A Little Known Collection and a Famous Poet!

Elizabeth Bishop at Camp Chequesset, Cape Cod

(Written by Richard Larimer, student intern)

In our archives we have several personal, archival collections related to the Wylie Family. One particularly unique collection is a box of letters from Elizabeth Bishop, the famous poet and writer, to Louise Bradley. Louise Bradley (1908-1979) was the great-granddaughter of Theophilus and Rebecca Wylie. Louise grew up and lived a majority of her life in Arlington, Massachusetts. As she got older she briefly attended Indiana University before transferring to Radcliffe College. Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979) was a prominent poet and author of short stories. Her career is marked with many prestigious awards such as the Pulitzer Prize of Poetry and the Neustadt International Prize for Literature. She even served as the Poet Laureate, was a professor at Harvard, and was close friends with famous writers like Marianne Moore and Robert Lowell. For an individual who seems to have had so much success, Elizabeth’s life was plagued with tragedy. At a young age her father died and her mother, suffering from mental illness, was committed to an asylum. With no parents, she was raised by a succession of family members and at one point was molested by her uncle. Throughout the rest of her life she experienced loss, alcoholism, and depression.

Elizabeth and Louise first met in the mid 1920’s at a summer camp in Massachusetts. Their friendship would last for many years; the collection’s letters date from 1925, right after the two girls first met, to 1950. This collection shows fascinating insight into the mind of a young Elizabeth Bishop and spans the course of many events including Louise’s time at IU to which Bishop writes, “I know you can’t ever enjoy yourself there, but I hope you don’t mind it so much. (Dec. 5, 1926)” and, “Someday the whole of Indiana U. may blow up. If so you will know that it is only me taking my revenge on it for hurting you (Nov 26, 1926)”.

It is clear from Elizabeth’s writing that the two girls grew very close. Often Elizabeth wrote Louise to share poetry and fantasize of a future where they ran away together. “Louise—is it right for a young woman to trail off to the ends of the earth—Norway—India—alone? And live in strange places and do strange things—or two young women. You come with me. When my — — — education is finished. Lets. And then retire to Ireland and raise bees and live by the ocean in a stone cottage and write poetry for a living. Oh!! Will you! I have given up caring what people think about me…(August 29, 1926)”.  It is well known that Elizabeth was a lesbian and throughout her young life crushed on the girls close to her. It is not entirely unlikely that Elizabeth viewed Louise in a romantic way. Because there are no letters from Louise, and Elizabeth never explicitly admits any romantic feelings for her, we cannot be certain. This does however raise a question: how can the Wylie House, or museums in general, do a better job of interpreting the histories of LGBTQ figures? It can be difficult as their stories are sometimes not told, but it is a topic we hope to explore more in the near future.

In honor of National Poetry Month here is one of Elizabeth’s early poems that she sent to Louise. It was written in March of 1926. To our knowledge this poem, and many of the other poems within this collection, were never published.
The night’s fingers tapped on the window
And beckoned me out to the darkness,
To sing in the splotches of star-dust,
To dance in the intricate shadows
But ah! She has darkly betrayed me,
I am caught in a spell of her brewing.
I can never return for she bound me
By a witchery the moon leaned to tell her.
The cold moon has turned to my mother
And the wind is a brother beside me.
I am part of the earth and the blackness
Until the gray dawn of the morning.

Louise Bradley at Camp Chequesset, Cape Cod

Louise Bradley and Elizabeth Bishop Correspondence, 1925-1950


A photograph from the Wylie House collection is identified!

The Wylie House image collection contains numerous photographs of unidentified people, or people whose identifies are unconfirmed.

Recently, this image of a beautiful woman adorned in white was identified by her great-grandson, who was conducting genealogy research.

Pictured here is Madame Layyah Barakat of Syria.

According to Gary Wirstad, Madame Barakat’s great-grandson, she was born in Abieh, Lebanon (then Syria) in 1857 and died in 1940. He writes:

“As a young girl, she became acquainted with Christian missionaries from America.  After she married Elias Barakat (from Damascus) they, and their first child, my great aunt Emily, fled the violence in their land, coming to America to seek those sponsors who had provided for her education through the missionaries.

