Rites of Spring – Indiana University May Festival

As springtime bloomed across Indiana University in 1908, an Indiana Daily Student reporter eagerly previewed an upcoming campus event. “Dainty maids in the picturesque garb of the English peasant or the flaxen-haired Norwegian will dance the complex, but graceful folk dances of long ago.” Who were these “dainty maids” and what was this dazzling-sounding spectacle? The new Indiana University May Festival collection (C693) at the University Archives tells us a history of a vernal campus tradition. Importantly, the Indiana University May Festival became an active space for female student participation in the early twentieth century.

A scene from the 1924 May Festival, IU Archives photograph. Eight women dance in a field.
A scene from the 1924 May Festival, IU Archives no. P0026270

The IU May Festival began in earnest in 1905, when the IU Lecture Association organized an event featuring orchestral and choral performances in the Men’s Gymnasium. A cantata rendition of “The Swan and the Skylark” and ballet music from Faust evoked a springtime feeling. Despite glowing reviews, the IULA-hosted May Festival suffered from poor student participation. An Indiana Daily Student reporter expressed disappointment in 1906: “The small attendance is inconceivable. If the singers of Bloomington and the University knew what the chorus is doing, there would be a regular attendance of 200 instead of 30 or 40.” The event satisfied a Bloomington audience, but didn’t impact enough IU students at the time.

Section of the program for the 1905 May Festival, IU Archives
Section of the program for the 1905 May Festival, IU Archives C693

Beginning in 1908, the Women’s Athletic Association and Department of Physical Education for Women hosted the event in the Women’s Gymnasium for an invitation-only audience. Female students demonstrated exercises like dumbbell handling and club-swinging “with all the vigor and skill of their brothers,” as an IDS reporter noted. In the afternoon, they transformed into “dainty maids” to dance and wind cream and crimson streamers around a tall May Pole. Interestingly, the IDS also notes that only a small number of male students received invitations to the 1908 event.

This iteration of the May Festival was a staple of campus life by the 1920s. By 1922, the Women’s Self-Government Association (WSGA) sponsored an integral feature of the event: the election and crowning of a May Queen. The 1924 May Festival program names Mildred Wight as May Queen, with her heralds Ethel Budrow and Dorothy Tousley. Following a procession with flower girls, crown bearers, maids of honor, and other attendants, “The newly crowned May Queen is entertained by the joyous peasants.” IU students in pastoral garb performed six folk dances for the May Queen, followed by the mythical dance program “Fantasy of Dusk and Dawn.” The programs in this collection show how the all-female May Festival committee staged a mythological renaissance for modern day Bloomington.

Program for the 1924 May Festival, IU Archives C693
Program for the 1924 May Festival, IU Archives C693

By the 1922 May Festival, the WAA and WSGA had moved proceedings to Dunn Meadow. Rather than an invitation-only event in the Women’s Gymnasium, the May Festival had turned into a public performance. This collection also includes a 25-cent ticket for “Sylvia” to attend the Dance Drama portion of the festival at Dunn Meadow in 1927. IDS articles from this time also list the delightful box lunches served to attendees (who could say no to shrimp and mayonnaise sandwiches?) at no cost. One reporter indicated that the WAA and WSGA prepared 800 of these lunches—enough for a huge crowd. The May Festival shows how women at IU transformed a small musical celebration into a popular event that highlighted their talents as athletes, dancers, singers, and artists.

It appears that the WAA and WSGA ceased sponsorship of the May Festival after the 1920s. The last program contained in this collection is from 1928. IU women, however, carried on celebrating the tradition into at least the 1940s, as documented in the IU women’s residence halls scrapbooks. Collection C631, which contains 82 such scrapbooks from 1925-1959, is open for research and offers images from these later unofficial celebrations.

May Day Festival participants Betty Higbee and June Hiatt, 1937. This image scanned from "The Towers" (yearbook / scrapbook / photograph album) compiled by residents of East Memorial Hall when it was a dormitory.
May Day Festival participants Betty Higbee and June Hiatt, 1937. This image scanned from “The Towers” (yearbook / scrapbook / photograph album) compiled by residents of East Memorial Hall when it was a dormitory. IU Archives image no. P0052722

To learn more about the May Festival collection or to view the collection yourself, please feel free to contact the University Archives to set up an appointment.

A Processing Story: The Claire Robertson papers, 1964-2012

The Claire Robertson papers, 1964-2012 are now available for research!

Claire C. Robertson (b. 1944) received her B.A. from Carleton College in 1966, her M.A. from the University of Chicago in 1968, and her Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin in 1974. She is the author or editor of eight books and numerous articles on women, class and gender relations, and African studies. Dr. Robertson was a professor at Ohio State University and a visiting scholar and adjunct professor at Indiana University, Bloomington. Robertson’s teaching and research focused primarily on the history and culture of women in Africa and on women’s studies. This collection consists of a portion of Robertson’s teaching materials, her research materials, manuscripts and writings, and other records relating to her career and professional activities. The collection arrived at the University Archives in multiple accessions between 2010 and 2012 totaling over 60 cubic feet of records.


