HAH! The History of American Humor: Part 1

By: Rebecca Karstensen, Wylie House Museum Library Assistant

I want to make you laugh today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

From RWE’s Wikipedia page.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Barber – ‘Have a hair cut, sir?’

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

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

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

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

Click here to read the second part of this blog!

Indiana University: A Nineteenth-Century Center for Science

Written by Shawn Martin and Jordi Cat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 1881 collected editions of “Peterson’s Magazine”

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

French fashion plate featured in “Peterson’s Magazine”

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

Illustration of a Linotype machine
Illustration of a monotype machine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sheet music featured in “Peterson’s Magazine”

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


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

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

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

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

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

Sleep Tight, Don’t Let the Bed Bugs Bite – A Myth Debunked

Written by Rebecca Karstensen, Wylie House Museum Assistant and Docent

Edited by Jean Graves, Associate Instructor and PhD candidate, Indiana University and Carey Beam, Director, Wylie House Museum

Feature photo from nameberry.com

Here at the Wylie House Museum and at other house museum across the country, we docents love to share old stories and sayings that we’ve learned and acquired over the years. One of my personal favorite stories is the history of the saying “sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite”. The typical presentation of the story follows along these lines:

In the 1800s and early 1900s, mattresses were held on bed frames using a woven rope design. These ropes needed frequent tightening to ensure a taut, firm mattress for a good night’s sleep. Hence, the phrase “sleep tight” was born. The mattresses were often stuffed using straw, shredded corn husks, or down feathers. These materials attracted bed begs, and so over time it became a common phrase to say “sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite.”

A typical rope bed frame. From pinterest.com

Stories and myths like this one are very common among house museums. We love to leave visitors with new, exciting information that they can share with the rest of the world, and so it’s quite easy for false information to spread rapidly across the house museum community.

Such is the case with the story of sleeping tight.

To begin, I would like to confirm that rope beds did, in fact, need tightening, so my intention here is not to disprove this part of our story. If you’d like to learn more about the roping process, I would suggest this video or this article.

Rope beds were invented in the 16th century and fell out of fashion quickly after the invention of the coil spring mattress in 1865. Gary Martin’s research for The Phrase Finder has revealed that the first recorded use of the phrase “sleep tight” wasn’t until 1866 in Susan Bradford Eppes’s journal entitled Through Some Eventful Years. She writes on May 2, “Goodbye little Diary. ‘Sleep tight and wake bright,’ for I will need you when I return.” Therefore, the late use of this phrase in comparison to the invention of rope beds signals that it must have some other origin.

But, what could that origin be? Let’s take a look into the etymology (i.e. the study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history) of the word ‘tight’. According to the Oxford dictionary, the closely related adverb ‘tightly’ can also mean ‘safely’ or ‘soundly’. Since it sounds a bit catchier and poetic to say two one-syllable words as “sleep tight” instead of the awkward 3-syllable “sleep tightly,” that might explain why the suffix –ly was dropped from the word.

In today’s culture, we have several other uses of the word ‘tight’ that support this new hypothesis of the history of ‘sleep tight’. For example, in American slang we say that we are ‘tight’ with someone to indicate that we are familiar with them or close with them. ‘Tight’ can also be synonymous with ‘snug’, such as when your pants are too tight after eating one too many gooey fudge brownies. When we settle in to bed each night, many people enjoy wrapping themselves up in the covers to experience this snuggly feeling that seems oppressive when referring to our jeans but cozy when it’s bedtime.

We like to feel safe and cozy during sleep (after all, we can’t control what happens in the world around us as we dream), so sleeping ‘tight’ probably relates more to those connotations of snugness and safety, especially in reference to security from bedbugs or other nighttime creatures. This idea seems more reasonable than the fact that the ropes on early beds needed to be tight to ensure a good fit. This argument also helps to explain why people used the phrase long after rope beds fell out of use.

The best part about historic house museums is that we get to continually learn and explore these new topics and share them with our guests! Do you have any other theories? Connect with us on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, or email us at libwylie@indiana.edu. We would love to hear what you have to say.

