Educational Background: B.A. in Music from the University of Chicago. Current graduate student in the School of Informatics and Computing seeking a Master of Library Science (MLS) with a specialization in Archives and Records Management and interest in preservation/conservation.
How she got here: Before coming to IU, Sylva spent most of her undergraduate years working at the Regenstein Library, the University of Chicago’s main library. As a student assistant in circulation she became very familiar with the complexities of maintaining a large stacks collection. After graduation, she switched gears landing a part-time position in the technical services department of the law library for Sidley Austin LLP in downtown Chicago. It was here she decided to pursue a career in librarianship, leading her to IU and the MLS program.
This internship has been her first experience working in any kind of archival repository. Prior to this, her main work and library experience have been more on the technical services side of things. Her previous experience is what led her to decide that she wanted to do more hands-on work with library materials, sparking her interest in archives and preservation.
Favorite Collection in the IU Archives: Sylva’s favorite collection at IU is the collection of yearbooks housed in the archive reading room. Before the University became too big, the yearbooks contained pictures of all the students at IU each year. They also include pictures of all student organizations, sports teams, and faculty members, just like a traditional yearbook. Following the student population explosion after WWII, the yearbook however had to adapt. Rather than just pages of pictures of students, the yearbooks started to include interesting pieces on and photos of the various events and activities that happened around IU each year. At the end, you will still find portraits of the graduating class and student organizations but the majority of the books offer a fascinating glimpse of IU life as the years go on.
Current Project: Currently, Sylva is processing a recently acquired collection from the Commission on Multicultural Understanding (COMU). Despite the occasional papercut, she is enjoying being able to dive into the folders and get an in-depth look at the work COMU did for IU. She is also researching the story of a student at IU from the late 1910s who was accused of building “infernal devices” with various mechanical parts found in his room. He was an expert watchmaker who was cleared of all charges as all of the parts were found harmless. Using ancestry.com and different parts of the IU Archive collection, Sylva is trying to track documents relating to this man’s life to be used in a future active-learning exercise for instruction sessions at the archives.
Favorite experience in the IU Archives: Sylva’s favorite thing about being an intern at the archives is the chance to learn from some amazing people. Having had very little experience with archives before, she has gained a lot of practical knowledge.
What she’s learned from working here: Sylva has learned a great deal about some of the key figures in IU’s history from sifting through the papers of the president office, in particular President William Lowe Bryan (1902-1937). It’s nice to be able to connect buildings and things around town to the people for which they were named!
Throughout IU’s history, there have been countless examples of greatness and outstanding achievement by its African American students. It is important to remember those students who, despite being faced with overwhelming social challenges due to their race, made ripples through academia that have lasted for years. For this year’s Black History Month, we remember one of those students whose accomplishments made it possible for others to strive towards the same goal: Elbert F. Cox. Cox was the first African American in the country, and allegedly the entire world, to receive his PhD in mathematics, but not before receiving his undergraduate degree from IU.
Racial Tensions in Evansville
Cox was born on December 5th, 1895 in Evansville, Indiana. Evansville, like a majority of the towns at the time, had a segregated school system that saw African American students receiving an inadequate, underfunded education. But Evansville may have been even more racially divided than many of the other towns in Indiana, and the tensions between black and white citizens would come to a violent head more than once during Cox’s lifetime. A four-day race riot in 1903 occurred when a mob of white citizens stormed the county jail after the murder of a white policeman, which resulted in 12 deaths and could only be stopped when the Indiana governor called in a militia of 300 men to subdue it. Later, in 1920, the Ku Klux Klan would make its Indiana headquarters in Evansville.
Still, Cox’s family was among those who did not flee the city after the riot in 1903. They lived in a racially mixed neighborhood called Baptistown, where a majority of African Americans lived in Evansville at the time. Despite the adversity they faced from the white community, Cox had positive role models in Evansville. He could look up to the black teachers in his school, who promoted literacy and education. It is also possible that his father (one of his most essential inspirations) was a key reason for them to remain there after the riot, as he served as principal and educator for schools in Evansville and would do so for up to 50 years.
Indiana University and the Euclidean Circle
From Evansville, Cox made his journey to Indiana University in 1913 to study physics and mathematics. The math department at IU had several noteworthy professors at the time who would shape his education and help with his later academic endeavors. Some of his most influential educators were mathematics instructors/professors Cora Hennel, Schuyler Davisson, and Tobias Dantzig, who were all involved in some way with IU’s Euclidean Circle.
