Rites of Spring – Indiana University May Festival

As springtime bloomed across Indiana University in 1908, an Indiana Daily Student reporter eagerly previewed an upcoming campus event. “Dainty maids in the picturesque garb of the English peasant or the flaxen-haired Norwegian will dance the complex, but graceful folk dances of long ago.” Who were these “dainty maids” and what was this dazzling-sounding spectacle? The new Indiana University May Festival collection (C693) at the University Archives tells us a history of a vernal campus tradition. Importantly, the Indiana University May Festival became an active space for female student participation in the early twentieth century.

A scene from the 1924 May Festival, IU Archives photograph. Eight women dance in a field.
A scene from the 1924 May Festival, IU Archives no. P0026270

The IU May Festival began in earnest in 1905, when the IU Lecture Association organized an event featuring orchestral and choral performances in the Men’s Gymnasium. A cantata rendition of “The Swan and the Skylark” and ballet music from Faust evoked a springtime feeling. Despite glowing reviews, the IULA-hosted May Festival suffered from poor student participation. An Indiana Daily Student reporter expressed disappointment in 1906: “The small attendance is inconceivable. If the singers of Bloomington and the University knew what the chorus is doing, there would be a regular attendance of 200 instead of 30 or 40.” The event satisfied a Bloomington audience, but didn’t impact enough IU students at the time.

Section of the program for the 1905 May Festival, IU Archives
Section of the program for the 1905 May Festival, IU Archives C693

Beginning in 1908, the Women’s Athletic Association and Department of Physical Education for Women hosted the event in the Women’s Gymnasium for an invitation-only audience. Female students demonstrated exercises like dumbbell handling and club-swinging “with all the vigor and skill of their brothers,” as an IDS reporter noted. In the afternoon, they transformed into “dainty maids” to dance and wind cream and crimson streamers around a tall May Pole. Interestingly, the IDS also notes that only a small number of male students received invitations to the 1908 event.

This iteration of the May Festival was a staple of campus life by the 1920s. By 1922, the Women’s Self-Government Association (WSGA) sponsored an integral feature of the event: the election and crowning of a May Queen. The 1924 May Festival program names Mildred Wight as May Queen, with her heralds Ethel Budrow and Dorothy Tousley. Following a procession with flower girls, crown bearers, maids of honor, and other attendants, “The newly crowned May Queen is entertained by the joyous peasants.” IU students in pastoral garb performed six folk dances for the May Queen, followed by the mythical dance program “Fantasy of Dusk and Dawn.” The programs in this collection show how the all-female May Festival committee staged a mythological renaissance for modern day Bloomington.

Program for the 1924 May Festival, IU Archives C693
Program for the 1924 May Festival, IU Archives C693

By the 1922 May Festival, the WAA and WSGA had moved proceedings to Dunn Meadow. Rather than an invitation-only event in the Women’s Gymnasium, the May Festival had turned into a public performance. This collection also includes a 25-cent ticket for “Sylvia” to attend the Dance Drama portion of the festival at Dunn Meadow in 1927. IDS articles from this time also list the delightful box lunches served to attendees (who could say no to shrimp and mayonnaise sandwiches?) at no cost. One reporter indicated that the WAA and WSGA prepared 800 of these lunches—enough for a huge crowd. The May Festival shows how women at IU transformed a small musical celebration into a popular event that highlighted their talents as athletes, dancers, singers, and artists.

It appears that the WAA and WSGA ceased sponsorship of the May Festival after the 1920s. The last program contained in this collection is from 1928. IU women, however, carried on celebrating the tradition into at least the 1940s, as documented in the IU women’s residence halls scrapbooks. Collection C631, which contains 82 such scrapbooks from 1925-1959, is open for research and offers images from these later unofficial celebrations.

May Day Festival participants Betty Higbee and June Hiatt, 1937. This image scanned from "The Towers" (yearbook / scrapbook / photograph album) compiled by residents of East Memorial Hall when it was a dormitory.
May Day Festival participants Betty Higbee and June Hiatt, 1937. This image scanned from “The Towers” (yearbook / scrapbook / photograph album) compiled by residents of East Memorial Hall when it was a dormitory. IU Archives image no. P0052722

To learn more about the May Festival collection or to view the collection yourself, please feel free to contact the University Archives to set up an appointment.

