IU Football, Preston E. Eagleson, and the 1885 Civil Rights Act

The Eagleson family has been in the local news lately, with the renaming of Jordan Avenue through campus for the prominent Black Bloomington family. Below is a shortened version of an earlier story written for volume 2 issue 2 of 200: The Bicentennial Magazine about one of the family members and IU alums, Preston Eagleson. Head to https://tinyurl.com/26xu2dvj to read the full story!

Eagleson Shaving Parlors newspaper advertisement
Halson Vashon Eagleson, 1907 Arbutus, page 282

The Eagleson name is familiar to many at Indiana University and in Monroe County, as the prominent African American family is riddled with “firsts” and other high-level achievements, dating back to patriarch Halson V. Eagleson, Sr., a successful barber in town in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Today’s story turns to Halson’s son Preston, born in Mitchell, Indiana, in 1876.

During his earliest years, Preston’s family moved around throughout southern Indiana and St. Louis. According to one source, the family settled in Indianapolis about the time he was to enter high school but “his father needed his services” and as a result, Preston worked for a year in the print office of The World, an Indianapolis-based African American newspaper. He then went on to work for the Griffith Brothers, a wholesale millinery firm in Indianapolis before finally entering high school in 1889 when his family settled in Bloomington. At just 16 years old, Preston graduated second in his class from Bloomington High School in 1892.

Preston enrolled at Indiana University, entering as a freshman that fall. A skilled athlete, he became the first African American to participate in intercollegiate athletics at IU when he joined the football team as a freshman. (Yes, my research turned up stories of him playing in 1892, a full year earlier than previously thought!) Newspaper accounts identified the young player as a standout on the field and Eagleson continued as a major force on the team for the remainder of his undergraduate career.

Sepia toned group studio photo of IU football team.
The 1895 football team. Preston Eagleson is sitting on the ground, second from left. IU Archives P0023474

When Preston began at IU, there were only 10 years between him and IU’s first known African American student, Harvey Young, who entered in 1882. However, Indiana University still had not seen a Black graduate from the institution. While Eagleson was not the lone person of color on campus, his presence may have drawn some attention from the all-white faculty and pre- dominantly white student body. There is no evidence, however, that he faced any sort of prejudice on campus or from his teammates on the gridiron, but the same cannot be said of the team’s road trips.

In October 1893, the Hoosiers traveled north where they were scheduled to face off against Butler University. According to newspaper accounts, everything that could go wrong with this trip and game did. To start with, Butler did not greet the Hoosiers at the train station and the team had to find their own way to their overnight accommodations. Butler, in charge of said accommodations, reportedly put the IU men up in a “second class hotel.” The day of the game, the hosts did not arrange for a hackney (a horse-drawn carriage that served as a taxi) so the players had to take a streetcar that dropped them a great distance from the field, necessitating a long walk with equipment in tow. And, of the game itself, the Indiana Student (known today as the Indiana Daily Student) reported unfair calls, field brawls, and the crowd shouting racist expletives at Eagleson.

Eagleson’s race, sadly, became an issue once again the following year with dramatic results. On October 30, 1894, the Indianapolis Journal published this headline:

“AGAINST THE COLORED PLAYER: Two Hotels in Crawfordsville Refused to Take in an I.U. Man”

Indeed, when the IU football team traveled north to take on Wabash College, the proprietor of the Nutt House, upon learning one player was Black, would not accommodate the team unless they agreed to dismiss Eagleson. His request was met with refusal and the group went to another inn, where they were met with the same response. A third innkeeper, however, welcomed the entire team and they found board and lodging for the night. The incident, however, infuriated Eagleson’s father, Halson, and the next day the newspaper reported Halson planned to sue the two unaccommodating hotels under Indiana’s Civil Rights Act.

Sepiatone posed photo of Preston Eagleson in football uniform, 1893
Preston Eagleson, IU Archives P0056899

In 1885, Indiana passed a Civil Rights Act that stated all persons were “entitled to the full and equal enjoyments of the accommodations, advantages, facilities and privileges of inns, restaurants, eating-houses, barbershops, public conveyances on land and water, theaters, and all other places of public accommodations and amusement.” Punishment for violations were up to $100 fine and/or up to 30 days in jail.

