A Co-ed, a Convict, and the Prom That Brought Them Together

This is a black and white newspaper clippings which includes the following text and includes a picture of a college woman with short curls. GARRETT GIRL IS ELECTED QUEEN OF INDIANA U. PROM: Barbara VanFleit Honored by Junior Class Miss Barbara VanFleit of East King street and a junior at Indiana University, Thursday night was elected junior prom queen in the closest contest ever held for the honor on the campus. Miss VanFleit, an independent coed, defeated Miss Virginia Austin of Zionsville, president of Delta Delta Delta sorority and the “coalition” candidate of the Greek letter social organizations by a vote of 256 to 245. Miss VanFleit represented the Independent Students’ Association. Only men of the junior class were eligible to ballot. The prom, which is the annual spring dance of the junior class, will be held Friday night in Alumni Hall in the Union building on campus with 400 couples in attendance. The decorative scheme in the hall will depict scenes from the motion picture “Gone with the Wind.” The interior of the room will resemble an old southern mansion. Ticket sales for this dance are restricted to juniors for the first week and then are offered for general sale. Miss VanFleit will wear a formal gown worn by Vivien Leigh in “Gone with the Wind” and will be escorted by Donald Painter, son of Mr. and Mrs. W.S. Painter of South Walsh street, a member of the Delta Chi fraternity. Mr. and Mrs. VanFleit have been invited to attend the ball as chaperones. Miss VanFleit is 5 feet 2 and a brunette. She is a member of the YWCA, secretary of the Home Economics club, a member of the Women’s Athletic Association and of the Association of Independents Students, which sponsored her candidacy.
Article on VanFleit in the Garrett Clipper,
Monday, March 4, 1940

In 1940, Barbara VanFleit’s face appeared in newspapers across the state of Indiana. Headlines read “Garrett Girl is Elected Queen of Indiana Prom,” celebrating her win as an “unorganized” co-ed over Delta Delta Delta sorority president Virginia Austin by just five votes. She was the second consecutive independent to be voted queen by the boys of the junior class in the twenty-two year history of the event at IU. A junior studying home economics at IU, Barbara was no stranger to the Garrett Clipper’s pages. The daughter of an apparently well-respected electrical engineer, Barbara’s activities along with those of her siblings and step siblings were often recorded in the publication’s social pages. Donald Painter, a member of Delta Chi and a chemistry student – the king to Barbara’s prom queen- also frequently appears in these social pages, often in connection with Barbara.

The prom that year was to be themed after the film “Gone With the Wind.” According to that year’s Arbutus:

“The theme was carried out in the decorations by a replica of a Southern mansion, which formed the background for the band. The walls were artistically draped in Spanish moss, and the entrance to the hall was decorated in keeping with the Southern theme.”

This is a black and white page spread from the Arbutus yearbook. Photographs show college couples dining over formal dinner, dancing, and 2 images show Barbara VanFleit and her date Donald Painter dancing.
Page from the 1940 Arbutus showing the year’s Junior Prom activities
Black and white photograph shows Barbara VanFleit wearing a lace, tiered ballgown and holding a bouquet of flowers.
Barbara VanFleit wears dress from Gone With The Wind, March 8, 1940. IU Archives image no. P0024613

A unique opportunity came with the theme of 1940s prom – Barbara VanFleit appears in both the Arbutus and the Collegiate Digest, a national publication which featured the lives of university students in pictures, wearing a tiered, ruffled dress claimed to be an original costume from Gone with the Wind worn by Vivien Leigh during production. Although records have proved difficult to find, the dress was apparently part of an exhibition of items from the film that was held in Chicago that same year and shipped to Bloomington for the occasion. A brief article in the Chicago Tribune entitled “Gone With the Wind Elegance” written in January of 1940 does feature sketches of dresses described as “copies of ‘Gone With the Wind’ gowns now in Chicago,” but no details on the exhibition are given. The dress which most closely resembles the one which Barbara VanFleit would wear to her prom in March of that year is identified as a dress worn by Suellen O’Hara, played by Evelyn Keyes, as opposed to an outfit worn by Vivian Leigh in her role as Scarlett O’Hara. The topic of Gone With the Wind fashion was indeed popular in the spring of 1940, with advertisements for “Gone With the Wind Dresses” selling for between $1.98 and $3.98 appearing in the Chicago papers.