New at the Archives: Esther Thelen papers 1977-2005

Professional headshot of Esther Thelen
Professional headshot of Esther Thelen, IU Archives P0078703

We are happy to announce that the papers of Esther Thelen (1941-2004), former professor of psychology at Indiana University Bloomington and a prominent figure in the field of developmental psychology, are now available for access at the University Archives.

After receiving her undergraduate degree in zoology from the University of Wisconsin in 1963, Thelen took a break from academia to begin her family before beginning graduate studies in zoology at the University of Missouri. It was there that she took a graduate course in animal behavior, which set off a chain of connections that would eventually lead to her impressive tenure as a professor and scholar in the field of developmental psychology.

Thelen and a tiny research subject during a study on infant coordination
Thelen and a tiny test subject during a study on infant coordination, IU Archives P0078729

While Thelen was conducting a study on the grooming behavior of wasps, the repetitive movements of the wasps reminded her of psychologist J. Piaget’s observation of circular reactions in the movement of human infants. Inspired by this connection, Thelen conducted a descriptive study of 49 different types of repetitive movements in infants, for which she earned her PhD in biological sciences in 1977.

After spending a few years as an assistant professor at the University of Missouri, Thelen came to Indiana University Bloomington as a full professor of psychology in 1985. While at IU, she founded and directed the Infant Motor Development Laboratory, where she and her colleagues studied infant movement, perception, and cognition. With a research output that included three books and over 120 scientific articles and chapters, Thelen made many revelations about infant motor development that influenced scholarship in fields as diverse as pediatric physical therapy, neuroscience, computer science, robotics, and kinesiology.

The Mobile Research Laboratory, a bus containing portable research equipment for the IU Department of Psychology
The Mobile Research Laboratory, a bus containing portable research equipment for the IU Department of Psychology, IU Archives P0078735

Thelen gave talks at universities, conferences, and workshops all over the world, and her influential work was often featured in national media sources. In this 1993 clip from the PBS program Scientific American Frontiers, the cameras follow along as Thelen and her colleagues take a ride in their “Mobile Research Laboratory,” a bus containing portable equipment essential to their studies of infant movement. This Mobile Laboratory enabled Thelen and her colleagues to travel to the homes of their infant research subjects in order to perform their studies remotely. The clip also shows Thelen working with her subjects in the Infant Motor Development Laboratory on campus.

During her tenure at Indiana University Bloomington, Thelen set a new standard for studying motor control and coordination in infants. Her collection at the University Archives includes materials such as personal files and correspondence; documents related to public speaking appearances, publications, and leadership roles in professional organizations and committees; educational materials from psychology courses taught by Thelen; and materials related to Thelen’s research, including handwritten notes, drafts of studies, and original U-Matic videotapes of research subjects.

To learn more about the Esther Thelen papers 1977-2005 or to view the collection yourself, please feel free to contact the University Archives to set up an appointment.

New at the Archives: Kathleen Cavanaugh scrapbooks 1960-1965

Kathleen Cavanaugh as an undergraduate student at Indiana University, circa 1964. C617 Box 3.

Over the years, the Indiana University Archives has steadily been acquiring an impressive assortment of photo albums and scrapbooks (see Catherine Ruby Force’s scrapbook, 1915-1920; the Margaret Werling scrapbook 1951-1953; and the Delmus E. Aldridge wrestling scrapbook 1929-1979, just to name a few!)

Scrapbooks and other handmade memory books are a valuable part of our collections, especially when they are created by students to document their experiences at Indiana University at various points in the University’s history. We are happy to share one of our most recent acquisitions, the Kathleen Cavanaugh scrapbooks 1960-1965 (C617), as a testament to the scrapbook as a fun, creative, and uniquely personal document of the student experience at IU!

