Sincerely Yours: Linen dresses and infernal machines

Helen Hopkins, Class of 1918. Archives image no. P0066988

Last spring, the IU Archives was contacted by a kind couple in Lafayette, Indiana who just by happenstance discovered a small but wonderful collection of WWI-era correspondence and other ephemera in a dumpster. At some point lovingly bound into 2 volumes, the nearly 300 letters between Helen Dale Hopkins and her family dating from 1915-1918 were thus thankfully saved from a fate in a landfill.

Born in 1897, Helen Dale Hopkins entered Indiana University as a freshman in the fall of 1915. She was an active member of the Classical Club, Browning Society, Pi Beta Phi, and was elected to the student honorary Phi Beta Kappa. She graduated with an A.B. in Latin with Distinction in 1918. During this period, Helen wrote home multiple times a week, predominately to her mother Clara, but occasionally also her brother Bob (Robert O. Hopkins).

Early letters report on joining Pi Beta Phi (the Pi Phi’s as she calls the sorority) and being in the library during freshman-sophomore scraps when the men were called outside and their hair forcibly cut. What we would describe as a modern-day foodie, in nearly every letter Helen reports on her meals (she seemed to have a particular fondness for potatoes and desserts), and vehemently thanks her mother for her weekly care packages of candies, cookies, bread, and wieners from home. In others she describes the contents of her friend’s packages from home, including one which included “a whole fried chicken and a fruit cake.” Other letters mention campus serenades, attending athletics events and dances, joining the Women’s League and YWCA, late night visits to the Book Nook for wieners and burgers to hear Hoagy Carmichael play, hiking to Arbutus hill, going to the Gentry Brothers Circus, student pranks such as the night she came home to a bed filled with salt, as well as campus issues such as coal shortages and the bad taste of the drinking water.

On a national level she discusses the 1916 presidential election and in the lead up to World War I she discusses military training on campus. On March 7, 1917, she describes a campus-wide meeting of all the students and faculty where “it was voted to send a telegram to [President] Wilson expressing the faith of the Indiana students in him and the promise of loyalty to the country…. President Bryan gave most wonderful talk, and several others of the faculty spoke.” Following the official declaration of war, she reports on her volunteer work with the Red Cross knitting sweaters for soldiers overseas, female students hastily marrying before their boyfriends enlisted, the dwindling numbers of male students on campus, and the back to the farm movement, which allowed students from farming families to return home to help with the crops while still earning course credit. She also alludes to the fact that Theodore Roosevelt would be their wartime commencement speaker.

One letter from April 1917 stands out in particular. While Helen mostly details daily thoughts and updates on life for her mother, she also shares the details of an incident involving a student of Russian descent (Mr. Edler). A transcript of the letter in its entirely follows.  

Saturday April 22, 1917

My darling sweetheart,

Thanks ever so much for the dresses, the skirt is just the thing. Could you cut a pattern from the straight dress pattern and send it to me for Velura? She wants to make her one like it. And she wondered how much goods it takes. I guess the straight dresses are as much in style as ever. One of the girls has a green linen with pockets and belt embroidered. Anna and Doris got three straight ones in town – $6.75 apiece. Mildred paid $15 for a linen one. They’re all made exactly like mine. My blue one is just in style, – my, I just love it better all the time. I hope it never wears out.

Louise says that if the weather is nice you and her folks are sure going to come down some Sunday. I wish you all could come some day. The campus is getting green and is full of violets and spring beauties. We were walking through it the other day and a red bird was on a limb above us and a blue bird on another branch. They were both singing and it seemed like a dream. I think the campus is the most beautiful spot there ever was.

Dr. Stout says Latin is growing more popular all the time. You know they are talking of taking German out of the schools. There are twelve in the senior class and there have been sixteen calls already for teachers. Velura is so discouraged that she broke down and cried the other day – she wants to come back so badly and everyone she talks to says that they can’t consider undergraduates for positions until all the seniors have places. Dr. Stout says that only one senior that he has known of has gotten less than $80; but he says they usually have to be satisfied with this the first year. I got all this information from being in the senior class. He put in a recommendation for each one of them.

He even wanted to know in what part of the state they wanted to teach and what sort of a school they would prefer to teach in. He said he would be glad to read the letter of application they wrote before they sent it. He seemed so interested in every one of them.

