Wylie Remixed: Call and Response Exhibit Introduction

8 framed silhouette portraits sitting on green fireplace mantleIn the last three years, Indiana University has been home to the Global Remixed Festivals. Starting in 2017, the IU Arts & Humanities Council has brought artists and scholars from across the world to come share their craft with the students and residences of Bloomington, Indiana. Each spring semester the A&H Council presents a diverse series of performances, exhibits, films, public lectures, and conferences dedicated to the global and contemporary impact of one world culture. This year as a part of the Bloomington Bicentennial, we are celebrating Indiana Remixed and exploring what it means to live in the Hoosier state. Indiana Remixed will ask vital questions about the ways we create art, community, and meaning in our state. As a center for IU history, the Wylie House will be participating for the first time during this year’s Remixed Festival.

Call and Response: Creative Interpretations of the Wylie House is an eight-artist exhibit that discusses the lesser-known histories of people associated with the 1835 home. Each artist will create installation pieces that consider the women and children who lived in the home, the African Americans who worked in the home, the displaced Native Americans who once lived on the land the Wylies farmed, the immigrants in town, and the lives of the men and women whose sexual identity fell outside the heteronormative culture. 

broken pieces of teaset china

The process of this exhibit started back at the end of the fall semester with a call out to artists and an open house tour. Each artist submitted a detailed plan for their artworks and gave information about where it could be in the home and how it interacts with the other objects. We then went through and picked out eight of the submissions to be a part of the exhibit. From there, the artists have been given a few months to work on their pieces. During this time, we have been visiting their studios and seeing the process of their pieces. The work will be installed later this month.

Projects like this have been explored throughout history museums and historical house museums across America. One that comes to mind is the Mining the Museum exhibit from 1992-93 by artist Fred Wilson. This exhibit, in the Maryland Historical Society, took a deep dive into the museum’s collections and brought up many hidden objects. Wilson took pieces that were tucked away for decades and showed them in a new light by displaying items with controversial histories together. Another example of this kind of exhibit was at the Woodlawn & Pope-Leighey House historic site in 2018. The Makers In The Mansion: A Transformed African American Community at Woodlawn through the Artisan Eye exhibit had six African American artists create installation pieces to place in the home, similar to what we are doing here at the Wylie House. With this exhibit, we would like to be a part of this new tradition of showing the forgotten or ignored histories of America.

historic black and white pictures sitting on a china cabinet depicting African American woman

Join us on March 5th for the opening reception from 5-7pm at the Wylie House. The exhibit will be up from March 5th-September 12th.

For more information about the exhibit and more stories from the Wylie House, feel free to explore the links below!

Call and Response: Creative Interpretations of the Wylie House Exhibit Website

African American History Month Article 

First Nations History Article Part 1

First Nations History Article Part 2

Lousie Bradley and Elizabeth Bishop Article

Written by Bethany Habegger

The Wylies, the Temperance Movement, and Children’s Transferware

By: Abbey Walker, Wylie House Museum Assistant

Figure 1. The Wylie House Collection of china on display in the dining room press.

In the dining room press of the Wylie house is a collection of china. Among the most discussed are Margaret Wylie’s hand-painted tea cup, which illustrates one of the first depictions of the IU insignia, and the Theophilus Wylie plate, which denotes the years he acted as president of Indiana University. Less visible and rarely acknowledged is a small, octagonal plate with an illustration of Father Matthew administering the total abstinence pledge, an oath to remain sober for life (figure 2). Manufactured sometime within the years 1838 and 1845, the Father Matthew plate was gifted to the museum by Wylie descendant Morton C. Bradley, and it may have belonged to the Theophilus Wylie family. Although Theophilus Wylie did not entirely abstain from alcohol as Father Matthew preached, he did practice and advocate for temperance. Temperance was the idea that the consumption of alcohol should be limited as overindulgence was believed to cause immorality, poverty, and poor health.

Figure 2. The illustration itself is believed to have been “prepared at the time of Father Matthew’s visit to London in 1843” where “he preached to congregations of many thousands at a specially prepared site in the Commercial Road” (TCC, 2020).

Support for the Temperance Movement was fervent during the 1860s-1900s, the same time that Theophilus and his family lived at the Wylie House. Although anti-alcohol beliefs have existed since antiquity, it was not until the mid-19th century that an organized effort gained momentum in the United States, largely due to the astounding rates of alcohol consumption at the time. In 1830, Americans drank an average of 7.1 gallons of pure alcohol a year compared to the 2.3 gallons consumed today (Benckhuysen, 2019). Theophilus Wylie himself explores the roots and perils of the 19th century alcohol epidemic in a diary entry in which he writes about his experience with an intoxicated youth:

“On coming home from Chapel, found a poor drunken boy — perhaps 13 or 14 yrs old lying or sitting on Campbell’s wall near the bridge. He told me his name was Farsan, a lie by the way, [I] found out that the name was Alonzo Taylor. He had a small bottle of Whiskey in his hand. I spoke to him & told him he had better break it. He immediately dashed it against the stones & lost its contents. On moving a little distance to speak to some young men, I noticed that he had another bottle. On approaching him, he threw himself or bent himself and covered the bottle with his side & arm — & told me to break it — this I could not do — he soon on my withdrawing broke it to pieces — I picked up a portion of the bottle, the lower part. Could see that from the label that it was perfectly pure whiskey made in Kentucky. The bottle was not large — would hold about a half pint. He staggered across the bridge & sat down on the wall & drew out of another pocke’t another bottle — this he also broke. He said he got them from Jim Kelly — & I think he had five. Could not find exactly where he lived, but some little boys went to the house of his mother & sisters, who came & with the assistance of the two young men led the poor boy home — A number of people had collected, I told them that we had in this boy an excellent temperance lecture — What ought to be done to the miscreants who give or sell strong drink to minors or anybody.”

  The young boy’s dependence on alcohol may have been encouraged by the customary recommendation of using “small amounts of alcohol as a form of medical treatment” (McAlister, 2012). During the 19th century, alcohol was commonly utilized as an anaesthetic and antiseptic; certain sects of the Temperance movement permitted its use in medicinal contexts. The use of alcohol within religious communities was no less complicated. Wine was often used in important spiritual rites, such as Catholic communion, in which the drink symbolized a reconnection with Christ and a spiritual rebirth. At the same time, the Temperance movement was largely founded upon Presbyterianism theology (the same denomination of Christianity practiced by both Wylie families), which used religious motifs to illustrate the moral dangers of alcohol not only to adults but also to children. 

One may ask: why preach Temperance to children? Joseph Livesey, an English Temperance advocate, stated that by “addressing children, we are, through them, addressing many others, older people, whom we cannot see” (McAlister, 2012). In other words, alcoholism affected not only those who consumed the alcohol but also their friends, family, and acquaintances Among these invisible people were women. Women during the 19th century were relegated to domestic duties and therefore had a much weaker social presence than their male counterparts, yet they were no less affected by the overconsumption of alcohol. One Temperance organization, the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, “advocated for women to take a leading role in opposing alcohol consumption, [by] claiming that women and children were most often the victims of its abuse” (Hedeen, 2011). As a result, it became customary to market the Temperance movement to impressionable children who had not yet been exposed to alcohol. By instilling anti-alcohol beliefs first through children, who would then model these beliefs to their parents, the movement began to enact change from the bottom to the top. It is likely that through educational mediums like the Father Matthew children’s plate, Theophilus and his wife, Rebecca, disseminated similar ideals to their six children. 