Preston’s father apparently did not initially know about the monetary limit, as the newspapers reported he intended to sue both parties for $5,000. Inexplicably, later reports dropped any mention of the second inn and ultimately, it was only the Nutt House and owner J.B. Fruchey named in the suit filed December 12, 1894.

The case was heard in the Montgomery County circuit court on January 29, 1895. The Crawfordsville Journal was on site to report to its readers. In their summary of the situation, the reporter states that innkeeper Fruchey had “agreed to allow Eagleson all the best the house had except the privilege of eating in the dining room. This, they said, they could not do, as their white patrons, traveling men, vigorously objected to eating in the room with a negro and threatened to leave if he was brought in.”

The jury deliberated throughout the night. On the first ballot, nine voted for Eagleson, three for the defendant. By the fourth ballot it was unanimous for the plaintiff but then there were deliberations over the damages. Eight jurors voted to award Preston the full $100 allowed, while the paper identifies two jurors, Messrs. Allen Robinson and Sam Long, who voted for one cent. Eventually they came to a compromise of $50, equivalent to just over $1500 today. Fruchey reported immediately that he planned to appeal. In March 1896 the case was reviewed in the Appellate Court of Indiana but the court affirmed the decision for Eagleson.

Preston Eagleson photo from 1896 Arbutus yearbook
Preston Eagleson, 1896 Arbutus

There were no other known incidents during Preston’s time at Indiana University. He continued as a leader on the football field and also proved himself an outstanding orator. During his junior year Eagleson won the right to represent Indiana University at the State Oratorical Contest, the first African American student to appear at the contest. There, he came in fourth place with his original address on Abraham Lincoln. Preston earned his bachelor’s in philosophy in 1896, graduating one year after Marcellus Neal, IU’s first Black graduate. He immediately began work on his graduate degree and through periodic enrollments, in 1906 he became the first African American at IU to earn an advanced degree with an MA in philosophy.

Despite earlier newspaper reports that Eagleson aspired to become a lawyer, he became a teacher, moving around between St. Louis, Indianapolis, and South-Central Indiana. At one point, Eagleson even taught at Indianapolis Public School #19, where fellow Black IU alumnus Marcellus Neal was principal.

Eagleson’s life ended tragically young and he died at home in 1911 at the age of 35. Of his death, the Bloomington Daily Telephone noted he had been in poor health for years and had sought treatment in both Indianapolis and Madison before coming home for his final months.

Many thanks to Cindy Dabney, Outreach Services Librarian at the Jerome Hall Law Library within the Maurer School of Law, for her assistance in locating–and explaining–19th century cases and laws.

Union Board Scrapbooks highlight IU events over the years

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.

Photograph of John Whittenburger, founder of the Union Board, originally printed in the 1911 Arbutus, P0047175

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.

From the Archives Photograph Collection, titled, “The Indiana Union barbershop located in the Student Building,” from the 1912 Arbutus, P0048276.

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.

Schedule of Union Board Films from the Spring semester 1987. From 1986-1987 (book 3), in the Union Board Scrapbooks, 1932-2012 collection.

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.

Clipping advertising one of many Union Board concerts, this one promoting the B.B. King concert from the 1971 scrapbook, in March 19,1971 – April 14, 1972 within the Union Board scrapbooks, 1932-2012 collection.

Clipping advertising Union Board-sponsored concert event featuring the band Heart, February 1979, from October 1978-February 1979 in the Union Board Scrapbooks, 1932-2012 collection.

Scrapbook page highlighting a 2001 Union Board comedy event that brought Dave Chappelle to the IU Auditorium. From 2001 in the Union Board scrapbooks, 1932-2012 collection.

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!

Fostering Friendships, Not Boundaries – The IU Chapter of the Cosmopolitan Club

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.”

An image from the 1922 Arbutus of the members of the Cosmopolitan Club, taken sometime in the fall of 1921. IU Archives Photograph Collection, P0054058.

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.

List of foreign-born students, Indiana University, from Original items, 1941-1943 and undated, Cosmopolitan Club records, 1916-1970.

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.

Cover page of the program for the club’s annual International Dinner, October 1955. From Events, 1922-1970 undated, in the Cosmopolitan Club Records, 1916-1970.

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.

Article from the IDS titled, “The Cosmopolitan Club: It brings together many nationalities” from 1942. Located in Clippings, 1916-1958, undated in Cosmopolitan Club records, 1916-1970.

