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.

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.

Sticking to the Dance Card: Student Socials and Dancing to the Music of Louis Armstrong and Hoagy Carmichael at IU

In the early to mid-twentieth century, students didn’t make friends on social media or find a date through an app.  They went to student sponsored socials and dances, with chaperones and live bands.  The women were asked to dance by a different male student for almost every song, and they needed cards to avoid scheduling one dance with two different boys. They knew how to have fun and even got to hear some great music! Who wouldn’t want to hear Hoagy Carmichael or Louis Armstrong?

Junior Prom with Count Basie Orchestra, Alumni Hall, 1946

The Myra Montgomery Arthur Dance Card Collection and the Indiana University Archives Dance Card Collection hold numerous examples of inventive miniature booklets once used by female students to schedule their dance partners when at a social event.  The two collections together contain over 50 different dance cards from dances and parties held at IU for students between 1900 and 1955.  The ‘cards’ are often about the size of a person’s hand or smaller, with several pages provided for listing names.  Some are in different shapes, such as a clover for a St. Patrick’s Day dance, or a football for the Foot-Ball Dance, held on the eve of the Syracuse-Indiana game in 1925.  Others are attractive metal or leather booklets with a ribbon or string for a young lady to loop around her wrist while dancing.  Parties and dances were sponsored by sororities, fraternities, and other student clubs and groups such as the Boosters Club, and there were always annual dances like the Annual Senior Siwash or the Junior Prom.  There were so many dances, sock hops, and events to attend, a student could not only have a full dance card each night, but also a full schedule for the week!

The “Jonquil Jump” held on April 14, 1928 was a dance sponsored by the AWS. Hoagie Carmichael performed.

Inside the inventive and colorful covers of a dance card was a lady’s promised dances, but also a list of chaperones, the name of the student organization sponsoring the dance, and who performed the live music. Many of the performers were local or college bands that played at IU often, but some were upcoming or established stars of the jazz and big band era! It turns out Hoagie Carmichael and Carmichael’s Collegians performed at a few of the student dances between 1924 and 1925 as his career was beginning.  The students who planned The 1939 Junior Prom even somehow found a way to book Louis Armstrong!

Carmichael's Collegians. This image scanned from page 117 of the 1924 Arbutus yearbook. (Clockwise starting at bottom with Carmichael at piano) Howard Hoagland "Hoagy" Carmichael, Unknown, Howard Warren "Wad" Allen, Unknown, Unknown, Unknown.
Carmichael’s Collegians. This image scanned from page 117 of the 1924 Arbutus yearbook.
(Clockwise starting at bottom with Carmichael at piano) Howard Hoagland “Hoagy” Carmichael, Unknown, Howard Warren “Wad” Allen, Unknown, Unknown, Unknown.

Hoagy Carmichael was a Bloomington native who, after graduating from IU with a bachelor’s degree and law degree in 1925 and 1926, went on to become one of the most significant composers and musicians of his time.  Famous for writing well known hits like “Georgia on My Mind” and “Stardust” among others, Carmichael is an icon of the jazz and big-band eras.  He worked with Johnny Mercer on a number of projects including collaborating with him on “Skylark” in 1942, and his songs were performed by many famous singers including Louis Armstrong.

This dance card from May 5, 1939 has a metal casing and shows Louis Armstrong performed at the dance sponsored by The 1939 Junior Class of IU.
The dance card for the Indiana University Junior Prom 1939, held on May 5, 1939, has a metal casing and a page at the end shows Louis Armstrong performed at the dance sponsored by The 1939 Junior Class of IU.

The young men and women who were lucky enough to attend a student dance where Hoagy Carmichael or Louis Armstrong were performing during the 1920s and 1930s not only had the chance to fill their dance cards, but also to see some of the era’s most famous musicians!

To learn more about the Myra Montgomery Arthur Dance Cards Collection or the Indiana University Archives Dance Card Collection, or see them for yourself, contact the IU Archives.

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.

The New University Conference and the Chancellor Election of 1969

ChancellorBetween the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, and women’s liberation, the 1960s was a decade ripe for student activism on college campuses. Indiana University was no exception with a number of protests, demonstrations, and sit-ins being organized in Bloomington during this time period. One specific cause that garnered attention amongst students and student groups was, not surprisingly, student power on campus. One group, the New University Conference, found a rather unique way to make this issue known to those in charge.

The New University Conference

The New University Conference was a radical, leftist group made up of faculty members and graduate students. It was a national organization based in Chicago that had chapters on college campuses across the country. While it was active in the aforementioned major issues of the 1960s, one specific to this group was the need for educational reform. They had a number of ideas about how colleges and universities needed to change such as a movement away from the letter grading system to a credit/no credit system and different, less formal ways for PhD students to present their theses. Student power issues also fell into this category and in 1969 the group decided to organize an election for the position of chancellor not only to try and revolutionize the university system but also to give students a chance to make their voices heard.

The Election

Chancellor John W. Snyder following the Ballantine Hall Lock-In, May 1969. P0021799
Chancellor John W. Snyder following the Ballantine Hall Lock-In, May 1969. P0021799

In 1969, John W. Snyder was named the acting chancellor of the university while a committee went about the process of selecting a more permanent replacement. While there were student representatives on this search committee, ultimately the decision was left to the Board of Trustees as they had to approve the candidate chosen by the committee. As these decisions affected student life, the New University Conference felt that students should have more of a say in the process. Thus an alternative election was organized and the group argued that any group could nominate a candidate for the position. The New University Conference had their own in mind- Staughton Lynd, a history professor with no affiliation with Indiana University. He actually had a rather rocky past with universities, and was involved with the national organization. Running on a platform of student involvement, Lynd noted that while he had ideas about what he wanted to accomplish he would not actually act without support from the student body. John Snyder was also on the ballot although he vehemently denied running whenever asked.  The other two candidates were Paul Boutelle of the Young Socialist Alliance and Rev. William Dennis of the New Politics Party. While, again, this election was not considered valid (in fact newspapers often referred to it as a “mock election” or “opinion poll”), the candidates participated in interviews and organized debates. While Lynd ultimately won the student vote, he never was able to take office because the university did not recognize the election as a valid way to choose the chancellor. Despite this fact however, the exercise still made an impact. Students became more involved in both the campaign and the voting process and the university was forced to acknowledge the lack of student power in elections. Overall, this election is just one example of student activism that occurred in a rather tumultuous period of IU history.

To view the New University Conference records, contact the IU Archives.