Theophilus Wylie, the Reformed Presbyterian Church, and Slavery

Written by Wylie House Spring 2020 intern, Abe Nemon, Masters in Information & Library Science with a Rare Books & Manuscripts Specialization

Books in the Theophilus A. Wylie Library, Photo credit: Tyagen Miller

In my previous post about the library of Theophilus Wylie, I mentioned that it offers a window into some fascinating developments in American history prior to the Civil War, and that one of the ways I came to learn about this history was through the library itself and through reading the journals Theophilus Wylie kept from 1835 until the end of his life. One of the first things I learned through reading Theophilus Wylie’s journal is that his family tree tightly wound him to a milieu dominated by ministers of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, in which his father, Samuel Brown Wylie, was a major figure. The most unusual qualities of this small but influential sect were their radical assertion of the supremacy of God’s laws over civil institutions like the U.S. Constitution, and their early and vehement opposition to the institution of slavery.

Origins of the Reformed Presbyterian Church

The Presbyterian Church emerged as the Church of Scotland in the 16th century, following the reformation ideas of the Swiss theologian John Calvin. But from the beginning, the Church of England sought to bring the Scottish church under its sway, which lead to repeated uprisings on the part of Scottish Presbyterians, who declared their independence from the English church through a series of unifying documents called covenants, the most significant of these being the Scottish National Covenant of 1637 and the Solemn League and Covenant published during the English Civil War period in 1643. The covenants declared the right of the Scottish Presbyterians to practice their own religion free from the influence of Catholic foreigners or the Episcopalian Church of England, and were signed during periods when followers of the Church of Scotland faced violent repression for openly practicing their faith. Those who secretly remained loyal to the covenants became known as the Covenanters, and alternately, the Reformed Presbyterians (to signal their loyalty to the ideals of the Reformation). They rejected any kind of political settlement with the powers-that-be, with many instead opting to emigrate from Scotland to Ireland when thousands were being killed under a brutal crackdown on Covenanters during the reign of Charles II. In Ireland they took to practicing their faith in secretive meetings called conventicles, which were closed to outsiders in order to avoid attracting the notice of the authorities. Covenanters were held in suspicion by their neighbors and labelled as “Phanaticks,” and they in turn remembered the sacrifices and martyrdom of their forebears, which caused them to hold even tighter to their heritage.[1]

In an entry for his journal dated August 27, 1838, Theophilus Wylie criticizes the depiction of the old Covenanters he read in Sir Walter Scott’s novel Old Mortality, saying that Scott “showed himself a partial writer. Exaggerating the fanaticism of the covenanters, & there was enough without exaggeration, & theorizing a gloss over the atrocities & villainy of the minions of the king. – But even with his representation I would rather be of the insurgents than of those who were endeavoring to put them down.” It is likely that Wylie read about many Scottish leaders of this time period in his 1853 copy of John Howie’s Scots Worthies (TAW 0394).

A group of Reformed Presbyterians immigrated to America in the year 1718, ostensibly to escape persecution in Ireland, though once out of danger they reunited with the Associate Presbyterian Church in 1782, and the Reformed Presbyterian Church in America largely ended its existence in America for two decades. But a second Reformed Presbyterian Church in America was begun at the end of the 18th century, at a time when the French Revolution broke out and England went to war with France in 1793. Irish Republicans were agitating for a revolt against the English Crown, and Reformed Presbyterian ministers like Rev. James McKinney were forced to leave their homes in County Antrim in Ireland after facing potential imprisonment for sedition because they had suggested in sermons that the Revolution was a sign that the end-times were near at hand. There are also strong indications that McKinney, William Gibson, and protégés like John Black and Samuel B. Wylie had ties to the United Irishmen whose revolt against England was put down in 1798, causing many who had participated in the uprising to scatter to other lands.[2]

When Reformed Presbyterian Church ministers James McKinney and William Gibson arrived in the United States, they brought with them four students: John Black, Alexander McLeod, Thomas Donnelly, and Samuel Brown Wylie (the father of Theophilus A. Wylie.) They licensed all four as ministers in 1798, and assigned each young churchman a geographic region from which to grow their ministry, with John Black ministering to what was then the western frontier from Pittsburgh, McLeod to the Northeast United States from New York, Donnelly to the South in South Carolina, and Samuel Brown Wylie to eastern Pennsylvania and its environs as minister of the First Reformed Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia.[3]

A Big Presbyterian Family

Samuel Brown Wylie, Portrait by John Neagle

Intermarriage was common among these first families of Reformed American Presbyterians. After John Black established his ministry in Pittsburgh, Samuel B. Wylie officiated his marriage to Betsy Watson, and John Black in turn officiated at Samuel Wylie’s marriage to (Theophilus’s mother) Margaret Watson. Theophilus’s sister Mary Thompson Wylie married John Niel McLeod, who after serving as pastor in the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Sarasota, NY, inherited the pastorship of the First Reformed Presbyterian Church in New York City from his father, Alexander McLeod. When Alexander McLeod passed away, Samuel B. Wylie wrote an extensive Memoir of Alexander McLeod, which tells the story of the founding of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, and when Samuel B. Wylie passed away in 1852, John Niel McLeod returned the gesture by writing his eulogy.

In a career spanning half a century, Samuel B. Wylie established himself as a significant figure not only in the Reformed Presbyterian Church, but in multiple educational institutions in Philadelphia. He became the pastor of the First Reformed Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia in 1803, was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Divinity from the University of Pennsylvania in 1828, and afterwards was made professor of ancient languages, and then the Vice-Provost of the University of Pennsylvania from 1836 to 1845. Together with the Reverend James Gray, Samuel B. Wylie also started a primary school teaching English and Classics, which he later put in the charge of his nephew, Rev. Samuel Wylie Crawford. Referred to in Theophilus Wylie’s journals as “Cousin C,” Samuel Wylie Crawford is depicted in later memoirs of former students as a strict disciplinarian who did not spare the rod, though Theophilus Wylie seems to have had a good relationship with his cousin, for his library contains both a 1615 edition of the King James Bible (TAW 0524) Crawford had received from John Black’s son Alexander W. Black and an 1829 New Testament (TAW 0821) inscribed “To my Beloved Cousin, The. A. Wylie.” The English teacher of the school was the elder Thomas McAdam, and between 1833 and 1837, Theophilus Wylie, Thomas McAdam Jr., and William Alexander worked as assistant teachers at this school.

