October on Campus

Sign 2nd CD2004-03-03


There are few things as pretty as the leaves on campus in October. Everywhere we look the colors of fall are especially brilliant this year. If you were on campus this week you would see that in addition to the usual gold there are spectacular reds and every shade of orange and yellow you might imagine.  As I understand it, the tremendous rains that we had in Central Indiana this summer have really created the most beautiful fall display in memory.

In thinking about the leaves on campus, I was reminded of this iconic picture by one of our best photographers, Paul T. Mielke [W1942]. Paul was not only a loyal son, but a long serving member of our mathematics faculty. Lucky for us too since he most usually had a camera around his neck. Paul’s picture of the second sign at the corner of Wabash and Grant is full of autumnal gold. It really gives the viewer such a warm feeling for Wabash. Copies of this photo hang around campus and it never ceases to delight me to see it.

While looking for Paul’s picture, I also found this lovely picture of the first sign.

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Taken in the morning by W. Norwood Brigance, a member of the faculty in the Speech Department, it is also a great fall picture and was used on the cover of the 1948 yearbook. The various colors and the shadows really make this a delightful photo, and I love the movement of the student, head down and off to his class. This sign, the first to occupy that space, was created by Byron Trippet to “dress up” the entry to Campus. The Indianapolis alumni thought that the corner was a disreputable first look at Wabash. And looking at old photos, they weren’t wrong. The grass was overgrown and, unlike today, no flowers. So Dean Trippet was charged with the task. I love his choice of a sign and the simple statement it carries, “Wabash College, Founded in 1832, A Liberal Arts College for Men.” Then and now, the same is still true. Most Wabash men are more familiar with the wooden signs like the one in Paul’s picture and there was some consternation when the last wooden sign was removed in the early 2000′s. Yet it is true to say that the current sign on the corner more closely resembles the original.

In each season the corner is planted with a succession of magnificent flowers, they do really dress up that space. As a welcome to Wabash the corner does just what it was intended to do and that welcome is caught by these beautiful old pictures.

All best,

Beth Swift


Wabash College


The tradition continues…

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It’s homecoming!

The story of 103 years of homecoming at Wabash is full of rituals, traditions and passion…passion for sport, passion for victory, but most of all a passion for this special place.

Football came to Wabash in the late 1880’s, the fans wanted a special cheer and a team color. One student suggested heliotrope and another replied, “Heliotrope, hell! We want blood!”

This Indiana championship team was the first to wear the scarlet.



And this is a scrap of the first scarlet ever worn!


At the start of the 20th century football fever gripped the nation and colleges began hosting homecoming weekends.

Driven by the Chicago Alumni Association, Wabash’s first homecoming football weekend was in 1912.

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The Roaring twenties saw Homecoming firmly established. House decorations, stunt night, bonfires, dances and chapel sing all came into being at that time.  Homecoming as we know it was here to stay. The Sphinx Club came in the 20’s too. In December of 1921 a group from Wabash travelled to IU and brought back the Sphinx. The club quickly assumed many duties at Homecoming, as they still do today.

Old wabashLO

Chapel Sing, known in the past as Freshman Sing, was more of an individual ordeal as it was every man for himself. Note too in this picture of the 1930s that the freshmen are all wearing their “pots” or beanies. All the freshmen are being closely watched by the members of the Senior Council who served as judges for the sing.

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The homecoming bonfire was a big deal and the gathering of the materials for the fire sometimes led to trouble with our neighbors. It seems that any old fencing, odd bits of lumber and the neighbor’s old outhouse were all fair game for the scavengers!

Homecoming 1952 SLD-2004_1048

Over the years the traditions have changed, freshmen no longer wear their pajamas and gone are the pep rallies at the Courthouse.

But the floats, that don’t, the queen contest, the banners and chapel sing all continue.


Each year a new class of freshmen learn Old Wabash and learn also to love this special place. The tradition continues…

 All best, 
Beth Swift, Archivist
Wabash College

Sir Conner of Wabash – a REAL knight!

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Letter head of the Belgian Draft Horse Corporation from the files of the Ramsay Archives at Wabash College.


While researching in the Wabash Magazine, a short note about an alumnus knighted by the King of Belgium caught my eye. Intrigued, a little digging turned up a Wabash man with a passion for horses who lived his entire life in Wabash. Of course that is a bit of a trick, since he was born and raised in Wabash, Indiana. This town, and its county as well, are named for the river which runs through them.

Short side note here, you may ask why Wabash College is not in Wabash, Indiana? The answer is simple, when our college was founded this entire area was known as the “Wabash Country” as all the streams in this part of Indiana drain to the Wabash River. We are in Crawfordsville as that was where Williamson Dunn had land to donate to this audacious startup.

Back to our Wabash man. James D. Conner, Jr. was the son of a prominent lawyer and the first boy to graduate from Wabash High School.  He came to Wabash College as a member of the 1876 “Centennial Class.” While here Conner lived and boarded on Wabash Avenue. That he was ALL Wabash did not go unnoticed as the college gossip column in the student magazine of the time noted the oddity too.

