Sincerely Yours – Letters from the Archives: Theodore Roosevelt Draws the Line

When Carl Eigenmann (renowned ichthyologist, Indiana University Professor of Zoology and Dean of the Graduate School, and Curator of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh) set out on the 1918 Irwin research expedition to Peru, the possibility of failure was not far from his mind. He even wrote President Bryan a last will and testament of sorts, providing for the disposition of his research, specimens, and equipment “in case the submarines or other vermin should get [him].”

Yet it was not a German submarine that nearly scuttled Eigenmann’s expedition, but the U.S. State Department’s heightened scrutiny of German-Americans during World War I. After departing from Bloomington in June 1918, Eigenmann and his assistants, IU graduates Adele Eigenmann and W. R. Harris, were delayed in the port of New Orleans for five weeks. As Eigenmann, a German-born, naturalized U.S. citizen, put it, “The Passport Division of the State Department, while conceding that my name was euphonic, considered it too Teutonic and refused me passports.”

Indignant at the delay, Eigenmann went straight to the top with his protests. Besides writing to the presidents of IU and the University of Illinois, which granted Harris a fellowship for the journey, he appealed to former president Theodore Roosevelt and asked him to intercede with President Woodrow Wilson on his behalf.

Theodore Roosevelt delivering the 1918 IU Commencement address
Theodore Roosevelt delivering the 1918 IU Commencement address

Roosevelt’s well-known fascination with natural history, in particular with gathering specimens and trophies through large-scale, international expeditions, had made him a natural ally of Eigenmann’s in years past. In 1916, Roosevelt wrote to Gilbert Grosvenor, President of the National Geographic Society, to secure $3000 for the expedition, stating that Eigenmann was “of all the men in this country the one best fit to get the best results out of just this trip.”

Roosevelt also proved himself a friend of Indiana University in general, having given a rousingly patriotic commencement speech in Bloomington in May, 1918. But when Eigenmann requested his assistance in securing passports, he had not counted on the extent of the bad blood between Roosevelt and Wilson, who were campaign rivals during the 1912 presidential election and differed widely in attitudes toward American intervention in Europe during World War I. Roosevelt responded, apologetically, to Eigenmann’s request as follows:

Letter from Theodore Roosevelt to Carl H. Eigenmann, July 5, 1918.

SAGAMORE HILL.

July 5th 1918

Dear Dr. Eigenmann,

I am very sorry, but I cannot appeal to Wilson for any human being; and moreover the surest way to hurt you would be to have him think I was interested in you. I am wholly unable to understand the folly or worse of refusing to permit your Peruvian expedition.

With regret [and] indignation,

Faithfully yours,

Theodore Roosevelt

Despite Roosevelt’s unwillingness or inability to help him, Eigenmann’s other contacts were able to exert pressure on the authorities, and the expedition proceeded, albeit with a shortened itinerary. Eigenmann later reported that he suspected a rival scientist as the instigator of the passport controversy. As he wrote in his June, 1919 report to the Board of Trustees, “Someone, who I was informed was interested in having me vacate the position of Curator in the Carnegie Museum, filed charges against my loyalty.”

Who knew that the field of natural history could be so full of intrigue?

Commencement: Where there’s pomp and also circumstance …

It’s that time again: Commencement! All your years of hard work have finally paid off, and a diploma will soon be in hand (at least the commencement ceremony will provide you with the idea of the diploma while the real one will take a couple of months to be mailed to you). Incidentally, what do you know about the commencements of yesteryear?

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The modern day commencement address and speaker were introduced to Indiana University in 1892, when student presentations had been whittled down to a few orations and poems delivered two days before the actual commencement ceremony took place.

With over 10,000 undergraduates eligible to graduate this May, the size contrast to IU’s class of 1912 is rather startling:

IU graduating class of 1912.

December 1942 marked the first time a winter commencement took place, with 580 graduates.

First winter commencement, December 10, 1942.

On December 7, 1941, the United States officially entered into WWII after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The Indiana Daily Student (IDS) of December 20, 1942 addressed the many changes that Indiana University underwent in 1941, including the inauguration of the “speed it up” program.

The IDS reported: “New military units for university students, the establishment of a training school for both men and women in the Navy and a war-adjusting curriculum within a year made life on campus quite different for the students who had entered school when America was still saying ‘if,’ instead of ‘when we get into the war.’”

There was also a Spring commencement that year:

Spring commencement, May 10, 1942

The university stopped conducting December commencement ceremonies after December 1944. Intermittent February commencement ceremonies took place until 1954, when Indiana University went back to a single commencement ceremony at the end of the academic year.

Due to an increasing number of college students, May 1980 was the first time the university conducted two spring commencements, one in the morning, and one in the afternoon on the same day. In 1984, commencement was separated into three ceremonies, spanning two days. In 1988, the university conducted the first outdoor commencement ceremony in 17 years, allowing for a single ceremony for all graduates that year.

In 1989, a resurging interest in winter commencement led to winter graduates being given a reception in their honor.

A newspaper clipping from January 1989 reported:

“About 1400 students graduating in December 1989 might have a commencement if a university committee discovers enough interest. The University hasn’t conducted winter commencements since World War II, when many soldiers couldn’t attend Spring ceremonies. Currently, December graduates may attend commencement in the Spring before or after their actual graduation date.”

A November 1989 clipping stated:

“December grads will have reception in their honor on December 9 in the Musical Arts Center. Kenneth Gros Louis, University vice president and Indiana University Bloomington chancellor, said about 20 percent of IU grads finish their coursework in December.”

In 1994, the university replaced the December graduates’ reception/luncheon with ceremonies in the graduates’ individual schools. It was then noted that a mid-year commencement could be added in the future if the number of December graduates continued to increase. Finally, 1997 saw the first reinstatement of midyear graduation since 1944, and a winter commencement was held on December 22, 1997.

In 2010, for the first time, Indiana University implemented separate commencement ceremonies for undergraduates and graduate students.

A November 2009 press release stated:

“Moving to a separate ceremony for graduate students will allow more time to focus on their distinct achievements and observe the academic tradition of hooding Ph. D and doctoral candidates. Likewise, the undergraduate ceremonies … will focus exclusively on the undergraduate experience and include new emphasis on undergraduate achievement, including the addition of undergraduate voices to the official program.”

You can read more about IU’s commencement history, including an extensive listing of commencement speakers and speech titles (if available), since 1892 on the IU Archives website.

Logo from the 1901 commencement program.

And congratulations, grads!

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And just because I have to get this in: Did you know that Teddy Roosevelt spoke at IU during spring commencement in 1918?

1919 Arbutus p68.Who shot image? H.T. Sthepenson?

Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt at left, and William Lowe Bryan at podium.

 

Ballade of Commencement Eve

Congratulations to all those receiving their IU degrees this weekend!! We hope you enjoyed your time in Bloomington and remember your Alma Mater fondly. Today we’d like to share a poem written by IU alumna Bertha Burns Lee Broyles, Class of 1905, upon the occasion of her 50th class reunion.