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!

By Martha: Advice from The Veteran

The Veteran was an independent newspaper published by Indiana University students from the Fall 1946 to Spring 1947. The intent of this paper was to provide information to incoming and current veteran students at Indiana University about current events and functions that were happening on campus.

Masthead from "The Veteran: An Independent Paper for Veterans of Indiana University", Vol. 1, No. 1, February 11, 1946, 5 cents a copy

Within The Veteran were several reoccurring columns that touched on student life, personal issues, and any questions that a veteran might have in reference to their training or education. All were very interesting and cleverly named, however, none of them seemed to catch my attention like the column By Martha.

By Martha was an reoccurring opinion column featured directed mainly towards the wives of veterans. The author of By Martha was unknown to the reader, as it functioned as an anonymous advice column. Each column outside of its first appearance, was structured around answering questions that a wife might seek advice on such as cooking, budgeting, home improvement, and childcare. The information given was very informal to the woman of that day, and frankly some of the advice is still applicable to readers today.

Newspaper clipping with the following text: Eloise Kelly Bride-elect - A wedding which will take place during the Christmas holidays is that of Miss Eloise Kelly and William Lee Small both of Indianapolis. The bride elect is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Kelly of Howe and Mr. Small is the son of Mr. and Mros Floyd Small, Knightstown. Miss Kelly is a gradaute Manchester College and the bridegroom will re-enter Indiana University this fall. He has been discharged from the Army after spending the last six months in Europe.
The Indianapolis Star, September 3, 1945, Page 7

During the last issue of Volume 1, it was stated that originally The Veteran was supposed to be a one semester project. However, due to the support from readers and faculty, its release was extended into the following semesters. During this issue they also gave thanks to the writers and staff members who made The Veteran possible each month. Here, the identity of the By Martha columnist was revealed to be co-editor Eloise Kelly Small. A graduate of Manchester College, Eloise married William Lee Small on November 22, 1945. William graduated with his B.S. in Business in 1946. After the birth of their child, Eloise took a break from writing and subsequent columns in Vol. 3 were written by various staff members whose identities remained anonymous.

Newspaper clipping with the following text: Monday, June 3, 1946 By Martha “What shall I have to eat?" Three times a day, seven days a week, this cry is heard in almost every kitchen where there is a busy working-girl housewife. In answer, here are scads of simple dinner menus. For most part these menus call for food that can be purchased now or that will be on the market very shortly. A bread and spread are not given with the menus as every person's taste differs. How­ever, since this commodity has practically disappeared from the racks in the groceries, you can bake cornbread, all types of muf­fins, biscuits, and even yeast bread IF you have the time and energy. Or you can use packaged mixes. Here are your menus: Salmon croquettes, buttered peas, red cole slaw, fruit cup. Macaroni and cheese loaf, but­tered cabbage, sliced tomatoes, grapefruit halves. Fried oysters (you can buy them canned at almost any grocery), tartar sauce, mashed turnips, escalloped tomatoes, peanut cook­ies, baked pears. Barbecued hamburgers, mash­ed potatoes, buttered carrots, cauliflower with chive butter, toasted doughnuts. Fish fillets baked in lemon sauce, baked potatoes, buttered beets, hearts of lettuce with French dressing, fruit gelatin, chocolate cake. Lamb chops, corn-on-the-cob, tomato and romaine salad, pack­aged chocolate pudding with chopped pecan topping. Tomato juice, chicken pie (make it from a jar of canned chicken giblets thickened with cream sauce and topped with biscuit crust), spinach, rice and apricot pudding. Clam chowder, cole slaw, cottage pudding. (Cheese baking powder biscuits would be wonder­ful with the chowder). Individual meat loaves, butter­ed succotash, apple and banana salad, oatmeal cookies. Sausage shortcakes (fry saus­age patties and place between two buttered biscuits. Serve with milk gravy), turnip greens, pick­led beets, diced fresh pineapple. Tomato juice, cheese rarebit on toast, buttered string beans, hearts of lettuce salad, peach shortcake (canned or fresh peaches on store sponge cake served with cream). Codfish cakes, whole kernel corn, stewed tomatoes, cole slaw, cut up bananas and oranges. Baked beans, panfried sausag­es, cabbage and pineapple salad, baked pears (Tint them pink with vegetable coloring, sprinkle with nutmeg and sugar, bake. Serve with cream.) Italian spaghetti, tossed salad fruit cup (hard rolls were mad for spaghetti dinners)."
“By Martha,” The Veteran June 3, 1946