Transition from Agriculture to Leisure Gardening in Bloomington, Indiana circa 1860s

Agriculture. When hearing that word most people think of a farmer sitting on a tractor in a big field, or something along those lines. This is a reasonable image, but when thinking back to 19th century agriculture the scene was pretty different. Agriculture is defined as “the science, art, or practice of cultivating the soil, producing crops, and raising livestock and in varying degrees the preparation and marketing of the resulting products” according to Merriam-Webster. It has been extremely important to the development and subsistence of the United States of America, and still is today. In contrast, the definition of floriculture, or leisure gardening, as written in Loudon’s Encyclopedia of Gardening by John Claudius Louden in 1835 is, “… comprehending whatever relates to the culture and arrangement of plants, whether ligneous or herbaceous, grown chiefly on account of their flowers, or as objects of taste or curiosity.”. What this definition means in more simple terms is floriculture includes plants that are grown for their beauty, their usefulness, or just the way in which the flowers are planted in a way to landscape or beautify a location.

Professor Theophilus Wylie, cousin to Indiana University’s first president Andrew Wylie, and his family were involved in both agriculture and floriculture. They grew a fair amount of crops including corn, grapes, a vegetable garden (beans, turnips, cabbage, asparagus, etc.), various fruit trees (peach, apple, pear), strawberries, and pumpkins to name some mentioned in their family letters. There is no current definite information about what livestock the Wylie’s owned themselves, but it was common for people to have hogs, cattle, and chickens. Additionally, in a letter it is written that Redick Wylie, a member of the Andrew Wylie family, did own cattle and hogs in the Bloomington area in 1860.

Many Americans farmed in some way or another, whether to sustain themselves or to supplement their food supplies. The wealthier were usually able to farm more effectively because they could own more land and buy increasingly advanced and newly invented inventions that allowed farming to be more efficient. New inventions of the 19th century included mechanical reapers (1834) by Cyrus McCormick, as well as a new type of plow with a steel blade by John Deere. These inventions allowed farmers to move more quickly and use less human labor since these tools only required a horse or two and one person. Another technological advance that affected agriculture was the use of trains (first used in Bloomington in 1853); the increased use of trains allowed goods to be transported further and faster than ever before, so less people were required to farm. Since less people were required to farm, especially those who had money that could be spent on unessential goods, they needed another way to spend their time and money.

Interest in flowers and planned gardening on properties actually began as early as the late 1700s on the east coast of the country among wealthier classes. This was mainly due to the influence of England and royal gardens from European countries. Americans really began learning floriculture from horticultural magazines that were imported from England and reprinted and distributed throughout America by printers. The first horticultural magazine, The Seed Drill, was written by Jethro Tull in 1701 (Garofalo 2002). These magazines were quickly absorbed into the American scene in some form or another in all social classes (Leighton 1987). For example, the less wealthy would try to recreate the gardens of royalty using native plants from their area. This was the beginning of floriculture in the United States. Another way floriculture began was that cemeteries were considered public parks up until around the 1850s and flowers were used to beautify these spaces, which is still true even though they are no longer considered public parks.

The plants used in people’s gardens were not usually limited to the native plants in the area. Plants were brought back from trips to other places in the U.S. to even places outside of the country. An example of this, is in an 1812 publication Thomas Nutall wrote about a trip to the Arkansas Territory and how he brought back around 300 plants (Leighton 1987). Trading seeds with others is another way people got nonnative (and native) seeds. The Wylie Family did both things as mentioned in their family letters. It is noted that they traded seeds with many people and that Louisa Wylie would presumably bring back seeds from where she was travelling at the time. There are letters written to Louisa, such as a letter from October 1, 1874 from an Emma mentioning that she would be sending seeds to her and Louisa could have sent her some in return. Additionally, the field of botany was also advancing around this time, so it was possible to get plants that had be genetically modified to be prettier in gardens around the country (Leighton 1987). It is unknown whether or not the Wylie’s had these types of flowers though.

The transition to floriculture, or leisure gardening, was a shift that was seen all over the United States. Wealthier families, such as the Wylie’s, were able to gain access to more resources and variety than others but it was a transition felt by much of the social classes. A person’s circumstances, such as their location, budget, and personal preference, affected how they participated in the sensation of floriculture. Even those who were worse off were able to participate in some way if they had the inclination to whether that be by only have a few ornamental flowers or by mixing their agricultural crops with a complimenting plant. Agriculture was a way of life for many people in the past and still is today, but leisure gardening is a popular pastime for people of all social and economic classes.