I spent the morning embroidering “Charlie” in mahogany silk on a pair of pajamas. One of the Phi Psi boy’s washing was left here and of course we thought we ought to embroider it. We embroidered hearts on all his handkerchiefs and his name on his pajamas and then cross-stitched the bottom in green and purple. Oh they were some class. I know he’ll like them. I hope so at any rate after all the work we put on them.

I’m going down a little in math. I only got 90 on the test I had Thursday. I hope we don’t have many more or he’ll find me out sure.

We decided to wait two weeks for our play, and so I don’t know what we’ll have Monday night – a good time anyway. Leah Stock, our province president, is coming Tuesday night. We’re going to move all the best furniture in our room. We’re going to have a dinner Tuesday night, a reception Wednesday afternoon, and a cooky-shine Wednesday night.

Did you see the story about Mr. Edler, a Russian in school here? He lived in a barn on two cents a day. When he was four years old, the Russian government killed his father and mother, and ever since then he has been against the government. The authorities here found his room which he had always kept locked, and found there all sorts of different mechanisms that they think he was trying to make infernal machines of. He says he was only experimenting on watches. He went around all winter without a hat and coat. He was in my Latin class, but it never occurred to me to be afraid of him. I don’t know where they’ve sent him but he’s left here.

Well sweet, I’m writing this in the midst of a stirring argument on woman suffrage; and I’m trying to argue and write at the same time.

Marie’s going to stay all night with me. Her roommate has a terrible cough, and she keeps Marie awake all night. I thought that since Louise was gone, she might sleep with me.

I went downtown with Mrs. Roberts this evening and she bought me a sack of candy. Some sport, eh?

Well sweet, I owe so many letters I guess I’d better start writing some.

With heaps and heaps of kisses,

Helen

Mr. John Edler was a Russian student at IU who earned the nickname “Hatless John” because he spent the cold Indiana winter walking around without the typical hat or coat worn by most people to protect him from the cold. According to the news coverage from April 1917, he was not a harmful individual but fellow students often heard him voicing anti-government and anarchist opinions, which raised some concerns. Finally, Registrar John Cravens and local authorities found cause and searched his room, where they discovered all kinds of mechanical parts that they assumed were being used to create “infernal machines” and bombs. Being that this was wartime, their discovery raised concerns and Edler was brought before a local Sanity Commission to judge whether or not he was a threat to the IU community and American citizens. The commission however deemed Edler completely sane and the mechanical parts harmless – in reality Edler was not in fact building bombs. He was a watch maker and his mechanisms could do no more than tell time.

After the ordeal, Edler returned to his former home in South Bend, Indiana. Tobias Dantzig, a mathematics professor at IU took responsibility for the young man, promising to assist him in finding work, which further appeased the sanity council and the whole situation was resolved.

To schedule an appointment to view the rest of the Helen Hopkins Wampler papers, contact the IU Archives.

Sincerely Yours: The End of the Civil War

Andrea has since graduated and moved on, but she left us with some of her amazing blog posts ready to go! Congratulations to Andrea and we think we convinced her that archives is where she wants to be!  

You may recall this post by Katie Martin from summer of last year about John D. Alexander, an 1861 alumnus of IU and later Union Captain during the Civil War. Over the past week or so, I’ve been transcribing all of the Civil War letters in Alexander’s collection, including the one that Katie included in her post. It’s been a real treat to read these as the letters definitely provide some unique insight into war strategies, the day-to-day life and sentiments of soldiers, and the means of communication during the mid-19th century. As an American History major, the Civil War has been a topic of particular interest to me for some time. So getting to read a primary source not already heavily picked over by historians is exciting, to say the least.

You can read some of Alexander’s biographical information in Katie’s post. By the end of the war, he was serving as an Acting Assistant Inspector General of the Second Brigade under William Tecumseh Sherman’s army. His brigade marched into Raleigh, North Carolina in April of 1865. On April 9th, 1865, General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant in Virginia, a significant marker that indicated the war was almost over. By the time John Alexander was writing a letter to his parents on April 18th, Sherman had been in Raleigh having an ongoing negotiation with General Joseph Johnston about the terms of another Confederate surrender. Johnston’s surrender turned out to be the largest surrender of men during the entire war with 89,270 soldiers in all.

