The Education Vacation: Mini University

Each year, hundreds of individuals flock to Bloomington to attend what Fromer’s Travel Magazine has consistently referred to as one of the best learning vacations in the United States. With record setting attendance over the last few years, Indiana University’s widely popular Mini University now consistently sells out. However, the program came from much more modest beginnings.
Founded in 1972 as a result of a partnership between the Indiana University Alumni Association and the Bloomington Office of Continuing Studies, the first program hosted approximately 75 participants and functioned more as a family summer camp for both children and adults. Spanning the course of a week, participants brought their families to campus, lived in the dormitories and attended a variety of lectures and courses while their children attended their own programs. Adults chose from an option of 25 course listings taught by some of the most distinguished members of the university faculty. Courses were divided into six different categories: compelling issues of the ’70s on topics such as “China in the ’70s”, international issues, the family in contemporary society such as “After Spock, What?”, women’s changing role in society, creative participation in arts and the humanities, and preparing for retirement.

Mini University, ca. 1978-1981

Picnic, ca. 1978-1981

Children (over the age of five), on the other hand, were loaded each day onto a London double-decker bus for transport to the Health, Physical Education and Recreation Building (HPER) for recreation, games, and swimming. Children under the age of five could attend a day nursery. Evening entertainment options for the whole family included rap sessions, visits to the Brown County Playhouse, the IU Fun Frolic as well as a picnic and beach party with campfire along the shores of Lake Lemon. By 1978, the program had expanded to include nearly 60 course options covering topics on the humanities, domestic issues, human growth and development, business, international affairs, science and the arts.
Today, the program is significantly different – there is no longer a children’s program and attendees now stay primarily in the Indiana Memorial Union where the majority of courses are taught. Open to all adults, not just Indiana University alumni, including qualified teachers seeking continuing renewal credits, the program has now expanded to include more than 100 course selections ranging in topics from business and technology, domestic issues, fine arts, health and fitness, international issues, humanities, music, theater and science. Mini alums receive a newsletter called Mini Happy Returns to keep them abreast of upcoming events. Each year the professors are chosen based upon recommendations from the chairs of their department or other faculty for being outstanding teachers. The 2016 Mini University program reads much like a who’s who of the university faculty and administration such as Lee Hamilton (Center on Congress), and James Madison (History) whose personal papers are all included in the University Library collections, as well as several of our esteemed library colleagues such as Dina Kellams (IU Archives), Carey Beam (Wylie House Museum), and Lori Dekydtspotter, Cherry Williams, Craig Simpson, Rebecca Bauman, and Andrew Rhoda (all Lilly Library).
The University Archives also holds the Mini University records as well as those of the School of Continuing Studies.
For those interested in registering for next year’s program, you can request a brochure here – just remember Mini U sells out QUICKLY!
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The Travel Scrapbook of Dolores Whitney

Dolores Whitney completed a degree at Wesleyan University in 1945 and graduated with a M.S. from Indiana University in 1950. While we don’t know much regarding her life after IU, one box of documents and ceramics that she donated to the IU Archives in 1965 leaves us clues. In particular, a small scrapbook recording her time in Japan from 1947 to 1948 as a U.S. Civil services employee really stands out.


Front Cover of Dolores Whitney Japan Scrapbook

Bound in a soft leather cover, Dolores’ time in Japan is encapsulated. Like most scrapbooks, it is filled not only with photographs of the places she went and people she went with, but also ephemera documenting her time there. She includes maps, brochures, pamphlets, postcards, and even a drawing of herself done by a young Japanese student artist. All these commemorate her adventure away from home and I can only imagine her sitting with family and friends showing them all that she did during her time away.

Drawing of Dolores Whitney

Drawing of Dolores Whitney

Map in Dolores Whitney's Japan Scrapbook

Map in Dolores Whitney’s Japan Scrapbook

Photos in Dolores Whitney's Japan Scrapbook

Photos in Dolores Whitney’s Japan Scrapbook


This item really had me connecting with Dolores Whitney because sixty or so odd years later, I also make scrapbooks of my travels. Last May I took a trip to Ireland. It was my first trip out of the country. Like Dolores, I hoarded all the tickets, maps, postcards, and brochures I came across. When I got home I bound them into a homemade scrapbook to document my time across the pond. Probably like Dolores, I showed this to my curious family at Thanksgiving. While my scrapbook is not tied together in soft leather, it still serves the same purpose: to hold the scraps of a trip that I will want to tell my grandchildren about someday.