Little is known about the Father Matthew plate itself. The plate is a product of transfer printing, a process in which an engraved, flat copper plate is used to transfer a design onto a sheet of paper which is then permanently impressed onto a ceramic body. Transferware is notable for being easy, fast, and cheap to produce, making its manufacture one of the first methods of production that made decorated ceramics accessible to the 19th century’s working class. The illustrative quality of transferware was also a popular means to educate children since their interpretation of written messages was limited by their level of literacy. Illustrations made it easier to comprehend and remember the accompanying text on Temperance transferware. Since Temperance-movement children’s wares were extremely popular and accessible, it is believed that thousands of identical Father Matthew plates were manufactured (Siddall, 2020), making the Wylie’s unassuming plate on of many throughout the United States. The image itself has been reproduced onto other ceramics as well with slight variations to the illustration. The Father Matthew plate is a very small portion of the larger Temperance argument that was disseminated through tangible media. 

Figure 3. This piece of transferware exemplifies the conflation between encouraging literacy and Temperance in children. The text reads “Keep Holy the Sabbath Day” as well as “D Was a Drunkard and Had a Red Face”. The purpose of this plate was to help children learn the alphabet as well as about the physical effects of alcohol. (Siddall, 2014)

The visual arguments employed by 19th century Temperance transferware are often categorized by appeals to morality, wealth, and health. The morality category greatly coincides with social and spiritual constructs engendered by religious practices, particularly Presbyterianism. The Father Matthew plate fits most easily into this category as it illustrates the administering of a Temperance oath by a man of God. This argument is significant in comparison to other Temperance transferware in that it does not employ fatalistic narratives, such as the “road to ruin”, which depicts, step-by-step, the “downward spiral from respectability and sobriety to dunkness and moral degradation” (Murray, 2012). Much of the Temperance transferware produced during the 19th century utilizes such arguments that today would be considered scare tactics similar to the ones proliferated by D.A.R.E and the War on Drugs agenda. One infamous example is The Bottle by George Cruikshank (figure 4), which is largely considered the first visual depiction of alcoholism which “at last matched and even overtook the force of the written word” (Murray, 2012). 

Figure 4: “The Bottle” is a series of 8 images depicting the downfall of a man and his family due to alcoholism. This is the final image from The Bottle series by George Cruikshank. The text reads: “The Bottle has done its work – it has destroyed the infant and the mother, it has brought the son and the daughter to vice and to the streets, and has left the father a hopeless maniac. For all 8 illustrations, follow this link: The Bottle (Murray, 2012).

Threats to wealth, the second rhetorical strategy employed by the Temperance movement, “presented images that depict alcohol as a waste of resources, which could be better used as food and for energy in production” (McAliser, 2012). This argument likely resonated most with adults who were fiscally responsible, but the rhetorical strategy was still present in children’s Temperance imagery and practices. An example is “How Jack’s Father Spent the Beer Money” (figure 5). Tying alcoholism to poverty was an effective method of instilling Temperance beliefs as it appealed to the notion that economic stability is necessary for survival while also acknowledging that the issue is most prevalent amongst the impoverished. Other Temperance arguments further related alcoholism and poverty to children themselves, with statements such as “Drink steals the children’s food” (McAlister, 2012) effectively communicating how alcoholism disproportionately affects our posterity.

Figure 5: “How Jack’s Father Spent the Beer Money” is a graphic published in R.W. Sindall, The Band of Hope Blackboard: A Treatise on the Art and Principles of Blackboard Teaching as Applied to the Weekly Meetings of the Band of Hope” (Murray, 2012). This image was not transferred onto ceramics, but exemplifies the economic argument against intemperance.

Even today, anti-alcohol campaigns appeal to our survival instincts by demonstrating the detrimental effect alcohol has on our bodies. In the 19th century, “children were shocked with graphic images which established the physical danger that alcohol consumption posed to health” (McAllister, 2012). One example is The Stomach (figure 6), which illustrates the physical toll excessive alcohol consumption they believed to have on our bodies. Again, this argument largely employs scare tactics, which “emphasize the worst dangers of drug use in order to create fear and anxiety, in hopes that the fear alone will prevent or stop risky behaviors” (Malich and Stone, September), to persuade audiences that alcohol has a detrimental effect on health. The effectiveness of such scare tactics has been contested by modern day psychology and studies examining the efficacy of anti-drug and alcohol campaigns, such as D.A.R.E. 

Figure 6: “The cankerous stomach of a spirit drinker”, ca. 1880-1920? Hand-colored lantern slide, no.5 from the series “The Stomach” (Murray, 2012).

Through examination of Wylie artifacts and ephemera, it is unclear if Theophilus Wylie and his family advocated for Temperance arguments beyond appeals to moral and religious integrity, as is evident in the religious administration of the abstinence pledge of the Father Matthew plate. The plate itself is a novelty of the museum, not because the item itself is particularly rare or unique, but because no similar artifacts have yet been uncovered in the rich history of the Wylie family. 

Works Cited:

Benckhuysen, Amanda Joyce. The Gospel According to Eve: A History of Women’s Interpretation. IVP Academic, an Imprint of InterVarsity Press, 2019.

Hedeen, Jane. “The Road to Prohibition in Indiana.” IndianaHistory.org, Indiana Historical Society, 2011, 

Malich, Sarah and Stone, Molly. Why Scare Tactics Don’t Work. September. http://dhhr.wv.gov/bhhf/ibhc/Documents/Presentations1115/Scare%20Tactics%20BH%20conference%20%2082115.pdf. PowerPoint Presentation

Mcallister, Annemarie. “Picturing the Demon Drink: How Children Were Shown Temperance Principles in the Band of Hope.” Visual Resources, vol. 28, no. 4, 2012, pp. 309–323., doi:10.1080/01973762.2012.732029.

Murray, Frank. “Picturing the ‘Road to Ruin’: Visual Representations of a Standard Temperance Narrative, 1830–1855.” Visual Resources, vol. 28, no. 4, 2012, pp. 290–308., doi:10.1080/01973762.2012.732028.


Siddall, Judie. “THE TEMPERANCE MOVEMENT ON TRANSFERWARE.” Dishy News – A Transferware Blog, 19 June 2014, dishynews.blogspot.com/2014/06/the-temperance-movement-on-transferware.html.

Siddall, Judie. “Father Mathew”. 20 Jan. 2020. E-mail. 

TCC. “Father Matthew Administering The Total Abstinence Pledge”. Transferware Collectors Club Database of Patterns and Sources. 18 January 2020. Database. 