A common theme in the By Martha columns centered on food frugality–it is obvious that providing their families nutritious meals without spending too much on groceries was important to veteran families on campus. Here are some tips that Martha gave on making your shopping last:

“Help your shelf and help yourself”. “Take advantage of the variety of canned foods that line the grocers’ shelves.” “Take for example the humble can of tuna fish. You can have tuna salad, tuna sandwiches, creamed tuna on toast squares, tuna served with spaghetti or macaroni, tuna with rice and cheese sauce, or tuna chow mein …” (Vol 1. No. 1, pg. 2)

“Topmost in the minds of most housewives these days is what can be done to conserve on food, especially wheat.” “In the first place buy only bread you absolutely must use. Reduce your family’s bread diet to a minimum.” “If you must use flour, remember it will be an emergency flour. Emergency flour is a creamy white to beige colored wheat product.” “Emergency flour does not keep as well as white flour. It should be bought in small quantities and stored in a dark, cool place.” (Vol 1 No. 8, pg. 2)

“Be sure your meals provide best food value for money spent.” “Don’t wait to plan your meals at the grocer’s. Make out menus two or three days ahead, taking into account the perishable foods you have on hand.” “It’s the cost of the food you actually eat that counts.” “Avoid leftovers, but use well those you have. Work them into the day’s meals.” “Compare prices of canned, quick-frozen and market vegetables and fruits. The canned or quick-frozen foods are often cheaper than the fresh, and require less fuel, time and effort to prepare.” (Vol 2 No. 4, pg. 3) 

The advice that By Martha gave seems like advice that would be useful to someone now. I know that I am someone that needs to be more frugal with food, so I am sure that her readers found the advise useful.  Along with cooking tips, By Martha also offered cleaning and gardening hacks. Here are some tips to help you spend less time and yield the same results:

“A dash of salt is wonderful on grapefruit. It brings out that natural flavor and decreases the sourness, to say nothing of helping on short sugar rations.” “Lemon-soured milk can replace natural sour milk or buttermilk in any recipe.” “Small apartments and trailers are wonderful to keep clean and have a cozy atmosphere, but what to do about cigarette smoke, a stale odor or the lingering breath of cooked cabbage or onion? Worry no more – get a bottle of Air Wick. Pull out the wick of the magical little bottle and the air soon is sweet and clean.” (Vol 1 No. 5, pg. 2)

“You who make your home in temporary quarters must garden, if you garden at all, in pots and window boxes.” “Don’t make the window box too small. Make it as long as it is wide. Extend it past the window opening four to six inches on either side rather than fit it into the sill.” “Choice of soil depends on the type of roots on the plants you decide to grow.” “In this type of box, watering is required almost daily.” (Vol 1 No. 6, pg. 3) 

“Are you freshening up your apartment with a coat of paint? If so, mask your windowpanes when you paint woodwork and you won’t have to spend tedious hours removing paint spatters. Just cut newspaper to fit the glass, dampen the paper and press it in place. It’s far easier to remove than hardened paint.” (Vol 1 No. 2, pg. 2) 

