Behind the Curtain: Julia Kilgore, Bicentennial Oral History Intern

Behind the Curtain is a series highlighting IU Archives staff, partners from various departments of the IU Libraries, and students who make all of our work possible. Continue to follow over the coming months to read how and who make the magic happen!

Role: Bicentennial Oral History Intern

Educational Background: BA in History, BA in Art from Hillsdale College; Current MLS student with a specialization in archives and records management.

How she got here: Julia started working in archives as an undergraduate at Hillsdale College. At the College, she mainly worked in special collections as the caretaker of the campus Library’s coin collection, but she occasionally helped the college Archivist with various projects. One particular project she enjoyed was helping to rearrange documents from the Winston Churchill Project.  She also had the pleasure of working with and organizing an entire archives collection at a local historic house, the Grosvenor House Museum.

When Julia volunteered for the Grosvenor House Museum, she never knew what to expect.  It was like Christmas every day! One afternoon she would be flipping through a pile of graduation announcements from the local schools and the next she would be trying to identify individuals in a stack of nameless photos. There were old maps, rail road tickets, letters, articles on local war heroes…one time she and a friend found a military commission from King George III for a local townsman with its wax seal still intact! Meanwhile at the College, Julia would sift through and rehouse tons of letters between Winston Churchill and his wife, secretary notes from meetings, letters to dignitaries from around the world, and other great documents. After working with these collections, Julia knew that she wanted to work in an environment where she could interact with archives and special collections in some way, whether it be in a library, museum, or a similar institution.

Julia began her dual MLS/Art History degree in the fall of 2015 and found work as a Public Services Assistant in Wells Library. In the spring of 2016, she began processing collections for the IU Archives and transitioned into her current position as Bicentennial Oral History Intern the following semester.

Favorite item in the collection: One of Julia’s favorite items in the archives is Volume 5 of the Sycamore Logbook from 1944-1945 from the IU Women’s Residence Halls scrapbooks (see more info about the scrapbooks in her posts titled “Snippets from Dorm Life” and “Mail Call“). She was reordering all of IU’s women’s dorm scrapbooks when she decided to flip through a few to get an idea of what these ladies were like. As she turned page after page of unidentified photographs, she wondered if she would find anything that would tell her their names or what their lives were like at IU. She turned a page and saw the headline “Mail Call.” She was immediately drawn to it because she knew the book was from around the end of World War II, meaning it had to be something about soldiers during the war.

It turned out to be a really great piece describing a typical morning in Sycamore Hall where the ladies would dash downstairs immediately after waking up to see if there was news from the front lines. It really struck a chord with Julia and reminded her yet again the amazing things you get to discover while working in archives (and purely by accident too!).

Current project: Julia interviews staff and alumni for the Oral History Project about their time here at IU.

Favorite experience in the IU Archives: Julia loves when she is interviewing someone for the Oral History project and they talk about old student hangouts or past events.  It’s really great because she can research these places and events after the interview and she always finds great things in our collections on them.  Sitting there listening to them talk about these things really helps her to connect with our collections on a different level.  It makes it all the more real to her.

What she’s learned from working here: Restaurants, bookstores, and other places downtown have such a rich and wonderful history that are so interconnected to IU and its students. The best thing about it? Many of them still exist.  It is wonderful to go into places Nick’s or the Gables after hearing about all of these different experiences and think about what it was like then versus now.

The John and Hilda Jay Family Papers

Doubtless, you’ve at least once wondered what historians would assume about your historical setting based on something you’ve left behind. Every day, we write something down, we send an e-mail, we file away something important, or we send a quick text to a friend. Our habits of communication–perhaps unknowingly– document specific snapshots of the world at the time of creation. And this has always been the case, although we’re much more digitized in today’s age than we used to be. So imagine you’ve written a letter to your sweetheart every day over a span of quite a few years. You may not realize it, but the subtle trends of history may have been written into your words.

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This is what makes a collection like the John and Hilda Jay family papers so priceless: its ability to provide a series of snapshots through which we can study history, while also revealing the rich, fascinating details of a unique family. The collection, donated to the archives by Ms. Ellen Jay, consists primarily of a series of letters, the bulk of which were written between her parents, John and Hilda Jay, between the years of 1939-1946. John and Hilda were both IU alumni, John graduating in 1941 and Hilda graduating in 1945.  They began their relationship during their time together at school, and married in 1942– a union that was hastened due to the country’s new involvement in World War II and the potential of John being called to duty.

That particular chapter of their story began on December 7th, 1941, when the Japanese attacked by bombing Pearl Harbor. At the time, the couple was separated; Hilda continued her schoolwork at IU, and John was in Connecticut beginning his career at the Remington Arms Company. Their letters suggest that they did, eventually, intend to marry, but more than likely not until after Hilda had completed her degree. Then, the news of the bombing sent waves of media response across the country.

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On December 7th, 1941, Hilda wrote to her sweetheart: “I hardly know what to write you tonight. Just as we all came out from the concert we were encountered by news boys shouting “Extra-etc.” There was a rush to get the papers, then a grim, determined calmness evident…I wonder what the result of this will be so far as we are concerned.”

