and been enticed to stay and linger with the treasured pieces on display. Well-received by students, faculty, and administrators at IU “The Arts of Thailand” would prove to be a huge success with audiences throughout its two year run, and inspired both a film of the same name and a follow-up exhibition, “The Sculpture of Thailand,” in the 1970s. Recently digitized, the film is part of the IU Libraries Moving Image Archive and can be accessed here through Media Collections Online.

“Thai Arts Exhibition,” 1960 in the Art Center Gallery (now the Grunwald)

“The Arts of Thailand” was a massive undertaking for its time, fraught with a number of obstacles which Bowie seemed to blithely address in stride. Describing his mindset in undertaking the show, Bowie wrote:

 “I had hoped to talk about it to Henry [Radford Hope] and Herman B Wells, but alas Henry is gone and I will never know whether the thought had occurred to him that here was a non-existent museum, represented by a little known member of his Art Department who was not an authority on anything and had published nothing, who was generally (and loosely ) familiar with Far Eastern Art  but totally ignorant of Thai art, proceeding as an equal with some of the most important museums in the country to bring to this country and circulate a large collection of works of art of all kinds, easily deserving because of the scale and quantity of objects of the term “blockbuster,” …The odd thing is that at [the] time in question, about 1959, I was not in the least fazed by those duties that I had not applied for. I was, however, certain that I could carry it out as expected and never lose any sleep over the matter”

As an aspiring curator and a student pursuing my master’s in art history, the discovery of the life of Ted Bowie has been timely. Coming to the field of art history with, as a former studio major, what felt like less background than my cohort, was daunting. As I am again veering off in a different direction, away from academia and, hopefully, into the field of curating, I often find myself riddled with uncertainty. Starting the grueling process of applying for jobs, I find myself doubting my qualifications. Coming across Bowie’s words, and researching his life, one which progressed not in a straight and proscribed line, but in a joyous meander driven by his passions and ambitions, I am reminded that, perhaps, it is good to wear a few hats throughout one’s lifetime. Bowie’s brazen self-confidence has come as a perfect rallying cry, a reminder to question not whether we are capable, but rather what things we might be capable of.

An undated portrait of Bowie found in his personal archive – The Theodore Bowie Papers

Geraldine Katherine White papers

Geraldine Katherine White P0080797

We are happy to announce that the Geraldine Katherine White papers are now open for research!

Geraldine Katherine White (1903-1985) was an Indiana native who grew up in St. Joseph County, Indiana. She enrolled at Indiana University in September 1922 and graduated in 1926 with a B.S. in Commerce. During her time at IU, Geraldine was involved in a number activities associated with the School of Commerce and Finance (now known as the Kelly School of Business). The school, which was established in 1920, was still new at the time and gave Geraldine the opportunity to take part in the early formation of what would become one of the consistently high-ranking business schools in the nation. She was Vice-President of the newly established Girls’ Commerce Club, a group composed of advanced students in the commerce program. The young woman was also a charter member of IU’s Phi Chi Theta, a society for women majoring in Commerce, and was on the Executive Board for the Hoosier Journal of Business. During her senior year, she joined an inaugural pledge class for the Alpha Beta chapter of the now-defunct Beta Sigma Omicron.  She also received the honor of joining the Mortar Board, a national honor society that recognizes college seniors for their achievements in scholarship, leadership, and service.

Notes from Geraldine’s “Representative Painters” art history class

The collection contains course notes from various classes Geraldine took from Spring 1924 through Spring 1926 and two scrapbooks that hold items associated with White’s social life while at IU. The two scrapbooks, which date from 1922-1923 and 1925-1926 respectively, provide a more personal look into Geraldine’s social activities and the campus community. They contain sports schedules, pamphlets from events, bylaws and other information associated with the sororities and professional organizations that she was involved in, and pictures of friends and events.