The purpose of the Euclidean Circle was to organize the faculty and students within the mathematics department, discuss mathematical questions, and share information. They initiated Cox on March 15th, 1915 as the first African American student to the group.
Cox also made his place within other organizations such as the Physics Club, where he acted as secretary in his senior year. That year his brother, Alvalon, also joined him in the club. The African American fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi, accepted him in 1915. He truly had an abundance of positive influences here at IU—but he, and the other African American students, still faced unfair treatment in different aspects of their education. His transcripts would read “colored student” across the top. He would be listed at the end of the graduates in the Arbutus in 1917, along with the other three African American graduates. And finally, he would be denied membership in the honor society Phi Beta Kappa despite his outstanding academic achievements. It is possible that they denied him purely because of his race. That being said, Cox (understandably) may have had mixed feelings about IU by the time he left.
Cornell’s Perfect Fit
Cox spent some of his time after IU as a math and physics teacher in the segregated schools of Henderson, Kentucky. In a letter to IU President William Lowe Bryan, he revealed that he had been inducted into military service and requested a letter of recommendation. This service would take him to Des Moines, Iowa and France for around nine months.
He later told his sons that he enjoyed being in the military and serving his country.
From there, he went to Shaw University in North Carolina for three years as a professor of the sciences and eventually became the head of the Department of Natural Science. However, by 1921, he was ready to further his education, and began the application process for a doctoral program at Cornell University.
Two of those professors from IU who had guided him during his time as an undergrad were happy to provide him with letters of recommendation during his application process. Davisson wrote in his letter, “[Cox] surpasses any colored man I have known as a student in mathematics.” Dantzig wrote two letters, worried that Cox would have “certain difficulties…because of the fact that he is of the colored race,” but that Cox would “develop into a man of whom the American mathematical world may be justly proud.” With these recommendations, Cox was able to gain acceptance after another candidate dropped from the competition.
The founder and the first president of Cornell University made sure that Cornell would be a perfect fit for Cox. Ezra Cornell (1807-1874) founded the university with hopes that it would provide equal opportunities for all who wished to be educated, and greatly opposed the practice of slavery. Andrew Dickson White (1832-1918), the first president of Cornell, promoted the admittance of both women and people of color into his university.
Cox was granted his PhD degree on September 26th, 1925. He completed a dissertation, which he published in the Tohoku Mathematical Journal in Sendai, Japan (after being declined by publishers in England and Germany) nine years after his graduation. One of his professors suggested publishing abroad to help legitimize his position as the first African-American in the world to receive his PhD in mathematics.
Life Beyond Cornell
Cox didn’t receive as much recognition during his life as he did after he passed away in 1969, but he was the first African American to be admitted into the American Mathematical Society. He worked as a professor at West Virginia State College (which was then an all-black institution) and then later Howard University in Washington D.C. Unfortunately, many scholars and professors refused to recognize his thesis as legitimate.
Regardless, he was said to be a popular professor who enjoyed his career. In 1954, he became the head of the mathematics department at Howard University. For many students, he would have acted as that same role model that his black teachers in Evansville were to him half a century earlier. After his death, he gained recognition as an African American pioneer of mathematics, and to this day is still thanked for the boundaries that he broke.
When Carl Eigenmann (renowned ichthyologist, Indiana University Professor of Zoology and Dean of the Graduate School, and Curator of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh) set out on the 1918 Irwin research expedition to Peru, the possibility of failure was not far from his mind. He even wrote President Bryan a last will and testament of sorts, providing for the disposition of his research, specimens, and equipment “in case the submarines or other vermin should get [him].”
Yet it was not a German submarine that nearly scuttled Eigenmann’s expedition, but the U.S. State Department’s heightened scrutiny of German-Americans during World War I. After departing from Bloomington in June 1918, Eigenmann and his assistants, IU graduates Adele Eigenmann and W. R. Harris, were delayed in the port of New Orleans for five weeks. As Eigenmann, a German-born, naturalized U.S. citizen, put it, “The Passport Division of the State Department, while conceding that my name was euphonic, considered it too Teutonic and refused me passports.”
Indignant at the delay, Eigenmann went straight to the top with his protests. Besides writing to the presidents of IU and the University of Illinois, which granted Harris a fellowship for the journey, he appealed to former president Theodore Roosevelt and asked him to intercede with President Woodrow Wilson on his behalf.
Roosevelt’s well-known fascination with natural history, in particular with gathering specimens and trophies through large-scale, international expeditions, had made him a natural ally of Eigenmann’s in years past. In 1916, Roosevelt wrote to Gilbert Grosvenor, President of the National Geographic Society, to secure $3000 for the expedition, stating that Eigenmann was “of all the men in this country the one best fit to get the best results out of just this trip.”
