“Here I met my first true radicals…” : Literary Naturalist Theodore Dreiser

Today his works are commonly listed among the best novels of the twentieth century but when Theodore Dreiser Bulletin001entered Indiana University in the fall of 1889, the campus was then home to only 324 students and 28 members of the faculty and staff (this included a Registrar, 3 librarians and 2 janitors). The Annual Catalogue for that year described the campus as ”twenty acres of elevated ground, covered with a heavy growth of maple and beech timber. The commanding position of the land, and the beauty of the natural forest render this one of the most attractive college sites in the country.” Wylie and Owen Halls, two framed buildings that housed some of the literary departments, the chapel and an observatory were the only structures on campus. The new Library (Maxwell Hall) as almost complete.

Born in Terre Haute, Indiana on August 27, 1871, Dreiser attended high school in Warsaw, Cover001Indiana. Reportedly, his teacher Miss Mildred Fielding sensed his potential and paid for his freshman year expenses to attend IU. In his memoir A Hoosier Holiday (1916)he remembered, “As Miss Fielding, my sponsor and mentor, had predicted, I learned more concerning the seeming import of education, the branches of knowledge and the avenues and vocations open to men and women in the intellectual world than I ever dreamed existed – and just from hearing the students argue, apotheosize, anathematize, or apostrophize one course or one professor or another. Here I met my first true radicals…”

As an IU student, Dreiser lived in a small rooming house in town (apparently rooming with “a popular, good-natured football player”) and took meals at the local boarding clubs. It is evident from his later personal memoir Dawn: History of Myself (1931) that he was charmed with

Cavers, 1890 ((Front Row, L to R) Walter S. Chambers; Howard J. Hall; Raymond C. Morgan is seated behind Hall and has a rifle barrel next to his head; Professor of Romance Languages and Philology Gustaf Karsten; Russell Ratliff with arm on Karsten's leg; and Mark P. Helm. (Back Row, L to R) Walker (this is probably Orie Walker); Samuel M. Knoop; William Alonzo Marlow, Theodore Dreiser (seated), and Francis Elmer Kinsey)

Cavers, 1890 ((Front Row, L to R) Walter S. Chambers; Howard J. Hall; Raymond C. Morgan is seated behind Hall and has a rifle barrel next to his head; Professor of Romance Languages and Philology Gustaf Karsten; Russell Ratliff with arm on Karsten’s leg; and Mark P. Helm.
(Back Row, L to R) Walker (this is probably Orie Walker); Samuel M. Knoop; William Alonzo Marlow, Theodore Dreiser (seated), and Francis Elmer Kinsey)

Bloomington and his surroundings. He reportedly spent much of his spare time exploring the local countryside and in particular the cave system to the south (he even dramatically describes being lost in one of the limestone caverns near town). Of the University he said, “There were, in addition, six or seven other buildings, of brick or wood scattered rather casually over a large and physically varied campus, which to me as I first saw it…seemed very beautiful. A wide brick walk led from the principal street of the town up the hill, at the crest of which and to the sides as one approached stood these several buildings….And to the east, northeast and southwest, were hills and seemingly heavy growths of trees leading interminably hence.”

His courses included elementary Latin, Anglo-Saxon English, geometry and algebra, Philology, study of words, and Virgil’s Aneid.  He later reminisced,

Circa 1890 (Theodore Dreiser is in the back at right. The other individuals are unknown)

Circa 1890 (Theodore Dreiser is in the back at right. The other individuals are unknown)

“if ever, physically, at least, a year proved an oasis in a life, this one did. For much to my astonishment, the lessons, outside of Latin, were not so very difficult, though as for algebra and geometry, I could not quite see the import of these, to me if to life. They seemed, I having no turn for mathematics or the technique of the sciences to which they so aptly apply, such a useless waste of calculation. Yet history, English literature and the study of words fascinated me, since thusward was the bent of my temperament, but far and above these again in import to me was the life og the town, the character of its people, the professors and the students, and the mechanism, politics, and social interets of the University body proper.”

Dreiser, however, was not meant for formal education and only continued his studies for the one year before returning to Chicago to work for the Chicago Globe. In addition to writing several other works of fiction and nonfiction, he later worked in other positions in St. Louis, for McClure’s, Harper’s, Cosmopolitan, and as editor-in-chief of Butterick Publications. While Dreiser was often criticized for his poor grammar and sentence structure and lack of formal education, today he is recognized as an outstanding American example of naturalism. With the release of his second novel Jennie Gerhardt  in 1911, the Indiana Student reported that “critics said that it was not a gem but in reality a chunk cut out of the life of today, and the author a man who cuts it with no pink manicured hands. It is gratifying to those who believe that the teaching of a university should powerfully model public opinion to find men who have gone out from Indiana University analyzing life keenly with virile earnestness and serious purpose….Like many other Indiana authors, Theodore Dreiser impresses those who know his work, with his absolute sincerity; he writes of real people and compels you to see them as he knows them.”

