When I started my first project at the Indiana University Archives, I didn’t know that I would be hit with a wave of nostalgia; especially because I was looking at a collection from the 1910s. I was assigned to search the Helen Hopkins Wampler papers for World War I content for a history class that will be visiting the IU Archives later this semester for an assignment. This collection holds around three years of letters that Helen sent to her mom Clara while she was a student at IU from 1915-1918.
Helen Hopkins Wampler was an enthusiastic student at IU participating in the Classical Club, Botany Club, the Browning Society, YWCA, and was an active member of Pi Beta Phi. She studied Latin and was elected into the student honorary Phi Beta Kappa. While Helen doesn’t talk much about the war, she does talk to her Mom about her time in Bloomington and what it is like as a new IU student. I smiled as I read through Helen’s letters because they reminded me of the calls and texts I would send to my Mom during my freshman year in 2018 at the University of Minnesota. Whenever we talked to our families, Helen and I would share a lot of the same topics. Such as what we ate:
Helen (September 20, 1915): “For breakfast at the Pi Phi house, we had peaches, corn flakes, and cream for the first course; minced chicken, French fried potatoes, two hot biscuits and some jelly for the second course, and home-made dough nuts and coffee for the third course. This is the life!!!”
Me (September, 2018): “Can you believe that I can have ice cream for breakfast if I want? Also, last night I tried mac and cheese on pizza. This is the life!!!”
How classes were going:
Helen (October 5, 1915): “I’m just so happy about school. I don’t know whether it’s really easier than Shortridge or whether I expected it to be so much harder than it is.”
Me (October, 2018): “I passed my first Spanish test, do you want to put it on the fridge?”
Helen (January 30, 1916): “Received the dandy fine basket. Everything is mighty good and you tell Aunt Edith she’s a dear.”
Me (October, 2018): “Hey Mom, thanks for the care package and the cute note inside! Keep sending the granola bars, they are the best for in-between classes.”
At Home Laundry Service:
Helen (April 6, 1916): “PS: Will send washing to-morrow.”
Me (November, 2018): “Is it okay if I bring a load of laundry home with me?
And even being impatient when family has something else to do besides talk to us:
Helen (October 21, 1915): “Dearest Mother, Was surely glad to get your letter as I thought sure you had forgotten me when I didn’t hear from you Tuesday or Wednesday.”
Me (October, 2018): “Mom, check your phone, I left 4 voicemails!!”
Helen would also share the things she would do as a student in Bloomington. She would regularly take trips to the Book Nook (a commons-type area with food and goods), take walks on campus, and even go to football games. (Pictured here are the Book Nook and two games she attended – Indiana v Purdue 11/24/1917 and Indiana v The Ohio State 11/03/1917).
Helen’s letters show that no matter what century you’re in, going off to college can be a scary and intimidating time full of new experiences. So if you’re feeling homesick, need some advice, or just want to talk through your first few weeks of class, take a moment to reach out to loved ones with a nice letter. Show your appreciation to whoever is in your corner for supporting us as we pursue our goals at IU.
Helen to her Mom (December 13, 1917): “Well, I have gained a thing I have longed for the past three years. I have been elected to Phi Beta Kappa and honey, I owe it all to you and Dad, my own sweethearts. I don’t know how I will ever repay you for these happiest years of my life.”
Me to my Mom (Present Day): “The only way I could have accomplished the last 4 years and been able to start my new time at IU is because of you and your endless support. Honey, I owe it all to you!”
Here at the Indiana University Archives, we usually blog about our more inspirational and heartstring-pulling stories. Today, though, I want to share with you a thrilling tale of daring and disaster. Our director Dina Kellams recently perused IU’s new subscription to NewspaperARCHIVE, a tremendous resource to more than 1,000 historical newspapers in Indiana. She shared a 1911 clipping from The Tribune (from Seymour, Indiana) detailing an airplane crash in Dunn Meadow here at IU.
On October 11 that year, the adventurous aviator Horace Kearney attempted an exhibition flight at Dunn Meadow. In front of a crowd of hundreds, Kearney took off and almost immediately crashed into a walnut tree. I must admit that the paper’s description of the crash put me into a fit of laughter. As someone who grew up in an era of The Simpsons and Johnny Knoxville, I have always been tickled by slapstick comedy and stunts-gone-wrong. Fortunately Kearney survived the crash (I would not have laughed if he hadn’t!), but his story shows the real dangers of aviation as entertainment. It also gives us an opportunity to see what Dunn Meadow looked like in 1911.