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Sincerely Yours – Letters from the Archives: Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

The Indiana University Writers’ Conference is celebrating its 76th anniversary June 4– 8 of this year. Many of the conference faculty over the years have been award-winning writers, such as Elizabeth Bowen, Ray Bradbury, E. E. Cummings, William Faulkner, Seamus Heaney, Sam Shepard, and John Steinbeck, to name a few. Correspondence from these authors and many more can be found in the Indiana University Writers’ Conference records, 1940-2004 in the IU Archives.

Fifty-two years ago, Kurt Vonnegut was finalizing his plans with Robert W. Mitchner to attend the IU Writers’ Conference. Mitchner requested a photograph and biography from Vonnegut in preparation of his participation in the conference. Below is the biography Vonnegut sent to Mitchner:



Mitchner also writes to Vonnegut asking if a 10:30 am slot would be acceptable for his short story workshop, as well as if Vonnegut would read a chapter from one of his books and participate in a question-answer panel that would be televised by Indiana University. Vonnegut is happy to oblige; however, the story he chooses to read is one of the most interesting parts of the letter. “The story I will read will be a short story about President Kennedy. It was bought by the Post two days before he was shot. It will never be published. It should go over well.”


Included in Vonnegut’s folder of correspondence is an article in The New York Times Book Review from August 6, 1967, where Vonnegut writes of his time at Indiana University during the Writers’ Conference.


Below is a photograph from the IU Archives Photograph Collection of Kurt Vonnegut Jr. receiving an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from President John W. Ryan at Indiana University on May 13, 1973.


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Dr. Emma J. Phillips: Lifelong scholar

Emma Phillips

Emma Phillips, 1923

Emma Julia Phillips just couldn’t keep herself away from Indiana University.  Over a period of nearly 50 years, Emma earned a BA, MA, and PhD from IU.  Her parents, John Wilbur Phillips and Arvia Phillips, were both school teachers and perhaps this explains her love of learning.  Emma graduated from Alexandria-Monroe High School in Alexandria, Indiana in 1918 and enrolled in Indiana University shortly thereafter.  As an undergraduate, she was involved in the French Club, elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and inducted into Pi Lambda Theta, an honor society and professional association for educators. In 1923, she graduated from IU with Distinction and earned a Bachelor of Arts in Romance Languages.

Upon graduation, Emma taught French and English at high schools in Alexandria, Indiana and Alton, Illinois.  During her summer breaks, Emma attended classes at IU. She received a Master of Arts degree in English from Indiana University in 1934.  Her thesis, The Technique of George Whyte-Melville’s Novels is an analysis of 28 works of Scottish novelist George Whyte-Melville.

Emma Phillips Thesis

Emma Phillips’ master’s thesis, The Technique of George Whyte-Melville’s Novels

Upon completion of her master’s, Emma took a leave of absence from teaching to study French in Grenoble, France for several months in 1936.  She wrote a lengthy letter that was published in her hometown’s newspaper, The Alexandria Times-Tribune, that details the political situation in France in the 1930s.  She offers her opinion on politics and writes, “I may say, however, that I am not quite so sure as I used to be that the United States ought to be in a great hurry to join the League of Nations.”  Never one to rest on her laurels, Emma returned to teaching while simultaneously taking graduate level courses through correspondence from the Indiana University Division of University Extension.

Emma returned to Bloomington to complete her Ph.D. coursework in the 1950s.  In 1967, she earned her Ph.D. from Indiana University in English with minors in American Literature and Comparative Literature, 44 years after she earned her Bachelor’s.  Her thesis is titled Mysticism in the Poetry of Emily Dickinson.  At the age of 91, Emma died on April 11, 1991 in Alexandria.