In addition to his many other roles, Samuel B. Wylie operated the largest Reformed Presbyterian seminary in the United States, with former pupils who would go on to make up a generation of Reformed Presbyterian church leadership across the United States. When considering the illustrious careers of Samuel B. Wylie’s other mentees and adopted sons – men like John McKinley, John Niel McLeod, Francis S. Beattie, John Fries Frazer, nephew Samuel Crawford Wylie, and even Theophilus’s younger brother Theodore W.J. Wylie, who became the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia after his father’s death in 1852 – it is difficult to escape the conclusion that Theophilus Wylie was far from the first in his father’s lights, and it becomes easier to understand why Theophilus so frequently describes in his journals having feelings of inadequacy. Even so, there is no little evidence both in Theophilus Wylie’s library and his journal that Samuel B. Wylie personally superintended his education and cared about his son’s future. In Theophilus’s 1818 edition of Clarke’s Homer (TAW 0452), he writes in an endearing, child-like hand, “This is my Homer. It belongs to T Wylie,” and in the back of the book he writes, “T. A. Wylie began this June 14 1824,” and “Read the whole Iliad with Father.”

Theophilus Wylie was also during these years studying to become a minister, a vocation he felt that he had neither the desire nor the aptitude to undertake, likely following the expectations of his father. While part of his father’s seminary, Theophilus was tasked with writing and delivering sermons to the congregation, a skill he assiduously tried to develop despite making efforts to learn. He frequently outlined sermons he heard by others in his journal, and regularly consulted reference works like A Concordance to the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament (TAW 0024) to come up with subject prompts for a given phrase from each week’s Bible chapter, an activity Theophilus frequently refers to in his journal as “writing from Brown.” He was also an avid reader of both secular periodicals like the Edinburgh Review as well as religious periodicals like The Christian Messenger, The Christian Record, and The Millenial Harbinger. He continued reading and writing sermons even after changing his primary focus to scientific matters after he obtained a position as a professor of natural philosophy at Indiana College in 1837, and from 1838 to 1869 he served as the pastor of Bloomington’s Reformed Presbyterian Church. Another activity Theophilus Wylie frequently engaged in – one of the most common book-related social activities of the literate classes in the United States during this time period – was attending literary societies, where the attendees would read and discuss passages in a book, though the content could range from fiction to science to religion. Religious societies served as another venue to hear sermons and speeches – the TED talks of their day.

While in Philadelphia, Wylie also attended a meetings of the Missionary Society organized by Samuel B. Wylie, which supported the mission of church elders Rev. James R. Campbell and James Craig to found a Reformed Presbyterian ministry in India, and a number of publications found in Theophilus Wylie’s library from the Reformed Presbyterian Board of Missions would have provided him with updates on the progress of missionaries sent around the world. In one remarkable dispatch to The Missionary Chronicle from 1845, Rev. James R. Campbell gives short sketches on the children at the orphanage that he founded in Saharanpur, India. The orphans have all been given names corresponding to figures in the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Samuel B. Wylie: there’s a boy named Samuel B. Wylie, another named for Theophilus’s brother Theodore W.J. Wylie, a John Black, a John N. McLeod, a John McKinley, and even a boy named James R. Campbell; there is, however, no orphan at Campbell’s school named Theophilus Wylie.[4]

Despite his continued service as a minister, Theophilus Wylie seems to have been decidedly less sure of what he believed when it came to the great question of the day: slavery.

Reformed Presbyterians and American Slavery

Even in a new country, the Reformed Presbyterians retained their oppositional approach, for one key tenet of their beliefs was that God’s laws are supreme over the laws of human governments. In Ireland, Covenanter preachers would tell their parishioners not to pay taxes, since it was sinful to support a government that oppressed them, and which was founded on sin. In America, Reformed Presbyterian theologians would envision the new government not as one that ought to be founded on a division between church and state, but rather as one that ought to operate in comportment with the divine will. They believed the United States Constitution was a fatally flawed document. As William Melancthon Glasgow put it in his History of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in America:

Its willful omission of all reference to God the Author, Christ the King, and the Words of God as the Supreme Law of nations and civil government; its sanction and protection of human slavery, and other permissions of evil, excluded all conscientious Covenanters from swearing allegiance to it.[5]

There are two sermons in Theophilus Wylie’s library that directly address the issue of slavery. Though John Black was later to publish the sermon Slavery Contrary to the Bible (TAW 0363) in 1839, Alexander McLeod authored the earlier sermon, Negro Slavery Unjustifiable in 1802 (TAW 0548). McLeod had been asked in 1800 to become pastor of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Coldenham, New York, but refused to accept upon learning that some of the parishioners owned slaves.[6] The roots of anti-slavery beliefs in the Covenanter church had actually gone back to the 17th century, when Presbyterians sent into exile were sold into indentured servitude, so that Covenanter ministers responded by denouncing human bondage in all its forms.[7] Shortly after Alexander McLeod raised his objection to slavery among the parishioners at Coldenham, the Rev. James McKinney called together a committee of their small group of churchmen, which promptly ruled that “no slaveholder should be allowed the communion of this church.” McKinney then embarked on a tour with Samuel B. Wylie to deliver this message to Reformed Presbyterian communities in Chester County, South Carolina. They estimated that “no less than three thousand guineas were sacrificed on the altar of principle,” with only one person refusing to give up his slaves, who was excommunicated as a result. Samuel Wylie later wrote of the decision to ban slave-holding in the Reformed Presbyterian church in America, “There was no dissenting voice in condemning the nefarious traffic in human flesh. From that period forward, none either practicing or abetting slavery in any shape, has been found on the records of our ecclesiastical connection.”

Samuel Wylie would later attract a great deal of attention with his own sermon on the relationship between the Reformed Presbyterian Church and the United States government, The Two Sons of Oil (1806), in which he argued that both the Church (“the minister”) and the civil government (“the magistrate”) had been anointed by God to carry out his will. He sharply criticized the United States government for enabling immorality, and furnished its acceptance of slavery as one of the chief moral failings that should lead Covenanters to reject fealty to the Constitution:

Strange it is, indeed, that in a land of such boasted liberty, such horrid inhumanity should be tolerated! It is contrary to the Declaration of Independence, and most of the state constitutions, which justly declare, “that all men are created free and equal, and that Liberty is one of the invaluable rights with which their Creator has endowed them.” Is it not strangely inconsistent, that the constitution, the paramount law of the land, should declare all men to be free, and the laws, pretended to be constitutional, doom a certain portion of them to hopeless bondage, and subject them to the wanton barbarity of savage and inhuman masters, who, in many instances, treat their brutes with more tenderness? […] Indeed it is too shocking to find advocates among any but those whose conscience is seared as with a hot iron. Suffice it to say, at present, that there is one precept given by the Saviour, declared to be a summary of the law and the prophets, viz.; “Whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so to them; for this is the law and the prophets.” Matt. vii. 12. To which the practice of slaveholding is flatly repugnant.[8]

