Dancing the Night Away: Student Life in the 1950s

Margaret Albersmeyer Werling graduated with a bachelor’s in Education in 1953, and, according to her personal scrapbook, attended every sporting event, theater show, and dance that she possibly could between 1951 and 1953. While perusing her scrapbook, I discovered many interesting IU student traditions including: the decorating of fraternities for football games, the Law-Med School Boress, the Arbutus Queen Contest, and the Fall Carnival Parade.

Fraternity decorated for Homecoming, 1949

Margaret was an avid attendee of athletic events and saved programs from basketball games, track and field events, and football games. She must have truly enjoyed attending the Old Oaken Bucket games between IU and Purdue because she saved tickets and programs from 1951 and 1952. Although she did get to see IU triumph in football, she watched the Hoosiers clinch the 1953 NCAA Basketball Championship over Kansas and attended campus celebrations.

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Margaret Werling’s ticket for the 1951 Old Oaken Bucket game

I was most intrigued by Margaret’s impressive dance card collection. Dance cards initially became popular in Vienna, Austria in the 19th century and their usage peaked in the early 20th century.  Dance cards were typically small, decorated booklets worn on a woman’s wrist or attached to her dress with a cord. Men carried pencils and wrote their names on lines next to the name of dances in the booklet.

1942 Junior Prom dance card
1942 Junior Prom dance card

Dance cards remained in fashion until the 1960s when dances became less formal affairs.  Common phrases such as “pencil me in,” “my dance card is full,” and “save the last dance for me” are all tied to the dance card culture. Many of Margaret’s dance cards have a decorated cover that reflects the theme of the dance, lists of committee members who sponsored the dance, and details about the entertainment.

Dances were all the rage at IU in the 1950s.  There were plenty of formal and informal dances to keep students busy.  Students could attend the Freshman Frolic, the Freshman Tyronian, the Sophomore Cotillion, the Junior Prom, the annual Blanket Hop hosted by Sigma Delta Chi (the honorary journalistic fraternity), the Senior Siwash, and many more!

Dance at the Union, 1951
Dance at the IU Memorial Union, 1951

A dance that became an annual tradition on campus was the Wellhouse Waltz. The first iteration of this dance was held in 1944 at the Alumni Hall of the Union. Each year, male attendees selected a freshman woman to become “Miss Campus Coed.” It was said that in order for any IU woman to become a “true coed,” her date must take her to the Well House after the Wellhouse Waltz and then kiss her for the full twelve strokes at midnight.

The Junior Prom was the most formal dance of the season and was held in the Men’s Gymnasium with a dedicated theme.  The festivities could last until two o’clock in the morning. Students must have truly enjoyed these dances because they would “end only by force of the 12:30 curfew when dates unwillingly part” (1953 Indiana Arbutus, p. 138). The theme of Margaret’s 1953 prom was “A Star Danced.”

Duke Ellington at the 1952 Dames' Ball
Duke Ellington at the 1952 Dames’ Ball

Well-known artists played at many IU dances.  In 1952, Duke Ellington played at the Dames’ Ball, a dance where women escorted the men.  According to the 1952 Arbutus, “The men reaped the benefits of inverted chivalry that evening as they were called for, paid for, and encumbered with original – and uninhibited – corsages.”  At the end of the night, one man was chosen to be “King of the Dames.”

Students voted on a Queen at both formal and informal dances. At the 1952 Sweater Hop, the Sweater Queen was selected out of twenty-nine candidates. According to the 1953 Arbutus, “each housing unit had the privilege of selecting their candidate for the competition. The list was narrowed down to five girls before the dance by several judges picked from campus dignitaries. The sponsoring housing unit then put on an all-out campus campaign.” Couples attending the dance cast their vote and the winner was presented with a cashmere sweater and roses.

Margaret must have loved her time dancing the night away as an undergraduate at Indiana University because she came back to earn a master’s degree in education eight years later. If you would like to learn more about dances at IU, look at Margaret Werling’s scrapbook, or learn about other IU student traditions, 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.