And the day after, John responded: “Well, we’re actually in it now. It has happened so fast I can hardly get over the shock. I had begun to feel that we wouldn’t get into war for at least 6 months yet, and possibly a year, when, bingo, the radio flashes word that Japan was bombing Hawaii.…The thing that hurts worst now is what’s going to happen to us. I hope we can pull through it, but gad, what a lot of faith it takes to think about even pulling through it.”

Evidence from their letters suggests that the entire family was trying to approach the question of what to do– postpone the marriage until after the war is over, or hurry it along before John is called away? There were unquestionably thousands of young couples in the same predicament across the country at that time. Plans had to be put on hold or rushed. Hilda’s mother suggested that she wait until “after this is all over.” Hilda, however, confided in a letter to John on December 13th that she didn’t see that happening: “Now as for how I look at it. This thing is going on for years–plenty of them…I’m not sure it would be wise to say ‘after this is all over’ for I think that is never…I think it all depends on what sort of service you get yourself into.” The uncertainty of the situation gripped tightly onto their plans for the future.

As it turns out, they decided to get married in July of 1942. Hilda would give up, or at least postpone, her education for the sake of their new marriage and move to Connecticut with her husband. This situation lasted for about a year before John was enlisted into the U.S. Navy in 1944. They stationed him at the Portsmouth Navy Shipyard, where he remained until boarding the U.S.S. Washington. With her husband off serving, Hilda returned to school at I.U. and was able to complete her degree by 1945.

The letters from John’s time aboard the U.S.S. Washington reveal telling anecdotes about Navy life during World War II. For instance, read below a description that John wrote after finding out about Hitler’s suicide and Germany’s surrender in May 1945:

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This excerpt illustrates John’s personal feelings on the matter, as well as the discourse between Navy men immediately following the announcement.

The Jay family papers has more to offer than just a glimpse at life during World War II; the entirety of the collection spans from the early 20th century to the early 21st century, featuring letters written by several members of the Jay family, including their children, Ellen and Sarah. Ellen and Sarah also attended IU during the 1960s, and much like their parents, maintained correspondence with their own parents during their time apart. This extensive, interesting collection is brimming with both local and global history throughout crucial moments in the past.

Contact the IU Archives, to schedule a visit to view the John and Hilda Jay family papers.

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.

“From War to Peace in 1945 Germany: A GI’s Experience”

From War to PeaceIn 1953, Malcolm “Mac” Fleming joined the Indiana University School of Education and the Audio-Visual Center of Adult Education, where he began as an instructor and acting supervisor of motion pictures. What students may not have known is that their young instructor had been taught the trade by Uncle Sam.

Originally from Oregon, once the Army heard Fleming knew his way around a camera, they transferred him to the Signal Corps Photo Center in New York to be trained as a combat photographer. Billeted near Times Square, Mac practiced his craft on the streets of Manhattan, capturing shots of the busy metropolis, the results later reviewed and critiqued by his trainers. At his next stop in England, Fleming was told the Army needed motion picture photographers, so “[the sergeant] quickly taught me how to load a one-hundred-foot roll of 35 mm motion picture film into a handheld Eymo camera and I became a cinematographer overnight.”

In the belt pouch meant for a first aid kit, Mac instead carried his own small camera so that in addition to the official Army photos, he could capture shots of scenes that were of personal interest. In a field notebook, he documented these images just as he did the Army photos and films, and what resulted was a rich record of one young soldier’s experience in the European Theater. The destruction, the refugees carrying what possessions they could, and village life that went on as it could were all captured by Fleming’s little camera.

Fleming's caption typed on reverse side of image reads, in full:
Fleming’s caption typed on reverse side of image reads, in full: “Ruins now lie at the feet of the iron figure of Kaiser Wilhelm. A German living in a nearby room amid the rubble showed me this viewpoint. Looking at it while I took the pic he said that Hitler had gotten what he’d been pleading for–total war.” July 9, 1945, Nuremberg, Germany.

Now in his 90s, Prof. Fleming has donated his extensive collection to the University Archives, but not before collaborating with the IU Press in a gorgeous book, “From War to Peace in 1945 Germany: A GI’s Experience.” The book which includes his original notes, partnered with updated captions and a foreword by James H. Madison, IU’s Thomas and Kathryn Miller Professor Emeritus of History, and an afterword by Brad Cook, Curator of Photographs here in the Archives, is a must have for anybody with an interest in World War II.

“Can’t be done–This is war!”: The Admission of Japanese Students During World War II

Tucked away in a seemingly innocent folder labelled “Correspondence, 1941-42” in the Training Course for Social Work collection is a reminder of a dark time in the history of Indiana University.  Amid memos detailing billing statements and curriculum plans is a notice from the Office of Admissions to various deans and directors, including the Director of the Training Course for Social Work.  The letter is dated June 12, 1942 and begins with, “In view of the present uncertain military status of the southern Indiana geographical zone in which Indiana University is located, the trustees of this University have decided that Japanese students should not be admitted to Indiana University at the present time.”

