While the IU Archives remains closed to the public due to the COVID-19 crisis, I have been digging into the collections available digitally through Archives Online to discover and highlight some of the great artifacts the IU community can explore from the comfort of their homes. I came across a scrapbook put together by a veteran’s group for IU students that was active during and directly following WWII that allowed me a fascinating glimpse into veteran student issues.
The Second World War transformed life at Indiana University in many ways, and these transformations extended into the postwar time as many men came back to attend college and start the next chapter of their lives. Many organizations were established to help veterans make their transformation from soldier to civilian, including a newly formed progressive veterans committee called the American Veterans Committee (AVC), originally formed as an alternative option to what some considered the more conservative veterans groups like the American Legion. The American Veterans Committee, formed at the national level in 1943 and disbanded in 2008, pledged to support veterans of all races and creeds and was notably offering racially integrated committees across the country when other veterans groups were not. Their political agenda included petitioning the local and state government to start or support legislation related to improving veteran support in all facets of life and supporting advocate groups like the NAACP that fought for civil rights and racial equality.
The AVC Bloomington chapter offered support to veterans on IU’s campus and in the Bloomington community as a whole. The collection is fully digitized and includes one scrapbook that includes clips of newspaper, photographs, and chapter items from the years 1946-1949, and offers an interesting glimpse of what life was like for veteran students during these years right after WWII.
Like the national organization, Bloomington’s chapter was committed to supporting all veterans on campus and in the community, regardless of nationality, race, or religion. Their main policies included fighting bigotry, which included a push to bar Bloomington restaurants from discriminating against people of color. They were supporters of the Bloomington NAACP. In 1948, the organization wrote an op-ed to the Indiana Daily Student that outlined their support for national integration of all colleges and to end all college discrimination.
The Bloomington AVC also focused on the financial aspects of IU veterans’ lives. In 1947, the AVC compiled the GI Subsistence Survey that asked 1500 current student veterans about their finances and the support they receive from the government; based on their results, they asked the university and local and national politicians to increase veteran subsistence pay, arguing that veterans were paying more for housing and food than they should be.
The American Veterans Committee also hosted social and educational events on campus to support their initiatives. In 1947 the group hosted an Autumn Festival informal dance at the Indiana Memorial Union. The AVC also hosted speakers for their members and the general public, including history novelist Howard Fast, sports writer John R. Tunis, and the famed IU professor Dr. Alfred Kinsey right after his release of Sexual Behavior in the Human Male at an AVC meeting in 1948. It was one of the only public lectures he gave on campus after the release of the book.
The scrapbook is a fascinating glimpse into a few of the issues that student veterans faced as they returned from war, adjusted to life back home, attended university, and moved forward in their lives. Aspects of life that affected veterans as they transitioned back into society are deeply compelling to see from the student perspective. Check out the finding aid and the full scrapbook here!
For more more than 100 years, the Union Board has organized events on campus that have elevated the IU experience. The IU Archives holds a collection of Union Board scrapbooks that highlight the board’s events and programs from the 1930s through the 2000s. They are a wonderful look into IU history and at the events that shaped many IU students’ experiences across the last several decades.
As I dug into the history of the Union Board, I realized the Union Board existed before the construction of the Indiana Memorial Union (IMU). In fact, it was first founded by IU student John M. Wittenburger in 1909 with a goal to “further the interests of Indiana University and her students.”
Originally comprised of male students and two male faculty advisers, including Indiana University President William L. Bryan, the group met in the Student Building and old Assembly Hall until the construction of the Union in 1932. Their focus was on enriching the lives of IU students, faculty and staff through unique events, activity and programs. Initiatives ran the gamut, from socials and dances, fairs, movie screenings, concerts, performing arts acts, and more.
One early example of the Union Board’s impact on campus comes from the 1912 IU Arbutus. One page includes a picture of a barbershop in the Student Building attributed to the early Union board.
The Union Board went co-ed in 1952 when it merged with the Association of Women Students, and over time has grown to become an elected student governing body that leads the IMU, directs handfuls of committees – including the Campus Creative Arts committee, Concert committee, and the popular Live From Bloomington committee – and is now the largest student programming organization on campus.
One of the longest running and likely one of the best known Union Board programs, Union Board Films, was first rolled out in 1914 under the program’s early name, “Let’s go to the Union Movies.” It has brought screenings of popular films to campus for free or cheap, providing a fun and cost-effective weekend event an easy walk from the dorms. Originally held two nights a week, the recent film program offers showings of newly released movies in the Union’s Whittenberger Auditorium most weekends during the school year.