She settled in Philadelphia and became a lecturer on the Christian missionary movement; she was quite well known in those circles and published two or three books on her experiences. She eventually founded a Christian school for orphan girls in Lebanon.”

In conjunction with Women’s History Month, we celebrate Madame Barakat’s remarkable strength and resilience in overcoming adversity, living a meaningful and inspirational life, and making the place of her birth a better version of itself before her death.

Evidence of her legacy can be found in the books she wrote, newspaper articles written about her and of course, her family. Below is a resource of links that will take you to various newspaper articles that mention Madame Barakat. Also of interest is her Smithsonian Institution record, where her photograph is part of the Faris and Yamna Naff Arab American Collection, ca. 1880-1950.

Mr. Wirstad writes:

“In one of her books, ‘Lebanon: A Harvest of Love’, she goes into great detail on the hardship of securing passage to America, and their almost hopeless quest to find her sponsor, once in Philadelphia.

She would be considered remarkable by today’s standards, but to sail here unexpected, without funds, possessions, or English language skills, find her sponsor (Dr. Jessup of the Walnut St. Presbyterian church) knowing only his name, and to overcome these adversities to eventually see her sons graduate from Penn [University of Pennsylvania], seems incredible for anyone in the 1880s.”

We at Wylie House whole-heartedly agree.

Wylie House is unable to pinpoint the exact connection between Madame Barakat and the Wylie family, but we think it is likely through their shared connections to Philadelphia (where Theophilus Wylie was born) and their work within Christian communities, particularly the W.C.T.U. [Woman’s Christian Temperance Union]. We thank Gary Wirstad for confirming her identity and sharing the beautiful and inspiring story of Madame Layyah Barakat with us.


Newspaper Articles Mentioning Madame Barakat and her husband, Elias:

Friends of Temperance. The times. (Washington [D.C.]), 03 Dec. 1900. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85054468/1900-12-03/ed-1/seq-5/>

W.C.T.U. Holds Its 32D Annual Session. Evening public ledger. (Philadelphia [Pa.]), 06 June 1916. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045211/1916-06-06/ed-1/seq-8/>

Madame Layyah Barakat Is Interesting Speaker. The Bristol Daily Courier. (Bristol [Pa.]), 11 May 1925. Newspapers.com. <https://www.newspapers.com/clip/3010291/layyah_expects_to_return_to_syria_1925/>

Elias Barakat Speaks. Reading Times. (Reading [Pa.]), 14 February 1884. Newspapers.com <https://www.newspapers.com/clip/2997003/elias_barakat_speaks/>


Other Resources:

Indiana University’s Image Collections Online is the digital repository for numerous image collections. Explore here!


This post written by graduate student Sarah Rogers.

African-American History Month at Wylie House

In honor of African-American History Month, Wylie House is pleased to feature two notable African-Americans who made history in Bloomington, Indiana and lived with the Theophilus A. Wylie family in the last half of the 19th century.

Lizzie Breckenridge

Elizabeth “Lizzie” Breckenridge was an African-American woman born in Bedford, Indiana on July 5, 1843. In 1856, the Theophilus A. Wylie family employed Lizzie at the age of 13 as their domestic servant, where she stayed for nearly 45 years.

While living with the TA Wylie family, Lizzie learned to read and write. She developed a rich taste in literature and took special interest in astronomy. Lizzie never married, but she eventually saved enough money to purchase her own home, an important accomplishment for an African-American woman in her day. Lizzie’s home was located on S. Washington Street.

We know from an article published in the Indianapolis News in 1903 that Lizzie attended the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Bloomington, the same church attended by the Wylie family. This article, found on Page 7 of the newspaper, provides background information about Lizzie’s family.

Covenanter Presbyterians who left southern states in favor of Indiana’s position against the practice of slavery formed the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Bloomington. The church was originally located on land adjacent to the Covenanter Cemetery, where Lizzie is buried. She passed away on September 25, 1910 at the age of 67.