Here’s John Alexander’s account of how it all unfolded:

And here’s a partial transcript, since that’s pretty difficult to read:

Once again I am permitted to write to you. God in his all-wise providence has so far spared my life for some purpose. I am well and am enjoying good health. My health was never better than at the present time. You see by this letter that we are near Raleigh N.C. We entered the city without any opposition. Our Division passed review as we entered the city. General Sherman was sitting on a noble black horse in the gateway leading into the Capitol Square. We came out 3 miles north of the City where we are now encamped. General Sherman and Genl. Joe Johnston have been in consultations several days in regard to [Johnston’s] surrendering his Army. How it will terminate I don’t know. He wants to surrender on the same terms that Lee did. But I don’t believe Sherman will let him off so easily. If [Johnston] surrenders the probability is we will not go any further out but will go into Camp some place near here. Every day there are droves of men coming by here going home that belonged to lee’s Army and deserters from [Johnston] heartily tired and sick of the war. Some of Lee’s men stopped at our Camp last night and the boys shared their rations with them and their tents and appeared as cheerful as larks in each others company. Was man ever so [illegible] before. They curse their leaders and long for the old flag and Union. God grant that I may see peace in our land again. But when I think of my comrades that have fallen by my side in the dark hour of battle, something says “how can you forgive these men that have made so many homes desolate in the land”. I hope I may be charitable enough to forgive them…

Wednesday April 19th 1865

Last night it rained so I had to go to bed. My tent mate, Lieut. Hopkins of the 46th Ohio and A.A.G.M. wished me to retire as he had been out foraging and was tired. When we were opening the mail the Colonel found one for me and said “this is from your father I know his handwriting.” It is rumored here this morning that Johnston has surrendered. Also that President was shot dead by an assassin in his private box at the Theatre in Washington. Also that they visited the residence of Seward, shot his son and stabbed him in his bed. I hope it is not true…

I have reliable information just received that Sherman returned from Hillsboro last night and Johnston has surrendered his whole Army. Hallelujah. The time is not far distant when we can all enjoy peace again.

I personally learned a lot from this letter alone about the ambiguity in those few days when no one was quite sure of whether or not the war was really over. The Union soldiers weren’t entirely sure how they should treat the members of the opposing army. For the most part, it seemed like they were just happy that the fighting was over and had no desire to perpetuate any more violence. Union soldiers even offered the Confederate deserters and discharged members of Lee’s army their food and shelter (which they may have had very little of in the first place). Alexander doesn’t mention any instances of contempt or violence on either of their parts, other than his own hesitation to offer forgiveness after all the damage that had been done by the Confederates.

When Lee surrendered his army, the terms of surrender were considered, by some, to be overly lenient. Soldiers and officers only had to turn over their weapons, but were given leave to return home immediately– thus the surplus of discharged Confederate soldiers that Alexander saw passing by or through their camp. Alexander was clearly among those who thought that Lee’s army should have been more severely punished for their rebellion. Johnston’s surrender was supposed to be even more merciful than Lee’s. By the time the second half of Alexander’s letter was written (April 19th) Sherman and Johnston had agreed upon the terms that would reinstate Confederate state governments. However, officials in Washington D.C. wholly rejected these terms, outraged by Lincoln’s assassination, and a few days later, the original terms were dissolved and changed to terms identical to that of Lee’s.

There’s a lot to be learned from primary sources such as this one. The delays in communication during the Civil War, for one– Lincoln’s assassination and Johnston’s surrender were mere rumors at the time. You can also get a feel for Alexander’s unabashed optimism and patriotism in most of his letters, which– from the sound of it– wasn’t a uniform state of mind among soldiers. Alexander prided himself on being relentless in his duty as a soldier to his country, and a few times chastised others in his letters for being lazy. In another (undated) letter, Alexander wrote:

“…no man shall ever say… that I shirked my duty. It is really diverting to see how some men do. They will lay in Camp and eat and drink and smoke merry and when the marching orders come– it’s ‘Oh my back or my leg’, ‘I know I can’t go and carry my knapsack, I could not go a mile. Orderly, will the doctor have a sick call this morning[?] Ah me, I know I’ll have to be left.’ Then they will let in to consoling themselves. ‘Well, I’ll just lie down and let the [Confederates] take me prisoner and parole me and I’ll go home and they will not get me in the army again.’ This is what they want.”

Check out the John D. Alexander collection in the Archives Online to see digitized versions of all of the letters.