Another area of Union Board programming, music and comedy events, are well represented in the pages of the scrapbooks. The board has brought all types of musical acts and comedy events to campus, both large and more intimate. Union Board Concerts committee brought BB King to campus in 1971. In 1979, the committee featured the rock band Heart. In 2001, Union Board events featured comedian Dave Chappelle. In addition to massive musical and comedy acts, the Union Board has also hosted smaller, localized music and comedy, including their well-known local music series called Live From Bloomington and local comedy improv and sketch group events.
Ticket stubs and event programs, news clippings and photographs featured in these scrapbooks provide a glimpse of not only the workings of the Union Board over the years, but also a glimpse of the way student life has changed over the years. The scrapbooks range from the 1930s all the way up to the 2010s, and the richness of campus life from such a broad range of IU history is really interesting to behold! Check out the scrapbooks here and find out more about the Union Board’s current programming and committees!
IU students have always done their part in difficult times to stay close and foster friendships and understandings between people from all over the world. Just before and during World War I, a group of students at IU formed a chapter of the Cosmopolitan Club, receiving their charter from the national organization in 1918. The goal of the club was to bring American students and foreign students together to foster international fellowship and peace under the motto “Above all nations is humanity.”
The first attempt to create the club at IU, after a Cosmopolitan Club member at the University of Wisconsin in 1907 invited IU students to create one and attend their first convention, did not pan out. However, nine years later, 12 international students successfully began IU’s Cosmopolitan Club. The club included members from dozens of countries as well as students from the state and across the U.S. Interest and membership in the Club remained high through the early to mid 1960s, but participation in the club waned by 1969, the last year the club was pictured in the Arbutus.
The club’s most popular event, called the International Dinner, was a hit on campus. Originally started as an “International Revue” in 1922, guests paid a small fee to dine on international food and watch international students perform their nation’s folk dances, music and other entertainment. They also hosted an International Variety Show, which featured international student’s cultural dances.
The club was the foundation of many events of IU’s annual International Week organized by the International Affairs Commission that also celebrated the United Nations. The last record of an International Dinner in the collection dates to 1970, the last recorded active year of the club.
The club files span much of their active years at IU, and focus mostly on various subject files by year and items and clippings from club scrapbooks. Notable files include the club’s constitution, publications related to their events, club correspondence, copies of the club’s newsletter the Cosmo Reporter, initiation files and local news clippings related to the club and its activities that span decades at IU that included significant political and societal change. Discover more digital items in the finding aid here!
Charlie Nelms is an unparalleled force in higher education. From his early days as a graduate student at Indiana University to his executive leadership roles at IU and beyond, Nelms has deeply affected the landscape of higher education in the United States. I had the absolute pleasure of processing the Charlie Nelms papers, 1967-2016 (Collection C701) at the University Archives. This collection of writings, correspondence, reports, publications, audiovisual recordings, and ephemera documents Nelms’ life as a great leader, activist, orator, and educator. The potential uses of this collection are expansive. Anyone interested in diversity and race in higher education, university administration, philanthropy, public speaking, community outreach, mentorship, or memoir writing should definitely make use of this collection.
Charlie Nelms was born in Crawfordsville, Arkansas (in the Arkansas Delta) in 1946. Nelms was one of eleven children born to subsistence farmers and community organizers. Throughout his career and in his publications today, Nelms has reflected on growing up in the Arkansas Delta during the Jim Crow era. Many of these reflections appear in the Charlie Nelms papers, especially in the “Speeches” series (my favorite part of the collection). These anecdotes provide a powerful context to understand just how important his leadership at IU has been. Nelms shared a couple such anecdotes at the Black History Month Closing Reception at IU in 2005:
“Growing up in the Delta Region of Arkansas at a time when African Americans weren’t as fully integrated into society as they are today, Negro History Week took on special significance for my rural classmates and me. Back then you seldom saw a black face on television. In fact, very few black people even owned a television set. Popular programs included Amos and Andy, the Friday night boxing match, church sponsored box suppers and Sunday worship. And yes, there was the mourner’s bench, getting religion and being baptized in the local creek. As for me, I got religion and was baptized in a local lake known as Buck Lake. As painful as our history is, including everything from the middle passage to slavery, emancipation, segregation, desegregation, and integration, it is a history that we dare not forget lest we repeat it.”
In a 2004 speech for the Black Alumni Weekend at University of Kansas, Nelms detailed:
“School was some place you went after the cotton crop was harvested;
Decided I wanted to make the world a better place rather than wasting my energy on being angry;
Although my parents were barely literate, they had an abiding faith in education; Mama and Papa told us to get a good education because no one could take it away from you;
I know from experience that education is the engine of opportunity. The research is clear, unless you are born rich, education is the best vehicle for improving the quality of life for individuals, communities, and nations.”