Food Preservation in the Nineteenth Century

The Wylie family members, living at a time before refrigeration or the ability to transport foods over long distances, were required to preserve much of their harvest. People used a variety of techniques that required intricate knowledge of the products and methods involved. Without these practices, surviving through the cold winter months would have been nearly impossible. Meat was dried and made into jerky, fruits were cooked with sugar and made into jams, vegetables were submerged in brine and pickled; all of these methods prolonged the lifespans of these essential products far beyond their normal capacity.

The Importance of Women

Historically, almost all food preparation was left to the women of the family, who had to stay at home and do all of the necessary but difficult work of maintaining the house. These jobs were no simple task, with the wide variety of food preparation methods requiring significant amounts of knowledge and technical prowess, and often taking many hours of hard work preparing the ingredients and cooking the food using the rather simple tools at hand. This knowledge was incredibly valuable, as without it the families wouldn’t have had enough food to last through the winter. The mothers of the house, as well as their daughters, worked extensively on cooking projects, but Lizzie Breckenridge truly took the kitchen as her domain. As the only long-term domestic helper to the Wylie family, she worked extensively to prepare food for them, and her talents were mentioned in letters between family members. If you would like to learn more about the roles that women and mothers played both in the kitchen and out, visit our digital exhibit on motherhood. The importance of the work put into food preparation is often undercut in favor of more masculine roles, especially regarding the Wylie’s connection with academia, but consider the difficulty and value of this work as you learn about the various processes that the women of the house had to do.

Lizzie Breckenridge in the Wylie House Kitchen

Food Preservation Techniques

The basic theory behind food preservation is to prevent harmful bacterial growth in a food product, but there are many different routes that this can take. Maintaining a wide variety of methods allowed for the preservation of a diverse set of foods, and kept dinner interesting! A few of the most popular techniques are described below, but this is only a glimpse into the complex practices that home cooks utilized.

–  Drying: The primary concern with food spoilage is the water content, without any water there’s nowhere for any bacteria to grow. Simple drying can preserve a variety of foods from meats to fruits, creating jerky and raisins in the process.

–  Salt curing: Salt is one of the primary ingredients utilized in food preservation because it effectively extracts the moisture content during the process. Straight forward salt curing techniques are most often used for curing meats.

–  Smoking: While smoking doesn’t preserve meat completely on its own, it helps to protect the outer layers of fat from going rancid. It is often used together with salt-curing or drying to fully preserve meat products.

–  Pickling: In pickling, food is typically submerged in either a vinegar-based liquid or a brine, heavily salted water, which prevents any bacteria from growing. This technique is often used on vegetables today, but historically it was also commonly used for certain fruits and cuts of meat.

–  Sugaring: Sugaring is like the sweet alternative to pickling, where fruits are kept in sugar syrup or dried and coated in crystallized sugar. Preservation processes like this one that utilize sugar work because sugar has similar moisture drawing properties to salt.

–  Jellies: Making jelly or jam requires combining fruit, or sometimes vegetables, with large quantities of sugar and boiling them. All the extra sugar that makes jellies and jams so delicious is also what makes it last so long. The sugar helps to reduce the water content where bacteria grows.


The Wylie House complex was far more expansive during the 19th century than it is today, spanning nearly 25 acres and including many more buildings than what stand today. Some of these outbuildings were constructed entirely with food preservation in mind.

This map, drawn by TAW III, depicts the Wylie homestead, with each number indicating a unique outbuilding or section of the property. A select few are described below.

3. Ice House – Before the invention of refrigeration, ice houses were used as a way to store ice throughout the year. During the coldest winter months, when lakes would freeze over, large blocks of ice would be carved out. They were kept in ice houses, surrounded by insulation such as straw or sawdust. These blocks of ice could last for many months under the insulation, sometimes even lasting until the next winter. These ice blocks were essential for storing perishable foods like milk or meat.

4 and 5. Cold Frames – Cold frames were underground storage facilities with glass roofs used primarily to protect plants during the cold winter months. Plants that were especially susceptible to the cold, such as citrus trees that supplied a vital source of Vitamin C, needed to winter in the warmer cold frames. They worked like underground greenhouses, using the consistent temperatures underground as well as heat from the sun.

9. Smokehouse – Without the ability to freeze meat, much of the family’s meat would need to be preserved. The techniques for preserving meat included salting, drying, and of course smoking. The smokehouse made smoking large quantities of meat much easier, which was imperative when whole animals from the Wylie’s farm would be butchered.

16. Corn Crib – When Theophilus III lived on the property this building was a chicken house, but prior to that it was used as a corn crib. Corn cribs were used to dry corn, which was primarily used to feed livestock throughout the year.

Beyond the buildings pictured on the map, the Wylie’s also had a pantry and a cellar in the house that were used to keep food cool throughout the year.

Primary Sources

Here at the Wylie House we use primary sources from the family in our research to get first-hand accounts of what the Wylie’s life was like. These are some of the most essential documents in our research and can be applied to many of the projects we work on, but different types of sources are utilized depending on what we are investigating. For this project two different sources were used, recipes and receipts.

Receipt from Andrew Wylie for purchases made in Louisville on September 10, 1841

This document is a receipt kept by Andrew Wylie, who maintained substantial financial records during his time at the house. While Andrew’s family grew much of their own food, the preservatives they were buying can be found on some of these documents. One of the most notable purchases here was a barrel of sugar, weighing in at a total of 279 pounds! Much of this sugar was likely used in making jams, which, alongside drying and the occasional pickling, was crucial in preserving fruit that would rot quickly otherwise.

Recipe from the Wylie’s for sweet pickled cucumbers

We believe that this sweet pickled cucumbers recipe was written by Rebecca Wylie, one of the mothers that lived in the house. It is a rather straightforward pickling recipe, describing the general techniques used for pickling that prevail today. The recipe calls for 6 lbs. fruit, 3 lbs. brown sugar, 3 pts. vinegar, 1 pt. water, and 1 cup mixed spices. The instructions read

“Scald the fruit in salt and water until a little tender then drain. Boil the spices in the water a few minutes then add vinegar and sugar and fruit and just scald.”

Other recipes from the Wylie’s can be found written in their cookbooks as well as in letters sent between family members. These recipes give us clues as to what the diet of the Wylie’s was like throughout their time at the house.

This study only offers a brief introduction into the complex world of food preparation during the Wylie’s time here. If you would like to learn about these processes further, be sure to visit the Wylie House Museum in person, we’re open from 10:00-2:00 Tuesday through Saturday!

Written by Hunter Miller, student employee

The Museum’s Entryway Mural

Written by Chloe Mccormick, student employee

The first thing that many visitors spot when they enter the Wylie House is the large mural painted in the front entryway. It’s impossible to ignore the colorful rolling hills and old style buildings that cover every wall of the entryway. Although wall paintings were common in the homes of wealthy merchants and landowners of the 1800s, the one here isn’t quite so old. The Wylie House mural was painted in 2009 by John Thom, owner of Florentine Finishes in Bloomington, and his assistant Isiah Killion.

The mural was painted in the style of Rufus Porter, a 19th century American painter known for his murals of New England landscapes. Porter, who also invented the revolving rifle and founded Scientific American magazine, painted simple country scenes on the walls of farmhouses across the northeastern United States. He usually painted on dry plaster walls with a mixture of pigment, water, and glue, which is part of the reason that his work has been so well preserved for almost 200 years.