Kathleen Cavanaugh (1942-2016) was born on November 9, 1942 in Indianapolis, Indiana to Martha and Harry Cavanaugh of Salem, Indiana. After graduating from Salem High School, Cavanaugh attended Indiana University Bloomington as an undergraduate student from 1960-1964, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in Zoology. During her time as an undergraduate, she was a very active member of the Gamma Phi Beta sorority, continuing to hold several leadership roles in the sorority even after she graduated. An enthusiastic participant in campus life, she was also a member of the Association for Women Students and the Young Women’s Christian Association. Cavanaugh later re-enrolled at Indiana University as a graduate student, earning her M.A. in Biology in 1970.

Freshman Camp 1960: the “neatest way to start college!” C617 Box 1.

This collection contains three scrapbooks compiled by Cavanaugh during her time as an undergraduate student in the early 1960s. Each is filled with photographs, newspaper clippings, greeting cards, and other mementos that Cavanaugh saved to document the various social activities that she participated in, starting with Freshman Camp in the fall of 1960, which she described as “the neatest way to start college.” She saved many items related to her Gamma Phi Beta sorority, including rush schedules, group photos, and clippings from times when her sorority sisters made the newspaper. Cavanaugh loved attending sporting events on campus, and she dedicated spreads in two of her scrapbooks to the Little 500 bicycle race events in 1962 and 1963.

Pages containing mementos from one of the numerous dances that Cavanaugh attended as an undergraduate student. C617 Box 1.

Cavanaugh enjoyed collecting various knick knacks, saving things like coasters and matchbooks from her favorite restaurants on campus, and funny cards that she received from friends and family for her birthday and Valentine’s Day. One page contains a sparkly blue lei and a colorful corsage from one of the many dances that she attended over the years. In addition, Cavanaugh used these scrapbooks to document some of the big changes and exciting events that were going on around campus at the time, including the 1962 retirement of Herman B Wells as president of the university and famous comedian Bob Hope opening the Little 500 Variety Show in 1964.

Flipping through the scrapbooks that Cavanaugh compiled is a special opportunity to get an idea of what it was like to be a student at Indiana University in the early 1960s, from the perspective of someone who embraced the student life and participated in as many events and activities as she could, documenting her adventures along the way.

Cavanaugh’s scrapbooks contain memories from many sporting events, including the Little 500 bicycle races in 1962 and 1963. C617 Boxes 1 and 2.

If you would like to see the Kathleen Cavanaugh scrapbooks for yourself, please feel free to contact the IU Archives to set up an appointment.

Snippets from Dorm Life: The Indiana University women’s residence hall scrapbooks

Memorial Hall, Sinclair Studio, 1931

In 1925 Memorial Hall Indiana University’s first owned and operated women’s dormitory opened, followed shortly thereafter by Forest Hall in 1937 (later renamed Goodbody Hall), Beech Hall in 1940 (renamed Morrison Hall in 1942 in honor of IU’s first female graduate Sarah Parke Morrison) and Sycamore Hall in 1940.

May Day Festival participants, “The Towers”, 1937

Each of these residence halls making up what we now know as the Agnes E. Wells Quadrangle had a long-standing tradition of making a scrapbook to document prominent activities and events that occurred either in the dorm or with its residents during that year.

The Indiana University women’s residence hall scrapbooks collection consists of 81 scrapbooks produced by the residents with volumes dating from 1925 to 1959. These scrapbooks typically contain individual and group photographs of dormitory residents and residential counselors, usually with accompanying textual information. They also often contain interior or exterior photographs of the buildings of Wells Quadrangle, as well as other sites on campus, such as the Indiana Memorial Union

Two residents of Memorial Hall East, “The Towers,” 1936 or 1937

and the Student Building. Besides formal photographs, there are images of everyday dormitory life, such as students studying, dining, or participating in athletics and other activities.

Many scrapbooks also contain memorabilia and ephemera such as dance cards, invitations, correspondence, event programs, sports schedules, newspaper clippings and similar items related to campus events and activities that were either sponsored or hosted by the dormitories or attended by their residents. Events frequently represented in these volumes include Homecoming, the Little 500, seasonal formals, and celebrations of holidays such as May Day and Christmas.