Later that March, Barbara’s name would again appear in the Garret Clipper, however this time next to that of Elmer Louis Houston, a convict at Indiana State Prison. Born the son of a laborer in Wisconsin, Houston is described on his World War I Draft registration card as having dark hair and dark eyes.  This card from 1918 lists Houston as being 18 years of age, although information found in the Federal Census suggests that Houston may have actually been as young as 16 at the time of his enlistment. Later census information suggests that Houston only received at most an 8th Grade education. Throughout what can be found of his life, his occupations were listed as farm laborer, roofer, and “motorman”.

This is a black and white newspaper clipping including the following text: Mercy Bandit Given Parole by Commission: Staged Holdup on Day Baby was Born Elmer Houston, who held up an Indianapolis bus driver in December to get money so he could by coal to keep his family warm, was granted a parole by the State Clemency Commission Tuesday. He was sentenced Dec. 19 in Criminal court to serve one to five years in the state prison. The record of his case shoed that a baby was born to his wife on the day of the holdup. There was no coal in the house. He attempted to sell a gun which he owned, but he could find no purchased, so he used the gun in the holdup. Persons in the store, where he tried to sell the weapon, knowing it was not loaded, ran after Houston, caught him and held him for the police.
Article in The Jeffersonville Evening News, August 28, 1935, detailing Houston’s parole

By March of 1940, Houston was serving his second sentence at the prison, the state’s Northern facility located in Michigan City. His first crime was one of desperation, carried out in December of 1934. According to an article in the Jeffersonville Evening News, records show that on that cold day in December, Houston’s wife, Velma had given birth to one of their five children. On that day, Houston had tried to sell a gun to buy coal to provide for his family in Indianapolis where they were living. Finding no buyer, Houston attempted to use the gun to hold up a local bus driver in a store. Unsuccessful with the unloaded gun, Houston was apprehended by onlookers until the police arrived. He was paroled in August of the following year by the State Clemency Commission, serving less than a year. Following his parole, however, Houston was again sentenced – this time for between 5 and 21 years in February of 1938, for an undetermined crime.

It was this second sentence that Elmer Houston was serving when he encountered IU Professor of Fine Arts, Harry Engel, who taught fine art to the inmates at Indiana State Prison in the late summer of 1939. Engel had initially been invited by Hans Riemer, the educational supervisor of the prison, to meet artistically inclined inmates, and, excited by the talent he saw, began conducting in person classes in the infirmary of the prison for two weeks. After he had returned to Bloomington for the fall semester, Engel continued to provide feedback and instruction via correspondence. John Grogan, then deputy instructor of the arts program at Indiana State Prison, enthusiastically hoped that the class would serve as a model for arts programs at other prisons throughout the United States as it provided immense therapeutic and rehabilitative value to the inmates, as well as practical training in anticipation of release.

The works of art created by these prisoners would come to be shown at the Mezzanine Gallery (another of Engels efforts) of the Indiana University Bookstore. The show, “Prisoner Art,” featured the work of several inmates, many of whom were considered “lifers” or experiencing psychiatric issues. “Prisoner Art” was heralded as the first of its kind, and the sale of the inmate’s work – for prices ranging between $5 and $25 – went on to fund supplies for the continuation of the educational program.

This is a brochure for the exhibit "Prisoner Art" which ran from March 1-30. The artwork shows 6 hands holding paintbrush and easel, yet bound by chains.
Cover of the 1940 exhibition pamphlet for “Prisoner Art”

Several of the pieces sold before the opening had even begun, but one piece, “Heart of a Rose,” was not for sale. Created by Elmer Houston, “Heart of a Rose” was instead to be given to its muse – the 1940 IU junior prom queen, Barbara VanFleit. While no record of the portrait exists, on March 25th of 1940, the Garret Clipper describes it as being made with “rug dyes and paints on a man’s handkerchief”. Houston had taken inspiration for the piece from an article he had seen describing VanFleit’s coronation. One wonders if “Heart of a Rose” featured its subject wearing the enigmatic “Gone With the Wind” dress we now associate that year’s prom.