Boxes from the Claire Robertson papers

Archival processing, a term that encompasses the tasks of arrangement and description for the collections in an archive, can often be a time-consuming task. Depending on the size of a collection, the level of organization that a collection has when it is donated to the archive, any preservation issues, and the level of detail which needs described in a finding aid, processing archival collections can take anywhere from a few days, to a few months, or maybe even years! Processing the Claire Robertson papers took some time between 2017 and March 2018 because of the size and condition of the collection.

Archivists often work on multiple tasks at a time. For student processors (like me!) this provides a great chance to learn how to ‘wear many hats’ so to speak. This project was ongoing while I managed other smaller projects and had the opportunity to learn more about different kinds of processing needs for different collections. The end result is an arranged collection and a detailed finding aid to help researchers access all parts of the collection!

Processing the Claire Robertson papers at the IU Archive
Processing the Claire Robertson papers at the IU Archive

The Claire Robertson papers contains materials relating to Robertson’s time in graduate school, her teaching files from classes taught at places other than OSU, manuscripts and drafts of her many articles and books, items relating to her professional activities, and a large amount of research and data that she created and used while writing her books Sharing the Same Bowl and Trouble Shows the Way. Much of her research involved surveying participants in Accra, Ghana and Nairobi, Kenya, and then compiling the data to analyze with a computer. But, in the 1980s and early 1990s computers weren’t very advanced. The print-outs of the computer data fill numerous oversize boxes on their own!

Robertson’s collection contains her drafts, manuscripts, research, and other materials relating to her many books and other publications

As a professor and instructor, Robertson taught history, African studies, and women’s studies courses at a number of universities, including Indiana University, Bloomington. She is also the author or editor of eight books and numerous articles on women, class and gender relations, and African Studies. In 1985, she was the winner of the African Studies Association’s  Herskovits Book Award. In 1987-1988, she held a Fulbright Fellowship to study the development of Kenyan trade and market women in the Nairobi area. Robertson was a professor of history and women’s studies at The Ohio State University for over twenty years, and active on numerous committees and projects.

She also served in various capacities at Indiana University throughout her career. Beginning in 1978 she served as a Faculty Research Associate in the African Studies Program and in 1984 she was the Co-Director of the Office of Women’s Affairs. From 1992 until 1993 she was appointed as a Visiting Scholar in the Women’s Studies Program, and she has since served as a Lecturer and been involved in IU’s Fair Trade Bloomington selling artisan-made items to benefit two projects. The Indiana University Press published her books, Sharing the Same Bowl: A Socioeconomic History of Women and Class in Accra, Ghana in 1984 and Trouble Showed the Way: Women, Men, and Trade in the Nairobi Area, 1890-1990 in 1997. Much of the archival collection consists of Robertson’s data and analysis for her various research projects and publications.

Central Accra Market Photos, 1978, Claire Robertson papers, Collection C633, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.

In Bloomington, Robertson now works on two projects to provide help to children affected by AIDS and to assist women in Kenya. For each of the projects, Ndethya wa Ngutethya Women’s Group and Spurgeon School for AIDS Orphans in Kenya, Robertson raises funds in the U.S. to buy clothing for African women and children, and then travels to Kenya and brings artisan-made items back from the Nairobi markets to sell at Fair Trade Bloomington and other fundraisers to benefit the Kenyan artists.

Claire Robertson’s papers in the IU Archives are now open for research. Anyone interested in the research process, or in topics relating to African Studies or Women’s Studies will find this collection to be full of interesting material!

In the Claire Robertson papers there are many items that she collected relating to her interests in Africa and women’s studies

In addition to items relating to Robertson’s work, the collection contains some other materials relating to her interests which she collected throughout her career. Contact the IU Archives for more information.

Portions of the collection such as African Newspapers and journals are now part of African Studies Collection here at IU, and  files documenting her teaching activities at the Ohio State University  were transferred to the OSU Archives.

India Remixed : Indian Independence in Indiana

On August 15, 1947, India, one of the oldest and most populated nations in the world, gained independence from Great Britain. The British East India Company controlled India, from the 1700s until the Indian rebellion of 1857. After the suppression of the revolt, the British Crown took control of the region from the Company. In the years after 1857 and during British rule of the region, calls for reform and Indian self-rule grew. But it wasn’t until 1947, after years of growing movements, the rise of Gandhi’s non-violent civil disobedience movement, the “Quit India” movement of the Indian National Congress Party, and after revolts and mass strikes, that India gained its independence. After 90 years of fighting against British Raj (British Rule) and calls for Indian Self-Rule, the Indian Independence Act of 1947 was signed.

