New! William R. Ringer papers, 1916-2011

Can I share with you one of my favorite archival sights?

*squee* New student diaries!

Earlier this year, I received an email from a woman in Virginia stating that the diaries of her friend’s father – primarily dating from his time as an IU student in the late 1910s – had found their way into her possession and she wondered if we would be interested in them?

Yes yes yes yes! I mean, have you seen this picture of me hanging in the library somewhere? See what’s in my hands? 

I like diaries. It’s not – necessarily – that I am nosey. Rather, I like how they fill in a person’s story, whether it be the writer or the individuals written about. When I come across mentions or descriptions of student hangouts or campus traditions or faculty, I’m over the moon! And I love how they provide a personal perspective on major world events.

So, when that box above arrived, I forced myself to set it aside until I could spend some time with the diaries because I knew they’d be a time suck. And because I like to share, I decided to immediately write a finding aid so that you all could also have the opportunity to enjoy them!

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William R. Ringer, Class of 1920

Hailing from Williamsport, Indiana, native Hoosier William Raimond Ringer entered Indiana University in 1916. As a student, he was very active in campus activities, and served as an officer for several campus groups. The small collection of papers held by the Archives consists chiefly of diaries maintained by Ringer while he was an IU student. He was devoted to writing in his journals – about what classes he had that day, what they did, where he ate, who he saw and talked to, etc.

Ringer’s time at IU coincided with World War I. Although he originally planned to leave college to teach, at the last minute he turned down his teaching job so that he could return to IU and join the Students’ Army Training Corps when it was formed in 1918. According to the 1919 Arbutus, with the SATC,

the government was to practically take over for military purposes the organization and equipment of every college able to muster a sufficient number of students for military drill. This surrender on the part of the colleges to the government control was to be voluntary, and the relation between the government and the college was to be a matter of contract. A duty rested upon the colleges to provide suitable barracks and subsistence for the members of the Student’s Army Training Corps, in addition to academic instruction, the colleges to be reimbursed as agreed upon in the contract with the governemnt.

Indiana University was one of the first to make this contract, and began early to make plans for the housing and feeding of the great number of soldiers who were to be trained here.

The Delta Tau house on Kirkwood served as "Barracks 1" for the S.A.T.C. William lived there for his short stint in the Army.

On October 3, 1918, Ringer and his friends were divided into SATC companies and he was told he would be living at the Delta Tau House, aka “Barracks 1.” He wrote in his journal, “I am in the army – and tonight is my first night. I am glad yet I don’t like the bunch here at all. All roughnecks at the house.” Ringer continued to log his experiences – including a brush with the Spanish flu, which I previously wrote about – with impressive regularity. Thankfully, he never did get pulled into the war overseas, as on November 27 they received word that the S.A.T.C. was to be disbanded within the month and he moved out of the barracks.

Ringer continued writing in his diary through March of his senior year. Rather sad that he didn’t finish up with his accounts at IU, but to date, this is nonetheless probably the most complete account of student life we have through a diary keeper. (Update! I heard from the donor that she has the remaining IU entries and they were waiting on my desk this AM!) While the bulk of the collection consists of these diaries, there is also one volume holding copies of his outgoing correspondence for a short period, report cards, as well as some of his poetry and other writings (he was active in the Writing Club on campus).

Of course, one cannot read a person’s diary and not develop an impression of the writer. With William, even as a young college student, it seems he was very serious and the shenanigans of the other students tended to exasperate him. I don’t know whether he said anything to the individuals in person, but he could be scathing in his opinions of dates, classmates, and professors.

So, at your leisure, check out the finding aid and let us know if you would like to see the collection!

The Old “Pest House”: Early Medicine on the Indiana University Campus

With flu season upon us, we thought it would be a good time to revisit campus health care from yesteryear. Students on the present-day Indiana University campus may take for granted the wealth of medical services available through the Student Health Center. However, for more than eighty years—from the University’s founding in 1820 until the turn of the twentieth century—no formal, organized health services or health center existed to serve student needs. In response to worries over the smallpox epidemic sweeping the nation following the Spanish-American War c. 1898 and a growing student body coming to IU from areas with poorly enforced vaccination regulations, Indiana University administrators set plans in motion to construct or purchase a building to be used as a hospital for students with infectious diseases.

After reports of smallpox’s increasing virulence within the state of Indiana, University President William Lowe Bryan took precautionary measures and moved forward with plans to secure a site for a smallpox hospital. On December 15, 1902, the University purchased a two-story frame building—originally a farm house—on South Henderson Street, approximately one mile south of the University Campus; at the time, this spot was on the outskirts of Bloomington, though the site is near the present-day Templeton Elementary School just south of the Bryan Park neighborhood. The building’s distance from the University along with the five acres of land on which it sat ensured that potential spread of disease to healthy students or neighbors would be minimized. The building essentially became the University’s Isolation Hospital, though it was colloquially deemed the “Pest House.” Students suspected of having contracted a contagious disease were confined to this house until they fully regained their health.

Click to see a map of where the “Pest House” was located in relation to the Indiana University campus.

Harvey Pryor became the first Pest House caretaker and nurse for contagious patients. Pryor was chosen for this position because he exhibited resistance to smallpox after having it in his family, though he is not known to have had any formal training in medicine. As anticipated and detailed in Bryan’s President’s report in March, 1903, several students—five with smallpox and one with scarlet fever—were admitted to the Pest House during its first winter of operation. The facility was continually used to treat students with infectious diseases such as smallpox, scarlet fever, diphtheria, and influenza until 1939, when a larger Health Center building was constructed near the current I.U. Chemistry Building. Advances in modern medicine made the need for an isolation hospital nearly obsolete, and the new Health Center could better accommodate the wide range of health needs demanded by a burgeoning student population; this facility was replaced by the present-day Health Center in 1965. The old Pest House was eventually dismantled in 1957 after standing abandoned and in disrepair for a number of years.

The "Pest House" facing dismantling in 1957

The University Archives houses various records and reports related to the Pest House’s role on campus in terms of the presence of disease among the student body, specific patient stays, fees incurred for hospital care, and building maintenance and inspections. Please do stop by the Archives to learn more if this brief history piqued your curiosity!