These are important points to understand Nelms’ narrative: he has long understood education as the core of a just, democratic society. The biographical note on his personal website, www.charlienelms.com, states it succinctly:
“While poverty and discrimination shaped Charlie as he sought to escape their grip, he has never felt the need to escape his responsibility for eradicating their pernicious effects. Charlie deeply believes that equity and excellence are core principles of democracy, and both are achievable.”
For his undergraduate degree, Nelms stayed close to home and attended University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. After he received his B.S. in chemistry and agronomy there in 1968, he came to IU for his graduate work. He received an M.S. in higher education and student affairs in 1971 and an Ed.D. in higher education administration in 1977. The “Personal” series of the collection contains some materials from his graduate school days, such as newspapers and articles he used for research.
Like so many in academia, Charlie Nelms worked for many different universities throughout his career. After graduate school, Nelms worked at IU Northwest as a Professor of Education and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs from 1978-1984. The “Other Institutions” series of the collection includes teaching files, reports, and tenure dossier materials from his time at IU Northwest. The series also documents his next job as Vice President for Student Services at Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio. In 1987, Nelms was hired as Chancellor and Professor of Education at IU East (in Richmond, Indiana). The Indiana University East series documents his time there from 1987-1994. The series provides a window into IU East at the time, including a campus dialogue on race in America, efforts to increase black student enrollment, and general strategic planning efforts. The series also contains materials (including a lovely photo album) from Nelms’ cultural ambassador trip to a Japanese primary school in 1991.
In 1994 Nelms left Indiana entirely to become Chancellor and Professor of Education at University of Michigan-Flint, a position he served in until 1998. His time in Flint is documented in the “Speeches” series through transcripts and notes from speeches he gave at area community organizations—including the Urban League of Flint, the Flint Neighborhood Coalition, the Flint Public Library, Flint Community Schools, and Mott Community College.
In 1998, Nelms became a Hoosier again and began serving as Vice President for Institutional Development and Student Affairs at IU Bloomington (he served in this role until 2007). During his service here, Nelms led a team of university administrators from across the country to design and implement 20/20: A Vision for Achieving Equity and Excellence at IU-Bloomington. 20/20 implemented a host of recommendations made by Nelms’ team on how IU could ensure the campus actively promoted a racially and ethnically diverse student, faculty, and administrative body. Nelms embodied the goals of this plan throughout his leadership on Bloomington’s campus, particularly through collaborative efforts to fund diversity initiatives. He worked with Purdue University to secure a $3 million National Science Foundation grant to increase minority enrollment in STEM fields; helped secure $26 million in funding to construct and dedicate the Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center; and launched the $5 million Jimmy Ross Endowment Fund for Diversity Initiatives. Materials across the Nelms papers document these efforts and more.
Nelms left Bloomington in 2007 to become Chancellor at North Carolina Central University (NCCU), a public, historically black university (or HBCU). The “Other Institutions” series contains notes, reports, and publications from his tenure at NCCU. Although he officially retired from NCCU in 2012, Nelms has remained an active author, public speaker, and consultant. His books include Lessons Taught, Lessons Learned (Bookmasters, 2004) and From Cotton Fields to University Leadership: All Eyes on Charlie (Indiana University Press, 2019). A portion of the proceeds from From Cotton Fields to University Leadership are donated to HBCU scholarships. In 2019, Nelms was awarded an honorary doctorate from IU for his exemplary leadership.
As I mentioned, my favorite part of the Charlie Nelms papers remains the “Speeches” series. Not only does it reveal the depth and breadth of his community engagement, it shows how Nelms has woven his commitment to justice and education throughout his career. Even beyond this series, however, the Charlie Nelms papers documents a life and career we should all aspire to. As our late winter doldrums trudge on, it’s easy to become stressed and disheartened with our workloads as university students and employees. I urge you to check out this collection when you need a reminder of why your education and work (here at IU, at another university, or anywhere, really) matters for the betterment of our democracy. If you are interested in viewing this collection, please feel free to contact us and set up an appointment!
When I think back to starting my freshman year of college (in enemy territory at Purdue University), I remember one main feeling: overwhelmed! Even though it has been more than a decade since then, I get butterflies in my stomach when I recall orientation activities, my first meals in the dorms, and meeting classmates for the first time. Though Purdue had a ton of welcome activities for incoming freshmen, the Indiana University traditions of Freshman Convocation and the Freshman Induction Ceremony are utterly charming. This year, the Freshman Induction took place August 21 at Skjodt Assembly Hall. We’ve covered the history of the Freshman Induction Ceremony in the past, so in this post I would like to focus on some wise words spoken at Freshman Convocations over the years. Specifically, this post will highlight Herman B Wells’ resolute and poignant addresses over the World War II years. His advice should be relevant for all freshman coming to Bloomington now, in an uncertain and overwhelming time.