The Wylie House mural, like the ones painted by Rufus Porter, depicts a landscape; instead of New England, however, the painting portrays scenes of 19th century Bloomington and the early IU campus. It includes the first Bloomington courthouse and the well and outbuildings from the Wylie property when it was a twenty acre farm. The structures in the mural are based on historical documents and photographs, giving visitors a glimpse into what they might have looked like in the 1800s. Among the historic buildings, the mural also depicts common activities like horseback riding, bleaching laundry, and apple gathering.

This mural may not be original to the Wylie House, but it depicts an important time in Bloomington’s history and offers a glimpse into the possible surroundings of the house when it was constructed in 1835. Next time you stop by the Wylie House Museum for a tour, be sure to take a closer look at the mural and take a step back in time.

An Introduction to the IU Bicentennial Campus Archaeology Project

As part of the Indiana University Bicentennial Project, the Glenn A. Black Laboratory of Archaeology has collaborated with the Wylie House Museum to host an Archaeological Fieldwork course for the month of June. Led by Archaeologist Liz Watts Malochous, IU students are learning archaeological field methods while searching for two buried garden beds from the second half of the 19th century. The investigation on the Wylie House Museum property utilizes correspondence, writings, photographs, and a memory map, paired with modern GIS and remote sensing technologies to identify the excavation area. The project hopes to deepen our understanding of the daily lives of the Wylie House residents, especially how their gardening practices exemplify a shift from earth 19th century subsistence farming in Bloomington to the development of agriculture and floriculture in the later 19th and early 20th century. For more details about that shift, visit IU student Maclaren Guthrie’s blog post .

Field School students pose on the porch of the Wylie House with their professor, Liz Watts Malochous.

This project contributes to the larger IU Bicentennial Project aimed at ensuring the protection of Indiana University’s cultural heritage. The front lawn of the 1835 Wylie House provides students an ideal historic archaeological site and an opportunity for community engagement with the class, so everyone can learn more about local Bloomington and IU history.

The site is open for public visitation, Monday through Friday, 8:00 am – 3:30 pm. To learn more about what the fieldwork students have uncovered, read their blogs at https://www.indiana.edu/~gbl/thedirt/wordpress/?p=448.

If you would like to see pictures of the unearthed treasures or stay updated on the progress of the dig, visit the Wylie House Facebook page, the Glenn A. Black Lab Facebook page, the Wylie House Instagram, or the Glenn A. Black Lab Instagram.

HAH! The History of American Humor: Part 2

Featuring IU Student Humor Magazines from the Indiana University Archives

By: Rebecca Karstensen, Wylie House Museum Library Assistant

***DISCLAIMER*** Contains some crude and offensive humor. Discretion advised.

If you haven’t already, take a peek at part 1 of this blog where I provide a lighthearted background on the history of humor in the United States.

As part of the Indiana University Libraries, the Wylie House Museum can utilize the Indiana University Archives to conduct research. So, I thought it might be a fun adventure to look at some of IU’s old student humor magazines. I have selected three publications from three different magazine/newspaper series to share. I hope that these magazines will provide some unexpected insight into the style, quality, and historical significance of the jokes contained within.

For more info, visit the Indiana University Archives website. I’ve provided a link with each publication that leads directly to its archival webpage.

Here’s the lineup: I’ll give you a picture of each publication, some contextual stuff, then the funnies. Savvy?

PUBLICATION #1 The Vagabond, 1923-1931

Selection: May-June 1926

C461 The Vagabond, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington

Context: The Vagabond began in October of 1923, with a twofold objective: “the magazine offers a medium of expression for the literary life of campus; and it hopes to hasten a rebirth of science, art, and life at Indiana” (quoted from the first edition copy of Vagabond). The articles published in The Vagabond were satirical, risqué, and critical of the university, which often caused a stir in the campus community.

1926 was a peaceful year in the United States, other than the Great Miami Hurricane, the death of Harry Houdini, and the introduction of the first SAT college admissions test. The First World War was long over, the union was in a state of rest, and the Great Depression wouldn’t start until 1929. In his State of the Union Address on December 7, 1926, President Calvin Coolidge states:

“In reporting to the Congress the state of the Union, I find it impossible to characterize it other than one of general peace and prosperity. In some quarters our diplomacy is vexed with difficult and as yet unsolved problems, but nowhere are we met with armed conflict. If some occupations and areas are not flourishing, in none does there remain any acute chronic depression. What the country requires is not so much new policies as a steady continuation of those which are already being crowned with such abundant success. It can not be too often repeated that in common with all the world we are engaged in liquidating the war.”

Matters at Indiana University were no more exciting. At that time 8,800 students were enrolled at IU, and based on the Indiana University faculty minutes from 1926, nothing noteworthy happened, despite the addition of the Eastern wing of the Second Library Building (now known as Franklin Hall). In fact, 1926 seemed to be an incredibly average year. Nonetheless, the Vagabond staff found plenty of things to criticize anyways.

Funny Highlights: This particular issue covers all the basics of our human existence: marriage, sex, women, war, education, family, friendship, and so on. The front and back of the book feature a few advertisements, including one for the “New Home Laundry Co.” whose catch phrase is “Not As Large As the Largest But As Good As the Best – Our Work is Proof of That”.

C461 The Vagabond, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington

Many of The Vagabond’s pieces critique Indiana University–such as “Inbred Indiana” which discusses Indiana University’s habit of hiring alumni; however, there are plenty of other styles of humor represented here. For example, here’s a poem found in the back of the magazine:

C461 The Vagabond, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington

I saw her in the hall through murky dust,
And stood transfixed by beauty undefiled.
No glaring ray of light was there to mar
That vision of an angel come to earth.
Her skin of whiteness that outshone the ray
Of wintry moon, betokened purity,
While filmy garments, clinging, half-disclosed
Her perfect breasts, her curves of innocence.
I loved her at one glance, but ‘twas in vain’
Cold marble statues have no love for man.

Here’s an example of a pun:

C461 The Vagabond, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington

Applicant: How much do I get for doing the weeping act in this show?
Manager: Thirty-five cents an hour.
Applicant: What? For crying out loud!

And another poem:

C461 The Vagabond, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington

There was a good man from Calcutta,
He talked with a terrible stutta;
He screwed up his face
When he tried to say grace
And blew his false teeth in the butta.
-Wisconsin Octopus

These more lighthearted pieces make up a small minority of this magazine’s content. So, to give a better idea of what style of humor The Vagabond focused on, here’s a small excerpt regarding yearbooks:

C461 The Vagabond, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington

The Arbutus
This is the annual record of faces mounted daintily on enamel paper and published to the great and vainglorious delight of one-half of the school and the disgust of the other half. The ten dollars each Junior is forced by the University to pay for a copy would approximately buy one book by Conrad, one by Cabell, one by France, one by Dreiser, and still leave fifty cents for a couple Whiz Bangs.