Like any good tale, the story of Barbara VanFleit, Elmer Houston, and the prom that brought them together ends with a lot of questions.  What did “Heart of a Rose” look like?  While VanFleit was quoted saying she would take the piece after its exhibition, did she follow through on this? Was VanFleit’s prom dress actually worn by Vivian Leigh? Was it worn by her co-star Evelyn Keyes? Was it even an original movie prop or the subject of creative embellishment?

In the case of Houston, our story also ends with tragedy. Records indicate that Houston may have been drafted while still serving time in 1944, towards the end of World War II. His name would again appear in the paper in 1957, following his death. Several newspapers reported that Houston and his wife Velma had been found by police in their bed with a gallon jug labeled “cider” next to them. Inside the jug was a “green fluid.” This fluid was sent to the IU Medical School for analysis and was later determined to be antifreeze. Houston was dead on discovery, while Velma would later die at the General Hospital.

Barbara went on to marry Donald Scott Painter, her former prom king in 1942, and their son was born 6 years later. She passed away in 1968 in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

A Day in the Life: Pauline Day’s University Years Through Her Scrapbook

A picture is worth a thousand words. I would argue that a scrapbook is therefore worth tens of thousands of words. Scrapbooks are ways for people to collect photos, objects, and other items they deem important in order to reminisce on them later. Of course, as years go by, the value of the scrapbook changes. For modern researchers, scrapbooks become windows into a world that does not exist anymore, or at least one that is very different.

Pauline Day pictured with two unknown men
Pauline Day (foreground), circa 1915.

Pauline Day’s scrapbook is no different. She lived in Indiana her entire life, starting when she was born in Dunkirk, Indiana in 1894. She and her parents lived in Winchester for most of her life. She came to Indiana University in the fall of 1912 to get her degree in English, though she also took several courses in education. Looking in the Arbutus yearbook of 1916, one might wonder what Pauline did in her spare time, considering she was not part of any student group or sorority chapter. For all intents and purposes, it seemed like she wasn’t very involved in anything. Her scrapbook tells a different story.

Continue reading “A Day in the Life: Pauline Day’s University Years Through Her Scrapbook”

Josephine Grima: IU’s First Mexican Student

Photograph of Josephine Grima in nurse's uniform
Josephine Grima, 1917 IU Arbutus yearbook

The year 1917 saw the first class of nurses graduate from the new IU Training School for Nurses, part of the School of Medicine in Indianapolis since 1914. Among those five women was one who could claim another “first”–Josephine Grima (1892?-1993), the first student to enroll at IU from Mexico.

Born around 1892 in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas, Grima was apparently encouraged by members of a Society of Friends mission from Indiana to return home with them to complete her medical training. After nine months of preparatory work, Josephine entered the three-year graduate nurses program in the fall of 1914.

During their three years of training, which mainly took place at the Robert W. Long Hospital, Grima and the other nursing students experienced a rigorous routine of “full-time duty in the wards and classrooms.” Types of courses ranged from the preliminary classes on biology, anatomy and physiology, hygiene, sanitation, and household economics to senior term lectures on obstetrics, children’s diseases, mental diseases, and social service.

Photograph of student nurses working in a laboratory
Students at the Training School for Nurses during the 1916-1917 academic year. From the 1917 IU Arbutus yearbook.

As Grima was finishing her final semester, the United States declared war on Germany, officially entering what would be known as World War I. Soon after graduating, she joined the U.S. Army Nurses Corps as a reserve nurse. While she never deployed overseas, she nevertheless saw her share of action during the devastating flu pandemic of 1918. She was first stationed at the army hospital in Markelton, Pennsylvania, before being transferred to Camp Devens near Boston, Massachusetts, in September 1918. At the time, the training camp was in desperate need of medical personnel: with over 10,000 cases in less than a month, it was the site of one of the largest influenza outbreaks in the U.S.