Most of the scrapbooks followed some sort of visual theme which allowed the dorm’s more artistic members to have a little fun:

Selected illustrations from the Sycamore 1951-1952 Log

Here’s one with involving a theme based on Dante’s Inferno:

Inferno-Theme
Selected illustrations from the 1928-1929 Castle Chronicle

These scrapbooks often also include little tidbits that give modern readers insight into the relationships that these women had with each other and how the outside world impacted their daily life. For example in a previous post from last year Mail Call: Correspondence at IU during WWII, our readers learned about how ladies at IU were affected by WWII.

Seniors Crop
Illustration from the 1930 Castle Chronicle

Many a scrapbook regale the reader with descriptions of pajama parties, teas, dances, and social coffee hours. Others may include more personal notes such as a congratulatory message from the dorm to one of the ladies on her engagement, a retelling of a special moment during the year, or perhaps an inside joke known only to that particular community. Each scrapbook will also often include sections on the academic triumphs of the residents and a section dedicated to seniors which recount many fond memories of their lives at IU as well as advice for underclassmen moving forward.

If you’re interested in these or other scrapbooks contact the IU Archives to schedule an appointment.

Sincerely Yours: Linen dresses and infernal machines

Helen Hopkins, Class of 1918. Archives image no. P0066988

Last spring, the IU Archives was contacted by a kind couple in Lafayette, Indiana who just by happenstance discovered a small but wonderful collection of WWI-era correspondence and other ephemera in a dumpster. At some point lovingly bound into 2 volumes, the nearly 300 letters between Helen Dale Hopkins and her family dating from 1915-1918 were thus thankfully saved from a fate in a landfill.

Born in 1897, Helen Dale Hopkins entered Indiana University as a freshman in the fall of 1915. She was an active member of the Classical Club, Browning Society, Pi Beta Phi, and was elected to the student honorary Phi Beta Kappa. She graduated with an A.B. in Latin with Distinction in 1918. During this period, Helen wrote home multiple times a week, predominately to her mother Clara, but occasionally also her brother Bob (Robert O. Hopkins).

Early letters report on joining Pi Beta Phi (the Pi Phi’s as she calls the sorority) and being in the library during freshman-sophomore scraps when the men were called outside and their hair forcibly cut. What we would describe as a modern-day foodie, in nearly every letter Helen reports on her meals (she seemed to have a particular fondness for potatoes and desserts), and vehemently thanks her mother for her weekly care packages of candies, cookies, bread, and wieners from home. In others she describes the contents of her friend’s packages from home, including one which included “a whole fried chicken and a fruit cake.” Other letters mention campus serenades, attending athletics events and dances, joining the Women’s League and YWCA, late night visits to the Book Nook for wieners and burgers to hear Hoagy Carmichael play, hiking to Arbutus hill, going to the Gentry Brothers Circus, student pranks such as the night she came home to a bed filled with salt, as well as campus issues such as coal shortages and the bad taste of the drinking water.

On a national level she discusses the 1916 presidential election and in the lead up to World War I she discusses military training on campus. On March 7, 1917, she describes a campus-wide meeting of all the students and faculty where “it was voted to send a telegram to [President] Wilson expressing the faith of the Indiana students in him and the promise of loyalty to the country…. President Bryan gave most wonderful talk, and several others of the faculty spoke.” Following the official declaration of war, she reports on her volunteer work with the Red Cross knitting sweaters for soldiers overseas, female students hastily marrying before their boyfriends enlisted, the dwindling numbers of male students on campus, and the back to the farm movement, which allowed students from farming families to return home to help with the crops while still earning course credit. She also alludes to the fact that Theodore Roosevelt would be their wartime commencement speaker.

One letter from April 1917 stands out in particular. While Helen mostly details daily thoughts and updates on life for her mother, she also shares the details of an incident involving a student of Russian descent (Mr. Edler). A transcript of the letter in its entirely follows.  

Saturday April 22, 1917

My darling sweetheart,

Thanks ever so much for the dresses, the skirt is just the thing. Could you cut a pattern from the straight dress pattern and send it to me for Velura? She wants to make her one like it. And she wondered how much goods it takes. I guess the straight dresses are as much in style as ever. One of the girls has a green linen with pockets and belt embroidered. Anna and Doris got three straight ones in town – $6.75 apiece. Mildred paid $15 for a linen one. They’re all made exactly like mine. My blue one is just in style, – my, I just love it better all the time. I hope it never wears out.