10 dollars in 1926 is worth about $137 in today’s money. That kind of money would cover the costs of all my textbooks, too, so I feel their pain. At least now we aren’t forced to buy a yearbook.


PUBLICATION #2 The Crimson Bull, 1947-1956

Selection: Greek Issue and Professor Issue, November 1948

C641 The Crimson Bull Collection, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington

Context: The Crimson Bull was launched in 1947 by the Indiana University chapter of Sigma Delta Chi, a men’s professional journalistic fraternity. This magazine was meant to replace the former Crimson Bull first published in 1920 at IU, which failed. It also provided humor after the Date humor magazine ended in 1947. The last known issue of this magazine was released in March 1956. Compared with The Vagabond, the satirical style of The Crimson Bull is much more lighthearted and goofy.

1948 saw some dramatic events, including the murder of Mahatma Gandhi, the declaration of Israel’s independence from British administration, and the creation of the World Health Organization and the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. People born in this year include Prince Charles, Al Gore, Ozzy Osbourne, James Taylor, and Andrew Lloyd Weber. However, it was a relatively peaceful year for the United States. The Second World War had been over for almost 3 years and the Great Depression had been over for nearly 10 years.

At Indiana University, nothing extraordinary happened either. In the State of the University address on December 9, 1948, IU President Herman B. Wells stated, “The past year was one of constructive activity. The detailed reports of the schools and divisions of the University record the year’s achievements . . . I cannot even summarize them in the space of this statement . . .” There were 14,414 full-time and 8,717 part-time students for the 1948-49 school year, some of which were World War II Veterans. Overall, despite a $1,412,989 deficit of funds, IU was in a state of productivity and achievement.

Funny highlights: The Crimson Bull’s humor is definitely more crude and silly. I’ve chosen two 1948 magazines which were published as companions. I have one excerpt that I’d like to share from each of them.

Greek Issue

C641 The Crimson Bull Collection, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington

The Crimson Bull writers had some strong feelings towards the Greek community at IU, which I find ironic considering the writers were members of a journalistic fraternity. There’s one excerpt from this issue that I think is captures the silly tone of the publication:

C641 The Crimson Bull Collection, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington

All Is Revealed . . . Beyond The Stone Façade
     “Ever since I saw ‘Cloak and Dagger,” I have wanted to do some undercover work. Be a real-life spy. Last week I finally got my chance.
     I was designated Special Operator 49, an espionage agent for the Crimson Bull. My assignment was to crack the Third Street Iron Curtain and find out what really goes on behind the stone façade of a sorority house.
     (Editor’s note: Just how Operator 49 arranged to get inside the house can’t be revealed now; it would cause too much unpleasantness for ourselves and a number of other persons who kidnapped the young lady whose place he took that afternoon.)
     Shortly after 3 p.m., I walked up the steps of the Sigma Epsilon Xi house on East Third. I adjusted my false front and rang the bell.
     Five beautiful girls greeted me as the door opened. They seemed a little surprised when they saw me, but managed to squeeze out an unhappy hello when I introduced myself.
     I quickly grasped the hand of the president of the house. It was so lovely I hated to let go. But she broke my grip and showed my inside. The girls didn’t waste any time trying to impress me. I found out later that my mother was supposed to have a vault that would make Uncle Sam’s Fort Knox look like a miniature wall safe.
     I gladly followed them to the upstairs lounge to play a few rubbers of bridge. I tried to talk them into another card game. They didn’t seem to care for the idea. I gave up the game for good when one of the girls started talking about clothes.
‘Oh this,’ she said, ‘I wear it to teas.’ I stumbled while moving in closer to ask whom and fell onto the lap of some pretty coed. I was just beginning to snuggle up comfortably when the rush chairman came in looking for me.
     After losing the argument, I got up and followed her on a tour of the house. Brother, the things I didn’t see! Did you know they make ladies unmentionables in six delicious colors?
     They took me into a small dressing room and offered to fix my hair. I didn’t dare remove my scarf, so I had to do some fast talking to get the girls to curl just the ends of my golden locks.
     The secretary told me that after I became an active I would have a private dressing room, but that during the short and pleasant pledge period, I would have to share my bedroom with several other girls-43, in fact. The idea appealed to me, but how could I live there sixteen weeks without having my identity discovered?
     They took me into the living room where they fed me a cup of bitter tea and some stale cookies. Guess they were trying to save on the house bill or something.
The girls apparently had rehearsed for this visit, for one of them dashed over and began playing the piano. Six others crowded around and began singing “Oh Indiana.” But this broke up fast when I crawled atop the piano and sang a little number I know about rolling in the hay fields.
     Every time I looked around, a different shape went undulating by. This had a profound effect on me. I nervously looked around for the nearest rest room. I needed a nice quiet place to map out my plans for the rest of the evening.
Once inside, I was resting comfortably, jotting down a note telling the editor I thought I’d remain for good, I had removed the scarf, hiked my dress above my knees, and was resting my aching feet, thinking just what I would do if they invited me to stay for the night.
     The door suddenly opened and the house mother was staring me in the face. I was trapped. What could I do? She just stood there, screaming at the top of her voice. I tried shoving a towel in her mouth. The towel wasn’t big enough.
Within ten seconds every girl in the house was standing there, looking in at me. I felt like a caged animal. Several of the girls shrieked. Most giggled. A few looked at me longingly.
     Four big beefers pushed their way through the crowd, grabbed me by the arms and dragged me from the house. I waited in the shrubs until dark and slipped home quietly.
I wanna go back . . .

Please understand that the Wylie House Museum does not condone the disrespect of women. I chose this piece only to reflect the style of humor contained within the magazine and it does not, in any way, reflect the opinions of our museum.

Professor Issue

C641 The Crimson Bull Collection, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington

I love the introduction in this issue, which is essentially a disclaimer that they are about to absolutely roast a bunch of professors. It ends thus:

C641 The Crimson Bull Collection, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington

“So here is your Professor Issue. It has been created in the spirit of malice towards none (to coin a phrase), and the hope of fun and laughs for all. Characters portrayed herein are real live persons, but don’t tell them about it. After all, we’d like to stick around and graduate.”

One might note that The Crimson Bull has more illustrations and cartoons that the Vagabond. Here’s a great one, entitled “An Illustrated Dissertation on I.U. Perfessors”

C641 The Crimson Bull Collection, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington

“Fraught with the wisdom of the ages, I.U.’s mighty line-up of perfessors cuts a striking picture as they mull and meditate over their morning coffee ~ here we have an excellent view of some of the sharper ones. . .

Touchingly human, our perfessors are actually frenzied in their attempts to always give the students a break on exam grades ~ the gentleman above is typical of those who work ’till the wee, late hours in their efforts to be ever sympathetic. . . But there must be a few spare moments, of course ~ and our perfessors always spend those moments pursuing intellectual relaxation.

Or a bit of brilliant, personal research, as this earnest chap in the Department of Chemistry is doing ~ who knows, he may come up with something astounding. . .

Justice ~ respect for the law ~ such qualities are virtually exuded by the stern, staid gentlemen of the Law School ~ this perfessor dotes on returning snitched articles. . .

