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: “Dear Mr. Lilly, I am happy to present the library…”

While the Lilly Library will celebrate its 57th birthday this October, planning for the exceptional library began over 60 years ago. Herman B Wells was dedicated to developing a great library that would house rare books and manuscripts at Indiana University and provide access to these materials. Wells states in his speech at the library’s dedication, “We rejoice in this day for many reasons. Not the least of these is the fact that many of the rare books and manuscripts housed in this new building have for years been stored in the University’s central Archives, unavailable for use. At long last they may now be used!” Access and use of special collections was important to Wells, and the Lilly Library is still known today for its open access policy.

Josiah Kirby Lilly was also very excited about the prospect of his own impressive collection being housed in a library with his namesake on the Indiana University campus.

David Randall was appointed as the first librarian for the Lilly Library well before its opening in 1960. Prior to his appointment, Randall worked in the antiquarian book trade, where he met Mr. Lilly. Randall was an important figure not only in the planning of the library, but in the custodianship of collections. He knew the materials well, and he knew what to collect; moreover, he had established connections to book dealers. Below is a letter discussing the acquisition of the Mendel Collection, one of the Lilly’s many notable collections.

Mr. Lilly even notes in a letter to Randall “you are as good a purchasing agent as you formerly were a salesmen – far excellence!” in regards to a new acquisition (possibly the Mendel Collection) he secured.

Herman B Wells delivering a speech at the Lilly Library dedication, October 3, 1960. P0027349.

The dedication of the Lilly Library was October 3, 1960. Many people were in attendance, and speeches were delivered by Herman B Wells and Frederick B. Adams, Jr., Director of the Morgan Library. Wells stated, “It is, therefore, a source of satisfaction for this entire Midwestern region, as it is for the nation, that here in the heartland of America has been established another one of our great national depositories of the written treasures of our culture -which we trust will take its place in due course alongside the most famed such centers of our Atlantic and Pacific coasts.” Wells’ foresight was right, as the Lilly Library has undoubtedly taken its place alongside the renowned special collections libraries.

Herman B Wells and J. K. Lilly opening the doors to the newly dedicated Lilly Library. October 3, 1960. P0056007.

“Mr. Lilly, I am happy to present to you this key to the Library so that you may now unlock its doors–and so that you may be able at any time to enter the Lilly Library and be with its books!” – Herman B Wells

 

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.

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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.”

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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.

Sincerely Yours: Howard Ashman, Making IU Part of His World

Many students today do not immediately recognize Howard Ashman’s name when mentioned as a notable Indiana University alumnus; however, they do recognize Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and Little Shop of Horrors. Ashman wrote the lyrics and Alan Menken wrote the music for all four of those titles, winning several Academy Awards and Grammy Awards. They took home an Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1986 for Little Shop of Horrors, in 1989 for The Little Mermaid, and in 1991 for Beauty and the Beast. They won the Grammy Award in 1990 for The Little Mermaid, in 1993 for Beauty and the Beast, and in 1994 for Aladdin.

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Snow Queen, lyrics and screenplay written by Howard Ashman. April 29, 1973. Indiana University Archives, Bloomington, Indiana.

Howard Ashman graduated from Indiana University in 1974 with his M.A. from the Department of Theatre and Drama. He accomplished many creative achievements during his time at IU, including writing the screenplay and music for Hans Christian Andersen’s Snow Queen in 1973. A letter to Ashman from R. Keith Michael, Chair of the Department of Theatre and Drama, highlights some of his accomplishments as well as his stellar reputation in the department.

Letter from R. Keith Michael to Howard Ashman. April 30, 1974. Collection 299, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington, Indiana.

After his graduation in 1974, Ashman would not return to Indiana University until April 1987. He was invited to give a lecture and see a performance of Little Shop of Horrors produced by the IU Department of Theatre and Drama.

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Letter from R. Keith Michael to Howard Ashman. December 9, 1986. Collection 299, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington, Indiana.
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Letter from Howard Ashman to R. Keith Michael. December 18, 1986. Collection 299, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington, Indiana.

In April 1987, Ashman returned to the same stage he had been on in
1973 at Indiana University, saying it had been “Fourteen years and a lifetime.” He told the Herald-Times on April 19, 1987, “The distance between Bloomington and New York is a life-time. It’s been a very emotional thing for me to come back. I was an actor at IU, and I haven’t acted since I left here. But I have very intense memories of this place, and of the people who changed my life here. This building vibrates for me. There are ghosts here for me.”

Photograph of Howard Ashman on the set of Little Shop of Horrors in the IU Department of Theatre and Drama. April 19, 1987. Herald-Times, Bloomington, Indiana.

As seen in his agenda below, Ashman spent much of his visit in-and-out of interviews and had lunch and an informal chat with IU theatre students before seeing IU Theatre’s production of Little Shop of Horrors. Sources say that Indiana University was the first university granted permission to stage a performance of Little Shop of Horrors thanks to Ashman.

Howard Ashman Visit agenda. April 16-17, 1987. Collection 299, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington, Indiana.
Little Shop of Horrors, IU Theatre. April 23, 1987. Indiana University Archives, Bloomington, Indiana.

Howard Ashman passed away on March 14, 1991, shortly after completing his work on Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. While he passed well before his time, Ashman’s lyrics live on in some of America’s most beloved animated and theatrical characters. And for one brief moment in April 1987, he made IU part of his world.