The Reformed Presbyterian Church’s opposition to slavery and the United States Constitution marked them out as radicals in the early nineteenth century, when at the same time the invention of the cotton gin and the Industrial Revolution were leading to a massive expansion in the number of slaves in the American South. Cotton, and the slave labor needed to process it, was creating vast fortunes both for Southern plantation owners as well as Northern industrialists operating textile mills, and by 1830 the United States was producing over half the world’s cotton.[9]

The connection between slavery, technology, and the early Republic’s drive to become an economic superpower was explicitly made by Thomas P. Jones in an 1827 address at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. After speaking at length about the progress America had made in the building of railroads, canals, and factories, Jones gets to his main argument, “I have, for some years, been convinced, that the slaves in those states might be advantageously employed in the manufacturing of some staple articles, and more particularly in that of cotton. …” I extract the following remarks from one of the essays upon this subject, which appeared first in the Ariel, published at Natchez, Mississippi: “Strange as it may appear to those who have never observed for themselves, nor reflected on this matter, it is demonstrably true, that slaves are the most profitable of all operatives in the business of manufacturing coarse fabrics, where ingenuity has furnished them with suitable machinery.”[10]

Jones goes on to say that even though he does not personally approve of slavery, moral compromises must be made in the name of progress, slaves don’t have it so bad (and other likely stories.) But in the climate of exponential economic growth and a society that viewed science and technological growth as unalloyed goods, to oppose slavery as loudly as the Covenanters did was, in the eyes of many Americans, to threaten progress and promote rifts between the North and the South; Jones’s address to the Franklin Institute was published in Philadelphia by Judah Dobson, who is referred to several times in Theophilus Wylie’s journal as a bookseller he frequented to purchase books, maps, and magazines, and this an example of how the anti-slavery viewpoint heard at home from his father compared with the general hostility to that viewpoint in the broader culture.

In his Founding Sins: How a Group of Antislavery Radicals Fought to Put Christ into the Constitution, Joseph Moore sums up the significance of Covenanters in history of American abolitionism in this way:

Covenanters mounted a witness against the sin of slavery unlike any other. First, their antislavery ideals antedated even the Quaker abolitionist movement; Covenanters were some of the first people in Britain or America to take a public stand against the institution. Second, they created a unique biblical interpretation that reconciled biblical literalism, with its clear sanction of slavery and abolitionism, with its emphasis on human liberty in a state of nature. Third, Covenanters in the South tested the limits of pro-slavery hegemony by publically lauding the American Colonization Society as the nation’s best hope to end slavery. […] Finally, Covenanters gave an unambiguous interpretation of the cause of the Civil War. They testified that the war was God’s conflict with America for the sin of slavery.[11]

Theophilus Wylie and Slavery

Theophilus Adam Wylie

Theophilus Wylie only mentions slavery outright on a handful of occasions in his journal – an apparent reticence to talk about the subject that seems notable in itself. On July 29, 1835, Wylie reports having gone to the Masonic Hall, where he saw Joice Heth, an African American enslaved woman touring with P.T. Barnum (she was his first circus attraction), who promotional posters claimed to have been born in 1674, which would have made her 161 years old. After some credulous musing on how his imagination was fired thinking what it must been like to have been alive in the 17th century, Theophilus Wylie’s description of her physical appearance – “She showed some liveliness when the flies plagued her, other times she appeared quite stupid” – does not seem to provide any clear evidence one way or the other regarding his attitudes towards slavery. He reports in his journal entry for May 31, 1835 reading a book that seems to be William Wilberforce’s Real Christianity, one of the most influential books in the history of the abolitionist movement, but all he says of it is that “he handled the subject with his style pretty and illustrations excellent,” and there are no copies of the book extant in his library.

A more revealing occasion, however, occurs Monday, August 24th 1835, as Theophilus Wylie reports attending “a meeting of young men, called to express their disapprobation of the fanaticism of the Abolitionists” at Philadelphia’s Musical Fund Society on Locust Street. Exact details of this meeting can be found in an August 29, 1835 article in Niles Weekly Register, edited by Hezekiah Niles and at that time one of the most widely read newspapers in America. Niles presents his own account of the meeting as an example of a number of meetings across the country, and the editorial slant is decidedly anti-abolitionist:

Immense meetings of the people have been held, or will be holden in east and north, as well as in the west and south, concerning the doings of the anti-slavery folks—two or three of which we publish by way of specimens of the rest. The effect of these things will be the constitution of a mighty moral, as well as physical force, to act against the fanatics, and the slaves, as conservators of the public peace.[12]

The meeting was chaired by one Mortin McMichael, who opened the meeting and (in Theophilus Wylie’s opinion) stated the object of the meeting “with considerable eloquence.” Next to speak was Jesse R. Burden esq., who Theophilus mocks and says, “His speech was about as ridiculous as his face, its principle object seemed to be to prove that slavery was in perfect accordance with the constitution of the U.S. – I would judge from his speech that he was a man of little mind and no principle, ready to say anything to please the people.” (Wylie even includes a drawing of Burden’s “comical Phiz.”) But then after him Joseph Ingersoll gets up and gives a speech, and Theophilus reacts to what Ingersoll says by exclaiming that “any one might see that he was a polished gentleman and scholar, neither of which friend Jesse R. seemed to be.”

Now it may seem very strange for the son of the author of The Two Sons of Oil and close relative to the authors of such tracts as Negro Slavery Unjustified and Slavery Contrary to the Bible to be so much as attending, much less responding in these peculiar ways, at an angry meeting of anti-abolitionists. But these responses actually illustrate the complexity of Theophilus Wylie’s early views regarding slavery.