Profound admiration for the masterpieces of the ages is constantly expressed by the Fine Arts perfessors. . .

And our perfessors of anatomy never fail to amaze classes with their perfectly prepared cadavers. . .”

These lighthearted jests towards the professors at IU must’ve been a great way for The Crimson Bull writers to relieve their frustrations as college students in a fun, non-threatening way.

PUBLICATION #3 Fun City, 1952-1979
Selection: April 30, 1976, No. 25

C664 Leon Varjian papers, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.

Context: Here’s a quote from the IU archives discussing the creator of Fun City, Leon Varjian:

“Leon Varjian (1951-2015) was a graduate student at Indiana University from 1972-1975, known primarily for his comedic news publications such as Fun City and his organized antics on the IU campus. He ran for mayor of Bloomington in 1973 and IU Trustee in 1976, though his campaign platforms were nonsensical and humorous.”

He reminds me of Vermin Supreme.

1976 wasn’t a huge year, though several significant things happened. For example, Microsoft and Apple opened one year prior in 1975, and the South African apartheid began on June 16th. NASA unveiled their first space shuttle, Fidel Castro became president of Cuba, and the United States celebrated its Bicentennial. Jimmy Carter won the presidential election and the Winter Olympics took place in Austria.

At IU, once again, 1976 wasn’t a major year, though the men’s basketball team won the NCAA championship and the first discotheque opened in Bloomington. By then, there were 4 IU campuses: Bloomington, Fort Wayne, Northwest, and Southeast. Combined, these 4 campuses had 76,771 students enrolled.

Funny highlights: This magazine-style publication has some cheeky, definitely inappropriate humor in it. You’ve already seen this little piece on the cover of the newspaper, but my favorite excerpt is on the front page, titled the “Do-it-yourself divorce hush-up”.

C664 Leon Varjian papers, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.

Here’s the thing I want to share most, though, and I almost missed it when I read through this publication the first time. I’ll let it speak for itself:

C664 Leon Varjian papers, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.

I think the acronym that he made out of his name really makes this piece.

That’s all I have to share for now! Thank you so much for spending time reading this blog, and if you’d like to learn more about the relation between the Wylie House Museum and humor, please join us for a tour! The museum is open 10am-2pm Tuesday through Saturday.

Wylie Makes IU Home

By: Brett Roberts, Wylie House Museum Bicentennial Project Assistant

“IU is home” says the t-shirt adorned by thousands of freshmen Hoosiers this past fall. That phrase is relatable to many Indiana University students as we reflect on our time as undergraduates in Bloomington. Whether we lived in Briscoe or Wright, study business or music, we have all made Indiana University our home in some way. Within this community we call home, there is quite a bit to be proud of. The top ranked public school for music in the nation, the #4 undergraduate business school, the #1 school for public and environmental affairs. Not to mention the top ranked programs in psychology, folklore, opera, and much more. IU is home to 24 NCAA National Championship teams and 145 NCAA National Individual Champions, not to mention our nearly unrivaled success in the Big Ten. All of these things fill each Hoosier with pride to be a part of a storied institution of success.

However, none of this would have been possible without one man’s risk (and I’m not talking about Herman B Wells). His name was Andrew Wylie, the first President of Indiana University. In 1828, the Board of Trustees wrote Andrew, saying “under the guidance of so experienced and able an instructor, our institution will flourish and become a praise, and a glory, to our young and rising state.” This proposition was a daunting one for Andrew. Bloomington in 1828 was on the frontier of the young state of Indiana, which was very different from Andrew’s native Pennsylvania. It was an offer to build something out of nothing in the middle of nowhere. Fortunately for 200 years of proud Hoosiers, Andrew Wylie took the job.

Portrait of Theophilus A. Wylie from the IU archives.

From 1828 until 1895, Andrew Wylie and his cousin, Theophilus Wylie, played some of the most formative roles in the founding and sustaining of Indiana University. Their history and ideas of the university have been relatively unexplored for many years. Herman B Wells bought the Wylie House in 1947 and restored the house from 1960-1964 to rediscover this critical part of our past. The museum now includes the original library of Theophilus Wylie, countless letters from the Wylie family discussing the events in the university and of the day, as well as diaries and heirlooms from the family. Why does all of this matter today though?

As I began going through 200 year old books and letters, I often asked myself that very question: why does this matter? However, as I was going through the letters and diary entries that I read and reread multiple times, I found the untold story of the people that helped build the foundation of Indiana University. In one entry was Theophilus’ reaction to the second time the university burned down in 1883. Or Andrew’s thoughts on the state sending agents to ensure the university was doing its job. A personal favorite was Theophilus’ reactions to the state government chartering that school in West Lafayette. I found that these letters, books, and diaries all had a story that enrich the story and legacy of Indiana University.

If you’ve spent any time around Bloomington in the recent years, you’ll notice that the university is preparing for its Bicentennial. This presents an opportunity for every Hoosier to look back at those stories of our University to reflect on how far we’ve come and where we still have to go. Leadership at Indiana University: Andrew and Theophilus Wylie, 1820-1890 provides students, faculty, and all Hoosiers the chance to do just that. The collections involved in this project show how they dealt with calamities such as the Civil War and how students at IU would have been impacted by the work of the Wylie’s. Looking back to the foundations of our university laid by Andrew and Theophilus Wylie allow us to move forward inspired by the past.

The little university established on the frontier of a new nation in 1820 has grown into a world renowned center for research, performance, and teaching. Indiana University has been a catalyst of change for the betterment of Indiana, and the world. IU is home to some of the world’s brightest thinkers, leaders, and to all Hoosiers, past, present, and future. We owe all of this to the life and work of Andrew and Theophilus Wylie. When you think, “IU is home” or see the 5 NCAA Basketball Championship banners in Assembly Hall, or just simply stand in awe of one of America’s most beautiful college campuses, we hope you look back at these men and their formative role in the university you know and love today. As our Alma Mater today proclaims, “She’s the Pride of Indiana,” fulfilling the Board of Trustees’ vision in inviting Andrew Wylie to become president so many years ago.

HAH! The History of American Humor: Part 1

By: Rebecca Karstensen, Wylie House Museum Library Assistant

I want to make you laugh today.

It’s April, which means we students are in the thick of our semester work, probably balancing a job, extra-curricular activities, friends, family, a grouchy landlord, or maybe even some mental health struggles. I get it, and I’m there in the struggle with you. If you aren’t a student, maybe you’re overwhelmed with work or family, or some other unexpected, joy-draining crisis. When did life become a great big toil fest?

I wrote this blog with the hope that it would bring some cheer and laughter to you, while still providing enough educational information that you don’t have to feel too guilty for taking a break to read it. After all, you’re learning something…right?

I think we can agree that there’s something about watching or experiencing something funny that makes us feel good.

Science backs up this feeling. According to this article from Huffington Post, laughter helps relieve stress and pain, boost your immune system, reduce blood pressure, stimulate your mind, and provide a good workout (around 50 calories burned for 10-15 minutes of laughter).