Blog post written by: Maclaren Guthrie, Bicentennial intern


Garofalo, Michael P. “The History of Gardening”, The Spirit of Gardening, 1 Mar. 2002, www.gardendigest.com/timel18.htm#Start.a

Herald, Elaine, and Jo Burgess. “Affectionately Yours, Volume I.” IUScholarWorks, Indiana University, 2011, scholarworks.iu.edu/dspace/handle/20222/20330.

Herald, Elaine, and Jo Burgess. “Affectionately Yours, Volume II.” IUScholarWorks, Indiana University, 2011, scholarworks.iu.edu/dspace/handle/2022/20331.

Leighton, Ann. American Gardens of the Nineteenth Century. University of Massachusetts Press, 1987.

The Theophilus Adam Wylie Family Correspondence, Wylie House Museum, Indiana University Libraries, Bloomington.


Barns & Outbuildings of Wylie House

The Wylie family homestead can be interpreted by examining the various barns and outbuildings situated on the property between 1835 and 1895, the time between the home’s construction and the death of Theophilus A. Wylie.

Sketch by Theophilus A Wylie of his barn, ca. 1883

Much of what is known about these outbuildings comes from a memory map drawn by Theophilus A. Wylie’s grandson, Theo Wylie (Theophilus A. Wylie III). Theo’s memory map depicts his grandfather’s property circa 1875, although many of these structures likely date back to Andrew and Margaret Wylie, who first inhabited Wylie House and worked the 25 acre farm 40 years earlier. These barns and outbuildings help one understand the scope of daily life at Wylie House in Bloomington, Indiana in the mid-19th century.

Family correspondence and journals kept by the Wylies relate details of construction, use, and occasionally, the tragic loss of their buildings to fire.


The Wylie Homestead

Indiana University’s first president, Andrew Wylie, owned approximately 25 acres of land on which his home, Wylie House, was built in 1835. The homestead’s western and eastern boundaries correspond to what are now Walnut and Henderson streets and the homestead’s northern and southern boundaries correspond to what are now Smith and Second streets.

Wylie homestead property boundaries in 1835

The Wylie family homestead was a working farm. Hired help was particularly difficult to find for the first Wylie family, so much of this work was done by the Wylies themselves and their occasional student boarders. After Andrew’s death in 1851, Margaret Wylie lived at Wylie House until her death in 1859.


TAW III’s Memory Map

Andrew Wylie’s second cousin, Theophilus A. Wylie, lived at Wylie house with his family from 1859 until his death in 1895. Theophilus’ family remained at Wylie House until 1913. Theophilus’ grandson, Theo, drew a memory map in 1954 of his grandfather’s property circa 1875.

memory map of Wylie homestead ca. 1875, TAW III, 1954

From TAW III’s sketch we know that Wylie House outbuildings included:

• an ice house
• a smoke house
• a double-pen barn
• a log chicken house
• a carriage house
• two walk-in cold frames
• a large two-story utility building located east of the kitchen door

We know from family correspondence that the chicken house was converted from an old corn crib on the property around 1862.

The original Wylie barn was a double-pen barn. A double-pen barn is one in which two single units are joined together at the top with room for passage underneath. This allowed a farmer to pull his wagon under the barn for easy loading of hay into the hay loft.

A corn crib was a log granary used to dry and store corn. Their slatted design allowed air to flow through the crib to dry the corn inside. Corn cribs were built to be raised off the ground so that rodents and other pests couldn’t get inside through the slats. They were often located near livestock, as corn was a popular feed.

It is likely that most of the outbuildings dated back to Andrew and Margaret Wylie’s occupancy between 1836 and 1859.

The 1859 inventory lists eight horses, one mule, five hogs, and more than a dozen cattle. Since we know there was a chicken house, they must have also kept chickens.

The numerous outbuildings underscore the vast amount of work that was required to maintain a working farm—butchering, smoking and salting meats, gathering wood for the winter months, preserving foods, and laundering clothes.


The Wylie Utility Building

It is believed that Theophilus A. Wylie took this photograph in approximately 1890 of the east side of the house. Shown here are the well and the utility building.