It is well known that our beloved Herman B Wells was a fantastic orator, so it is no surprise that his remarks are still impactful many decades later. During his 1937 speech to incoming freshmen, Wells reminded students of precarious conditions in America and the world:
“It is true that the world is beset with problems of such gravity that they sometimes challenge hope for the future. On the front pages of the newspapers almost every day reference is made to some of these problems—war, assault upon the democracies of the world by the rise of dictatorships, charges that the capitalistic system and the democratic philosophy of government are incompatible—in a word, questions that attack the very foundation of the institutions under which we are living.”
Pretty heavy words for the opening of a Freshman Convocation speech. He continued on to describe the depletion of natural resources and perilous state of natural conservation. He ended this section by saying:
“Wars, rumors of war, political unrest, dissipation of the vitality of our physical and human resources—certainly these create a dismal outlook for the future.”
Though these statements are grave, we can see obvious connections with our contemporary situation. Wells then placed the impetus for changing this outlook on the incoming freshmen:
“You need not be discouraged by the number and seriousness of these problems. They can all be solved, and they will be solved by our people if we are guided by an intelligent and informed leadership…And society, through government and through the sacrifices of individual families, has supported higher education generously in this country largely because we as a people believe that college-trained men and women offer us our best source of social, political, and economic leadership.”
One of Wells’ most extraordinary skills was to turn insurmountable challenges into inspiring moments of change. Against the backdrop of the rise of fascism (the Luftwaffe bombing of Guernica occurred in April of that year), Wells acknowledged the frightening realities of IU freshmen while simultaneously encouraging them to lead the charge for change. I hope the incoming freshman class today can harness this same courage.
In September 1940, one year before the United States officially entered World War II, Wells emphasized the university’s role in defending democracy. He outlined three types of defenses for democracy: physical, intellectual, and spiritual. After summarizing mobilization activities on campus such as Civilian Pilot Training at the Bloomington airstrip and IU’s R.O.T.C. unit, he spoke to intellectual and spiritual defenses:
“You cannot be intellectually lazy and be an effective citizen in democracy. There is no dictator to tell you what is socially desirable and undesirable. Questions of social policy must be thought through for yourself, and you must think with sufficient clarity and originality, if you aspire to be a leader, so that you can win your colleagues to your point of view.”
Although young people today often hear calls to independent thinking, Wells’ thoughtful consideration of how free thought fosters a democratic environment should be especially relevant today. As to spiritual defenses of democracy, Wells spoke these compassionate words:
“Democracy is a way of life in which we are responsible for each other, in which our human relations must be governed, in a very real and practical sense, by self-restraint and mutual respect for the rights of others.”
In an age of rapid-fire and divisive communications I think incoming IU students would do well to embody mutual respect and feel responsibility for one another. We can update Wells’ words to apply to fostering a democratic society online, too.
As the United States officially entered the War, we see a shift in Wells’ tone for incoming freshmen. 1942 was a particularly devastating year—by September of that year mass extermination of Jews had begun at Auschwitz, Sobibór, Treblinka, and Belzec; thousands of lives were lost as Axis powers sunk Allied ships during Second Happy Time; and Executive Order 9066 authorized the United States military to incarcerate Japanese Americans in detention camps. Wells’ 1942 freshman address echoed an atmosphere of severity:
“We hear much just now about the necessity of maintaining morale on the home front. These are days of unusual stress and strain for all of us. Home front morale will depend in no small measure upon our courtesy to each other. Acceptable manners, both public and private, insure proper consideration for the convenience and rights of others. Therefore this subject of good manners, always timely, is of especial significance at the present.”
Even in a dark hour, we see that Wells highlighted freshmen’s responsibility to treat others with respect and dignity. And as we can see from his 1946 address to the incoming class, that attitude continued after World War II as well. That year he remarked:
“The nervous system of the human body is a complex mechanism consisting of millions of cells. Yet a single nerve cell can register pain or pleasure which is felt throughout the entire body. Each person in the campus body, from the youngest student to the oldest professor, has an essential role. Each is, as it were, a cell in the nervous system of the University community.”
Cooperation and mutual respect were truly central to how Wells envisioned a democratic society. As the IU Class of 2023 settles in, I hope we all can exemplify Wells’ ideals to each other on and off campus. Most all of us were overwhelmed and frightened freshmen at one point. If Wells could set an example of strength against the backdrop of World War II, we should be able to pass these virtues on to the Class of 2023.