Harvey Young

Harvey Young came to Bloomington from Indianapolis in 1882 to enroll at Indiana University and was the first African-American to do so. Theophilus A Wylie, in a journal entry dated August 20, 1882 wrote, “Harvey Young, graduate of Indiana High School came last Thursday intending to enter the Freshman class. He is well recommended has a good appearance – Intelligent & neat – will be a pioneer colored student in the College – Hope he will do well –”. Harvey Young boarded with the Wylie family for at least his first semester in 1883.

We know from a journal entry that on at least one occasion Harvey attended church with the Wylie family. In another entry dated November 11, 1883 Theophilus writes, ““Friday night Athenian Society had the opening of its new Hall. Harvey Young (Aithiops) one of the speakers. – Such a thing would not have been tolerated 25 yrs ago. – The world moves. –”  Note: Aethiops – antiquated term used to denote the dark complexion of an individual from Ethiopia.

Harvey did not graduate from Indiana University, but rather returned to Indianapolis after three semesters to become a public school teacher in the Indianapolis Public School system. We know from articles published in the Indianapolis News that Harvey taught at IPS schools #19, #23, and #24 from 1885 to 1895. Census records were unable to determine his whereabouts following 1895.

The Underground Railroad and Wylie House

Visitors to Wylie House sometimes ask if the home was part of the Underground Railroad. We cannot verify that it was, but accounts from older local area residents lend support to the idea that it could have been.

According to VisitBloomington.com, “The Covenanters, a group of Scotch-Irish Presbyterians from South Carolina, had settled just outside Bloomington by 1821.  Believing that slavery was a moral evil, the Covenanters acted on their principles and during the Civil War provided a way station for escaped slaves traveling north on the Underground Railroad.” Both Andrew and Theophilus A. Wylie were active members of the Bloomington Reformed Presbyterian Church, so it is reasonable to believe they also held these views.

An article published in the September 1917 issue of Indiana Magazine of History entitled, “The Underground Railroad in Monroe County” identifies local individuals, church members, and contemporaries of the Wylies who are believed to have been active participants in the Underground Railroad.

Additional Resources:

Wylie House is happy to assist with reference requests. Please contact us at libwylie.indiana.edu.

Quick Links:

IU Archives Online

Monroe County Historical Society

Monroe County Public Library

National Archives Census Records

Indiana Newspaper Online Archive

Indianapolis News Online Archive

Summer at the Wylie House

We are looking forward to welcoming summer and introducing the community to all that’s growing at Wylie House  (including our new Seed Library Program!) at our summer open house on Saturday, June 11th, from 10am-2pm. We’ll have free music, tours, seed-saving activities, lemonade, and old fashioned toys and games. Mark your calendars and stop by!

Summer at Wylie House Flyerx2


Summer is always a delight here at the museum, thanks to the hard work and vision of our Outdoor Interpreter, Sherry Wise. She has been cultivating and beautifying the grounds with heirloom plants for 15 years now! She has literally grown the property and its gardens into what it is today. Visitors come to enjoy the gardens, learn about heirloom varieties, and purchase or check out our heirloom seeds. We are so appreciative of her work. We hope you’ll come see what she’s growing this year.

Thank you, Sherry!

Sherry 15 years with cake.May 2016
Sherry Wise, Outdoor Interpreter, celebrating 15 years at the museum!
Sherry 15 years group.May 2016
Museum volunteers celebrating Sherry.


In addition to welcoming summer here at the museum, we are pleased to welcome a new addition to our collection. We acquired Andrew and Margaret Wylie’s beautiful cherry bed from the Wylie family last fall. It has been lovingly cared for and used by various family members through all these years. Before we placed it in the house, we had Greg Ziesemer of Antiquity Furniture Restoration do a little work on it to make it museum-ready. It now rests on the second floor, adorned by a beautiful quilt made by our volunteer quilters. Welcome home, Wylie bed!