Roosevelt also proved himself a friend of Indiana University in general, having given a rousingly patriotic commencement speech in Bloomington in May, 1918. But when Eigenmann requested his assistance in securing passports, he had not counted on the extent of the bad blood between Roosevelt and Wilson, who were campaign rivals during the 1912 presidential election and differed widely in attitudes toward American intervention in Europe during World War I. Roosevelt responded, apologetically, to Eigenmann’s request as follows:
July 5th 1918
Dear Dr. Eigenmann,
I am very sorry, but I cannot appeal to Wilson for any human being; and moreover the surest way to hurt you would be to have him think I was interested in you. I am wholly unable to understand the folly or worse of refusing to permit your Peruvian expedition.
With regret [and] indignation,
Despite Roosevelt’s unwillingness or inability to help him, Eigenmann’s other contacts were able to exert pressure on the authorities, and the expedition proceeded, albeit with a shortened itinerary. Eigenmann later reported that he suspected a rival scientist as the instigator of the passport controversy. As he wrote in his June, 1919 report to the Board of Trustees, “Someone, who I was informed was interested in having me vacate the position of Curator in the Carnegie Museum, filed charges against my loyalty.”
Who knew that the field of natural history could be so full of intrigue?
100 years ago Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928), the British political activist and leader of the suffragette movement, spoke to a packed crowd at Indiana University Bloomington. Women in Indiana women still did not have the write to vote. Raised by politically active parents, in 1879 Emmeline Goulden married Richard Pankhurst, a barrister 2 years her senior known for supporting the women’s right to vote. A staunch advocate of suffrage for both married and unmarried women, Pankhurst’s work became known for physical confrontations, window smashing and staged hunger strikes and is today recognized as a crucial component in the fight for women’s suffrage in Britain.
In the lead up to her visit to campus, the Indiana Daily Student reported on April 29, 1916 that
“Mrs. Pankhurst can boast no masculine element in her make-up; she is all woman, in spite of her strenuous activities several years ago. Emmeline Goulden, as she was in her maiden days, was remarkable for the girlish prettiness that time and hunger strikes have not effaced. After the death of her husband, it became necessary for Mrs. Pankhurst to do something to earn a livelihood for herself and children, so she became a member of the School Board and the Board of Guardians in Manchester. Her experience on the later board taught her much of the pressing needs of the poor, and the bitter hardships of the women’s lives especially. Although always active in many reform movements, she found her efforts so much thwarted and limited by her sex, that she finally resigned all other work to devote her life to the winning of votes for women. She organized and managed the great suffrage association of England, the Woman’s Social and Political Union, known as the W.S.P.U.”
Sponsored by the Women’s League of the University and the Bloomington Woman’s Franchise League, Pankhurt’s lecture was much anticipated, with the student newspaper noting that “This is to be the only lecture by Mrs. Pankhurst in the State and because of the fact that she is so well known, due to her activities in advocating women suffrage, it is likely that there will be a large crowd to hear her speak. The admission will be twenty-five cents. Tickets are now on sale at the University and City Book stores.” Others in the university community likewise expressed enthusiasum for her visit. Professor James A. Woodburn of the History Department, when interviewed concerning the lecture, said
“I have long desired to hear Mrs. Pankhurst. She is one of the most prominent women of the world, and one of the most capable and influential. I heard two of her associates and co-workers in Hyde Park several years ago, and though they were not so effective in speech and leadership as Mrs. Pankhurst is, yet they held more than a thousand standing men in close attention for two full hours. It was a heckling rather than a friendly audience, but the women were so forceful and eloquent, of such quick wit and repartee that they were more than masters of the situation. They carried a resolution overwhelmingly from that crowd in favor of Mrs. Pankhurst, who was then a political prisoner. These English suffragettes are women of education, gentility and refinement. Many of them are of high social standing and most agreeable manners, though some of them may be convinced that to break an Englishman’s head is about the only way to get a new idea into his cranium…whether we agree or not with what they did we must recognize the courage, devotion, and self-sacrifice of their fight.”
Reportedly only in Bloomington for a total of eight hours (she spoke in Nashville and Chattanooga, Tennessee the day before and Columbus, Ohio and Chicago, Illinois immediately following), Mrs. Pankhurst and her secretary Miss Joan Wickham were entertained by IU Professor of Political Science Amos Hershey during their visit.
