Sincerely Yours: Ernie Pyle Day

Individual photo portrait of Ernie Pyle
Ernie Pyle’s 1923 yearbook photo

This Friday, August 3rd, Indiana University celebrates an adopted hometown hero on National Ernie Pyle Day! Did you know, however, that Pyle did not receive an IU degree until twelve years after he left Bloomington? The Vermillion County native began his studies here in 1919, but left a year before completing his degree in order to take a position with the La Porte Herald. Bittersweet personal circumstances also surrounded his IU departure: he had recently experienced a bad run-in with some Department of Journalism faculty, and a love interest gave him back his going-steady pin. Despite this, Pyle remained close with companions from IU his entire life. In 1941, at the height of his fame, he waxed longingly to his friend “Hermie” (yes, that one: Herman B Wells) about planning a chance to “escape” to Monroe and Brown Counties. So it was with anticipation, nostalgia, and some nerves that Ernie Pyle returned to IU in November 1944 to receive an honorary degree.

Two letters at the IU Archives show Pyle’s trademark wit and authenticity regarding his prodigal return. In a letter to his friend and IU Alumni Association secretary George “Dixie” Heighway the day after the honorary degree luncheon, Pyle wrote:

It was a wonderful day, Dixie. Instead of hating it, as I had anticipated, I’d almost like to do it again. You couldn’t have arranged it any better for my pleasure. I am deeply appreciative.

Dad and Aunt Mary will be talking about it for years. And so will I (I hope!).

In addition to his thanks, Pyle asks Heighway to send along some information, including the full name and address for University Comptroller Ward Biddle, the man who initially proposed Pyle’s honorary degree to President Wells. Most interesting though, is this request: “The name + street address of Harriett Davidson, Tri-Delt of ’24, now married to a Dr. Martin + living in Bedford, Ind.” This is the same Harriett Davidson who returned Pyle’s pin all those years ago! Perhaps Pyle was moved by the nostalgia of being in Bloomington, and wrote to Davidson to catch up with her after all those years.

Black and white photograph of Ernie Pyle and Patricia Krieghbaum in the IDS office, November 1944
Ernie Pyle visits the Indiana Daily Student office during his return to campus in November 1944.

As we read this letter today, it’s impossible not to feel a little sentimental. We know that Pyle was struck by sniper fire and died during the Battle of Okinawa in April 1945—just months after he wrote this letter. His humorous jab of hoping to talk about the honorary degree for years becomes a sad foreshadowing when we know this context. A follow-up letter Pyle wrote Heighway on November 28, 1944 includes another such line in the postscript: “I’ll be leaving here for good in about two weeks.” Pyle meant only that he would be off to cover World War II’s Pacific theater, but the permanence of the statement is eerie in hindsight.

These two letters, however, should be read for their joyful moments too.  In his November 28 letter, Pyle is especially touching:

After the luncheon that day, a red-headed gal from the Bloomington High School paper tagged me and wanted an interview. Our schedule was so tight and everybody was pulling at me so that I had to leave her standing there, and later had Jack Hastings go back and apologize and say it was impossible, since she seemed to want a lot of time.

I’ve felt badly about it, for I know how kids can be hurt by failing in an assignment like that. I’d like to send her an autographed book in recognition of a good try. Could you find out who she was?

The no-nonsense writing style and humanizing approach is all Pyle. The generosity to this student evinces his deep roots to Bloomington. Heighway or another colleague jotted down the student’s name and address: Gladys Lillian Morrison. Some genealogical research shows that as of 2016, Morrison was still living in Bloomington. She and her late husband both worked at IU. It seems that, like Pyle himself, many people keep these close ties Bloomington and the university.

To see these letters and other University Archives material related to Ernie Pyle, contact an archivist. The IU Libraries Lilly Library also holds a number of Pyle-related collections–contact our friends there for further information!

Scan of original letter from Ernie Pyle to George "Dixie" Heighway, November 28, 1944

Transcription of November 28, 1944 letter from Ernie Pyle to George “Dixie” Heighway:

                Nov. 28

Dear George—

Something else I wish you’d do for me.

After the luncheon that day, a red-headed gal from the Bloomington High School paper tagged me and wanted an interview. Our schedule was so tight and everybody was pulling at me so that I had to leave her standing there, and later had Jack Hastings go back and apologize and say it was impossible, since she seemed to want a lot of time.