Newspaper clipping with the following text: February 25, 1946 By Martha (Send your home - making questions to Martha, The Vet­eran, 302 South Madison.) From time immemorial the fate of women has been to spend all her waking hours chained to her home (particularly the kitchen) and children. The modern woman slowly is growing away from this but there's no doubt that even the working wife gives a great deal more time and effort to housework than she feels should be necessary. Occasionally a single suggestion can save precious minutes and even hours, not to mention frayed nerves. To simplify shredding lettuce, dicing celery and many other sim­ilar tasks buy a pair of shears from the dime store-or if you're more flush most hardware stores have regular kitchen scissors for sale. This single purchase saves time and often a cut finger or a scrc1tched table top when you don't own a chopping board. Turning stale bread and crack­ers into crumbs need not be messy if you slip a paper bag over the head of your grinder. It will catch those flying particles and you won't have to wipe a film of crumbs off the floor. You can grind the crumbs right into an­other paper bag if you want to. Are you freshening up your apartment with a coat of paint? If so, mask your windowpanes when you paint woodwork and you won't have to spend tedious hours removing paint spatters. Just cut newspaper to fit the glass, damp­en the paper and press it in place. It's far easier to remove than hardened paint. While we're on the subject of woodwork, have you been having a daily hair-pulling session when you try to remove fingerprints? To remedy this put several coats of a good grade of paste wax sparing­ly on your woodwork and rub each well into the grain of the wood. Fingerprints will disappear with one swish of a damp cloth. Incidentally, this wax treatment does away with a lot of surface film and spots. Have you ever tried paper dust­cloths? The latest type on the mar­ket is packaged in a roll. You dampen one piece and wipe the dusty surface. Then you polish with a dry sheet. This paper is created with a polish which makes wood surfaces gleam. It's truly a remarkable innovation. And what do you do with Junior or little Susan while you try all these wonderful time savers? For one thing you might give them a nickel's worth of cranberries or similar fruit and a box of tooth­picks and show them how to make tables, chairs, wigwams, etc. Lack­ing these materials, hand over your clothespin bag. Or better still let them paint shell macaroni with water colors.
“By Martha,” The Veteran, February 25, 1946.

Another important topic of advice in By Martha centered around childcare. This topic however wasn’t as frequent as other topics discussed and only appeared in two columns. The columns mainly focused on how to prepare for a new addition to the family, and the types of items one should get before the new arrival. One column in particular was all about diapers and here are a few tips:

“If you are a new mother or even not so new, you’ll agree to one thing. Diaper washing is the hardest, most time-consuming job in your daily routine.” “Of course the best solution to the problem would be a good diaper supply service, but if you can’t do that, decide on a regular time for the job and stick to it.”

“An excellent diaper to use when traveling, or for contagious diarrheal condition, is one which can be disposed of after it is soiled. Such a diaper is on the market and consists of two layers of gauze between which is a soft, highly absorbent cellulose fiber.”

“Wash the diapers thoroughly in hot suds, either by hand or in the washing machine, and put them in fresh suds for boiling. Boiling diapers is really a safety measure, and although it is sometimes inconvenient, and time-consuming, it is not wise to omit. (Vol 2 No. 5, pg. 3) 

The final topic of advice shared from By Martha is centered around budgeting. Given the advice shared above, it would be fitting that they would all filter down to the unspoken idea of having a budget. Budgeting was a very important and useful skill for the veterans to have, as most of them were given monthly bonds based on their family size or marital status. To help those families and veterans from being financially burdened, here are some helpful tips:

“It must be custom-made to meet the particular needs of your family group. There is no such thing as a ready-made or standard budget, because no two families spend their money in exactly the same way. So when you start to plan your budget, sit down and decide what you want to get out of life.”

“Successful budgets are based on past experience. Before you start yours, keep a written record of all personal and household expenditures for a month. Total all of these items and multiply by 12. This give you the part of your annual income which may be used for running expenses.”

“How well the budget works is up to you. The best budget can’t help you unless are resolved to stick with it religiously. If you feel you need more help than given here you might want to consult the library shelves. Two particularly good books on the subject are: Managing Personal Finances by David F. Jordan and How to Make Your Budget Balance by E.C. Harwood and Helen Fowie. “ (Vol 1 No. 7, pg. 2) 

If you would like to view The Veteran in its entirety, contact the IU Archives to set up an appointment.

A Co-ed, a Convict, and the Prom That Brought Them Together

This is a black and white newspaper clippings which includes the following text and includes a picture of a college woman with short curls. GARRETT GIRL IS ELECTED QUEEN OF INDIANA U. PROM: Barbara VanFleit Honored by Junior Class Miss Barbara VanFleit of East King street and a junior at Indiana University, Thursday night was elected junior prom queen in the closest contest ever held for the honor on the campus. Miss VanFleit, an independent coed, defeated Miss Virginia Austin of Zionsville, president of Delta Delta Delta sorority and the “coalition” candidate of the Greek letter social organizations by a vote of 256 to 245. Miss VanFleit represented the Independent Students’ Association. Only men of the junior class were eligible to ballot. The prom, which is the annual spring dance of the junior class, will be held Friday night in Alumni Hall in the Union building on campus with 400 couples in attendance. The decorative scheme in the hall will depict scenes from the motion picture “Gone with the Wind.” The interior of the room will resemble an old southern mansion. Ticket sales for this dance are restricted to juniors for the first week and then are offered for general sale. Miss VanFleit will wear a formal gown worn by Vivien Leigh in “Gone with the Wind” and will be escorted by Donald Painter, son of Mr. and Mrs. W.S. Painter of South Walsh street, a member of the Delta Chi fraternity. Mr. and Mrs. VanFleit have been invited to attend the ball as chaperones. Miss VanFleit is 5 feet 2 and a brunette. She is a member of the YWCA, secretary of the Home Economics club, a member of the Women’s Athletic Association and of the Association of Independents Students, which sponsored her candidacy.
Article on VanFleit in the Garrett Clipper,
Monday, March 4, 1940

