When I started my first project at the Indiana University Archives, I didn’t know that I would be hit with a wave of nostalgia; especially because I was looking at a collection from the 1910s. I was assigned to search the Helen Hopkins Wampler papers for World War I content for a history class that will be visiting the IU Archives later this semester for an assignment. This collection holds around three years of letters that Helen sent to her mom Clara while she was a student at IU from 1915-1918.
Helen Hopkins Wampler was an enthusiastic student at IU participating in the Classical Club, Botany Club, the Browning Society, YWCA, and was an active member of Pi Beta Phi. She studied Latin and was elected into the student honorary Phi Beta Kappa. While Helen doesn’t talk much about the war, she does talk to her Mom about her time in Bloomington and what it is like as a new IU student. I smiled as I read through Helen’s letters because they reminded me of the calls and texts I would send to my Mom during my freshman year in 2018 at the University of Minnesota. Whenever we talked to our families, Helen and I would share a lot of the same topics. Such as what we ate:
Helen (September 20, 1915): “For breakfast at the Pi Phi house, we had peaches, corn flakes, and cream for the first course; minced chicken, French fried potatoes, two hot biscuits and some jelly for the second course, and home-made dough nuts and coffee for the third course. This is the life!!!”
Me (September, 2018): “Can you believe that I can have ice cream for breakfast if I want? Also, last night I tried mac and cheese on pizza. This is the life!!!”
How classes were going:
Helen (October 5, 1915): “I’m just so happy about school. I don’t know whether it’s really easier than Shortridge or whether I expected it to be so much harder than it is.”
Me (October, 2018): “I passed my first Spanish test, do you want to put it on the fridge?”
Helen (January 30, 1916): “Received the dandy fine basket. Everything is mighty good and you tell Aunt Edith she’s a dear.”
Me (October, 2018): “Hey Mom, thanks for the care package and the cute note inside! Keep sending the granola bars, they are the best for in-between classes.”
At Home Laundry Service:
Helen (April 6, 1916): “PS: Will send washing to-morrow.”
Me (November, 2018): “Is it okay if I bring a load of laundry home with me?
And even being impatient when family has something else to do besides talk to us:
Helen (October 21, 1915): “Dearest Mother, Was surely glad to get your letter as I thought sure you had forgotten me when I didn’t hear from you Tuesday or Wednesday.”
Me (October, 2018): “Mom, check your phone, I left 4 voicemails!!”
Helen would also share the things she would do as a student in Bloomington. She would regularly take trips to the Book Nook (a commons-type area with food and goods), take walks on campus, and even go to football games. (Pictured here are the Book Nook and two games she attended – Indiana v Purdue 11/24/1917 and Indiana v The Ohio State 11/03/1917).
Helen’s letters show that no matter what century you’re in, going off to college can be a scary and intimidating time full of new experiences. So if you’re feeling homesick, need some advice, or just want to talk through your first few weeks of class, take a moment to reach out to loved ones with a nice letter. Show your appreciation to whoever is in your corner for supporting us as we pursue our goals at IU.
Helen to her Mom (December 13, 1917): “Well, I have gained a thing I have longed for the past three years. I have been elected to Phi Beta Kappa and honey, I owe it all to you and Dad, my own sweethearts. I don’t know how I will ever repay you for these happiest years of my life.”
Me to my Mom (Present Day): “The only way I could have accomplished the last 4 years and been able to start my new time at IU is because of you and your endless support. Honey, I owe it all to you!”
For other stories about Helen, the blog post “Sincerely Yours: Linen Dresses and Infernal Machines” shares more about her time at IU Bloomington.