As part of the IU Alumni Association’s War Service Register project, Grima described her experience at Camp Devens. Although brief, it underscores some of the most basic challenges that Grima and her fellow nurses faced in a camp overflowing with patients:

…We report [sic] at the Base Hospt. where we had 15000 of cases of Pneumonia and Influenza where we had to suffer bad accomodation [sic] and bad prepared food. We were on duty [illegible] hours and had to stand in line three times a day for our meals, our beds consisted during the epidemic of straw tikets [tickets], two O. D. [olive drab] blankets and a sanitary cot. There were no place [sic] to accomodate [sic] 750 nurses that answer [sic] the call of the epidemic and for that reason we had to use for bedrooms the garage, the farmhouse, etc. We had a great diel [sic] of work and responsability [sic]…

Segment of Grima's IU War Service Register entry.
Introduction to Grima’s IU War Service Register form. View entire entry

Grima continued her nursing career for a time after the war, working at the Marine Hospital in Detroit, Michigan, before marrying and starting a family. She became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1922. One of her daughters, Dorothy Comstock Riley, became the first female justice to serve on the State of Michigan’s Court of Appeals (1973) and the first Hispanic woman to be elected a supreme court justice in any state (1985).

 

The Social Life of Geraldine White: the “Kirkwood”, BΣO, and the Westminster Inn

Geraldine with her fellow Beta Sigma Omicron members

In a previous post, the Archives announced the papers of Geraldine K. White were open for research.  In this post, we hope to give our readers a closer look at Geraldine’s life on campus. Geraldine, or “Jerry” as she was fondly referred by friends, kept detailed records of her time at IU through notes from her classes and the creation of scrapbooks.

Researchers can glean a lot of information about her social life at IU from looking at the latter of these items. Many of the scrapbook pages are plastered with sports schedules, dance cards, programs from music and theater events, invitations to parties hosted by the Dean of Women, by-laws and pamphlets from various organizations and sororities, and much more. Geraldine was clearly very heavily involved in campus life as a whole.

Another thing that stands out in Geraldine’s scrapbooks, however, are references to three houses: the Kirkwood, the Beta Sigma Omicron chapter house, and the Westminster Inn. She seems to have spent much of her time in these locations.  The scrapbook is filled with notes from friends, most of which seem to have some connection to these places as well.

The Kirkwood

The Kirkwood House, ca. 1920s, from Geraldine’s scrapbook

This mansion, which was located at 301 East Kirkwood, was designed by architect Milton Pritchett in 1897 and stood on the north east corner of Lincoln and Kirkwood.  The property was demolished in 1967 in order to make room for the site that would eventually become the current-day Monroe County Public Library. In its early years it served as the home of Calvin R. Worrall, a local lawyer. The house was then taken over by several fraternities Delta Tau Delta (around 1898), Lambda Chapter of Sigma Chi (around 1903-1904), and Delta Upsilon (around 1920). Later on in the 1930s it operated as a jazz bar and then as a doctor’s office during the 1940s-1960s (the practice of a certain Dr. T. L. Wilson).

During Geraldine’s time around the mid-1920s, it served as a women’s residence. Geraldine seems to have lived there from 1922 to sometime in 1924.  Afterwards, she moved into the newly built Memorial Hall, IU’s first women’s dormitory (which was dedicated in October of 1924).  The scrapbooks contain numerous letters from Geraldine’s friends regaling us with stories about the Kirkwood House whether it be sneaking around the house late at night while the chaperone slept, reading Sherlock Holmes with her roommate, or recounting the shocking moment when the bed next to her fell through the floor into cellar…

The Beta Sigma Omicron House 

Geraldine also spent a great deal of time at the Alpha Beta chapter house of the now defunct Beta Sigma Omicron sorority, which was established during her senior year. She joined as part of the inaugural pledge class in Spring of 1926.  The sorority was founded on December 12, 1888 at the University of Missouri by three women: Eulalie Hockaday, Martha Watson, and Maude Haines; the sorority was absorbed by Zeta Tau Alpha on October 3, 1964. Multiple members of Beta Sigma Omicron left notes for Geraldine in her scrapbooks. Geraldine herself included a picture of the BΣO house that seems to have been cut out of some sort of reference book or magazine:

Beta Sigma Omicron house, 530 Smith Avenue, from Geraldine’s Scrapbook

The house moved from 503 Smith Avenue to 420 So. Fess the summer after Geraldine graduated. The new property was sold to BΣO by the Theta Chi fraternity on June 28, 1926. Geraldine also includes a picture of the new location for the house on the same page:

Beta Sigma Omicron, 420 So. Fess, from Geraldine’s scrapbook

The Westminster Inn

Westminster Inn, from Geraldine’s scrapbook

In addition to hanging out with her housemates and her sorority, Geraldine was heavily involved in the Westminster Inn, a house under the purview of the Presbyterian Church dedicated to campus student ministry.  According to the Annual Report of the Board of Education of the Presbyterian Church, Westminster Inn was “located opposite of the main entrance to campus.”