In 1940, Barbara VanFleit’s face appeared in newspapers across the state of Indiana. Headlines read “Garrett Girl is Elected Queen of Indiana Prom,” celebrating her win as an “unorganized” co-ed over Delta Delta Delta sorority president Virginia Austin by just five votes. She was the second consecutive independent to be voted queen by the boys of the junior class in the twenty-two year history of the event at IU. A junior studying home economics at IU, Barbara was no stranger to the Garrett Clipper’s pages. The daughter of an apparently well-respected electrical engineer, Barbara’s activities along with those of her siblings and step siblings were often recorded in the publication’s social pages. Donald Painter, a member of Delta Chi and a chemistry student – the king to Barbara’s prom queen- also frequently appears in these social pages, often in connection with Barbara.

The prom that year was to be themed after the film “Gone With the Wind.” According to that year’s Arbutus:

“The theme was carried out in the decorations by a replica of a Southern mansion, which formed the background for the band. The walls were artistically draped in Spanish moss, and the entrance to the hall was decorated in keeping with the Southern theme.”

This is a black and white page spread from the Arbutus yearbook. Photographs show college couples dining over formal dinner, dancing, and 2 images show Barbara VanFleit and her date Donald Painter dancing.
Page from the 1940 Arbutus showing the year’s Junior Prom activities

Black and white photograph shows Barbara VanFleit wearing a lace, tiered ballgown and holding a bouquet of flowers.
Barbara VanFleit wears dress from Gone With The Wind, March 8, 1940. IU Archives image no. P0024613

A unique opportunity came with the theme of 1940s prom – Barbara VanFleit appears in both the Arbutus and the Collegiate Digest, a national publication which featured the lives of university students in pictures, wearing a tiered, ruffled dress claimed to be an original costume from Gone with the Wind worn by Vivien Leigh during production. Although records have proved difficult to find, the dress was apparently part of an exhibition of items from the film that was held in Chicago that same year and shipped to Bloomington for the occasion. A brief article in the Chicago Tribune entitled “Gone With the Wind Elegance” written in January of 1940 does feature sketches of dresses described as “copies of ‘Gone With the Wind’ gowns now in Chicago,” but no details on the exhibition are given. The dress which most closely resembles the one which Barbara VanFleit would wear to her prom in March of that year is identified as a dress worn by Suellen O’Hara, played by Evelyn Keyes, as opposed to an outfit worn by Vivien Leigh in her role as Scarlett O’Hara. The topic of Gone With the Wind fashion was indeed popular in the spring of 1940, with advertisements for “Gone With the Wind Dresses” selling for between $1.98 and $3.98 appearing in the Chicago papers.

Later that March, Barbara’s name would again appear in the Garret Clipper, however this time next to that of Elmer Louis Houston, a convict at Indiana State Prison. Born the son of a laborer in Wisconsin, Houston is described on his World War I Draft registration card as having dark hair and dark eyes.  This card from 1918 lists Houston as being 18 years of age, although information found in the Federal Census suggests that Houston may have actually been as young as 16 at the time of his enlistment. Later census information suggests that Houston only received at most an 8th Grade education. Throughout what can be found of his life, his occupations were listed as farm laborer, roofer, and “motorman”.