Louise says that if the weather is nice you and her folks are sure going to come down some Sunday. I wish you all could come some day. The campus is getting green and is full of violets and spring beauties. We were walking through it the other day and a red bird was on a limb above us and a blue bird on another branch. They were both singing and it seemed like a dream. I think the campus is the most beautiful spot there ever was.

Dr. Stout says Latin is growing more popular all the time. You know they are talking of taking German out of the schools. There are twelve in the senior class and there have been sixteen calls already for teachers. Velura is so discouraged that she broke down and cried the other day – she wants to come back so badly and everyone she talks to says that they can’t consider undergraduates for positions until all the seniors have places. Dr. Stout says that only one senior that he has known of has gotten less than $80; but he says they usually have to be satisfied with this the first year. I got all this information from being in the senior class. He put in a recommendation for each one of them.

He even wanted to know in what part of the state they wanted to teach and what sort of a school they would prefer to teach in. He said he would be glad to read the letter of application they wrote before they sent it. He seemed so interested in every one of them.

I spent the morning embroidering “Charlie” in mahogany silk on a pair of pajamas. One of the Phi Psi boy’s washing was left here and of course we thought we ought to embroider it. We embroidered hearts on all his handkerchiefs and his name on his pajamas and then cross-stitched the bottom in green and purple. Oh they were some class. I know he’ll like them. I hope so at any rate after all the work we put on them.

I’m going down a little in math. I only got 90 on the test I had Thursday. I hope we don’t have many more or he’ll find me out sure.

We decided to wait two weeks for our play, and so I don’t know what we’ll have Monday night – a good time anyway. Leah Stock, our province president, is coming Tuesday night. We’re going to move all the best furniture in our room. We’re going to have a dinner Tuesday night, a reception Wednesday afternoon, and a cooky-shine Wednesday night.

Did you see the story about Mr. Edler, a Russian in school here? He lived in a barn on two cents a day. When he was four years old, the Russian government killed his father and mother, and ever since then he has been against the government. The authorities here found his room which he had always kept locked, and found there all sorts of different mechanisms that they think he was trying to make infernal machines of. He says he was only experimenting on watches. He went around all winter without a hat and coat. He was in my Latin class, but it never occurred to me to be afraid of him. I don’t know where they’ve sent him but he’s left here.

Well sweet, I’m writing this in the midst of a stirring argument on woman suffrage; and I’m trying to argue and write at the same time.

Marie’s going to stay all night with me. Her roommate has a terrible cough, and she keeps Marie awake all night. I thought that since Louise was gone, she might sleep with me.

I went downtown with Mrs. Roberts this evening and she bought me a sack of candy. Some sport, eh?

Well sweet, I owe so many letters I guess I’d better start writing some.

With heaps and heaps of kisses,

Helen

Mr. John Edler was a Russian student at IU who earned the nickname “Hatless John” because he spent the cold Indiana winter walking around without the typical hat or coat worn by most people to protect him from the cold. According to the news coverage from April 1917, he was not a harmful individual but fellow students often heard him voicing anti-government and anarchist opinions, which raised some concerns. Finally, Registrar John Cravens and local authorities found cause and searched his room, where they discovered all kinds of mechanical parts that they assumed were being used to create “infernal machines” and bombs. Being that this was wartime, their discovery raised concerns and Edler was brought before a local Sanity Commission to judge whether or not he was a threat to the IU community and American citizens. The commission however deemed Edler completely sane and the mechanical parts harmless – in reality Edler was not in fact building bombs. He was a watch maker and his mechanisms could do no more than tell time.

After the ordeal, Edler returned to his former home in South Bend, Indiana. Tobias Dantzig, a mathematics professor at IU took responsibility for the young man, promising to assist him in finding work, which further appeased the sanity council and the whole situation was resolved.

To schedule an appointment to view the rest of the Helen Hopkins Wampler papers, contact the IU Archives.