When Kearney came to Bloomington for his October 1911 flight, he had been flying for only two years. The St. Louis native started aviation only six years after Wilbur and Orville Wright made their historic Kitty Hawk flight in 1903. Kearney was a flier for the Curtiss Exhibition Co., a company that hired fliers and sent them on tours across the U.S. to exhibit aviation for an excited public. Fliers such as Kearney led a life of glory and possible disaster. Fellow aviator Baxter H. Adams claimed he learned to fly after he heard Curtiss was paying Kearney $600.00 per flight (more than $15,000 today). The rewards, however, came with significant risks. Baxter claimed Kearney broke fourteen bones just training to fly. An Indiana Daily Student preview for Kearney’s Dunn Meadow flight reveals:
“While flying in St. Louis in August, Mr. Kreary [sic] had the misfortune to run out of gasoline directly above a house. As he could not make an immediate descent he lost control of his machine and was hurled to the ground. He received injuries placing him in the hospital for several weeks.”
Like other daredevils such as skateboarders or BMX riders, aviators simply had to expect crashes. Obviously, though, the risk of serious injury or death was more severe for aviators. When I expressed my horror about this, University Archives photographs curator Brad Cook explained to me how biplanes were built to withstand inevitable crashes. They were lightweight enough to allow pilots to “glide” to the ground. Even so, gravity was not kind to Kearney on October 11, 1911. He came to Bloomington for Booster Day, a city celebration featuring entertainment and merchant sales. Kearney was to make two flights: one around IU’s campus and another around downtown Bloomington. The crash happened early in the first flight. The IDS described his unsuccessful takeoff at Dunn Meadow:
“Kearney came sweeping down the field at about forty miles an hour clip in an endeavor to get under headway, when he saw a wire fence a short distance ahead which forced him to go into the air too soon. With his attention riveted upon righting his machine, Kearney shot into the air and straight toward a walnut tree…The machine brushed against the tree and fell. Kearney was hurled to the ground, lighting upon his neck and shoulders.”
The paper continued to describe the public spectacle of the crash. The people of Bloomington rushed the crash site:
“When the machine came crashing to the ground the great crowd that had assembled to witness the flight remained motionless for a moment, and then stampeded toward the fallen man like a herd of wild cattle. Men, women, and children fought to get a sight of Kearney and the damaged machine.”
This is important because it brings me to my first point in this post: why was my initial reaction laughter? This IDS passage shows how that reaction is predicated on a history of people being wildly entertained by crash disasters. And the Class of 1912 Arbutus even made a witty goof of the event:
“October 11: The Dunn meadow aviator took a fall. About 300 students, who had previously expressed their willingness to accompany the aviator, were now glad that they had been overlooked when the invitations were sent out.”
In other words, people have been finding thrills and comedy in disaster for quite a while. So what happened to Kearney? He recovered after convalescing at a Bloomington doctor C.E. Harris’s home, he returned to St. Louis for biplane repairs (the plane itself was a total loss, but the engine and some parts were unharmed in the crash) and continued as an entertaining aviator. Tragically, but perhaps unsurprisingly, Kearney died about a year later (December 1912) in a hydroaeroplane accident near Los Angeles. Kearney and a journalist, Chester Lawrence, were found at sea shortly after they took off in a Curtiss Hydroaeroplane (affectionately named “Snookums” by Kearney) near Redondo Beach. Kearney’s death is evidence of both the extreme dangers of early aviation and the determined adventurousness of early aviators. To put his final flight in context, Amelia Earhart’s first flight across the Atlantic Ocean was not until 1928—a full sixteen years after Kearney’s final flight into the Pacific Ocean. Earhart’s final flight was not until 1937. Indiana University witnessed an extraordinarily early aviation event when Kearney flew his Curtiss biplane into that walnut tree in 1911.
I hate to leave this post on such a morbid note, so let’s take one last look at Kearney’s amusing Bloomington flight. We can also use this event to give us some historical detail about Indiana University. Specifically, Kearney’s flight shows us what Dunn Meadow was like in 1911. I thought it was odd that Dunn Meadow could provide enough runway space for an airplane. It turns out that before the 1920’s, Dunn Meadow was much larger—it extended all the way to 10th Street. Dunn Meadow also served as a golf course at this time. Take a look below:
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,
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.
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 thought to be the first Black person in 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 Black person 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.