Walter Q. Gresham: 19th Century Judge and General

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Letter from Gresham addressed to his wife

As you walk across campus, you may notice that most buildings have names. Some names may be familiar or well-known, but others may not particularly stand out. However, the people behind some of those names can have fascinating stories. One such person is Walter Q. Gresham. Gresham, an Indiana native, was born in 1833. He attended Indiana University Prep for a year and then became a student of law. By 1854, he had been admitted to the Bar and was on his way to an illustrious career. He briefly served his home state as a member of the Indiana General Assembly; Gresham then went on to serve his country during the Civil War, rising through the ranks to become a brigadier-general. He also organized the 53rd Indiana Infantry and was wounded at Atlanta during the war, ending his time of service.

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Handwritten copy of a letter from Gresham to his wife from Vicksburg. The handwritten copy was written by his son, Otto.

During this time, he sent letters to his wife, Matilda, which can be seen in the picture above and the picture to the left. The letter pictured above includes details of his recent experiences in the war, but it also includes a touching note to his wife and children:

“Don’t be uneasy if you don’t hear from me regularly for some time for I will have very few opportunities to write. Write often & continue to direct your letters as heretofore. I think of you often, yes every hour in the day I think of my dear wife & children. It is hard to be thus separated but a man must do his duty to his country in a time like this. God bless you & the children & take care of you is my purpose. I must lay down & take a nap for I will be up at 3 o’clock in the morning. Good night.

Your Officer Husband,

W. Q. Gresham”

In the copy of the letter transcribed by his son Otto, Gresham writes from Vicksburg in July of 1963 and describes how his regiment has marched over fifty miles over only a couple days. He takes great pride in the Indiana 53rd, saying, “Never did the 53d show its superiority over other regiments as it has on this March.”

After the war, Gresham’s career rose to a national level. From 1869 to 1883, Gresham served as a US District Judge. Indiana University then conferred an honorary LL.D. upon him in 1883. President Arthur then appointed Gresham as Postmaster-general, followed by appointment as Secretary of the Treasury; however, he was not in these positions very long. In 1884, he became a judge on the U.S. Circuit Court and served in this position until 1893. Gresham was a candidate for the Republican presidential ticket in 1888, although he did not receive the nomination. In 1893, he served as Secretary of State for President Cleveland. Gresham did not serve in this position for a lengthy time, as he died in 1895.

Gresham’s legacy lived on, however, as his family donated his sword from the war to Indiana University in 1911. Sadly, IU no longer has Gresham’s sword, but his legacy lives on through the dining hall with his name on the Bloomington campus. A large collection of Gresham’s papers can also be found at the Library of Congress.

Display card for General Gresham's sword
Display card for General Gresham’s sword

Sincerely Yours: The Pinkerton Detective Agency

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Scandal.

Intrigue.

THE Pinkerton Detective Agency.

 

Lest you think differently, Bloomington has been a hopping town for some years now. And university students today are different in many ways from the students of yore – but similar in so many more.

In the 19th century and into the early 20th, college students across the country would anonymously publish satirical and sometimes scandalous underground newsletters called boguses. They used these outlets to comment on rival organizations, students, and oftentimes, university faculty. We have some terrific examples of these publications in the Indiana University Archives, but none created a stir as much as what we call the “Turd” bogus. (Yes, really.)

On a spring morning in 1890, Bloomington residents woke to find that a particularly vulgar bogus had been delivered to their doorsteps during the night. The authors accomplished much in its single page, attacking Indiana University students and faculty by calling into question their intellect, morality, and sobriety.

Bloomington citizens were outraged, as at many households children found and read the bogus before parents got to it. And the University administration? Well, you can imagine their response. While unhappy about the situation himself, in public President Jordan tried to play the “boys will be boys” card. The IU Board of Trustees, however, was having none of it. They wanted the responsible students punished, so they called in the big guns to find the dastardly authors – none other than Chicago’s Pinkerton National Detective Agency.

The Pinkerton operative, known to us only as J.H.S., arrived in Bloomington in the wee hours of April 26th, 1890. In the Archives, we have a terrific series of letters the investigator sent to back to headquarters in Chicago. His reports read like something out of a detective novel: private conversations with students in his hotel room where he would try to trick them into confessing, lurking around town to hear what talk he could of the publication, etc.

The Pinkerton agent remained in Bloomington for nearly two weeks, dutifully reporting back each day, but it was the work of wagging tongues that revealed the authors and not so much J.H.S.’ fine detective work. As President Jordan suspected from the beginning due to the content and tone of the bogus, it was seven members of Beta Theta Pi fraternity who authored it. At the last moment, some of the writers lost their nerve and hid the newsletter in a trunk. The others, however, retrieved the bogus and distributed copies throughout the town.