“His speech was about as ridiculous as his face.” Drawing from Theophilus Wylie’s journal entry on a meeting where the participants debated the abolitionist response to slavery. Credit: IU Archives

The second speaker, Jesse Reading Burden (1796 – 1875), was an attorney and politician who was the Secretary of the Pennsylvania Society for the Abolishment of Slavery – in other words, one of those “radical” “His speech was about as ridiculous as his face.” Drawing from Theophilus Wylie’s journal entry on a meeting where the participants debated the abolitionist response to slavery. Credit: IU Archivesabolitionists. The argument that Theophilus calls “ridiculous” – that the United States Constitution fully sanctions slavery, therefore making the U.S. Constitution immoral – echoes both his father’s claims in the Two Sons of Oil, and the claims of James Renwick Willson, a fiery pastor of the Reformed Presbyterian Church who William Melancthon Glasgow describes as “the most powerful preacher the Covenanter Church in America has ever produced.”[13] (Though only one issue [TAW 0709] of Willson’s Evangelical Witness periodical appears in Theophilus Wylie’s library.) Willson became alternately notorious and admired for publishing and delivering before the New York State legislature in Albany a sermon called Prince Messiah’s Claims to Dominion Over All Governments. In this uncompromising sermon, Willson goes further than even Samuel B. Wylie, stating that those who refuse to submit to God and govern according to his divine wishes are sinners, that the United States Constitution not only endorses slavery, but the Congress and the Executive Branch had mobilized state power to protect the slave trade, that it was a national trade and the foundation of an evil economic system, and that founding fathers such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were deists and atheists and slave-owning sinners who would bring the wrath of God down on the nation. After Willson delivered this speech in Albany, crowds of angry anti-abolitionists burned his pamphlets on a bonfire in the city square and burned him in effigy. His sermon also precipitated a split in the Reformed Presbyterian Church in 1833 between so-called followers of the Old Light, like Willson, who took an uncompromising view towards secular society, and followers of the New Light, among them Samuel B. Wylie, who now wanted to take a more compromising position and achieve an end to slavery by some other means – an event Theophilus Wylie alludes to in his journal entry for January 20, 1833, when he says,

To describe the commotions in the Ecclesistical condition of our church would require “a forty-parson”, factum! I don’t know how to begin and if I could begin, I do not think I could ever get to an end. There are two parties, as regards number nearly equal which fight using as weapons the verbua lingua [words of tongue] most furiously. At some future time, perhaps I may give sketch of this battle, if I were a poet I would make an epic of it & call it the Wilsoniad or more classically the Voluseniad or perhaps still better the Cainocapalaiophotomachia which is being interpreted, the battle of the old & new lights.

In the same entry, Theophilus Wylie reports being sent to Wilmington to fetch Reverend Samuel Gayley, who will report to the Presbytery on political developments in the nation’s capital regarding “Gen. Jackson’s late proclamation & message with regard to the nullifiers.” With the Nullification Crisis of 1833, many of the Reformed Presbyterian (and anti-slavery) communities in the South were imperiled by rising and oftentimes violent hostility to the abolitionist cause.

But the position of Joseph R. Ingersoll, the last speaker at the putatively anti-abolitionist meeting Theophilus attends, signals the direction that the followers of the New Light wanted their anti-slavery activism to go to. Ingersoll, together with many in the circle of Samuel B. Wylie and Alexander McCleod, was a supporter of the American Colonization Society, which advocated for black slaves to be freed by allowing them to leave and create their own colonies in Africa. Supporters of this movements (in a rather paternalistic fashion) argued that the only plausible way that black slaves would be freed is if it was agreed to send them back to Africa to found their own colonies in Liberia, and they regarded this as a moderate position lying between two extremes of the pro-slavery point of view and the anti-slavery point of view, and a position that was the only one anti-slavery whites in the South could safely advocate without extreme reprisals from neighbors.[14]

Of course, not all Covenanters were in agreement with this purported moderation. James Renwick Willson, in an 1839 address regarding the freeing of slaves in Antigua, powerfully deconstructs the hypocrisies and bad assumptions tied up in the “moderate” view. After pointing out that actual freed slaves evinced little desire to emigrate from the land of their birth to Liberia, Willson writes:

But, after all, why this dread of a free colored population among the abettors of slavery? Slaveholders do not complain of the African race living among them in a state of slavery; and the advocates of slavery among us in the free states do not appear to think the Southern planters afflicted by two millions of colored people living among them. This whole outcry originates in a deep contempt and hatred of two millions of men; and a fear that, if set free, they will participate in that religious, intellectual, and moral culture that elevates humanity.[15]

It is not clear whether Theophilus Wylie was a total convert to the New Light point of view. In his journals he reports on two occasions attending meetings of activists with the African Colonization Movement, but on another occasion he also goes to an abolitionist meeting and – finding it poorly attended – immediately leaves. There is one more episode recounted in Theophilus’s journal from the 1830s that points to his overall sense of confusion and ambivalence regarding the issue of slavery. On August 9, 1835, Theophilus goes to Judah Dobson’s to get some pamphlets and book, then goes to the house of a Mr. Scott, “and was there consulted, as a literary man! by Mr. Greaves [unknown], on the Curse of Canaan, whether that applied to the Negroes or not, was not very well prepared, and perhaps at last he thought he had got the wrong &c and then home.” It is hard to parse this interaction, but this Mr. Greaves seems to be touting the idea of the Curse of Canaan (also known as the Curse of Ham), a disputed reading of the Bible which holds that African people are descended from Noah’s cursed son Ham, an idea which was used to denigrate African Americans and justify slavery. It is difficult to ascertain is whether Theophilus was caught flat-footed either because he initially felt inclined to argue an opposite position but was unprepared, or whether he had simply never encountered the argument before in the first place.

Problematically, the trail of evidence for Theophilus’s views on slavery runs cold for the ensuing two decades as Theophilus gains his position as a professor of natural philosophy at Indiana College. His journal entries become more terse and lacking in narrative detail, but when we next encounter an incident suggestive of his views, he seems to have moved to an ardent pro-abolitionist position – as did many Americans in the northern states in the years leading up to the Civil War. In an entry in his journal dated January 30, 1857, he writes that he “read Senator Wilson’s admirable speech on the Presidents Message. The senator lifts up his voice like a man. – Heard yesterday that the Scoundrel Brooks of S.C. had been called to his final acct.” The events alluded to are the so-called Brooks-Sumner Affair, in which a pro-slavery Democratic Senator from South Carolina, Preston Brooks, beat the anti-slavery Republican Senator Charles Sumner on the floor of the Senate in retaliation for a speech Sumner had given criticizing slave-holders. The event outraged northerners while many southerners applauded Brooks’s actions, and Brooks also challenged Senator Henry Wilson, the Republican leader of the pro-abolitionist faction in the Senate to a duel, but Wilson declined. It is likely that a number of events including the Brooks-Sumner Affair, passage of the Fugitive Slave Act, the Border War in Kansas, and the publication of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, would have hardened Theophilus’s views (as they did for many in the North) against slavery and made them supporters of Abraham Lincoln in the presidential election of 1860.