Students, professors, and other members of the IU community were certainly aware of the struggles of Indians well before the 1940s. One faculty member, Cecilia Hennel Hendricks, Associate Professor of English, wrote to her family members about a lecture regarding India that she attended at IU in 1931. In her letter, Cecilia describes meeting a man who had met Gandhi and learned why he opposed British rule:

Letter from Cecilia, 1931, Cecilia Hennel Hendricks family papers, Collection C413, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.

“He told of some conversations he had with Ghandi, and said when he asked Ghandi why he opposed the British rule, Ghandi answered that after all India was the country of the Indians, who had owned and ruled it for centuries before England ever existed, and that there were thousands of Indian people as well educated and trained as any English people, and fully able to manage their own government.”

Letter from Cecilia, 1931, Cecilia Hennel Hendricks family papers, Collection C413, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.

Independence Day is now one of only three national holidays in India. It’s celebrated on August 15 and is commemorated with a speech from the Prime Minister, references to the Indian Independence Movement, and celebration through cultural events. Flag hoisting events and kite flying in some areas are also hosted around India as a part of the celebration. Around the world, Indian emigrants celebrate with parades and events of their own, sometimes referring to the day as ‘India Day.’

Indian Students Invite President Bryan to attend Independence Celebration. C69, Box 3.

At Indiana University, Indian Independence was celebrated as early as 1948. Indian student Ramnarase Panday was particularly active while attending Indiana University. He and another student, Raghubir Bhatia, organized that first Indian Independence Day celebration at IU. They asked President Wells to speak at the event at Alumni Hall, and invited others from around campus, including President Emeritus William Lowe Bryan, to attend the celebration.

Panday was from Beharr, India and attended the College of Arts and Sciences at IU. He earned his A.B. in Government in 1950 and his M.A. in History in 1952. He was a very active member of the college community. As an undergraduate, Panday was in the Cosmopolitan Club, a student organization for international students and cultures, and once in graduate school, he joined Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity.

Ramnarase Panday with President Wells, July 28, 1948. IU Archives image no. P0073656.

The celebration of India’s first Independence Day at IU must have been a momentous occasion for everyone who attended. While we have been unable to find further records documenting the event or information on additional students who assisted with the celebration, we suspect that Panday and Bhatia were likely the only two students organizing the event.

President Herman B Wells spoke at the inaugural celebration in Alumni Hall:

“Birthdays are happy occasions whether they mark the passing of a year in the life of an individual or a nation. We are met tonight to celebrate an unusually significant birthday which marks the end of the first year of independence for one of the world’s oldest and largest nations – a nation rich in physical resources, in manpower, and in cultural acheivement. It is a privilege therefore to join with you in extending our congratulations and good wishes to the Indiana University students from India and through them to the great nation which they so ably represent.”

C137 Wells’ Speech on India Independence Day at IU, August 8, 1948 – click on image to read Wells’ full speech

This celebration marking India’s independence was significant and marked the growing diversity of the university.

Places and Spaces: A History of Student Hangouts at IU Bloomington

Students attend a Military Ball at the IU Commons in the former Student Building in 1941
Students attend a Military Ball at the IU Commons in the former Student Building, 1941. IU Archives image no. P0027145

“You could not thank Nick, you could not flatter him; you could just appreciate him, and be sure of getting that big round smile when you entered.”

– Carolyn Fink, from “Nightingale in the Branches: A Memoir of Post-WWII Student Life at I.U.”, 1945

Whether it’s dinner at a lively downtown restaurant; listening to the soft sound of water lapping at the bank of a local pond; or curling up in cozy chair in the Indiana Memorial Union, students need places to kick back and relax to escape the rigors of academic life. While many aspects of the student experience have shifted and changed over Indiana University’s almost 200 years of operation, one common quest has endured: finding a great place to hang out and unwind after classes and work.

The Indiana University Archives exhibition, “Places & Spaces: A History of Student Hangouts at IU Bloomington,” is an exploration of some of the most legendary hangout spots that IU students have frequented over the years. Some long-enduring favorites, like Nick’s English Hut, are still a familiar staple in the IU student experience to this day. Other former hangout spots, like The Book Nook and Ye Olde Regulator, are now enjoyed by students in the same spaces under different names, such as BuffaLouie’s and Kilroy’s. Some of the most beloved student haunts of the past, like the Sunken Garden and The Commons in the former Student Building, are no longer in existence; but they continue to live on in memories and in historical records.