This is a black and white newspaper clipping including the following text: Mercy Bandit Given Parole by Commission: Staged Holdup on Day Baby was Born Elmer Houston, who held up an Indianapolis bus driver in December to get money so he could by coal to keep his family warm, was granted a parole by the State Clemency Commission Tuesday. He was sentenced Dec. 19 in Criminal court to serve one to five years in the state prison. The record of his case shoed that a baby was born to his wife on the day of the holdup. There was no coal in the house. He attempted to sell a gun which he owned, but he could find no purchased, so he used the gun in the holdup. Persons in the store, where he tried to sell the weapon, knowing it was not loaded, ran after Houston, caught him and held him for the police.
Article in The Jeffersonville Evening News, August 28, 1935, detailing Houston’s parole

By March of 1940, Houston was serving his second sentence at the prison, the state’s Northern facility located in Michigan City. His first crime was one of desperation, carried out in December of 1934. According to an article in the Jeffersonville Evening News, records show that on that cold day in December, Houston’s wife, Velma had given birth to one of their five children. On that day, Houston had tried to sell a gun to buy coal to provide for his family in Indianapolis where they were living. Finding no buyer, Houston attempted to use the gun to hold up a local bus driver in a store. Unsuccessful with the unloaded gun, Houston was apprehended by onlookers until the police arrived. He was paroled in August of the following year by the State Clemency Commission, serving less than a year. Following his parole, however, Houston was again sentenced – this time for between 5 and 21 years in February of 1938, for an undetermined crime.

It was this second sentence that Elmer Houston was serving when he encountered IU Professor of Fine Arts, Harry Engel, who taught fine art to the inmates at Indiana State Prison in the late summer of 1939. Engel had initially been invited by Hans Riemer, the educational supervisor of the prison, to meet artistically inclined inmates, and, excited by the talent he saw, began conducting in person classes in the infirmary of the prison for two weeks. After he had returned to Bloomington for the fall semester, Engel continued to provide feedback and instruction via correspondence. John Grogan, then deputy instructor of the arts program at Indiana State Prison, enthusiastically hoped that the class would serve as a model for arts programs at other prisons throughout the United States as it provided immense therapeutic and rehabilitative value to the inmates, as well as practical training in anticipation of release.

The works of art created by these prisoners would come to be shown at the Mezzanine Gallery (another of Engels efforts) of the Indiana University Bookstore. The show, “Prisoner Art,” featured the work of several inmates, many of whom were considered “lifers” or experiencing psychiatric issues. “Prisoner Art” was heralded as the first of its kind, and the sale of the inmate’s work – for prices ranging between $5 and $25 – went on to fund supplies for the continuation of the educational program.

This is a brochure for the exhibit "Prisoner Art" which ran from March 1-30. The artwork shows 6 hands holding paintbrush and easel, yet bound by chains.
Cover of the 1940 exhibition pamphlet for “Prisoner Art”

Several of the pieces sold before the opening had even begun, but one piece, “Heart of a Rose,” was not for sale. Created by Elmer Houston, “Heart of a Rose” was instead to be given to its muse – the 1940 IU junior prom queen, Barbara VanFleit. While no record of the portrait exists, on March 25th of 1940, the Garret Clipper describes it as being made with “rug dyes and paints on a man’s handkerchief”. Houston had taken inspiration for the piece from an article he had seen describing VanFleit’s coronation. One wonders if “Heart of a Rose” featured its subject wearing the enigmatic “Gone With the Wind” dress we now associate that year’s prom.

Like any good tale, the story of Barbara VanFleit, Elmer Houston, and the prom that brought them together ends with a lot of questions.  What did “Heart of a Rose” look like?  While VanFleit was quoted saying she would take the piece after its exhibition, did she follow through on this? Was VanFleit’s prom dress actually worn by Vivian Leigh? Was it worn by her co-star Evelyn Keyes? Was it even an original movie prop or the subject of creative embellishment?

In the case of Houston, our story also ends with tragedy. Records indicate that Houston may have been drafted while still serving time in 1944, towards the end of World War II. His name would again appear in the paper in 1957, following his death. Several newspapers reported that Houston and his wife Velma had been found by police in their bed with a gallon jug labeled “cider” next to them. Inside the jug was a “green fluid.” This fluid was sent to the IU Medical School for analysis and was later determined to be antifreeze. Houston was dead on discovery, while Velma would later die at the General Hospital.

Barbara went on to marry Donald Scott Painter, her former prom king in 1942, and their son was born 6 years later. She passed away in 1968 in Fort Wayne, Indiana.