Outcasts! The Story of America's Treatment of Her Japanese-American Minority by Caleb Foote, 1942
Outcasts! The Story of America’s Treatment of Her Japanese-American Minority by Caleb Foote, 1942

In the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 which led to the relocation and internment of thousands of Japanese Americans living in established military zones.  In compliance with this legislation, universities along the West Coast discharged all students of Japanese descent.  Church leaders, university officials, and the YMCA-YWCA responded by establishing the National Japanese Student Relocation Council.  The organization assisted displaced students in applying to inland universities and finding housing in potentially hostile environments.

On April 26, 1942, the University of Minnesota set a precedent in the Midwest by refusing to accept relocated Japanese-American students.  The president of the University of Minnesota, W.C. Coffey, wrote to his peers to express his hesitancy in admitting Japanese students until the US government could address the issue and outline a clear course of action.  The admission question came to a head at IU on May 2, 1942 when the Department of Botany and Bacteriology received a request from UC Berkeley to admit two Japanese-American graduate students.

One week later, on May 9, 1942, President Herman B. Wells addressed the Board of Trustees: “There is this to be said about the situation–when the casualty lists begin to come in–even though they might be loyal Americans as anybody, feeling is going to mount very high and you might have disturbances on the campus.”  One Board member responded by stating his fear that Japanese students “would get into subversive activity whenever he would have a chance.”  The Board swiftly disapproved the admission of Japanese students.

The Board’s decision did not end the debate.  The director of the National Japanese American Student Relocation Council sent a letter on August 14, 1942 to Frank O. Beck, Executive Secretary of the IU Committee on Religion with information about the program stating that “among the evacuees are approximately twenty-five hundred American-born Japanese students, who were enrolled in college.  These young people are not ‘aliens,’ but Americans by birthright, brought up in our American schools, eager to demonstrate their loyalty to American ideals, and go on with their education in preparation for useful service and still fuller assimilation into our national life.”  Officials at IU argued that they could not admit Japanese students based on overcrowding of native Indiana students, “important laboratory research on war problems,” and the proximity of the Naval Depot for the Atlantic fleet.

Anonymous Responses to the question "Should an American citizen of Japanese ancestry be deprived of his university education?"
Anonymous responses to the question “Should an American citizen of Japanese ancestry be deprived of his university education?”

In October 1942, Bloomington residents and IU students held a Town Hall to discuss the question “Should an American citizen of Japanese ancestry be deprived of his university education?”  The responses to this question were mixed and included the following:

  • “Bring ’em here – they’re just as much American citizens as I am.”
  • “Can’t tell about loyalty even tho FBI investigated them.”
  • “Can’t be done – this is war!”
  • “A university education does not have anything to do with Japan’s policies.”
  • “I wouldn’t want to room with a Japanese but it’s all right with me if they come here to school.”
  • “Ought to lock them all up”
  • “Essential that it be done to show the practicality of democracy even in war time.”

You can read all of the responses here. A writer at the Indiana Daily Student offered some wise words in response to the chaos: “We mustn’t lose our heads in the case of hating our enemies.  We should not exclude a chosen few from the periphery of the Japanese and condemn all that has any part of Japanese of any other aliens just because we happen to be warring with their patterns of living.”

Letter from Japanese Nursing Student
Letter from prospective Japanese-American Nursing Student

A year after the town hall meeting, in October 1943, a 19-year-old Japanese-American woman wrote to Kate Mueller, IU’s Dean of Women.  She explains, “I am…greatly interested in applying for entrance into Indiana University for a year or so to take up a Pre-nursing Course.  At the present, I am employed at the Medical Center, Robert Long Hospital in the Nursing Division.  I am one of the millions of people who are engaged in an essential war industry and realize that I am contributing towards the welfare on the homefront.  However, I feel as though I could do more if I could become trained for the profession that is so vital at this time.  My parents are still at a War Relocation Authority Camp in Hunt, Idaho but are all for this plan of mine….I hope and trust in God that you will aid me in every way possible.”  Although, the Dean of Women passed along the letter with a plea to President Wells, she was forced to comply with university policies and reject the application.

Three honorably discharged veterans managed to change the prevailing attitude of university officials.  In late 1944, the Japanese-American veterans submitted letters to the Office of Admissions to request enrollment at the University.  The Board of Trustees revisited the issue of Japanese enrollment on December 13, 1944.  After reviewing the veterans’ qualifications and patriotism, the Board “approved the recommendation of President Wells for the admission of honorably discharged veterans of Japanese-American ancestry on the same basis as American citizens of any other ancestry.”  In the same meeting, they also approved the admission of Japanese-American students from the state of Indiana.

Victory in Japan was celebrated on August 15, 1945 with a formal surrender ceremony following on September 2.  The Board of Trustees finally repealed the decision to deny Japanese students admission to the University on September 21, 1945.  However, reminders of such grim wartime decisions continue to haunt many of IU’s collections.