Many in the guilty party were from prominent families, including Nicholas Robertson, son of IU Trustee Robert Stoddart Robertson. Nonetheless, all seven were expelled from the University. Connections, however, had its benefits, of course. In June 1892, the faculty relented and degrees were granted to five of the men, and all seven were reinstated into the University with good standing.

Below you can read the first letter of the Pinkerton operative — click the image for the full PDF of the letter, and if you’d like to read more, contact the Archives!

What? You want to read the bogus that created such a stir? Well, be warned that it really is quite vile. But here you go – click on the bogus image to open a larger version, which you can then blow up for full reading pleasure.

Letter to L.V. Buskirk from William A. Pinkerton, April 28, 1890
Yes, THE Pinkerton Detective Agency

 

Robert Milligan: Early Engineering Professor

Milligan listed in the faculty in the 1853-54 Annual Report

For the past year, I have been transcribing the handwritten minutes of the Board of Trustees of Indiana University as they are prepared for online reading. Since the end of last year, I have been working through the first set of minutes that the archives possesses, the minutes from 1838-1859. While working in the minutes from 1852, I happened across a name that was very familiar to me: Professor Robert Milligan. I was excited to see this name, as my undergraduate institution, Milligan College in East Tennessee, was named for this very professor. While Milligan was not a professor at the nascent Indiana University for very long, he still made some interesting contributions to the University.

Robert Milligan was born 1814 in Ireland, but soon came with his family to the United States. He lived in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky before graduating and then teaching at Washington College in Pennsylvania, where he eventually became president.

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Minutes detailing the election of Milligan

On Wednesday, April 14, 1852, the Board of Trustees of Indiana University unanimously elected Robert Milligan to be the new Professor of Mathematics and Engineering and in an effort “to render the University more useful and more popular” passed the following resolution: “Theoretical and practical Engineering as connected with the Mathematical Department. The numerous public works now in process of construction, renders civil Engineering, a most important branch of University Education, and it cannot be doubted, that instruction by an able and accomplished Mathematician, in this important branch, together with practical illustrations in the field, would meet one of the present demand of public education in Indiana, and add to new class of valuable students to the University.”

Although courses had been offered in civil engineering for nearly a decade, 1853 marked the year when it became part of the Mathematics and Chemistry departments where it remained until 1858. Civil Engineering then disappeared until the 1870s, when it returned as part of a department that also included military science. The return, however, was short lived, probably thanks in part to the establishment of the new Purdue University in Lafayette.

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Minutes detailing that Milligan had some of the library books that had survived the fire

Besides involvement in the fledgling engineering department, Milligan made his mark on the University in other ways. In 1853, the Trustees appointed Milligan to the position of chair of Natural Science and superintendent of the University. By August 3 of that year, however, Milligan had offered his resignation. The Trustees countered by offering him the position of chair of Natural Philosophy and Chemistry, which Milligan accepted. After the First College Building was destroyed by a devastating fire in 1854, the Trustees minutes of April 2, 1855 note that Milligan made a donation to help rebuild the University.

On July 31, 1854, again Milligan resigned. The minutes point to health reasons forcing the Milligan family to leave. Indeed, Milligan was a sickly man, having chronic effects of rheumatic fever. Milligan would go on to teach at Bethany College in what is now West Virginia and become president of what is now Transylvania University in Kentucky (then called Kentucky University). After a few years as president, Milligan gave up the position and taught in the university’s seminary. Milligan died in 1884.

Frances Morgan Swain and the League of Extraordinary (IU) Women

After 110 years of existence, the IU Student Building is being renamed in honor of Frances Morgan Swain (Miller). But wait, what’s so special about this lady?

Photograph of Frances Morgan Swain, circa 1887-1889
Frances Morgan Swain, circa 1887-1889. Note her pins from Phi Gamma Delta fraternity and Kappa Alpha Theta sorority.

Frances “Fannie” Hannah Morgan was born in Knightstown, Indiana, in 1860. Her family appears to have been reasonably well-off (her father, Charles D. Morgan was, by turns, a lawyer, banker, and state representative), and they were members of the Fall Creek Monthly Meeting of Friends in Henry County. It is unclear when Frances met Joseph Swain, who was by turns a student (B.L.1883, M.S. 1885), professor of mathematics (1887-1891), and president (1893-1902) of Indiana University. One account by the Bloomington Courier stated that they met as students at Indiana, but there is no record of Frances’s attendance before 1887. What is certain is that they were married in September 1885, presumably after connecting over their joint Quaker heritage. And love of mathematics. Keep reading–you’ll see.

Compared to the women who preceded her as “first lady” of Indiana University, Frances was hardly the conventional president’s wife. Unlike her predecessors, she actually attended Indiana University, completing junior-level mathematics coursework over two years. She began her studies in 1887, the same year that Joseph was appointed an associate professor in the department. Even more unusual was that she did so as a married woman. She began studying in 1887, the same year that Meadie Hawkins Evermann became IU’s first married female graduate. Swain’s education took a detour when her husband was invited to join the faculty of the newly formed Stanford University in 1891–she completed her A.B. in Mathematics there in 1893.