Sincerely Yours: How Cecil Got His Gun

Cecil K. Byrd (1913-1997) was a longtime librarian and faculty member at Indiana University. He served as Curator of Special Collections (1942-1946), Assistant Director of Libraries (1946-1949), Associate Director of Libraries (1949-1964), University Librarian (1964-1972), and finally professor and librarian emeritus at the Lilly Library (1980-1997).

Air mail envelope addressed to Dr. Robert A. Miller from C. K. Byrd
Air mail envelope from Cecil K. Byrd’s wartime correspondence with Robert Miller, June 1944.

Cecil K. Byrd (M.A. 1938, Ph.D. 1942, History, Indiana University) landed a plum job at IU as Curator of Special Collections upon his graduation, but his career was soon interrupted by the entrance of the United States into World War II. Byrd left the university for service in the U.S. Navy in April 1943, not long after an important IU special collections milestone– the donation of the Oakleaf collection on Abraham Lincoln, which Byrd cataloged, and the opening of the library’s Lincoln room (then located in Franklin Hall).

Photograph of Cecil K. Byrd and three scholars in the Lincoln Room at its dedication on February 13, 1943.
Lincoln Scholars at Lincoln Room Dedication, February 13, 1943. Cecil K. Byrd is the second from the right.

During his wartime service as a ship’s navigator, Byrd corresponded with IU Libraries Director Robert Miller, who kept him up to date with campus affairs. In return, Byrd shared some of his experiences as well as his eagerness to get back to his beloved job (“I would give my share of paradise to be sitting on my thin bottom in that red chair in Rare books and attending an auction now and again!”). One of Byrd’s more entertaining anecdotes appears in a June 23, 1944 letter, written while Byrd’s ship was stationed in France on transport duty. It concerns the requisitioning of a machine gun that he just had to have, not for himself, of course, but for Lincoln:

“Visited a German ammunition dump that had been evacuated a few hours before. Mindful of the Rare Book section, I selected a machine gun that in some mystical way had been connected with Lincoln for a souvenir. Pulled and groaned with the thing many miles and had nearly reached the ship when I was hailed by a British M.P. who wanted to know what I was doing with one of his Majesty’s guns. I gave him my little song and dance and “for Lincoln” he let me take it aboard. But I was so disappointed that it wasn’t German that I gave it to the mess boy with the story that I captured it alone and unarmed.”

Byrd’s mock-curatorial escapade was not the end of his exploits abroad in the name of the IU Libraries. During a stopover in England, he used coupons to procure “enough Harris tweed…to make myself a suit and topcoat” (stereotypical mid-century librarian wear?) and offered to buy additional cloth for Miller:

“Don’t know whether you like tweed or not. I’ve bought enough Harris tweed in Eng. to make myself a suit and topcoat. It takes coupons but I have a contact out to get more. If you are interested I think I could get you enough for a suit or topcoat. The last I got cost me $27 for 7 yards. You’ll have to trust me for the general color, etc. I’ll not make you look either like a librarian or race track tout — something in between. Let me know about this.”

After the war, Byrd returned to his beloved library, complete with a brand-new title: Assistant Director of the Libraries. And the rest is history- the expansion of library collections and branch libraries, the establishment of the Lilly Library as IU’s rare books and special collections repository, etc. etc. Except for Abraham Lincoln’s machine gun. Byrd totally made that up.

Read the entirety of Byrd’s June 23, 1944 letter to Miller here, including original handwriting and transcript.

Byrd’s wartime correspondence with Robert Miller is located in the Indiana University Libraries Director’s records, 1932-1977, Collection C540, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.

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.

Sincerely Yours: Byron Armstrong Denounces Labeling

“Any practice which tends to divide off American citizens is certainly inconsistent with progressive democratic ideals, and must pass.”

It’s been a little over a hundred years since the founding of Kappa Alpha Psi, one of the first fraternities for African Americans, and the organization is still thriving today. Since its founding, the fraternity has been known for its acceptance of all members, no matter their race, religious affiliation, or national origins. Many people might not know that a few dedicated young men of color founded the first chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi right here at Indiana University in 1911. Founder Byron K. Armstrong, among others, sought out a welcoming, friendly environment for the organization of African Americans on campus.