Another influence on Theophilus Wylie’s thinking may have been his involvement with the religious community in Bloomington. In his 1940 study of Bloomington’s religious communities, Anton T. Boisen (T.A. Wylie’s grandson, a chaplain and a notable figure in psychiatry and the study of American religion) writes that when his grandfather arrived in Bloomington in 1837, he found the city’s Presbyterians split into no fewer than four separate sects: a sect of the Reformed and Associated Presbyterians that had merged together in 1782; a Seceder church consisting of those who refused to go along with this merger; the Reformed Presbyterian church Theophilus Wylie became pastor of, which was of the New Light persuasion espoused by Theophilus Wylie’s father; and a church that held to the Old Light ideals, which was led by Rev. James Faris, a native originally of Chester County, South Carolina who had decamped to Bloomington in 1816 with his Covenanter followers when their anti-slavery views made remaining in the South untenable. Boisen writes that the Reformed Presbyterian communities of Bloomington were considered a friendly place for escaped slaves to be directed as part of the Underground Railroad, and Faris was among those known to be either supportive or active in this effort.[16] The suitability of Reformed Presbyterian communities as way stations for the Underground Railroad would have been enhanced by the fact that, unlike the non-violent Quakers, the Reformed Presbyterians had no qualms about using firearms to protect themselves.[17] It is possible that living and preaching in an anti-slavery community on the periphery of American settlement contributed to turning Theophilus Wylie against slavery, though his journal offers scant evidence to support this. We do find that in 1868 (three years after the Civil War) Theophilus Wylie seems to have been part of some kind of reconciliation between the New Light and the Old Light churches in Bloomington, though as with all histories of the uniting and dividing and subdividing of Christian sects, the story is complicated.[18]

[1] On the “cellular” structure of radical Presbyterianism communities and the use of the term “Phanatick,” see Moore, Joseph S. Irish Radicals, Southern Conservatives: Slavery, Religious Liberty, and the Presbyterian Fringe in the Atlantic World, 1637-1877, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2011. 3473475.

[2] Roulston, William J., “The Reformed Presbyterian Church and Antislavery in Nineteenth-Century America,” Faith and Slavery in the Presbyterian Diaspora, Taylor, William Harrison and Peter C. Messer eds., Lehigh University Press, 2016, p. 152. Cf. Chapter 19, “Reformed Presbyterians and Rebellion-Related Migration,” by Peter Gilmore in Exiles of ’98: Ulster Presbyterians and the United States, Gilmore, Peter, Parkhill, Trevor and William J. Roulston, eds., Ulster Historical Foundation, 2018.

[3] The most comprehensive first-hand account of these events may be found in Wylie, Samuel Brown, A Memoir of Alexander McLeod, Chs. 3-4.

[4] James R. Campbell, “Foreign Missions,” The Missionary Chronicle, May 1845, p. 68.

[5] Glasgow, William Melancthon, History of the Reformed Presbyterian church in America: with sketches of all her ministry, congregations, missions, institutions, publications, etc., Baltimore: Hill & Harvey, 1888, p. 79.

[6] Ibid, pp. 79-80. McLeod, Rev. Alexander. Negro Slavery Unjustifiable: A Discourse. New York: Alexander McLeod, 1802, p. [5]. Wylie, Samuel Brown, Memoir of Alexander McLeod, New York : C. Scribner, 1855. pp. 53-54.

[7] Roulston, ibid., p. 154 and n. 22.

[8] Wylie, Samuel Brown. The Two Sons of Oil; or, The Faithful Witness for the Magistracy and Ministry Upon A Scriptural Basis, Greensburg [Pa.] : from the Press of Snowden & M’Corkle, 1803, p. 61-62.

[9] Moore, Joseph S., Founding Sins: How a Group of Antislavery Radicals Fought to Put Christ Into the Constitution. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2016, cf. chapter 4, “Slavery and the Sin of Secular America” and passim.

[10] Jones, Thomas P., An address on the progress of manufactures and internal improvement, in the United States; and particulary, on the advantages to be derived from the employment of slaves in the manufacturing of cotton and other goods. Delivered in the hall of the Franklin Institute, November 6, 1827, Philadelphia: Judah Dobson, pp. 10-11.

[11] Moore, Founding Sins, p. 88.

[12] Niles, Hezekiah. “Meeting at Philadelphia.” Niles Weekly Register. Fourth Series, No. 26, Vol. XII. Baltimore: August 29, 1835, p. 456. Accessed here.

[13] Glasgow, History of the Reformed Presbyterian church in America, p. 725.

[14] On Samuel Wylie and Alexander McLeod’s involvement in the ACS, see Moore, Founding Sins, pp. 99-100. On the topic generally, see Burin, Eric, Slavery and the Peculiar Solution: A History of the American Colonization Society, Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2008.

[15] Willson, James R. An Address on West India Emancipation. Delivered on the First of August, 1838, before the Union Anti-Slavery Society of Philadelphia. Philadelphia: Merrihew and Gunn, 1838. Moore (p. 100) quotes John Black in The Bible against Slavery (1839) espousing similar sentiments regarding the hatred underlying the hypocrisy.

[16] Boisen, Anton T., “Divided Protestantism in a Midwest County: A Study in the Natural History of Organized Religion,” The Journal of Religion, Vol. 20, No. 4 (Oct., 1940), p. 365. Boisen does not give a source for this claim, but in a captivating 1917 article Henry Lester Smith relates a number of individuals, based on oral testimony from descendants, attested to have been active in the Underground Railroad in and around Bloomington. Smith, Henry Lester. “The Underground Railroad in Monroe County.” Indiana Magazine of History, vol. 13, no. 3, 1917, pp. 288–297.

[17] Moore, Founding Sins, p. 98-99: “What set Covenanters apart from other stations was the use of force. Unlike the pacifist Quakers, the Covenanters held no reservations about employing firearms in a righteous cause.”

[18] Boisen, “Divided Protestantism,” p. 366, n. 9.