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Ernest P. Bicknell – Red Cross Humanitarian

BicknellRedCrossBefore the onset of the First World War, the Red Cross was still a small organization, with only some 17,000 members. The outbreak of war in Europe in July of 1914 created an unprecedented need for civilian aid as the war brought a level of suffering and destruction unknown in previous wars. Membership in the Red Cross increased dramatically during the course of the war, and by 1918, the organization had 20 million members. In addition, $400 million in aid was raised by the American public. Because July 28th of this year marks the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, we thought that it would be appropriate to share some of the World War I materials found in our collections.



An 1887 graduate of Indiana University, Ernest P. Bicknell was born on February 23, 1862 in Vincennes, Indiana. He spent his first six years after graduation working in the newspaper business in Indianapolis followed by serving as a secretary for the Indiana Board of Charities. In 1906, while working as the director of the Chicago Bureau of Charities, Bicknell was called to aid the Red Cross in San Francisco, California which was devastated by earthquake and fire and many were in need of charitable relief. This event led Bicknell to twenty-seven years of service to the American Red Cross.   

His work in San Francisco was admirable and almost immediately he was offered the newly created post of National Director of the Red Cross. He initially declined because of concerns that the Red Cross was still a young organization with few resources, but in 1908 he accepted after his salary was guaranteed for five years through the Russell Sage Foundation. This assignment was followed by several years as the director-general for civilian relief.  With the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Bicknell traveled to Europe to direct several relief and aid efforts. He served as Deputy Commissioner to France, Commissioner to Belgium, and Special Commissioner to the Balkan States, as well as serving as a member of several international relief organizations. While working in Belgium, he was given the military title of Lieutenant Colonel. 

Ernest P. Bicknell in 1918

Ernest P. Bicknell in 1918

The armistice signed on November 11, 1918 meant even more work for Bicknell, as the Red Cross sought to provide aid to those who had been displaced, impoverished, or otherwise affected by four years of war in Europe. Bicknell was first named Red Cross Deputy Commissioner to Europe in 1919  and finally Commissioner to Europe in 1921. Colonel Bicknell and his wife, Grace, in Constantinople in 1919.He then moved on to serve as Director of the Rockefeller Foundation War Relief Committee, which sought to aid non-combatants who had suffered due to the war. Additionally, he also periodically worked for the Office for Insular and Foreign Operations, finally becoming the Vice Chairman in April of 1923.

Bicknell’s commendable humanitarian work earned him numerous distinctions and awards of service from the countries he aided. Bicknell004Among his awards, he was named “Commander of the Crown” by King Albert of Belgium, and was awarded the Legion of Honor from the French government, the Order of the Crown of Italy, Order of the Red Cross and Order of Prince Danilo of Montenegro, the Order of the Red Cross of Serbia, Order of Saint Anne of Russia, Order of St. Savior of Greece, and Order of Poland Restituta of Poland. In the United States, he was awarded the gold medal from the National Institute of Social Science and an LL.D. from Indiana University for his work abroad.  Additionally, his wife, Grace, was awarded the Order of Elizabeth by the Queen of Belgium.

Ernest Bicknell passed away in September of 1935 of heart complications and was buried in Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis. In his honor, State Road 159 from Bicknell to Freelandville in Knox County, Indiana, is officially known as the “Ernest P. Bicknell Highway.” One note of condolence said of Bicknell that “his life was spent in service to his fellowmen.  His admirable qualities won him a host of friends all over the world.”

If you’re interested in learning more about this fascinating man and his work with the Red Cross contact the IU Archives to view the Ernest P. Bicknell papers

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Teaching Film Custodians

Throughout a good portion of the 20th century, educational films were loaned to schools, colleges and universities through a company called Teaching Film Custodians (TFC). Agreements with several motion picture companies, including Warner Bros., Universal Pictures and Twentieth Century-Fox, existed for the purpose of providing excerpts of feature films for classroom use.

Relations with these motion picture companies were not always easy. A copy of the Members’ Minutes from 1955 indicate that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) placed an embargo on prints for the TFC, which led to the withdrawal of MGM from TFC. A corresponding sharp decrease of income (potentially as much as a 30% decrease) appears to have led to a panic among TFC employees, as they believed they were “facing potential death.”

Although the future of the company was grim, Member Arthur Adams firmly believed that the “program should be continued for both educational and moral reasons to its fullest extent,” as stated in the March 1956 Members’ Meeting. And so it did, although the financial worries never ceased until the company’s merger with Indiana University in 1973.

The University Archives holds a small collection of TFC records, consisting primarily of minutes from the Members’ meetings as well as the Board of Trustees and the Executive Committee meetings. The finding aid is now online, contact Archives staff for further information!

Bonus! Several hundred titles from the TFC exist in the Indiana University Film Archive, contact their staff for further information!

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World War I exhibit now on display at the IU Archives!

“Dedicated to the Brave Men of Indiana – Who Loved Their  Country More Than Knowledge – More than Life.”

-        The 1918 Arbutus Dedication

Curated by Library Science graduate students Allison Haack and Alessandro Meregaglia, the exhibit Indiana University and the Great War: Student, Professor, and Alumni Involvement in World War I is now on display in the IU Archives!