Armstrong was originally from Westfield, Indiana, but attended Howard University in Washington D.C. until around 1910 when he visited his cousin, Irven Armstrong, at the IU campus. Impressed with the educational opportunities given by IU, he and a friend he met at Howard, Elder Watson Diggs, transferred. The two of them were among only ten African American students at IU at the time. White students mostly ignored their presence, and they had few opportunities to gather in recreational groups or sports (any sport that involved physical contact was off-limits). Thus, the concept of a fraternity of their own easily caught interest. They organized Kappa Alpha Nu (a forerunner of Kappa Alpha Psi) in 1911 with Diggs as the permanent chairman (Polemarch), Armstrong the sergeant at arms (Keeper of the Records), and John Lee as the secretary (Strategus). Other founders were Guy Levis Grant, Ezra D. Alexander, Edward G. Irvin, Paul W. Caine, Marcus Peter Blakemore, Henry T. Asher, and George Edmunds. Many of the founders went on to have illustrious careers.

Byron, in particular, completed his Master’s degree at Columbia University by 1914, served as the Dean of Education for Langston University from 1921-1927 and 1931-1935, and continued the spread of new chapters of Kappa Alpha Psi to other campuses. However, there comes a time when every alumni has to order up a copy of their transcript in order to continue with their professional career. Byron ordered his in 1935– the same year he received the Laurel Wreath award, the highest honor given by the fraternity– only to be unpleasantly taken aback by the words “colored student” printed onto it.

The archives are in possession of the President’s Office correspondence from 1913-1937, which contains the exchange between Armstrong and the office.

 

It reads:

Your letter of the 17th has reached me. I note that the transcript of my work is slightly unlike the others that you have sent me in that it bears the word colored on it. I suppose this is for your own record, but such a label is a distinct handicap to me in many [cases]. I am therefore asking that in the future you please leave this notation off since it was not on the original.

While it has no connection with this matter I have recently learned that the University has shut colored students out of the Indiana Union. If this is true it is very unfair and certainly is not in keeping with a great University. As I am always loyal to Indiana I hope that the day will come when the University can once again return to the ideals of a great democratic University.

The response from the President’s Office indicated they believed they had good reason to keep “colored student” written on the transcript, but did not address his second concern at all.

I returned to my office this morning after several weeks illness at home. My secretary, Miss Dillman, showed me your letter of recent date. Our plan of marking the word ‘colored’ on the cards of colored people is merely for the purpose of giving us information as to who each person is. For instance we have had several cases where four persons have had the same name, still more where three have had the same name, and in a great many cases two have had the same name. It is important in issuing photostatic copies of records or giving recommendations that we have the right person in mind. It is no reflection whatever on colored people to have their cards designated ‘colored’. We try to treat everybody here the same way, regardless of color, politics, or religion.

Not entirely satisfied with that response, Armstrong wrote again:

Your letter of the 18th has reached me and I am sorry to bother you further concerning the matter, but since I am sure you do not fully understand my reasons for writing you concerning this matter, I beg to write to you again.

I may say that I have objections to your designation of ‘colored’ on your private transcript because I certainly do regard it as a label.

My reasons for objecting to this word on any copy used out of your office are as follows:

1. Many jobs will be closed to me because of such a designation, due to race prejudice.

2. I am sure you do not wish to be party to any such handicapping of one of your graduates, regardless of color.

3. This is not a common practice among the greater universities in the progressive sections of America.

4. There are other methods of identification of students without the use of such a stigma.

5. Any such practice is certainly not in keeping with the spirit of Indiana I once knew, and knowing you as I do, I am sure you would not approve of this matter.

6. Any practice which tends to divide off American citizens is certainly inconsistent with progressive democratic ideals, and must pass.

7. Finally, it seems to me Indiana in recent years has pursued many policies of segregation which may in part explain why our university rated as it did in the Educational Record for July, 1934; because no university is greater than its ideals.

Armstrong wouldn’t stand for being racially stereotyped by his future employers, although it is unclear whether IU granted him new transcripts without the “colored student” indicator or not. In my previous article about mathematician Elbert F. Cox, I mentioned that he had the same indicator on his transcripts, though he ordered his earlier than this one for Armstrong. We don’t know precisely when IU stopped including that on their transcripts; our guess would be around the student population boom following World War II.

But Armstrong couldn’t be held back from success. He went on to earn his doctorate in philosophy from the University of Michigan, and taught in several states around the country. Kappa Alpha Psi still thrives today, and credits Armstrong as a founder on its web site.