Exploring the Library of Theophilus Adam Wylie

Written by Abe Nemon, Wylie House Intern and IU Graduate Student

May 6, 2020

historic books and furniture
Theophilus Adam Wylie’s library in the Morton C. Bradley, Jr. Education Center

In the top of a bookcase at the Wylie House Museum, in a room which houses the working library of former Indiana University interim president and university librarian Theophilus Adam Wylie (1810 – 1895), there is a plaque on display that communicates the intentions of Theophilus Wylie’s grandchildren, Anton T. Boisen and Marie Louisa Boisen, in donating their grandfather’s library to Indiana University: “It is placed here by [Theophilus Wylie’s] grandchildren in the belief that it has a story to tell of the type of culture and scholarship for which the university stood in the days when it was young.” But what is that story? I began my internship with Wylie House Museum this Spring with the vague understanding that T.A. Wylie was a professor of natural sciences at Indiana University and was also a Presbyterian minister; but as my research into the provenance of Theophilus Wylie’s books has deepened, I’ve come to see that Theophilus Wylie’s grandchildren were right: his library tells a fascinating story not only about the history of Indiana University, but also about historical developments – in science, religion, industry, immigration, and slavery – that reshaped America in the decades leading up to the Civil War.

plaque stating "library of Theophilus Adam Wylie Professor of Natural Philosophy Indiana University from 1837 to 1886
Plaque donated by Anton and Marie Louisa Boisen

A principal concept in the field of archives is respect des fonds, which means keeping a collection of materials together instead of scattering them to different parts of a library, with the idea that the provenance – or source of origin – can tell us a great deal about how the materials were used, when and why they were obtained, and how the books traveled over the course of their lives. The major task of my internship with the Wylie House Museum and the E. Lingle Craig Preservation Lab has been to examine each book one-by-one in order to correct and build upon inventories of these books made by previous students and staff at the Wylie House. These enhancements included ensuring that each item was findable through accurate location data, that multivolume sets were reunited and consolidated into single records, that main titles and additional title information were recorded separately from spine labels, and that authors were identified not just by their names as written in the book, but also by an authorized name from the Library of Congress Name Authority File (LCNAF) which would allow each book to be linked to a specific person in history. Standardizing this data is important because it allows the library to be analyzed in its totality – for example, by charting historical trends in what subject areas, places of publication, and publishers are most represented over the course of Theophilus Wylie’s career as a collector, which can inform both an analysis of his activities and interests as well as providing a snapshot of sorts of the history of the book in America during the nineteenth century.

Theophilus Wylie: Minister and Professor of Natural Philosophy

Theophilus A. Wylie

Theophilus Wylie was initially hired by Indiana University as the college’s professor of natural philosophy and chemistry, in 1837 when his cousin Dr. Andrew Wylie was the institution’s president. He had been born in Philadelphia, attended the University of Pennsylvania from 1828 until 1833, and had been licensed as a Reformed Presbyterian minister in 1836, but when he arrived in Bloomington his focus quickly turned to the sciences, and in his early career he is credited with building the university’s first chemistry lab in 1840, with introducing geology instruction to the university, and appears to have become the university librarian after 1841, serving “until 1879, a period of thirty-eight years, the longest tenure” of any university librarian at the institution.[i] He later was appointed to serve as Professor of Ancient Languages from 1863 to1867 and as chair of Natural Philosophy from 1867 to 1886, and was called on to serve as the interim president of the university on three occasions, in 1859, 1860, and 1875.[ii] Though he was never chosen as the institution’s permanent president, the Indiana University catalogue from the years 1854 to 1856 places Wylie third on its list of faculty, and from the 1857-1858 to the 1892-1893 catalogues, he was never placed lower than second.[iii] Despite his longevity and apparent influence, T.A. Wylie seems to have had a retiring demeanor, as attested by his former student and colleague Amzi Atwater:

A student who should have met Doctor Wylie on the street in those days-a man of small stature and weak voice and half diffident, unworldly manner certainly far from self-confidence-would hardly have been able rightly to estimate him. In order to do so, he would need to visit him in his rare old home and see him in the midst of his most interesting family and accept their generous hospitality. He would thus see him surrounded by every indication of old time learning and refinement such as few have enjoyed. He would see him in the midst of his books, his pictures, his ancestral portraits and paintings and mementos of other times and scenes. Only thus would he realize his hereditary touch with scholars, divines and great missionaries and the noble forces leading to the world’s advancement.

I would agree that spending time with Theophilus Wylie’s books is one of the best ways to get to know him. His library attests to the breadth of his interests, which encompassed classical Greek and Latin literature, theology, physics, chemistry, astronomy, geology and what was then known as “practical science” or mechanics. His books were evidently read, as many contain annotations, mathematical formulas, and numerous drawings of faces and other odd scenes that could serve as material for a study in themselves. Though more of Theophilus Wylie’s time was taken up with scientific topics than literary ones, he was a long time reader of literary periodicals like the Edinburgh Review (TAW 0375) and the Quarterly Review (0461), and his library contains the occasional literary surprise, like an 1836 copy of Robert Southey’s anonymously published Robert Burton-style miscellany, The Doctor (TAW 0173).

Two Kinds of Books in Theophilus Wylie’s Library

Samuel B. Wylie

Soon after I began examining the books in Theophilus Wylie’s library, however, I began to notice an overall pattern in terms of their subject matter and apparent provenance. While many of the books were about scientific subjects and were signed by Theophilus Wylie, a large portion of the books – no fewer than 80 separate titles – are also signed “S.B. Wylie,” “Samuel B. Wylie,” “SBW,” “Sam. B. Wylie,” which I subsequently learned were abbreviations of the name of Theophilus Wylie’s father, Samuel Brown Wylie (1773 – 1852), a Reformed Presbyterian minister and classical scholar who has turned out to be a more and more significant figure the more I have learned about him. Samuel Brown Wylie was the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia from 1803 until his death. He was made a member of the American Philosophical Society in 1806, was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Divinity from Dickinson College in 1816, and was made Professor of Ancient Languages at the University of Pennsylvania in 1828, and then served as the Vice-Provost of the university from 1834 to 1835. In an entry in the Rev. John L. Blake’s Biographical Dictionary published in Philadelphia in 1857, Blake writes that “Few men have ranked higher than Dr. Wylie in classical literature and theological attainments—as a successful teacher, a good pastor, or a practical Christian.”[i]