Mail Call: Correspondence at IU during WWII

“Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on that strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter.” — Sir Winston Churchill in My Early Life: A Roving Commission

War is never easy, especially for those serving in the armed forces and those they leave behind. Throughout the various wars in our short history, our military members and their loved ones have made countless sacrifices in order to defend our country and protect the freedoms which we all enjoy so dearly. Separation from our loved ones can be a particularly difficult thing to bear during these times of conflict.

But whereas we now have email, skype, and various other methods of communication to keep in touch with those on the battlefield, there were no such luxuries in the Second World War.  People relied on snail

“Mail Call” from the 1944-1945 Sycamore Logbook

-mail to receive news from the frontlines which, in some areas, could be less than frequent. Letters could easily be lost in the mail as well.

Letters to and from the front lines were a lifeline for service men and women fighting in WWII. One can imagine these soldiers clinging desperately to photos of their loved ones and sitting in their shelters or in the trenches reading and rereading those letters from home dozens of times over. All the while sitting. Waiting. Hoping for the end of hostilities so that they can once again return to their former lives.

It was no different for those at home. One can be sure that many individuals sat by the mail box waiting with bated breath as the postman came up to deliver the mail, hoping to hear some news from the front. Students at Indiana University seem to have been no exception to this rule. While I was processing a set of scrapbooks from Sycamore Hall (when it acted as a women’s residence hall), I stumbled upon this little gem embedded in Volume 5 of the Sycamore Logbook from the 1944-1945 academic year whose faded pages revealed what was going through many a young woman’s mind here at IU when it came time to receive the mail during WWII.

The following is a transcription of an account written by one of the copy editors of the Sycamore Hall dorm logbook:

Residents of Sycamore Hall, 1945 Archives image no: P0044228
Residents of Sycamore Hall, 1945
Archives image no: P0044228

Mail Call

Mail Call is the most important event in the day for almost all of us girls at the University. Even on days when we could sleep late, our alarm clocks will usually be set for ten a.m.

We jump out of bed, dress in a flash, and dash downstairs. In each of our hearts there is a solemn prayer that, maybe, today is the day a letter will come from the most important man in the Army, Navy or Marines.

Each of us goes downstairs with a happy look of expectancy written on her face. Some of us come away smiling and happy; others leave the mail boxes depressed and sad.

The conversation each morning rambles on something like this:

 “Hi, Kelly, is that a letter from Bob?”

“Yes, he got his wings yesterday, and he’ll be home next week. Barbs, you had better dust off the Wedding March because we are going to be needing that song.”

“That is grand, Kelly,” comes in a chorus from the girls.

There is a scream of delight as Kay rushes for her mail box, which is packed full of letters. She stands there laughing and crying at the same time, as she counts twelve letters from her Bill. Bill is a Navy flier, and he is in the South Pacific; mail from him comes only every six or eight weeks.

Cluching [sic] the letters as though her life depended on them, Kay dashes for the big chair in the living room. Incoherent phrases tumble from her lips.

“Jeepers, and gee, he is still my man! Oh, his is wonderful – – twelve letters!  Happy day, oh happy day!”

 “Darn! Just a letter from Carol,” comes the disgusted words from Ruthann.

“That’s my luck, too,” replies Donna.

“I know Dick is busy, but – -“

“Cut it, Ruthann; there is Janie, and she did not get a letter again today.”

No, I must not forget to tell about Janie. She is a little thing and pretty as a doll. She is the pet of every girl in the house. Her Marine is in the Philippines, and she has not heard from him since Manila was taken. Janie does not say anything about not hearing from him, but we know how worried she is; we sense the heartbreak she feels when she looks at her empty mail box. I guess she realizes we would all “crack up” if we put our feelings into words.

She saw us looking at her and smiled.

 “Everything is all right, chums; Jack is all right, and there is always tomorrow.”

Julia Ann Bookout

Little did these ladies know that they did not have long to wait for their loved ones to return. The war would soon come to an end with the Japanese surrender on August 15, 1945 with the formal surrender to follow on September 2nd (which is known today in the US as V-J Day). We can only hope that Jack returned with the rest of his brothers in arms to US shores to celebrate the Allied victory with Janie and the rest of his family and friends.