The utility building just off of the kitchen was constructed during Theophilus A. Wylie’s time at Wylie House. He used the second floor of the building as his personal workspace. The sketch below shows his carpenter bench, weather observation window, lathe, and resting quarters. The first floor of the building was used by the family and hired help for storing wood for their stoves and fireplaces and for laundering clothes and cooking.

This sketch of the utility building, shown in the photograph, was drawn by Theophilus’ grandson, Theo Wylie, in 1954.


The Loss of Theophilus’ Barn

This sketch, drawn by Theophilus A. Wylie in 1883, shows his barn as it stood on Saturday March 17th at 6pm and the same time the next day after the barn burned to the ground.

Before and after sketch of TAW’s barn after it burned down in March of 1883.

Below is the transcription from his diary where he tells the story.

transcription made from 3 April 1881-6 September 1885, Theophilus A. Wylie papers, Collection C202, Office of University Archives and Records Management, Indiana University, Bloomington.

There are also two newspaper articles from the Bloomington Progress Vol. 16 (49) in March of 1883 that recount the arson, as many buildings were set on fire by arsonists that spring. The larger article, “Bloomington’s Bad Blaze” on page 3 chronicles a fire that was the most destructive in Bloomington’s history at that time. Andrew Wylie’s son, Reddick Wylie, lost property in the fire. The second article, “Another Fire Last Saturday Night” provides details about the burning of Theophilus A. Wylie’s barn.


Before and After drawings of Wylie House Out Building Fire, undated, Theophilus A. Wylie papers, Collection C202, Office of University Archives and Records Management, Indiana University, Bloomington.

Before and After drawings of Wylie House Out Building Fire, March 1883, The Wylie, Boisen and Bradley Families Papers & Ephemera, Wylie House Museum, Indiana University Libraries, Bloomington

Wylie House, Yard with Out Buildings, undated, Theophilus A. Wylie papers, Collection C202, Office of University Archives and Records Management, Indiana University, Bloomington.

3 April 1881-6 September 1885, Theophilus A. Wylie papers, Collection C202, Office of University Archives and Records Management, Indiana University, Bloomington.

Wylie House Docent Manual, 2011 ed., Wylie House Museum, Indiana University Libraries, Bloomington.

Utility building photograph, 2005.003.1155, 1890-1898, Wylie House Museum, Indiana University Libraries, Bloomington.

TAW III’s memory map, 1954, Wylie House Museum, Indiana University Libraries, Bloomington.

Bloomington Progress, Vol. 16 (49), 21 March 1883.


Blog post written by: Sarah Rogers, graduate student

The History of Seed Saving

Here is a photo of a collection of seeds from www.financialtribune.com

According to the Center for Food Safety, throughout the past 40 years, the U.S. has led a radical shift toward commercialization, consolidation, and control of seed. Prior to the start of industrial agriculture, there were thousands of seed companies and public breeding institutions. At present, the top 10 seed and chemical companies, with the majority stake owned by U.S. corporations, control 73 percent of the global market. Today less than 2 percent of Americans are farmers compared to 90 percent in 1810 (2012). Seed saving is crucial and the reason for crops every year. With the rise of modern agricultural practices, genetic crop diversity has declined. While seed saving may be a hobby to some, the saving and sharing of rare, heirloom, and native seeds has always been, and still is, an important part of our worldwide food security.  In agriculture and gardening, seed saving is the practice of saving seeds or other reproductive material from vegetablesgrainherbs, and flowers for use from year to year for annuals and nutstree fruits, and berries for perennials and trees. This is the traditional way farms and gardens were maintained for the last 12,000 years (Wikipedia, 2017).  Benefits of seed saving include: engaging in the cycle of life, preserving heirloom varieties, encouraging genetic diversity, and saving money. A few tips for storing seeds are: gather seeds and let them dry on newspaper for a few days. Mark seeds with a post-it-note so you remember what type of seed they are. Remember, if you want to save your own seeds, you’ll need to plant open-pollinated varieties. They’ll come back while hybrids won’t. Keep seed packets in plastic food storage bags, plastic film canisters, Mason jars with tight-fitting lids, or glass canisters. Once you’ve gotten your storing container, store in a cool and dry environment.  Store each year’s seeds together and date them because most seeds last up to about three years.