I’ve felt badly about it, for I know how kids can be hurt by failing in an assignment like that. I’d  like to send her an autographed book in recognition of a good try. Could you find out who she was?

I’m still glowing over the grand day we had, and so are my folks.

As ever,

Ernie

P.S.—I’ll be leaving here for good in about two weeks

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?

British Suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst’s Visit to Bloomington, May 3, 1916

IDS May 3-2, 1916

100 years ago Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928), the British political activist and leader of the suffragette movement, spoke to a packed crowd at Indiana University Bloomington. Women in Indiana women still did not have the write to vote. Raised by politically active parents, in 1879 Emmeline Goulden married Richard Pankhurst, a barrister 2 years her senior known for supporting the women’s right to vote. A staunch advocate of suffrage for both married and unmarried women, Pankhurst’s work became known for physical confrontations, window smashing and staged hunger strikes and is today recognized as a crucial component in the fight for women’s suffrage in Britain.

Emmeline Pankhurst, ca. 1913 - United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3b38130 (Public Domain)
Emmeline Pankhurst, ca. 1913 – United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3b38130 (Public Domain)

In the lead up to her visit to campus, the Indiana Daily Student reported on April 29, 1916 that

“Mrs. Pankhurst can boast no masculine element in her make-up; she is all woman, in spite of her strenuous activities several years ago. Emmeline Goulden, as she was in her maiden days, was remarkable for the girlish prettiness that time and hunger strikes have not effaced. After the death of her husband, it became necessary for Mrs. Pankhurst to do something to earn a livelihood for herself and children, so she became a member of the School Board and the Board of Guardians in Manchester. Her experience on the later board taught her much of the pressing needs of the poor, and the bitter hardships of the women’s lives especially. Although always active in many reform movements, she found her efforts so much thwarted and limited by her sex, that she finally resigned all other work to devote her life to the winning of votes for women. She organized and managed the great suffrage association of England, the Woman’s Social and Political Union, known as the W.S.P.U.”

Sponsored by the Women’s League of the University and the Bloomington Woman’s Franchise League, Pankhurt’s lecture was much anticipated, with the student newspaper noting that “This is to be the only lecture by Mrs. Pankhurst in the State and because of the fact that she is so well known, due to her activities in advocating women suffrage, it is likely that there will be a large crowd to hear her speak. The admission will be twenty-five cents. Tickets are now on sale at the University and City Book stores.” Others in the university community likewise expressed enthusiasum for her visit. Professor James A. Woodburn of the History Department, when interviewed concerning the lecture, said

“I have long desired to hear Mrs. Pankhurst. She is one of the most prominent women of the world, and one of the most capable and influential. I heard two of her associates and co-workers in Hyde Park several years ago, and though they were not so effective in speech and leadership as Mrs. Pankhurst is, yet they held more than a thousand standing men in close attention for two full hours. It was a heckling rather than a friendly audience, but the women were so forceful and eloquent, of such quick wit and repartee that they were more than masters of the situation. They carried a resolution overwhelmingly from that crowd in favor of Mrs. Pankhurst, who was then a political prisoner. These English suffragettes are women of education, gentility and refinement. Many of them are of high social standing and most agreeable manners, though some of them may be convinced that to break an Englishman’s head is about the only way to get a new idea into his cranium…whether we agree or not with what they did we must recognize the courage, devotion, and self-sacrifice of their fight.”

Reportedly only in Bloomington for a total of eight hours (she spoke in Nashville and Chattanooga, Tennessee the day before and Columbus, Ohio and Chicago, Illinois immediately following), Mrs. Pankhurst and her secretary Miss Joan Wickham were entertained by IU Professor of Political Science Amos Hershey during their visit.

IDS May 3-3, 1916Introduced to a packed crowd in the Men’s Gymnasium by IU English Professor William E. Jenkins, Pankhurst’s remarks, according to the May 4th issue of the Indiana Daily Student, included a summary of the political conditions in England. She noted that “We did not hunt notoriety. Mere notoriety hunters would have been snuffed out at a very early state of our career. Women do not invite the experiences which we have had unless they feel very keenly their abuses. The difference between a militant and an ordinary suffragette is that we realized a little sooner and a little more keenly the work that women must carry on. There is no excuse for violence until ordinary means are exhausted.”

In 1918 the Representation of the People Act in England granted votes to all men over the age of 21 and women over the age of 30. In 1928 the vote was extended to all women over 21 years of age. Nationally, women in the United States gained the right to vote in 1920 with the 19th amendment.