Andrew and Margaret Wylie bed.May 2016
Andrew and Margaret Wylie Bed

Fantastic and Fun! Film and Fowler Follow-up

As many of you are aware, Wylie House recently sponsored the screening of the documentary, Seeds of Time, at I.U. Cinema, as well as Dr. Cary Fowler’s visit to campus. It was a wonderful success, made a significant educational impact, and was great fun too! View highlights of the film and visit here! And mark your calendars for WFIU’s interview with Dr. Fowler on their Profiles segment: airing May 15th at 6:00 p.m.

If you didn’t make it to the screening on campus, you can still find Seeds of Time on Netflix. The film follows agriculture pioneer Cary Fowler as he races against time to protect the future of our food by building the world’s first global seed vault, deep inside an arctic mountain in Norway. The Svalbard Seed Bank stores copies of seeds from seed banks across the world, providing an unprecedented insurance policy for global crop diversity. This is particularly critical to our future as climate change accelerates and world agriculture is in danger.

Wylie House was honored to host Cary Fowler during his time here in Bloomington. While here, Dr. Fowler visited Wylie House, Bloomington’s Community Orchard as well as multiple I.U. classes and student/faculty discussions with Hutton Honors College, Wells Scholars, Sustainability Scholars and the Ostrom Workshop. The highlight for us, of course, was his visit to Wylie House’s Heirloom Seed-Saving Program and our newly launched Seed Library Program. Plant health, seed-saving, and genetic diversity are important to our interpretation efforts here at the museum, and it is our mission to provide education and unique learning opportunities to I.U. students and local community members.  We are especially excited about our new Seed Library which provides opportunities to “check out” a seed packet, grow the plants, and harvest seeds to be returned to us in the fall.  Don’t worry – directions and tips are provided! Please visit us or contact us to learn more.

We are confident that the film and Dr. Fowler’s visit provided both inspiration and avenues for productive and meaningful discussion related to the importance of genetic crop diversity, climate change concerns, and global sustainability. The film was sold out and we were thrilled by the audience’s enthusiasm and support. Our campus and local communities are certainly making positive efforts to do their part as we face global climate change!

Wylie House could not have enjoyed the fruits of this effort without the support of I.U. Libraries and the following partners: IU Cinema, IU departments of Public Health, Biology, Human Biology, Anthropolgy, the Integrated Program of the Environment, the Food Institute, Hilltop Campus Gardens, the Office of Sustainability, the Ostrom Workshop, Hutton Honors College, Wells Scholars Program, Bloomington Community/IU Orchard Program, WFIU, Farm Bloomington, and Lennie’s Restaurant.

Seed Saving & ‘Seeds of Time’

News and Notes from Carey Beam, Director

Wylie House Museum opens up for regular walk-in hours March 1, 10am-2pm. We look forward to welcoming you for a visit!

We begin the season with our annual heirloom seed sale on Sat., March 5th, as well as our annual participation in the Indiana Heritage Quilt Show, March 3rd-5th (http://www.ihqs.org/). For more than a decade the museum has been a Community Exhibitor for this wonderful Bloomington event. This year we are delighted to exhibit the collection of Chris Allswede. Chris has spent many years visiting antique shops and auctions to rescue handmade quilts from the 19th and early 20th century. Wylie House will be displaying a portion of her incredible collection throughout the home for the quilt show; they will remain on display through the month of April.

Work has begun on the limestone retaining wall which runs along the south perimeter of the property.  It will take several weeks but we will have a beautiful new wall and safe sidewalk upon completion. In the meantime, please look for parking along the alley behind the museum or along neighboring streets, being careful to avoid areas which are only zoned for neighborhood permits. The museum will still be open and accessible.