Introduced to a packed crowd in the Men’s Gymnasium by IU English Professor William E. Jenkins, Pankhurst’s remarks, according to the May 4th issue of the Indiana Daily Student, included a summary of the political conditions in England. She noted that “We did not hunt notoriety. Mere notoriety hunters would have been snuffed out at a very early state of our career. Women do not invite the experiences which we have had unless they feel very keenly their abuses. The difference between a militant and an ordinary suffragette is that we realized a little sooner and a little more keenly the work that women must carry on. There is no excuse for violence until ordinary means are exhausted.”
In 1918 the Representation of the People Act in England granted votes to all men over the age of 21 and women over the age of 30. In 1928 the vote was extended to all women over 21 years of age. Nationally, women in the United States gained the right to vote in 1920 with the 19th amendment.
“President Bryan made a statement to the Board concerning the German situation at the university”—Board of Trustee Minutes, April 17, 1918.
For the past several months, I’ve been working to slowly transcribe the WWI-era hand-written minutes of the Board of Trustees for inclusion in this searchable online portal and one question has continued to weigh on me. What exactly was “the German situation”?
While the Great War raged in Europe, anti-German feelings ran high state-side and Indiana University was not exempt from coming under fire for associations with the enemy. After some investigation, the exact “German situation” is still a little vague; however, there are still some fascinating stories from the era.
One of these controversies involved the teaching of the German language. By mid-1918 enrollment in German language courses at Indiana University had declined and only two professors, Bert J. Vos and Carl Osthaus, remained on the faculty. Across the country, teaching German in the schools (including universities) became a contentious issue. In June 1918, IU President William Lowe Bryan received a letter from the War Mothers of Monroe County which argued that “one of the most fruitful sources for dissemination of insidious enemy propaganda has been through the contact of things German with our schools.” They further stated that “it is therefore RESOLVED: — That no good purpose can be served by the continuation of the teaching of German in Indiana University, that much harm may come therefrom.” President Bryan coolly responded that the teaching of German would remain “as a means of fighting Germany.” When further questions poured in from individuals such as Dr. Perry Dickie of the American Defense Society, President Bryan responded that “German is not required for entrance” but that “we provide a few classes in German for students who desire it.” Additionally, by the fall of 1918 students enlisted in the Student Army Training Corps were learning German for military purposes.
While controversy surrounded the teaching of German, two professors also found themselves at the center of the debate. History professor James McDonald found himself the subject of a Senate investigation when a German by the name of Dr. Karl A. Fuehr included him in his “important list of names” which the the Department of Justice stated were all pro-Germans. McDonald, however, demonstrated to the Senate Investigation Committee that the accusation was erroneous and that he was a loyal American citizen, stating that “Ever since the sinking of the Lusitania I have not merely privately but also publicly both in class and in the press strongly advocated the entrance of the United States into the war against Germany, as my students and associates can readily testify” (from a letter to the Chairman of Senate Investigating Committee, December 11, 1918). McDonald would go on to work first for the League of Nations and then for President Roosevelt’s Advisory Committee on Political Refugees in Europe. He recognized early on the danger the Jewish people faced from Hitler. McDonald would also become the first US Ambassador to Israel.
The second and most controversial case was that of Professor William Zeuch. A young Iowan, Zeuch was hired in 1917 to teach economics at Indiana University. In November of 1917, Zeuch had replied to an Iowan newspaper’s anti-German statements, stating that the newspaper was printing propaganda and because the recent German atrocities were not unique to Germans as a race, the newspaper was thus offending German-Americans.
The newspaper replied by thoroughly denouncing Zeuch. News spread to Bloomington, where Zeuch found himself under investigation by the Monroe County Council of Defense and a committee of professors at the University. The Bloomington Indiana Daily Student on November 14 reported: “Mr. Zeuch affirms that he had no intention of being disloyal or unpatriotic when he wrote the letter to the Hopkinson Leader. He said to a representative of The Student that he had been incensed at the attempts which have been made to arouse hatred against the German race, but that he wished to condemn its autocracy.” Newspapers across the state reported on the scandal and Zeuch was asked to resign from his position. He did and joined the Army, from which he was honorably discharged in 1918. After the war, Zeuch co-founded a short-lived college in Arkansas, Commonwealth College, with a program that reflected his sentiments for socio-economic reform. He was also a Guggenheim fellow in the 1930s and worked for the Department of the Interior.
Zeuch co-founded a short-lived college in Arkansas, the Commonwealth College, with a program that reflected his sentiments for socio-economic reform.
To learn more about either of these incidents or more about Indiana University during WWI, contact the IU Archives.