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.

Resolution from the minutes to establish engineering
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.

Group photograph of IU Women's League officers, 1896
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

Sincerely Yours – Letters from the Archives: A Captain in the Union Army, John D. Alexander

Born on February 6, 1839 in Bloomington, Indiana, John D. Alexander graduated from Indiana University with A. B. and A.M. degrees in 1861.  In 1860, while Alexander anticipated his graduation, Southern tensions reached their peak. On December 20, 1860, South Carolina seceded from the Union following the election of Abraham Lincoln.  In his “Recollections of Indiana University, 1856-1861” Alexander notes the intense atmosphere in Bloomington following South Carolina’s secession.  He recalls,

One fine morning a Red flag with One White Star was flying from the highest point of the University Building.  The whole town was thrown into a frenzy of excitement.  Students and people of the town soon filled the Campus – the flag was torn down and dragged through the street to Doctor Nutt’s residence – then to the Court House Square where speeches were made denouncing the ones who put the flag there and particularly South Carolina and the flag was burned.

Alexander taught school for a year and then enlisted as a private in Company E, 97th Regiment of Indiana Volunteers in August 1862.  On June 27, 1864, Alexander was wounded in his right hip at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain in Georgia.  He quickly recovered, however, and returned to his company in October 1864.  Alexander and the rest of the 97th Regiment marched in Sherman’s army from Atlanta to Savannah, from November 15 until December 21, 1864.  The following letter is written by Alexander to his parents.  He describes his experience in the Battle of Grindswoldville in Georgia, the first battle of Sherman’s March to the Sea, as well as movements of the regiment and news of his promotion to Captain of Company D.  Just a note that within the letter, Alexander invokes some language of the time that would be offensive if employed today. See full transcription below the images.

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Camp Anderson, Geo. 9 miles South West of Savannah

December 18, 1864

My Dear Parents,

I am still alive for which I thank the Good Lord. We left Atlanta, Geo. the 15th of November.  The 15th Army Corps take the extreme Right of the Army. The 17th Corps the Right Center, the 20th Corps the Left Center and the 14th Corps the extreme Left. We were all to move on roads as nearly parallel as possible. Nothing of interest occurred until we struck the Macon and Savannah Railroad where we all stayed and encamped at night. The next morning – Nov 22nd our brigade 2nd under Gen Walcott was ordered to make a reconnaissance. Once in the direction of Macon we started and got within 2 miles of the Macon and Montgomery R.R. when the Rebels Cavalry under Wheeler attacked our Cavalry and whipped them badly. Our brigade threw out Skirmishes and we drove them back to Grindswold a small Station on the Railroad and finally beyond there. Our brigade then retired to a small elevation of ground overlooking an open field where we stopped to get our drummers. We were sitting round not expecting any danger when the Georgia Militia attacked our pickets and they commenced coming in and we went to making breastworks out of rails, bags, chunks, whatever we could get together. Before we had them done however, they came upon us in three lines of battle.  They came with a vengeance and some were killed within 50 yds of our works.  The fight raged with fury for three hours and when it ceased Such a sight! The Rebels literally lay in piles, 10 men in a place all killed together. Their loss was estimated at 2,000 killed and wounded. Ours only… [section of letter missing] The Brigade Genl Walcott was wounded early on…[section of letter missing] with a piece… [section of letter missing] Shall look… [section of letter missing] Command of the Brigade and behaved with much gallantry. He still commands the Brig. Capt. Elliott of Co “H” commands the Regt. After we left there we had our ups and downs. Dec. 10Crossed Ogeechee River on the 11th we were wakened by the Reb Battery and our Shelling. On the 13 of this month Fort McAllister at the mouth of the Ogeechee River was taken by the 2nd Div of our Corps. They captured between 2 and 300 prisoners, 17 guns, 200 artillery Horses, $2,000 worth of wines and cigars. That Opens our Communication we got mail night before last and I got your letters up to Nov 30″/64. Some from Bettie also and Sam Kate and Will married Hannah. I was glad to hear you got home safely from Sister Sophia’s. Did you get my photographs I sent home? I got my Commission to Captain night before last. Will be mustered today. I will be assigned to command Co “D” for a while. Then if Captain Oliphant resigns I will be transferred to Co “E” if possible. We only have to go on the front lines every 3 or 4 days. Tell Captain O – I will write to him this evening and more if I can. Give my love to All. I am in perfect health am as fat as a pig. Have had a pack mule to carry my Blankets and Grub and a darky to lead him and cook. I have 3 blankets Always sleep comfortable. The boys have been down to where the water comes up to get oysters and can hear distinctly the roaring of old Ocean. The country here is level and swampy. Give my love to Boone, Mary, Bettie, Felix, Mat, Lee, Sam, Sallie, and families and believe me you.

Affectionate Son,

John D.  Alexander Co “D”

In April 1865, Alexander was appointed Acting Assistant Inspector General of the Second Brigade by General John A. Logan in Goldsboro, North Carolina. He was mustered out of service on June 9, 1865 following the Grand Review of the Armies, a victory procession through Washington, D.C.  Following the Civil War, Alexander served as a lawyer in Bedford and Bloomfield.  He went on to hold several elected positions in state and county government. Alexander was also regular attendant to all national and state encampments of the G.A.R. His involvement in the G.A.R. led him to write a History of the Ninety-seventh Regiment of Indiana Volunteer Infantry in 1891.  In 1929, Alexander was the oldest living graduate of Indiana University. He died on February 27, 1931.

The above letter, along with 11 others, can be found in C23 John D. Alexander Family Papers. To learn more about Indiana University and the Civil War, contact the IU Archives.