Note from Sherry Wise, Outdoor Interpreter at the Wylie House Museum

Spring is just around the corner. The winter aconites are blooming, the birds are singing, and on some days you can feel Spring in the air. Garden volunteers are packaging seeds, preparing for the Annual Seed Sale on Saturday, March 5th, which will be held in the Morton C. Bradley Jr. Education Center from 10:00 AM until 4:00 PM. We will have over 80 varieties of herbs, flowers, and vegetables available for purchase. New seeds for 2016 planting have just arrived in the mail from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. Royal Purple Zinnia, Mary Helen Marigold and Golden Runner Bean will add some color to the Wylie House beds. Burgundy Okra, Devil’s Ear Lettuce, and Black Futsu Squash are just a few of the vegetable varieties to look for growing in heirloom gardens this season. Plan a visit to the Wylie House to see the new kitchen herb garden and learn more about the use of herbs in 19th century living.

50d18550-5caf-47b6-a652-d155a6141e50    02830a88-6128-46dd-89d3-8d9df06d5928

Seed Saving, Cary Fowler, and ‘Seeds of Time’

We here at the Wylie House Museum practice the art of seed saving every year in order to preserve our living garden heritage and to preserve native plant species that may have been present when the Wylie’s themselves owned the property. For those that are unfamiliar with the practice of seed saving, it is the act of saving and properly storing seeds in order to preserve species of plants, flowers and vegetables. Many variations of plant and vegetable species are being lost due to poor preservation, making virtually thousands of species extinct with every passing year.  Not only is it part of our mission to preserve the heritage of the Wylie family through their home, but we have also incorporated the heirloom garden and seed saving into our interpretation of the Wylie family history. Due to this interpretation, every year our amazing Outdoor Interpreter, Sherry Wise diligently works to plan the heirloom garden, save seeds and oversee the work of our garden volunteers.

It is not every day in a house museum and archives that we find a connection between our work and current scientific happenings. Regardless of the fact our work at the Wylie House revolves around interpreting both the home and the gardens from the 19th century, there are still ways in which this work can connect to modern life. One way in which we have found our work at the Wylie House connected to the outside world is through the practices of Dr. Cary Fowler. Much like the museum, Dr. Fowler’s history is both varied and nuanced, in terms of contemporary value with a historical link. You may be wondering, what do an American agriculturalist and a house museum have in common? The answer is: more than you would think!

1280px-Cary_Fowler_2007       070827_r16548_p646-320

Dr. Cary Fowler has worn a lot of hats during his career. Not only was the former Executive Director of Crop Trust involved in the Civil Rights movement during Memphis in the 1960s, but he has also been referred to as ‘The Man Who Saved the World’ for his work in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Dr. Fowler’s most notable work is the main focus of the documentary, ‘Seeds of Time’ and his establishment of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway. The seed vault, which was entirely funded by the government of Norway, that Dr. Fowler established has more than tens of thousands of copies of over 4,000 plant species. There are several seed vaults that Dr. Fowler has now helped begin throughout the world, many organizations and gardeners, including the Wylie House, also participate in the efforts to save many plant species from going extinct. Although we don’t want to give away too much about the documentary, Dr. Fowler’s efforts have now reached a national level in the United States, as he is currently a member of the Board of International Food and Agricultural Development, as appointed by President Barack Obama.


On March 28th, 2016 at 7:00 P.M., the Wylie House Museum, in conjunction with the IU Libraries, will be hosting a viewing of the documentary ‘Seeds of Time’ at the IU Cinema. Not only will we be hosting a screening at the IU Cinema, Dr. Fowler himself will also be in attendance for a Question and Answer session to follow the screening. This event is free, but will be ticketed.  

To learn more about ‘Seeds of Time’, please visit the IU Cinema’s page with a description of the film: http://www.cinema.indiana.edu/?post_type=film&p=11442


Welcome to the New and Improved Wylie House Blog!

Happy New Year!

As you have surely noted, in 2015 Wylie House moved its web presence to a new home within the IU Libraries. The museum’s blog is now following suit in 2016! It will serve as the perfect place to bring you our monthly news, highlight recent and upcoming activities, and dig a little deeper into our history and collections.

Wylie House is off to a busy start this spring semester. We are looking ahead and planning spring concerts, lectures, and exhibits. Keep an eye on our Events page for details!