The entry of the United States into World War I on April 6, 1917, caused a rise in patriotism as people across the country sought to contribute to the war effort. The war had already been raging for nearly three years. Germany had resumed unrestricted submarine warfare on all US ships and the contents of the Zimmerman Telegram had became public. The Indiana University community was eager to do its part to contribute to the war effort and President Bryan urged, “Your first thought every day should be in what you can most effectively serve your country.”  In true Hoosier fashion, the students, faculty, and alumni rose admirably to the occasion.

By the fall semester of 1918, 60 percent of the student population had enlisted in the Student Army Training Corps and students, professors, and alumni were sent overseas.  Male students enrolled in new Military Science courses to prepare for enlistment or joined the Ambulance Corps and were sent to France. Female students and staff volunteered at the campus Red Cross Workshop and through other war relief organizations. The Indiana Daily Student kept those on the homefront informed about the progress of the war, especially news of current students and alumni who had enlisted or gone abroad with the Red Cross.


Members of the S.A.T.C. marching on campus.


S.A.T.C. members outside of their barracks

Hospital beds were set up in the old Assembly Hall to combat the influenza epidemic

Hospital beds were set up in the old Assembly Hall to combat the influenza epidemic







Women at work in the Red Cross Workshop; photo from the 1918 Arbutus

Women at work in the Red Cross Workshop; photo from the 1918 Arbutus

The exhibit highlights wartime contributions from the IU Community such as one of the founders of Kappa Alpha Psi Elder Watson Diggs (Lieutenant, 92nd African-American Division, alumni Horace Goff (30th Engineer Regiment (Gas and Flame) and William R. Ringer (S.A.T.C enlistee), and Ernest P. Bicknell (Red Cross Humanitarian), and faculty members Edna G. Henry (Social Services Work) and Georgia Finley (Dietician). It also looks at the role of the S.A.T.C., changes to the IU curriculum to prepare male students for military service, the 1918 influenza epidemic on campus, and the armistice celebrations in Bloomington.

Visit the IU Archives on the 4th floor of the West Tower in room E460!

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The Indiana Plan

There has been a good deal of coverage in the local papers and social media sites over the last few months about IU property on East 8th Street in the University Courts neighborhood and the potential demolition of the current properties to make way for a new Phi Gamma Delta (Fiji) house.  I decided to do a little research on the more recent (in the archival world, this is relative – I’m talking the latter half of the 20th century) history of housing of IU Bloomington’s Greek organizations and as is often the case in this job, I’ve learned something new!


Former Phi Psi / Sigma Nu house, now home to some tasty Laughing Planet burritos.

After World War II and the establishment of the GI Bill, campus populations across the country exploded and universities and colleges scrambled to find adequate housing for this new rush of students. Indiana University was no exception (really – students bunked in the Board of Trustees meeting room in Bryan Hall) and administration was able to breath a small sigh of relief in knowing that at least some of the students could find a place to lay their heads within the houses of the campus Greek organizations.

However, the fraternities and sororities themselves were struggling to acquire and maintain sufficient housing for its members. Many had to save for years to have enough money for a down payment or locate existing properties that they could rent, which more often than not, were not fit for chapter houses from an architectural standpoint. At the June 1949 Board of Trustees meeting, President Herman B Wells told the Trustees that there were at least a dozen Greek organizations seeking new or enlarged quarters but they were having difficulty finding property that would fit their needs. He proposed the University develop its acreage north of the Illinois Central Railroad for fraternity and sorority housing. The Board approved and instructed the President to go forth with selling tracts to the organizations for new construction.

So now the Greek orgs had a place to build. Problem solved.

Eh, not so much. The sororities and fraternities still had one huge hurdle – financing. In previous years they had been able to scrape together enough funds through the sale of stocks or bonds and borrowing but the economic landscape was very different at this time and such tactics were insufficient. At the September 1951 Board of Trustees meeting President Wells read a letter from alumni representatives of Alpha Delta Pi, which requested that the University assist in financing its new chapter house at IU. This was a larger issue that needed to be addressed, Wells believed, and he recommended the appointment of a committee of Board members and administrative officers to study the question and make recommendations.

Indiana Plan017

The Fraternity Month, April 1957.

The Fraternity Plans Committee spent a considerable amount of time researching fraternity housing and financing and their recommendations resulted in what became known as the “Indiana Plan.” In a nutshell, the University sold the aforementioned lots to organizations upon approval of the group’s housing plan and to assist with financing, they served as a guarantor for the group’s loan, agreeing to purchase the property if the fraternity defaulted. This plan proved successful and was reaffirmed by the Trustees in 1977, as they and University administrators felt it important to support the development and growth of the Greek community and its housing.


Just a little addendum: All of this was really interesting to me because what I have always heard (but had never had a reason to look into it) was that while the Greek organization owned its house, IU owned the land on which it stood. But in all of my digging, I found nothing that even hinted at this — everything pointed to IU selling the land to the organizations. So I decided to followup with IU Real Estate to find out if I was missing something (real estate dealings can be tough to understand if one has no background in it!) No, according to them, the idea of IU owning the land is a huge misconception and my research was sound. MYTH: BUSTED

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