“Aviation Adventures”: Amelia Earhart’s Lecture at IU

Eighty-eight years ago today, Amelia Earhart departed from Trepassy, Newfoundland in a Fokker F7b-3M named Friendship to begin her successful flight across the Atlantic Ocean. Co-pilots Wilmer Stultz and Louis Gordon were also on the flight that took over 20 hours before landing safely in Wales, making Earhart the first woman to fly across the Atlantic.

Amelia Earhart at the cabin door of the Friendship, 1928. Photo from the Purdue University Archives.
Amelia Earhart at the cabin door of the Friendship, 1928. Photo courtesy of the Purdue University Archives.

In the fall of 1936, Agnes E. Wells, Dean of Women at Indiana University, was corresponding with O. B. Stephenson from The Emerson Bureau in hopes to have Earhart speak at IU. In the letter below, Wells received the good news that Earhart would, indeed, be coming to the university on October 22, 1936 for a fee of $350. “Dear Miss Wells, A letter this morning from Miss Earhart accepts your lecture engagement the evening of October 22.”

Earhart2                   Earhart001

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Several newspapers, including the Indiana Daily Student and the Bloomington Evening World, excitedly reported that Amelia Earhart would be giving her lecture “Aviation Adventures” at Indiana UnivEarhart004ersity in Alumni Hall at 8 pm on October 22, with an informal reception to follow. The reception was an opportunity for the public to meet and question Earhart and was sponsored by A.W.S. and St. Margaret’s Guild, Bloomington Charity Organization.

During her visit, Earhart gifted this photograph to Indiana University, with an inscription written by her on the back: “To the Indiana Union. Amelia Earhart, October 22, 1936.”

EArhart
Autographed photograph of Amelia Earhart, IU Archives image no. P0046625

 

 

Dr. Emma J. Phillips: Lifelong scholar

Emma Phillips
Emma Phillips, 1923

Emma Julia Phillips just couldn’t keep herself away from Indiana University.  Over a period of nearly 50 years, Emma earned a BA, MA, and PhD from IU.  Her parents, John Wilbur Phillips and Arvia Phillips, were both school teachers and perhaps this explains her love of learning.  Emma graduated from Alexandria-Monroe High School in Alexandria, Indiana in 1918 and enrolled in Indiana University shortly thereafter.  As an undergraduate, she was involved in the French Club, elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and inducted into Pi Lambda Theta, an honor society and professional association for educators. In 1923, she graduated from IU with Distinction and earned a Bachelor of Arts in Romance Languages.

Upon graduation, Emma taught French and English at high schools in Alexandria, Indiana and Alton, Illinois.  During her summer breaks, Emma attended classes at IU. She received a Master of Arts degree in English from Indiana University in 1934.  Her thesis, The Technique of George Whyte-Melville’s Novels is an analysis of 28 works of Scottish novelist George Whyte-Melville.

Emma Phillips Thesis
Emma Phillips’ master’s thesis, The Technique of George Whyte-Melville’s Novels

Upon completion of her master’s, Emma took a leave of absence from teaching to study French in Grenoble, France for several months in 1936.  She wrote a lengthy letter that was published in her hometown’s newspaper, The Alexandria Times-Tribune, that details the political situation in France in the 1930s.  She offers her opinion on politics and writes, “I may say, however, that I am not quite so sure as I used to be that the United States ought to be in a great hurry to join the League of Nations.”  Never one to rest on her laurels, Emma returned to teaching while simultaneously taking graduate level courses through correspondence from the Indiana University Division of University Extension.

Emma returned to Bloomington to complete her Ph.D. coursework in the 1950s.  In 1967, she earned her Ph.D. from Indiana University in English with minors in American Literature and Comparative Literature, 44 years after she earned her Bachelor’s.  Her thesis is titled Mysticism in the Poetry of Emily Dickinson.  At the age of 91, Emma died on April 11, 1991 in Alexandria.

The IU Archives has many notebooks and assignments related to Emma’s studies as well as her commencement materials and theses.  Contact the IU Archives to learn more about Emma’s life.