An advertisement for The Gables from an IU vs. Purdue football game program, 1955
An advertisement for The Gables from an IU vs. Purdue football game program, 1955. IU Archives image no. P0066961

In order to capture a snapshot of the IU student experience over time, this exhibition utilizes original materials from the Indiana University Archives and the Archives Photograph Collection, including:

  • Excerpts from IU alumnus Kathleen Cavanaugh’s scrapbook (1963-1965)
  • A mock diploma for a “Doctor of Nookology” issued to former University president Herman B Wells at the Book Nook commencement ceremony (1931)
  • Photographs and vintage advertisements for some of the most well-known and beloved hangout spots, including The Book Nook, The Gables, Nick’s English Hut, and Ye Ole Regulator.

This exhibition was inspired by some of the stories shared by IU alumni as part of the Bicentennial Oral History Project at Indiana University Bloomington. In the following clip, we hear an alumnus, Louis Kaplan, discussing several of the places that students used to visit for the best food in town:

Officers of The Flame Club enjoy drinks at Nick's English Hut, 1949
Officers of The Flame Club enjoy drinks at Nick’s English Hut, 1949. IU Archives image no. P0048423

This post began with an excerpt from Carolyn Fink’s memoir, in which she fondly remembers Nick Hrisomalos, founder and former operator of Nick’s English Hut. In the following clip, alumnus Gary Wiggins shares some humorous recollections of Nick’s longest-serving and most beloved waitress, Ruth Collier Stewart. These and other so-called “Ruthie stories” can still be heard from IU Bloomington alumni all across the world:

To learn more about these and other beloved student hangout spots through the years, please be sure to visit “Places & Spaces: A History of Student Hangouts at IU Bloomington” in person before it ends on Monday, April 16, 2018! The exhibition is located at:

The Office of the Bicentennial
Franklin Hall 200
Hours: 8:00 am – 5:00 pm; weekdays
601 E. Kirkwood Avenue, Bloomington, IN 47405

The curators, Julia Kilgore and Tyler Davis, would like to thank Kristin Leaman and Brad Cook for their assistance in making this exhibition possible.

Through the Airwaves: The Indiana School of the Sky

We all enjoy our podcasts, niche radio shows, and morning news during the drive to work or school, but the history of radio has a far reaching past beyond our modern version of it. For much of the twentieth century, radio was the entertainment and news medium of choice — not television, and radio has a particularly interesting history here at IU!

Class listening to School of the Sky, Archives image no. P0050223

The Indiana School of the Sky radio program of the Indiana University Department of Radio and Television began broadcasting educational radio programs in 1947 and continued through the early 1960s. The program reached schools throughout Indiana and nearby states and led to new course offerings at IU. IU students performed in the radio programs originally intended for children ages 4-8 which aired for 15 minutes during each school day.

Eventually the program’s popularity called for further programming for high-school students, and later adults tuned in as well.  Topics in every subject from history and music to current events and news were covered during the various episodes of the program.

The School of the Sky series discussed possible careers for students, music and literature, how to find a job, dating and growing up, and current events.  In many ways the program’s subjects seemed to help students learn both educational topics and how to be a part of society.  Other episodes focused on the news and events of the time that were likely difficult for students to understand.

To explain the Cold War and Communism to audiences in 1962, as part of the “How It Happened” series the School of the sky performed a skit about West Germany. From the view of an airplane and from the ground, the actors describe West Berlin as an “island surrounded by Communism.”  The narrator and the characters in the show provide listeners with the history and problematic results of World War II.  Students learned, through the vivid description of the show’s script, the differences between East and West Berlin, Check Point Charlie, and the Berlin Wall.  The picture the program paints shows the effects of Communism and the grim reality in Berlin on the other side of the Wall.  On the ground in West Berlin, the narrator explains that East Berliners have a very different life than West Berliners and the listeners in the United States:

President Wells speaking for the opening of the School of the Sky, Archives image no. P0048605

“The Communists, in fear of having everybody run away to freedom, have built a wall to stop them.  This wall is the ugliest thing I have ever seen.  It is also a very sad thing to see, because behind it are people who want freedom, want to live like you and me, but the wall holds them in.  If they try to get over the wall, the Communists shoot them.  Many young students have died trying to get over into West Berlin.”

The Indiana School of the Sky, 1961-1962, How It Happened Series, Volume 3 of 3. Program #10, Aprill 11, 1962, George Strimel, Jr. Page 96.

The program effectively brought a faraway place and the conflict of the Berlin Wall and Cold War home to the listeners in Indiana.

The students here at IU were the radio show’s writers, performers, and producers. The Indiana School of the Sky eventually reached thousands of classrooms and children while also providing college students with invaluable radio experience.

Oscar winners in “School of the Sky”, Archives image no. P0052037

The bound volumes containing the scripts of the program and the teaching manuals found in the IU Archives’ Indiana School of the Sky records offer enlightening insight into the stage management, acting, and preparation that was necessary for each episode.

In 2009, the Media Digitization and Preservation Initiative (MDPI) at IU found numerous lacquer discs containing recordings of The School of the Sky. These are now digitized and available online through Media Collections Online.