This post was written by Sarah Kihn on October 25, 2017.

An Introduction to Floriculture at the Wylie House

Starting this fall, Indiana University’s Wylie House Museum and Glenn A. Black Laboratory of Archaeology began a joint bicentennial project that will be ongoing until 2020. The purpose is to discover more about IU Bloomington’s cultural heritage, protect local archaeological resources, contribute information to enrich the university’s mission, and to supplement the documentation and interpretation of campus history. The first stage of this joint project focuses on the Wylie House, which was built in 1835 and was the home of IU’s first president, Andrew Wylie, and his family. Research efforts are being made to expand more on what is currently known about the house gardens and 19th century floriculture as a whole and specifically relating to the Bloomington area.

“Wylie House”, around 1900, P0071638 – Image courtesy of Indiana University Archives

The resources currently being used to better understand Wylie House floriculture are the “Affectionately Yours”, a two volume compendium of Wylie Family letters, historic photographs from the Indiana University Archives Photo Collection, a sketch map drawn by Theophilus Wylie, Louisa Wylie’s essay on gardening, and various text sources outside of the Wylie House and IU Archives. These sources provide first-person documentation of the types of flowers and other plants that the Wylie family grew during their time living in the Wylie House. Smilax, fuchsias, geraniums, begonias, and roses are the flowers that are most often mentioned in the Wylie family letters. The letters also mention that the family often bought plants from a “Heinl” who gets imports from France, as well as trading for seeds with others from all over Indiana and from other states.

Another important aspect of this bicentennial project is uncovering more information about the garden “pits” that the Wylies had in their front yard. These “pits” were small shelter-like containers built into the ground to house plants during cold or bad weather so they didn’t wilt or die. There are a few photos of these Wylie House pits, as well as a drawing and mentions of them in the Wylie family letters.

Garden pit visible in right foreground in between house and stone wall. Cyanotype real picture postcard of Wylie House”, 1907 May, P0071637 – Image courtesy of Indiana University Archives

Today, the Wylie House Museum shares the life of the Wylies who lived there, mainly focusing on the second  Wylie family, Theophilius Wylie and his family. The Wylie House also has an heirloom seed-saving garden in which flowers, herbs, and vegetables that were grown in the Bloomington area prior 1875. In this way, the museum attempts to both accurately reflect the historic property as well as share these varieties and growing practices with the community. The exact varieties of all of the plants is a mystery we  hope to solve through this bicentennial project.



Herald, Elaine, and Jo Burgess. “Affectionately Yours, Volume I.” IUScholarWorks,

Indiana University, 2011, scholarworks.iu.edu/dspace/handle/2022/20330.

Herald, Elaine, and Jo Burgess. “Affectionately Yours, Volume II.” IUScholarWorks,

Indiana University, 2011, scholarworks.iu.edu/dspace/handle/2022/20331.

The Theophilus Adam Wylie Family Correspondence, Wylie House Museum, Indiana

University Libraries, Bloomington


This blog post by Bicentennial intern Maclaren Guthrie is featured on Indiana University’s Bicentennial website:


Continuation of Wylie First Nation’s History

Continuing our look into the First Nations that resided within the Indiana area, we will be exploring the background and culture of the Delaware Tribe, or Lenape. The Delaware tribe, much like the Miami that we explored in our previously blog post, were not originally from the Indiana area, but instead were forced out as a result of external stimuli and armed confrontation. Just as the Miami had fought with the Iroquois tribe in conflicts over possession of fur for trading with Dutch and French settlers and traders, the Delaware were pushed out through a series of conflicts with both European colonists and other tribes.

Specifically, a refusal by Europeans to trade firearms to the Delaware insured that they were not as well armed as other Native tribes.[1] This refusal came from the close proximity of the Delaware to the coastal regions first settled by Europeans and fears that arming the Lenape with modern weapons would pose a serious threat to the colonies, the end result though was to weaken the Delaware in regards to other tribes.