Of particular note is the opening panel discussion and reception for the Association of Indiana Historians that will be held at Wylie House on Friday, Feb. 19th. We are delighted to welcome noted Indiana historians and conference attendees to an evening in the parlor, followed by light refreshments in the education center. The event is open to the public; registration to the annual conference is not required. Details can be found here on the AIH website: http://iahwebsite.org/cms/


Wylie House is pleased to welcome a new student intern, Mary Figueroa, from the Anthropology Department. Mary has an interest in museum studies and will be curating our annual spring quilt exhibit as part of the Indiana Heritage Quilt Show, March 3-5 (http://www.ihqs.org/).

We also welcome volunteer students, Hannah Kappes and Taylor Bacchus, both studying in the Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Department. Hannah and Taylor will be assisting with marketing and event management. We have several upcoming events this spring and their help will be invaluable!

The museum’s involvement in I.U. classes continues to grow.  Classes from the Education Department, English Department, Parks, Recreation & Tourism, as well as Apparel Merchandising & Interior Design will be visiting the museum this semester for tours, class assignments, and research projects. The museum is particularly excited to be working closely all semester with Professor Ashley Hasty’s History of Fashion course in order to integrate skills in information and primary source literacy. We will be assisting Prof. Hasty’s students with research and writing skills, and they will be using several of our historic documents and textiles for engaging study opportunities. 19990010756c 20050030442

Candlelight Open House 2015

Before we jump too far forward into this semester, we want to take a look back at last month’s Candlelight Open House. We are still basking a little bit in its glow! Our Graduate Assistant, Bridget Albert, studying in the Arts Administration program shares her thoughts:

Wylie House Candle Lighting 12.06.2014

Brightly lit candles, live music, Christmas carols and warm apple cider. These were a few of the many highlights of our annual Candlelight Open House on December 5th, 2015. The experience of Christmas has changed exponentially since Wylie families celebrated the holiday during the 19th century. Long gone are the days when the Wylie family would gather to open their stockings and celebrate the holiday. We here at the Wylie House Museum try to replicate the spirit of a 19th century Christmas as best we can for the Indiana University and local Bloomington communities every December by hosting a welcoming and celebratory event. Minus the candle-lit pine tree, of course.  

Visitors of the 2015 Candlelight Open House enjoyed a variety of different holiday experiences. Live music was provided by students from the St. Charles School Band and Bloomington’s Horseshoe Stringband in the Morton C. Bradley Jr. Education Center. Visitors of the education center were privy to holiday treats, egg nog, and warm apple cider. Located directly next to the snacks, kid-friendly crafting activities were available in the form of stringing popcorn and cranberries, as well as paper-chain making.


Lining the walkways leading up to the Wylie House, luminaries were placed outside to welcome guests on the chilly evening. In order to bring the true feeling of a 19th century Christmas to life, docents dressed in period attire, greeted guests, and gave tours of the first floor by candlelight. Beautiful music filled the hallways of the home. Jacobs School of Music students, Kyle Schardt and Zechariah Landers, played classical guitar in the family room while Christmas carols were brilliantly sung by visitors and volunteers alike in the parlor. They were accompanied by the talented and generous pianist, Mark Wiedenmayer.


We were so fortunate to have around 300 guests visit the Morton C. Bradley Jr. Education Center and Wylie House Museum during our Candlelight Open House. If you missed out on the fun this year, make sure to check out our Events page and Facebook for updates on upcoming events. In the spirit of the Wylie family’s generosity and giving back to the Bloomington community, it is our pleasure to hold this event every December and would love to see you in December of 2016. Many thank yous to the musicians and the following volunteers:

Wylie House Docents

Steve Bailey

Paula Bourne

Ann Fierst

Linda Hunt

Malia Jackson

Diana Lambdin

Mary Anne Martin

Kay Thies

Sheryl Vanderstel

Helena Walsh

Jody Wintsch

IU Students

Taylor Bachus

Caroline Voisine

Courtney Mundy