Geraldine attended IU during the early years of the Memorial Campaign Fund, an initiative to raise money for the construction of multiple buildings on campus and to simultaneously honor the men and women from the University who had participated in World War I (for more on this see our Memorial Fund Campaign Records and a previous blog post by Alessandro Meregaglia). The new building for Geraldine’s school was a part of this campaign fund and is highlighted in her scrapbook:

School of Commerce and Finance
1924 Show Down Pamphlet
1924 Jordan River Revue Pamphlet

In addition to more items related the Memorial Campaign Fund, researchers will also find a wide array of pamphlets from theater events like the Jordan River Revue (a popular musical variety show put on by the Garrick Club, an organization that promoted University dramatic endeavors), the annual “Show Down” (another variety show hosted by the Garrick Club geared toward fraternities and sororities), and comedy shows. Music events and dances are also very popular themes in her scrapbooks. The pages are also filled to the brim with handwritten notes from friends recalling various memories during their time at IU.

If you would like to view the Geraldine Katherine White papers for yourself, please feel free to contact the IU Archives to set up an appointment.

Gerardo Gonzalez, the briefcase, and the University Archives

Earlier this summer whilst attending a “Lunch & Learn” hosted by the Office of the Bicentennial, I had the pleasure of meeting Gerardo Gonzalez, Dean Emeritus of the IU Bloomington School of Education (2000-2015). He mentioned that he had a memoir coming out later this year and he had some related family papers. They needed a permanent secure home – was the Archives interested?

Gerardo Gonzalez, 2014
Gerardo Gonzalez, 2014. IU Communications

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you already know that we collect quite broadly to document Indiana University and the people affiliated with the institution. But for those that may not or just for further information on our processes – indeed, the mission of the IU Libraries University Archives is to collect, preserve and make available university records of enduring value (as I tell classes, that is clearly something I have written down somewhere and have repeated several times, ha!). In pursuit of that mission, we focus on collecting records created and collected by IU Bloomington offices, departments, centers, institutes, as well as any campus offices with system-wide responsibilities. In addition, we seek out the records of student, faculty, and staff organizations. But we also extend our collecting priorities to the personal papers of IUB faculty, staff, and alumni. With these papers, we have areas of focus within each and they all tend to be on those materials that reflect their time at the university. But we also sometimes choose to go beyond that so that in the end, we have a collection that paints a fuller picture of the creator and his or her life.

So my answer to Dr. Gonzalez was an immediate affirmation. The papers he offered were very precious to him, as they were all related to his family’s emigration from Cuba to the United States shortly after Fidel Castro took power. Just a child at the time, Dr. Gonzalez only learned of the existence of the surviving telegrams, correspondence, plane tickets, etc. many years later when his father presented them in the briefcase in which they had been housed for safekeeping over the years.

This is the first telegram sent to Dr. Gonzalez’s parents. It threw them into a panic, as they had requested permission for their family of four to emigrate; this telegram instructed Gerardo’s younger sister – only 5 years old – to report to Havana for departure to the United States. Only Martiza. Nonetheless, his father began to explore possibilities so that at least Martiza could leave. Much to the family’s relief, later that same day they received a telegram that granted permission for their whole family to leave. In two days. IU Archives Collection C694

And now, we are responsible for their safekeeping, and they will allow us to tell a fuller, richer story of one of Indiana University’s most respected administrators and educators who began his life in the United States a shy, frightened refugee.

Gerardo Gonzalez, 1956. IU Archives P0082433

A finding aid for Dr. Gonzalez’s papers can be found on ArchivesOnlineIf you would like to view the collection, contact an archivist but note that we have fully digitized the small collection – click on the small cameras next to each item – as well as a few of the photographs! In addition to that, Dr. Gonzalez’s memoir, A Cuban Refugee’s Journey to the American Dream: The Power of Education, is now available through the IU Press! I just received my own copy, a gift from the author (thank you, Dr. Gonzalez!) yesterday, and I look forward to learning more about his journey.