Want to improve your health and well-being? Just watch some vines or your favorite stand-up comedian and you’ll be on your way to bliss.

But, at least in the United States, humor had very little influence on our culture until about 100 years ago. Before that, laughing or even smiling too much was considered foolish and unintelligent. Even prominent humorists of the time, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson (pictured below), agreed with this sentiment.

From RWE’s Wikipedia page.

While traveling through England in May of 1848, Emerson wrote to a friend regarding one of his newfound English acquaintances. He writes,

“The one thing odious to me now is joking . . . The day’s Englishman must have his joke, as duly as his bread. God grant me the noble companions whom I have left at home, who value merriment less, and virtues and powers more (emphasis added).”

Yikes. That scathing review could help to explain why people didn’t smile in photos during the 19th century. Check out this video for more on that:

Fortunately for us stressed-out, exhausted ‘mericans in need of a good laugh, that attitude began to change in the late 1800s, marked by the 1871 debut of the first successful humor magazine in the United States, Puck. Inspired by the British humor magazine—Punch–Puck was a fully colorized, cartoon-filled, German-language humor magazine that ran from 1871 to 1936.

An example of a 1904 Puck cartoon. Puck is considered as the beginning of American political satire. From explorepahistory.com.

After the apparent success of Puck, humor magazines began popping up everywhere, especially among universities. Yale was the first to release a student humor publication—the Yale Record. Harvard followed with their Harvard Lampoon in 1876, and Stanford joined the club later with their Stanford Chaparral in 1899. These student humor magazines became the foundation for American comedy to flourish. Harvard Lampoon, especially, published many of the jokes that we still chuckle about today. Here’s a classic example:

“Barber – ‘Have a hair cut, sir?’

Gentleman – ‘Thank you, thought of having several of them cut.’”

Here’s a Harvard Lampoon cover from 1981. That guy’s haircut looks a lot like mine. Yikes. From mycomicship.com

To me, it comes as no surprise that one of the first true American experiences with comedy came from university student-ran magazines. We college students understand the need to let off steam, and what better way to express our frustrations than to channel them into jokes? Nowadays, one of the most popular humor websites on the interwebs is none other than CollegeHumor, a comedy website that began as a student humor magazine.

Once people began to respect humor more, comedy took off in the United States, and it’s now integral to our culture. From satirists such as Stephen Colbert, to stand-up comedians like Kevin Hart, we Americans love comedy, and our tradition of student humor magazines marks a unique form of humor.

Click here to read the second part of this blog!

Indiana University: A Nineteenth-Century Center for Science

Written by Shawn Martin and Jordi Cat

The recent development of a digital exhibit project called Andrew and Theophilus Wylie:  Leadership at Indiana University, 1820 – 1890, funded by the Indiana University Office of the Bicentennial, led to new insights about one of the campus’ earliest science scholars.

Theophilus A. Wylie was a faculty member at Indiana University between 1840 and 1885; he served as a professor of classical languages, chemistry, natural philosophy, and physics.  He was also the first librarian, vice president, and interim president of Indiana University.  Wylie’s publication record, however, does not suggest a scholar connected with the important scientific ideas of his day.  Aside from a few isolated scientific articles in the American Journal of Science and the Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Wylie was more interested in writing about local history and other topics meant for a popular audience (see a fuller discussion of Wylie’s publications in the Scholarly Communications section of the Wylie House Museum’s digital exhibits site).

Yet, a closer examination of Wylie’s personal library, preserved at the Wylie House Museum suggests the exact opposite.  Wylie had a collection of about 700 books in his home (a full spreadsheet is available). Wylie also annotated his books, and the books he annotated the most, tell an interesting story.

  1. Elements of Physics – Neil Arnott
  2. Elemens de Calcul Differentiel et de Calcul Integral – J. L. Boucharlat
  3. Elementary Treatise on Mechanics – John Farrar
  4. Elements of Chemistry – Thomas Graham
  5. Preliminary Discourse on the Study of Natural Philosophy – John Frederick William Herschel
  6. Treatise on Astronomy – John F. W. Herschel
  7. Course of Mathematics – Charles Hutton
  8. Elements of Chemistry – Robert Kane
  9. Hand-Books of Natural Philosophy and Astronomy – Dionysius Lardner
  10. Handbooks of Natural Philosophy and Astronomy – Dionysius Lardner
  11. Lectures on the Wave-Theory of Light – Humphrey Lloyd
  12. Treatise on Astronomy – Elias Loomis
  13. Introduction to Astronomy and Introduction to Practical Astronomy designed as a Supplement to Olmsted’s Astronomy – Denison Olmsted and Ebenezer Porter Mason
  14. Elementary Treatise on Curves, Functions, and Forces – Benjamin Peirce
  15. First Principles of Chemistry for the Use of Colleges and Schools – Benjamin Silliman, Jr.
  16. Treatise on Astronomy – H. N. Robinson

From this brief list, one can detect a pattern.  Many of these were well-known and highly regarded British scientists and science writers (Humphrey Lloyd, John Herschel, Charles Hutton, Dionysius Lardner); some of them were well-known figures at the forefront of thinking in physics and astronomy (besides Herschel, the Americans Benjamin Pierce and Denison Olmsted). All of these scientists were involved not only in scientific research during the nineteenth-century, but also in scientific education and public organization.  For instance, John Herschel was a leading light of British science through both his experimental researches, his methodological writings, his early leadership as a Cambridge undergraduate in the reform of British mathematics, and the foundation of the British Association for the Advancement of Science.  Also, Humphrey Lloyd was one of the founders of the British Association, later the British Association for the Advancement of Science.  And Neil Arnott went on to be one of the founders of the University of London.  Thus, Wylie’s engagement with his library shows that he was connected to some of the centers of scientific thinking, particularly in Britain, and that Wylie was interested in helping to create a system for the organization and teaching of science.  This interest is not surprising since American professional scientific societies such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science and many universities were also undergoing significant changes during Wylie’s lifetime.

One can only speculate as to how Wylie became so acquainted with these figures.  Wylie was good friends with Daniel Kirkwood, a famous astronomer, IU faculty member, long-term correspondent, and mentee of the astronomer and mathematician Benjamin Pierce at Harvard. Kirkwood and Pierce also participated together in events within the American Association for the Advancement of Science.  Additionally, Wylie was a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, where the American Association for the Advancement of Science was founded, and Wylie was a correspondent with his fellow graduate John Fries Frazer, Provost at Penn.  It is therefore possible that Wylie became acquainted with these figures through people like Kirkwood and Frazer who would have been at the center of scientific activity in the nineteenth century.  Regardless, this small list of books alone, and the fact that Wylie was actively annotating and engaging with their ideas, demonstrate how Indiana University, through faculty members like Wylie, were quite active in the scientific debates happening at an important time during United States history.  More research could help to discover how Indiana University’s leadership helped to shape science and education.

The larger digital exhibit project from which this research stems,  Andrew and Theophilus Wylie:  Leadership at Indiana University, 1820 – 1890, includes a fuller discussion of Wylie’s library as well as many other Wylie-related topics. We would like to acknowledge the help of Carey Beam, the director of the Wylie House Museum, who made Wylie’s library available and managed this project, and to Brett Roberts, project assistant, for his work in organizing Wylie’s annotations.