As these other, well-armed tribes sought to expand, they gradually forced out the Delaware people from their original home along the Eastern seaboard[2] and this gradually forced them westward, first to the Ohio region in the 1700’s and eventually arriving in what would become Indiana in approximately 1800 C.E.[3]

Prior to the move to Indiana, the Delaware tribes engaged in treaties with the United State continental army during the American Revolutionary War, making them “the first Indian tribe to enter into a treaty with the new United States government”[4] through the signing of the Treaty of Fort Pitt (1778). In this treaty, and subsequent ones, the Lenape tribe was deeply divided. Members of the tribe were unable to agree on whom, if anyone, they should help during the war and to what extent. While a portion of the Lenape people signed the Treaty of Fort Pitt, others fought against the Americans; leading to the destruction of the village of Coshocton in 1781.[5]

Physically trapped between the British and American forces during the war, and ideologically divided amongst themselves on who, if anyone, to ally with, the Lenape were unable to bring the whole of their people together to deal with one external threat at a time, and were gradually weakened through continual fighting and internal division. This weakening lead to a “crowding out”[6] and eventual displacement of the Delaware people, resulting in relocation to Missouri and Canada.

Culturally, the Lenape people were a matriarchal and matrilineal tribe, a quality that Europeans interacting with and writing about the Delaware, found perplexing and unfamiliar.[7] Additionally, the Delaware tribe were an agrarian-based society the focused on a sedentary lifestyle of large-scale agriculture in the form of farming corn, beans, and squash supplemented through fishing as a resulted of their costal location at the time of first European contact.[8]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lenape

[2] ibid

[3] https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/Delaware_Indians

[4] http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/del1778.asp

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lenape

[6] ibid

[7] ibid

[8] ibid

First Nation’s History at the Wylie

At the Wylie House our mission is to preserve the material and social culture and to interpret the history of the Wylie family and the early history of Indiana. Our goal in doing so is to create an educational space that is accessible for all ages and groups, and to ensure that all stories are given voice, respect, and consideration. In our ongoing effort to ensure that all groups are represented in our commitment to ethical and accurate historic interpretation, we have begun efforts to more greatly highlight the First Nations cultures of Indiana.

While there is little information regarding direct interactions or comments between members of the Wylie family and indigenous peoples, we believe strongly that the historical story we tell should not begin in the 1800s, and that in order to fully appreciate the depth and breadth of Indiana history, we should begin with the earliest cultures that resided throughout what would become Indiana. In this blog post, and those following it, we will be examining some of these cultures in-depth and discussing their historic and geographical roots, elements of their culture and social structure, and their interactions with settlers in the Indiana territory.

While numerous tribes had varying degrees of presence within the territory that would become Indiana, there were several major tribes that resided across the land in greater numbers. The original tribes to inhabit this area were the Illini, Miami, and Shawnee tribes, while the Delaware, Iroquois, Potawatomi, and others, migrated after the arrival of Europeans along the Eastern Seaboard.[1] As one of the largest of these tribes, we will begin by looking at the Miami tribe in this post.

Originally migrating south from Wisconsin as a result of pressure from the Iroquois tribe seeking territory rich in fur during the initial contact with European fur traders, the Miami tribe moved further down along the great lakes region until eventually arriving in Indiana. From this point, they spread across the whole of the future state; the Miami tribe itself largely residing along the upper Wabash, but the smaller bands which comprised the Miami and would eventually become independent tribes[2] (such as the Wea) established their presence throughout.

Miami communities were based in settlements ranging from several hundred to several thousand individuals and were highly-dependent on a maize-centered agricultural backbone.[3] This was supplemented through hunting and gathering and was dependent on a sex-based division of labor, with women working the fields and preparing the meat brought back from hunting done by men.[4]

The Miami largely supported the British throughout the American War of Independence, and continued to fight against American settlers afterwards, including the battle of St. Clair’s Defeat approximately at present-day Fort Recovery, Ohio; considered to be “the worst defeat of an American army by Native Americans.”[5] The end of the “Indian Wars” saw numerous treaties such as the Treaty of Greenville and the Ten O’clock Line Treaty which ceded large tracts of Native Territory to white settlers who began to gradually push westwards. We will be exploring these treaties and their repercussions in more detail in the future.

[1] http://www.native-languages.org/indiana.htm

[2] http://www.in.gov/dnr/files/hind.pdf

[3] http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/united-states-and-canada/north-american-indigenous-peoples/miami-indians

[4] ibid

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miami_people