The books bearing Samuel B. Wylie’s signature cluster into a handful of categories, which (before I performed any research) told me quite a bit about his interests. They include reference works reflecting Samuel B. Wylie’s status as a scholar of classical philology, such as a 1823 copy of Alexander Murray’s A History of the European Languages (TAW 0219), an 1831 New Greek and English Lexicon by James Donnegan (TAW 0577), Josiah W. Gibbs’s Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (TAW 0441), etc. A great number of these books are editions of Greek and Latin writers, Lucian, Juvenal, Sophocles, Pliny, Lucretius, Herodotus, Horace etc., as well as 40 volumes of the Classical Journal. But while most of the books attributable to Samuel B. Wylie relate to classical philology, there are also a surprisingly large number of books on scientific and technical subjects, such as Gregory Olinthus’s Treatise on Astronomy and James Ferguson’s Astronomy Explained Upon Sir Isaac Newton’s Principles  (TAW 0263 & TAW 0266), John Winthrop’s Two Lectures on Comets (TAW 0065), George Adams’s Astronomical and Geographical Essays (TAW 0265), and Jacob Bigelow’s Elements of Technology (TAW 0237). The presence of scientific tracts in Samuel B. Wylie’s collection is less surprising however when we consider his membership and active service in panels of the American Philosophical Society, a position that brought him into contact at the society’s meetings with prominent figures like founding father Thomas Jefferson, the chemist Robert M. Patterson, and the geologist William H. Keating. There are also among the books Theophilus Wylie inherited from Samuel B. Wylie a number of older books from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, including a monumental six-volume set of Brian Walton’s polyglot Bible of 1657 (TAW 0471) and a 1672 copy of the works of Descartes printed by Daniel Elzevir (TAW 0112.)

Why Science?

Beyond the books that may be classed as Samuel B. Wylie-related books, there are a larger number of books related to the sciences, and these are signed by Theophilus Wylie and not his father. As Shawn Martin found in his examination of Theophilus Wylie’s library, the authors of these books seem generally to be his contemporaries in the larger world of early nineteenth century British and American science.[1] And yet, the science books in the library seemed to form such a distinct group that I felt there had to be some more meaningful story behind this polarity I had come across – between science and invention on one-side, and the religion and classics-oriented world of Samuel B. Wylie on the other. There had to be a reason why Theophilus Wylie would move away from his father’s calling as a minister and into this new world of science and technology. Unlike J. Lawrence Smith (whose vision of scientific engagement Shawn Martin contrasts with Wylie’s), there was little in Theophilus Wylie’s background prior to 1837 which connected him in any official capacity with the world of science. What formal ties can be discerned from T.A. Wylie’s journal consist in his education at the University of Pennsylvania and his father’s membership in the American Philosophical Society. In order to answer the question, “Why did Theophilus Wylie choose science?” I had to go beyond the library and consult other sources, such as the journal Wylie wrote from 1835 till the end of his life.

The journals show that Theophilus Wylie did have informal connections to the world of early American science even when he was still in Philadelphia. He was a close friend of John Fries Frazer (1812 – 1872), the future editor of The Journal of the Franklin Institute and a successor in the position of Vice Provost of the University of Pennsylvania to Samuel B. Wylie, who after Frazer lost both of his parents when he was eight years old, “who took the youth into his family, and brought him up as one of his own children, while preparing him to enter the University of Pennsylvania, where he was graduated in 1828, at the head of his class.”[2] In 1835, Frazer was an assistant geologist working for the University of Pennsylvania under Henry Darwin Rogers and helping him produce his geological surveys of the states of New Jersey and Pennsylvania, both of which are represented in T.A. Wylie’s library (TAW 0402 & TAW 0402), although the former is actually inscribed by Rogers to Samuel B. Wylie. (Also bearing Samuel B. Wylie’s name is T.A. Wylie’s copy of the Geological Manual written by Henry Thomas De La Beche [TAW 0267], who Rogers had studied under in Europe before returning to Philadelphia in the early 1830s.[3]) During the years 1835 – 1837, Rogers was off visiting Europe to raise money for Girard College, at that time a brand new boarding school for orphan boys in Philadelphia, and in Theophilus Wylie’s journal he reports visiting Girard College on a number of occasions with Frazier.

But a keystone event in the history of T.A. Wylie’s development into a professor of natural philosophy would seem to be the trip he reports taking with Frazer on August 25, 1835 up to geological sites around the Manayunk banks on the Schuykill River. In this lengthy entry to his journal, Wylie waxed poetically about the scenery and the minerals that Frazer shows him – “the place was delightful, and we spent an agreeable half hour in it, just such a place, would the ancients have dedicated to Diana, or some of the Potamides.” After returning home, he goes the next day to talk to Frazer again, and “while in his room looked at some admirable etchings by Retsch, for the song of the bell, nothing for a long time has pleased me so much, there cannot be more poetry in this poem itself than there is in the sketches.” Though it is hard to say whether Wylie’s relationship with Frazer was the definitive factor in leading him to pursue a career in the sciences, Wylie’s palpable enthusiasm for geology contrasts with the anxiety he feels over his competency to be a minister, which he evinces in a number of journal entries preceding his move to Bloomington, afterward reflecting, “Do we serve God more by trying to attend to subjects which do not interest us, or by meditating on things which do, even though they be not of the kind commonly considered religious?” Nonetheless, Wylie did continue to preach and served as the pastor of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Bloomington from 1838 until 1869.[4]

Where Did the Books Come From?

A distinct shift happens in T.A. Wylie’s journal after he is hired as professor of natural philosophy and chemistry at Indiana University as Wylie reports purchasing and using a large volume of books on the sciences. And when we examine the distribution of publication dates across all of Theophilus Wylie’s books, it does appear that the greatest portion of them were acquired in the two decades after he took on the role of Professor of Chemistry and Natural Philosophy in 1837, with his purchasing activity cooling off after 1860.

graph of publication date distribution of T.A. Wylie Library

The question of how the books were acquired is a thorny one, because they can be traced to a wide variety of sources. As James R. Green describes the situation in the early years of the American publishing industry in his chapter of A History of the Book in America, Volume II, the work of publishers was not wholly distinct in this period from that of booksellers.[5] On several occasions we find Theophilus Wylie report that he went to “Mr. Dobson’s” to buy books and maps, and this favored bookseller is apparently Judah Dobson, who also served as the main publisher of the Journal of the Franklin Institute and was the son of Thomas Dobson, a Philadelphia publisher most famous for adapting the Encylopaedia Britannica to the American market as Dobson’s Encylopaedia.[6] But the books Wylie purchases from Judah Dobson are not, for the most part, published by Dobson, because the primary source of Dobson’s revenue is not his original publications, but rather his bookstore and distribution of imported book from other publishers. By Theophilus Wylie’s time, the publishing and bookselling industry had become highly cooperative.