“Peterson’s Magazine” and Women’s Periodicals in the 19th Century

The 1881 collected editions of “Peterson’s Magazine”

A recent gift to the Wylie House Museum, the 1881 collected edition of Peterson’s Magazine allows us to peer into the writing desks and wardrobes of 19th century women. The beautifully bound book features each issue of the magazine throughout the year of 1881. Originally published as Ladies’ National Magazine in 1842 by Saturday Evening Post partners, Charles Jacobs Peterson and George Rex Graham, the periodical emerged as a cheaper alternative within the hugely popular market of women’s magazines. The publication continued as Peterson’s Ladies’ National Magazine, and then simply Peterson’s Magazine, until 1892. With a focus on the domestic and consumer lives of middle-class white women, the pages of Peterson’s featured fashion, embroidery patterns, sheet music, engravings, poetry, short stories, serialized fiction, recipes, remedies, housekeeping advice, puzzles, and more. While the content of the women’s magazine emphasized the woman’s role as centered on her family, as a wife, mother, and keeper of the household, the publication of Peterson’s, and other women’s magazines, created professional opportunities outside the home for women writers and editors. In this sense, the Wylie House’s newly acquired artifact not only provides insight on historic fashions and fictions, but also mirrors the complex experiences and expectations of 19th century women.

French fashion plate featured in “Peterson’s Magazine”

The increasing popularity of women’s magazines throughout the 1800s, as well as periodical publishing, in general, developed simultaneously with an emerging mass consumer culture, as well as rapidly advancing printing technologies and expanding services of the federal post office. Especially within the latter half of the 1880s and 1890s, magazine publication and circulation became less expensive and more accessible. The Wylie House’s Peterson’s predates many of these advancements, including lowered postage for second class mailing (1885), the invention of the linotype machine (1884), photoengraving (1886), monotype (1886), photographic film (1888), large-scale color printing (1893), and free postal delivery in rural areas (1897).

Illustration of a Linotype machine
Illustration of a monotype machine

Because of these breakthroughs, thousands of magazines publications were in circulation by the turn of the 20th century. As women’s magazine publication circuits expanded, so did advertising revenues and marketing strategies. These strategies, geared toward the middle class, domestic woman, recognized her as the primary purchaser of household goods. Within the museum’s Peterson’s, examples of publication efforts to emphasize clothing, cosmetic, and household products reveal this emerging shift in content. At the conclusion of each monthly issue, a section was devoted to the contact information of the magazine’s purchasing agent, so that women readers could send for patterns featured in the fashion sections, or a variety of other goods featured in the housekeeping sections. Each month new fashion advice and illustrations of dresses, coats, and accessories decorated the pages of Peterson’s. As the popularity of fashion periodicals, paper patterns, and home dress-making grew, the constant flow of new styles and fashionable silhouettes quickened.  Much like today, the constant stream of new, in-trend fashions prompted women to regularly reimagine their wardrobes and reopen their pocketbooks. In this way, the goods marketed toward women in the magazines of the 19th century reveal the tastes, values, and desires of the readership, while also revealing the ways in which an emerging mass consumer culture was constructing and reconstructing these tastes, values, and desires on a monthly basis.

Section of “Peterson’s Magazine” with the purchasing agent contact information

French fashion trends especially influenced the garments of American women. Like many other popular American woman’s fashion magazines, Peterson’s featured bound-in, colored French fashion plates. These beautiful works of art are noteworthy inclusions of the magazine, displaying the 19th century feminine ideal. Despite the impracticality of many of these designs for the varying lifestyles of women, Peterson’s French fashion plates, as well as the other garment illustrations in the magazine, are reflective of the styles worn by the women of the 1880s. During this time, the popular silhouette was one that emphasized the “natural” figure. The more tightly fitted skirts of the “princess line” dress required longer corsets that extended to the stomach. Just as women’s and men’s sphere became further defined a separate, the popular woman’s fashions of the era became increasingly restrictive.

French fashion plate featured in “Peterson’s Magazine”
Dresses featured in “Peterson’s Magazine”
19th century bathing suits featured in “Peterson’s Magazine”

While the content of most, primarily, sought to define women as the consumer and keeper of the household, the women’s magazine also opened opportunities for women, outside of the home. Furthermore, the popularity of these publications reflected the increased literacy and educational opportunities for women in the United States during the 19th century, largely due to the expansion of public support of education. By the end of the 19th century, many women were even seeking higher education. Not surprisingly, this came with substantial pushback that attempted to redefine women’s education as distinctively domestic. Still, many women did pursue professional work. Women’s magazines provided socially acceptable professional opportunities as writers and publishers, allowing women to actively influence and even control the content in publications like Peterson’s. Though these women often reinforced stereotypical gender roles and expectations in their writing, their careers exemplified the increasing autonomy of women within their changing worlds.

Portion of “The American Countess” by Ann S. Stephens, a serial novel featured in “Peterson’s Magazine”

While the moralistic messages of the fiction and non-fiction of women’s magazines supported an ideology of separate spheres, the female staff members of these publications were far from constricted to the home.  Highly successful female editors like Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of Ladies’ Magazine and Godey’s Lady’s Book, and Louisa Knapp Curtis, editor of The Ladies Home Journal, contributed significantly to the development of popular literature, literary change, and the presence of the female perspective within writing. Peterson’s employed many women writers, including Ann S. Stephens, who also served as an editor for the magazine. Stephen is best known for popularizing the dime novel and wrote over twenty-five novels, first printed in serial form and then in full-length volume.

Historic women’s magazines, like Peterson’s, embody an array of domestic and professional female experiences of the 19th century. Some women’s magazines even eventually provided a platform for writings on temperance and woman’s suffrage. Through the popularization of publications for women and, sometimes, by women, the desires and aspirations of women became increasingly culturally influential. An exciting addition to the Wylie House Museum, the 1881 Peterson’s Magazine book allow insights into the experiences of 19th century women and the dynamic medium of the women’s magazine.

Sheet music featured in “Peterson’s Magazine”

This post was written by Mary Figueroa, January 30th, 2018


Hartman, D. W. (n.d.). Lives of Women. Retrieved from Conner Prairie: http://www.connerprairie.org/education-research/indiana-history-1860-1900/lives-of-women

Jolliffe, L. (1994). Women's Magazine's in the 19th Century. The Journal of Popular Culture, 125-140.

MacLean, M. (2012, May 31). Ann Stephens. Retrieved from Civil War Women: https://www.civilwarwomenblog.com/ann-stephens/

Straus, D. (2014, September 25). Fashion, The High Life, and "The Duties of Married Females": 19th Century Fashion-Plate Magazines. Retrieved from New York Public Library: Fashion, The High Life, and "The Duties of Married Females": 19th Century Fashion-Plate Magazines

Women's History Blog. (2014). First Women Magazine Editors. Retrieved from History of American Women: http://www.womenhistoryblog.com/2014/08/first-women-magazine-editors.html