The IU Archives has many notebooks and assignments related to Emma’s studies as well as her commencement materials and theses.  Contact the IU Archives to learn more about Emma’s life.

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The Frank C. Mathers papers

Frank Curry Mathers was born February 11, 1881 in Monroe County, Indiana to parents John Thomas and Elizabeth (Bonsall) Mathers. He graduated from Bloomington High School in 1899 and went on to attend Indiana University, graduating with an AB in Chemistry in 1903 and an AM in 1905. Mathers then attended Cornell University and graduated with his PhD in 1907.

Professor Frank C. Mathers (left) watches an experiment with I.U. alumnus Dr. Paul F. Isobe and I.U. professors H.G. Day and Oliver W. Brown.

Dr. Mathers began as an Instructor in Chemistry at Indiana University in 1903. After receiving his PhD, Mathers returned to Indiana University as an Assistant Professor in 1907, becoming an Associate Professor in 1913, and receiving a full professorship in 1923. He served as Interim Chairman of the Department of Chemistry from July 1, 1946 to June 30, 1947. Mathers’ primary research interest was in electrochemistry, especially electroplating, and he published prolifically, with over 100 research papers of his own authorship or co-authored with graduate students. He was an active member of the Electrochemical Society, including serving as President of the Society in 1940-1941. His most important discovery was a process for the preparation of fluorine gas by electrolysis using carbon anodes, discovered while working with the Chemical Warfare Service during the First World War.

Dr. Mathers combined his dedication to scientific research with an equal dedication to teaching. He held his students to high yet fair standards, and also supported them wholeheartedly in obtaining opportunities to research and gain employment. Of his over 100 research publications, many were co-authored with graduate students. Dr. Mathers was also an advocate for students outside the chemistry classroom, writing impassioned letters about curriculum change at IU, particularly with regards to the physical education and foreign language requirements.

Letter March 29, 1944, to Mr. P.S. Sikes, Chairman, Foreign Language Committee:

“The best interests for the greatest number of students should be the aim of all University requirements, and this should apply to language requirements…As many languages as possible should be offered, but all languages should be made optional…I think that foreign languages are the least valuable courses in the whole University for the great percentage of students. Language requirements are just holdovers from the earlier requirements when Greek and Latin were almost the only courses offered in the colleges.”

Letter November 26, 1945, to Dean H.T. Briscoe, Dean of Faculties and Vice President: “The most common cause of scholastic failure is too little time devoted to actual studying. Some people have the time but do not use it; others lack the necessary time due to other requirements…This school is supposed to be primarily for actual scholastic education. Everyone knows that these active physical exercises, besides the actual time consumed, incapacitate the individual for a considerable time for efficient mental effort…It is the business of the administration to see to it that the University is run for the best interests of the students and not as some group, i.e., Physical Education Faculty, wants it done.”

In addition to his work in chemistry, Dr. Mathers was a shrewd businessman and investor. He was involved in cattle and lumber, and owned several rental properties in Bloomington. He worked closely with companies to ensure the highest mutual benefit from the manufacture of his patented products.

The Mathers family is closely tied to IU. Dr. Mathers met his wife, Maude, in class at IU. The two married in 1911 and together raised two sons, both of whom attended IU: Thomas Nesbit Mathers (A.B. 1936, J.D. 1939) and William Hammond Mathers (AB 1938). Tragically, William became ill with skin cancer in his final year at IU, passing away in September 1938. It is after William that the Mathers Museum of World Cultures is named.

The Mathers Museum of World Cultures

The Frank Curry Mathers papers at the University Archives contain materials as diverse as Dr. Mathers’ interests. His research correspondence is extensively represented, as are his original lab notebooks. The series of teaching materials represents Mathers’ interactions with his students both in and outside of the classroom, giving insight into pedagogy as well as personal relationships. One can trace major changes at IU and in Bloomington through Mathers’ opinionated letters on subjects ranging from the installation of Bloomington’s third traffic light to the athletic program at IU. Mathers’ meticulous investment records and extensive business correspondence could be of particular use to those interested in economic history or business and investment practice.

The IU Archives also holds the papers of his two sons, Thomas Nesbit and Williams Hammond.


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