Early on, American publishers primary focused on reprinting British books and distributing them within geographically limited distribution areas. The publishing houses that ultimately became the most successful in the mid-nineteenth century both produced original books and developed extensive distribution partnerships with local booksellers in far flung places like Cincinnati, Louisville, Indianapolis, and eventually Bloomington. We can see evidence of both sides of these publisher-bookseller partnerships in Theophilus Wylie’s library. First, we can see that among the cities listed for Place of Publication, a handful of cities dominate:

Date Distribution – Places of Publication

City Frequency Percentage Average Yr Median Yr Mode St.Dev.
New York 270 27% 1851 1850 1853 19
Philadelphia 211 21% 1845 1843 1845 18.6
London 111 11% 1802 1821 1831 57.7
Boston 90 9% 1854 1851 1882 22.6
Cincinnati 63 6% 1851 1852 1850 9.9
Indianapolis 23 2% 1864 1859 1859 17.7
Other 235 23% 1817 1836 1834 65.3
Total 1014 100% 1836 1844 1845 46.0

We can see likewise the dominance of publishers with large distribution networks, like the firm of Matthew Carey in Philadelphia, later to become Carey, Lea, and Blanchard, and Harper & Brothers of New York, who became more market-dominant as the century wore on:

Number of Books By Publisher

Publisher Number of Books City Located In
Harper & Brothers 55 New York
Carey, Lea, & Blanchard 28 Philadelphia
D. Appleton & Company 12 New York
James Munroe and Company 7 Boston

There were some nascent publishing industries in both Cincinnati and Indianapolis from the 1830s onward, but they both late and faded early due to the development of train networks that made regional hubs for book distribution lose importance. Once Theophilus Wylie moved to Bloomington, however, the existence of local booksellers continued to be important because these booksellers were able to order books from the large publishers of the major cities. We can see evidence of this in Theophilus Wylie’s library in the form of bookseller stickers inside the books. Hence William Enfield’s Institutes of Natural Philosophy, Theoretical and Practical (1832), a book published by the Boston firm Hilliard, Gray, Little, Wilkins, has a sticker stating that it was “Sold by Morton & Smith, Booksellers & Stationers, Louisville” (TAW 0272), and there are similar bookseller stickers for other merchants in Philadelphia, Lexington, KY, Bloomington, and Mitchell, IN. We can see multiple references in Theophilus Wylie’s journals to one of these distributors, Joseph Whetham (“Mr. Whitham”) in scattered journal entries from the Fall of 1838, when Wylie is traveling back from Bloomington to Philadelphia to get married, and upon his return he has ordered “the box of books from Whitham wt. 25 cost to P. 1.56.” He notes in another entry that he has “Ordered from Mr. Whitham,” what appears to be classroom sets of textbooks:

  • 20 copies Farnais Mec at 2.75
  • 25 copies Turners – at 2.00
  • 25 copies Baehis Brewster  .20
  • 1 Olmstead 5.00
  • vide [see] bill

He later writes that “5 dos or a dollar’s worth of Catechisms were not sent by Whitham,” and later notes paying some $145 dollars to Whihtam, and makes reference to Whitham transporting the materials “to Pittsburgh.” Whitham may perhaps be identified (by a bookseller’s sticker) as Joseph Whetham – a copy of R.A. Davenport’s Manual of Analytical Chemistry published in London by Thomas Tegg is labeled as, “Imported by J. Whetham, Theological & Classical Bookseller, No. 144 Chesnut street, Philadelphia” – by it is difficult to ascertain if Whetham would have been responsible for the entire transportation of these books from Philadelphia to Bloomington or if his job was merely to get them on a boat in Pittsburgh, whereby they might be sent on to Cincinnati or Louisville to be picked up and taken the rest of the way. Here, as is often the case when dealing with original documents, the picture we get is only partial.

One lingering question that I had while examining Theophilus Wylie’s library was how he knew which books to order from New York and Philadelphia, or which to acquire on his occasional trips back. The Indiana University Catalogues from 1854 onward list books that were used as classroom texts for various courses that were taught in the sciences, and it is frequently found that these books are not only present in Theophilus’s library, but they are often heavily annotated, indicating that were used directly in the course of Theophilus’s lectures. But as to how T.A. Wylie kept abreast of the latest textbooks and development in the sciences, the answer would seem to lie in his sets of periodicals like the Edinburgh Review (TAW 0375), the Quarterly Review (TAW 0461) and the Journal of the Franklin Institute (TAW 0625), where he not only would be able to read scientific papers but also reviews and advertisements of the latest publications.

[1] “Biographical Notes,” Theophilus A. Wylie papers, 1814-1992, bulk 1830-1895, Indiana University Archives. Accessed here. Lane, N. Gary, Geology at Indiana University, 1840-2000, Bloomington, Ind. : Dept. of Geological Sciences, Indiana University, 2000, pp. 1-8. This estimate of T.A. Wylie’s tenure as university librarian by Mildred H. Lowell in her 1957 dissertation, Indiana University Libraries, 1829-1942, pp. 41-43, needs to be adjusted downward to account for his two years at Miami University from 1852 to 1854.

[2] Atwater, Amzi. “Indiana University Forty Years Ago.” The Indiana Magazine of History, vol. 1, no. 3, pp. 146–148.

[3] The Indiana University Catalogue … Register … Announcements. Bloomington, IN, 1854-1895.

[4]Blake, Rev. John L., “Wylie, Samuel Brown, D.D.,” A biographical dictionary : comprising a summary account of the lives of the most distinguished persons of all ages, nations, and professions; including more than two thousand articles of American biography, 13th ed., Philadelphia : H. Cowperthwait & co., 1859., p. 1355.

[5] Martin, Shawn, “A Tale of Two Models: Theophilus A. Wylie and Higher Education in Nineteenth-Century Indiana,” Indiana Magazine of History, Vol. 115, No. 1 (March 2019), pp. 20-41.

[6] “Frazer, John Fries,” The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, New York : James T. White & Company, 1898, p. 348.

[7] “Sketch of Henry Darwin Rogers.” Popular Science Monthly, Vol. 50, December 1896.

[8] Hammel, Bob and Don Root. “Church History.” United Presbyterian Church, Bloomington. URL: https://upcbloomington.org/church-history/

[9] Cf. James N. Green’s essay, “Part 1: The Rise of Book Publishing,” in A History of the Book in America, Volume 2, An Extensive Republic: Print, Culture, and Society in the New Nation, 1790-1840, Gross, Robert. A and Mary Kelly, eds., Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010.

[10] Cf. Arner, Robert D. (1991). Dobson’s Encyclopaedia: The Publisher, Text, and Publication of America’s First Britannica, 1789-1803. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

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.

www.indianahistory.org/wp-content/uploads/1d7d71dfbb39529a736fdba5279a5ba9.pdf.

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.

Outbuildings

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

Despair
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.
-Pourquoinot

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 . . .
-RED LETTER

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!