Invitations to events at the Westminster Inn, from Geraldine’s scrapbook

During Geraldine’s time at IU, the house was under the management of Rev. C. W. Harris, who served in France as a chaplain for the American Expeditionary Forces during World War I.  From looking at the scrapbooks, Rev. Harris’ wife seems to have enjoyed hosting students quite often whether it be for tea, dinner, farewell parties for seniors, or special events.  One particular page displays an invitation to meet Dr. Samuel Martin Jordan, an influential Presbyterian missionary in Persia.

Twelfth Night memorabilia from Geraldine’s scrapbook

The group that frequented the house even organized a play.  There are references in the scrapbook to Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.” Geraldine’s roommate from sophomore year at the Kirkwood house, Mabel, seems to have been involved with the play and mentions it in one of her notes in the scrapbook. The Westminster Dial of March 1928 confirms that the Westminster House put on a play of the Twelfth Night.

If you would like to see the scrapbooks or other items from Geraldine’s time here at IU contact the IU Archives to set up an appointment!  The archives also has several other student scrapbooks in its collection including those created by Kathleen Cavanaugh, Emma K. Schmidt, John Lincoln Nichols, Margaret Werling, and many others. Each documents a unique perspective of student experiences at IU.

Geraldine Katherine White papers

Geraldine Katherine White P0080797

We are happy to announce that the Geraldine Katherine White papers are now open for research!

Geraldine Katherine White (1903-1985) was an Indiana native who grew up in St. Joseph County, Indiana. She enrolled at Indiana University in September 1922 and graduated in 1926 with a B.S. in Commerce. During her time at IU, Geraldine was involved in a number activities associated with the School of Commerce and Finance (now known as the Kelly School of Business). The school, which was established in 1920, was still new at the time and gave Geraldine the opportunity to take part in the early formation of what would become one of the consistently high-ranking business schools in the nation. She was Vice-President of the newly established Girls’ Commerce Club, a group composed of advanced students in the commerce program. The young woman was also a charter member of IU’s Phi Chi Theta, a society for women majoring in Commerce, and was on the Executive Board for the Hoosier Journal of Business. During her senior year, she joined an inaugural pledge class for the Alpha Beta chapter of the now-defunct Beta Sigma Omicron.  She also received the honor of joining the Mortar Board, a national honor society that recognizes college seniors for their achievements in scholarship, leadership, and service.

Notes from Geraldine’s “Representative Painters” art history class

The collection contains course notes from various classes Geraldine took from Spring 1924 through Spring 1926 and two scrapbooks that hold items associated with White’s social life while at IU. The two scrapbooks, which date from 1922-1923 and 1925-1926 respectively, provide a more personal look into Geraldine’s social activities and the campus community. They contain sports schedules, pamphlets from events, bylaws and other information associated with the sororities and professional organizations that she was involved in, and pictures of friends and events.

Geraldine attended IU during the early years of the Memorial Campaign Fund, an initiative to raise money for the construction of multiple buildings on campus and to simultaneously honor the men and women from the University who had participated in World War I (for more on this see our Memorial Fund Campaign Records and a previous blog post by Alessandro Meregaglia). The new building for Geraldine’s school was a part of this campaign fund and is highlighted in her scrapbook:

School of Commerce and Finance
1924 Show Down Pamphlet
1924 Jordan River Revue Pamphlet

In addition to more items related the Memorial Campaign Fund, researchers will also find a wide array of pamphlets from theater events like the Jordan River Revue (a popular musical variety show put on by the Garrick Club, an organization that promoted University dramatic endeavors), the annual “Show Down” (another variety show hosted by the Garrick Club geared toward fraternities and sororities), and comedy shows. Music events and dances are also very popular themes in her scrapbooks. The pages are also filled to the brim with handwritten notes from friends recalling various memories during their time at IU.

If you would like to view the Geraldine Katherine White papers for yourself, please feel free to contact the IU Archives to set up an appointment.