Perhaps the most significant difference between Frances and her predecessors was her public and active commitment to effecting change on campus. When the Swains returned to Bloomington, Joseph as the new university president, Frances completed some graduate-level mathematics coursework, but soon turned her interests to the welfare of students, especially women, at the university. The historian Thomas Clark describes President Swain’s era at IU as one of rapidly increasing enrollments, which proved particularly challenging in the area of housing for female students–there was no women’s dormitory at the time, and private housing options in town were limited. Women arrived on campus from “strict homes…bound down by admonitions, taboos, and inhibitions,” and there were few means of support beyond sororities to “safely” navigate their new environment. Frances’s answer to the problem was the organization of a “Women’s League” dedicated to the self-improvement of its members as well as improving conditions for women on campus and in the Bloomington community.

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The officers of the IU Women’s League, as pictured in the 1896 Arbutus. Frances Morgan Swain is looking straight ahead in the center of the group.

Founded in 1895, the IU Women’s League was composed of women serving in various capacities on campus, including faculty, wives of faculty, members of campus clubs and sororities, and “unrepresented” female students–students who did not belong to a sorority or other club that provided housing or a support system. It provided educational and social programming for league members and the broader campus and Bloomington communities, including lectures, receptions, and dramatic performances. One of the League’s first speakers was Dr. Rebecca Rogers George, an Indianapolis physician who became a longtime, non-resident lecturer on female physiology and hygiene for the university. Over the years a variety of other speakers, including female educators, social reformers, and suffragists discussed current events and other topics of interest. Over time the mission of the Women’s League evolved, transitioning from a social club to a form of women’s student government.

One of Frances’s (and the League’s) most significant efforts on campus was the campaign for the construction of a Women’s Building on campus. Inspired by the existence of such facilities at the University of Michigan, the University of Chicago, and other regional institutions, Frances and the Women’s League began raising funds so that female students at IU could have a building of their own. In March 1901, with $6500 in pledges under her belt, Frances appealed to the Board of Trustees to support the project, which she presented as a much-needed space for socializing, exercising, and relaxation. The Board responded with the following resolution:

Be it resolved, that the Trustees of the University most heartily endorsed the movement, presented and explained by Mrs. Swain, for the erection of a Women’s Building on the campus, and inasmuch as said building is to be erected entirely by private subscription, all friends of the University and of education generally are urged to aid Mrs. Swain and her association in their good work.

The campaign for the Women’s Building, essentially the first mass fundraising appeal by the university, ultimately found success through a generous matching donation offer by John D. Rockefeller. Sacrificed in the process, however, was the building’s status as a facility exclusively for women–it instead was built as the “Student Building,” and has remained so up until this week.

The Swains left Indiana when Joseph accepted the presidency of Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. While the couple were doubtless as happy as, well, a pair of Quakers at a school for Quakers, their interest in the welfare of Hoosier Nation never ceased. Besides returning to campus for personal visits and university ceremonies, Frances and Joseph were the first donors to the post-World War I Memorial Fund, giving $500 each in 1921 and lobbying alumni to donate as well. In 1932, five years after Joseph died, Frances married John A. Miller, also a former faculty member of Indiana, Stanford, and Swarthmore. And a mathematics professor–see what I mean? But in Bloomington, she’ll always be remembered the most as Mrs. Joseph Swain.

As the existence of the Women’s League demonstrates, Frances Swain was not the only woman involved in promoting change on campus. The mere existence of women faculty and staff, however few, surely made a difference to the women who followed them. It is easy to overlook the legacy of women of Frances Morgan Swain’s era, when gendered social norms and expectations limited the ways they could participate in public life. The renaming of the Student Building this week is an important step to make sure they are not forgotten.

Murder by “Mineral Water”: the Death of Richard Owen

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Richard Owen ca. 1870

According to Indiana University legend, Richard Owen – namesake of Owen Hall, first president of Purdue University, second Indiana state geologist, IU professor of natural sciences – died from ingesting embalming fluid. The circumstances in which this curious mistake occurred, however, are rarely mentioned when the story is shared. Luckily, the Bloomington Progress (vol. 24, No. 6; 2 April 1890) published a special report on the death of Professor Owen which elucidated the strange incident:

A jug of embalming fluid was sent by mistake to A.H. Fretameot, a merchant and a neighbor of Prof. Owen labeled medical water. Thinking it mineral water from some friend, the two drank a small quantity. Its deadly quality was soon discovered. Medical aid was summoned but Prof. Owen succumbed under its effects and died. Mr. Fretameot vomited freely and it is hoped he may recover.

Whether of not the unfortunate Mr. Fretameot survived the mistake is unknown.

Bloomington Progress, Vol. 24, No. 6; 2 April 1890
Bloomington Progress, Vol. 24, No. 6; 2 April 1890