Conner intended to follow his father into the law and at commencement his speech was on a legal theme, “The Genesis of our Republic.” Following graduation Conner returned to Wabash, Indiana and in that same year, 1876, he passed the bar and went to work with his father. Conner junior was a highly successful attorney and it was through his work as a lawyer that he became familiar with the Belgian draft horse as a special breed. An entry on the Find a Grave website [] gives much more detail taken from A History of Wabash County, Indiana [Clarkson Weesner, pub. 1914, pp 495-496]. According to the short biography it was through his work for a client that he first became aware of the Belgian draft horse. He was so taken with these horses that he established the first registry of the breed. In 1887 he created the Belgian Draft Horse Corporation for the purpose of registering these magnificent horses. As Mr. Conner said himself in a letter from December 8, 1937, he served as the Secretary Treasurer of the, “Belgian Draft Horse Corporation of America, the only place in the United States where a pure bred Belgian draft horse can be registered.” That association continues today, it is still the only place to register such a horse and it is still headquartered in Wabash, Indiana. Here is a link to their website:

These horses are evidently quite impressive and it was as a reward for Conner’s protection of the breed that King Albert of Belgium honored Jim Conner as, “a Sir Knight of the Order of the Crown of Belgium” in 1928.

Horses weren’t his only love, he also organized the Wabash County Historical Society. It seems Sir Conner kept busy his whole life. In the same letter from  1937 Conner notes, “I am 84 and working harder than I ever did.” When he died at the age of 87, Conner left behind a legacy that has survived for over 125 years.

An amazing legacy, what a life for Sir Conner of Wabash.


All best,
Beth Swift
Wabash College
Crawfordsville, Indiana

Wally in the Army

Don Cole (W1952)

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  Last month’s post about the creator of Wally Wabash promised a look at Don Cole’s good work after leaving Wabash. Cole has a talent for finding the heart of the matter and bringing that out in his cartoons. Cole and his creation which he called the “Caveman”  went off to the army together. What resulted is a witty look at army life through the eyes of a private.

Drafted just following Commencement, Cole was inducted into the Army in September of 1952. In no time at all Cole made his mark on the army, as an illustrator in the visual aids section of the MP Board. He created a new character, MP Dooty, which was featured in many training pamphlets and in a regular monthly cartoon panel in the Military Police Journal, circulation 20,000. This is a photo of Cole at his desk in the army.

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From the Wabash Bulletin of June, 1953 we have the following interaction between Dick Banta, the Editor and Don Cole. The exchange starts with Banta’s description of Cole’s work at Wabash:

 For his contributions to college publications he created a “Caveman” figure which was accepted by his contemporaries as the true rendering of the typical Wabash Man – a character in no way reminiscent of the Man of Distinction – who is now, as Cole will tell us, in the army too.

Cole’s Uncle Sam gave him the nod soon after Commencement. Wondering what might have resulted from the impact of a union between the Armed Services and a Phi Beta Kappa cartoonist, we wrote to ask him for a BULLETIN contribution which would report on Cole in the Army. This is his reply:

 Dear Editor:

So they finally found something for you to do around Wabash – besides drinking coffee in the Scarlet Inn. I’m sending you some drawings I whipped up in my spare time. And I hope they are what you wanted. You might be interested to know that I am now an illustrator in the Visual Aids Section of the MP Board. The Board handles the doctrine and training of the Military Police Corps.

As you can see by one of the drawings I sent – I am doing a monthly comic panel featuring one MP Dooty who is none other than the old CAVEMAN with an MP uniform. Happily enough this character caught the eye of some top brass in the MP corps and they are planning to feature him in film strips and pamphlets for training Military Policemen. I am working on one of these pamphlets at the present – it’s called ON PATROL WITH MP DOOTY. The comic panel appears, as I said, monthly in the Military Police Journal (circulation 20,000), and the guy seems to be getting popular.

I was inducted Sept. 2, 1952 and took my basic training with an MP company. And just after Christmas and after some fancy talking I got a permanent assignment with the Board. I consider myself quite lucky and I’m well satisfied with my present lot. I’ll be even more satisfied after May 23rd for on that date I am to be wed to Miss Sonja Hartzell, (my last year’s Pan date).

Best regards,

Pvt. Don Cole.

These images are Cole’s report as printed in the Wabash Bulletin of June, 1953.

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 And look at that last cartoon. There is Wally Wabash in his MP uniform keeping company with his creator Don Cole. I hope you have enjoyed this look at Wally’s further adventures. Truly, Don Cole is an artist with a talent for cartooning!


All best,
Beth Swift
Wabash College
Crawfordsville, Indiana  

A cheery gift

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Look at this beauty which just arrived this morning! This bumper sticker is a gift of Charles O. Hardy [W1955] and it was delivered by Jane Hardy, his daughter. You may recognize Jane’s name as the newly tenured Assistant Professor of Spanish in the Modern Languages department. Jane and her husband Peter Mikek, [Associate Professor of Economics] are both on the faculty. It was awfully nice of Jane to bring this to the Archives. I love the pure red cheeriness of this sticker and, of course, that cheerful fellow Wally Wabash as created by Don Cole [W1952].

Here is a little more about this great cartoonist which was pulled together for a display a few years ago.

Cole 1950YBDon Cole (W1952)

Wabash has a long tradition of famous cartoonists. Perhaps most dear to students of a certain age is Don Cole. Graduated magna cum laude, a Phi Beta Kappa and with a first in comprehensives, Cole was a scholar with a wicked pencil. His Caveman covers of the early 50’s are a real peek into college humor of that time. He gave us that irrepressible WALLY WABASH. Created in 1948 for the Caveman, Wally was a hearty fellow, surviving even the deep sixing of that publication. Since that time, Wally has been a busy fellow. Money from the sale of Wally notebooks sent the Glee Club on their European tour of 1967. At one point he was on each piece of letterhead at the college and traveled the world on official Wabash flight bags.

Here are a series of Wallys that Don created for the 1956 yearbook. They really show student life in all its richness.

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The terror of all new freshmen, back in the day when blowing the words to “Dear Old Wabash” might earn you a stylish new “W” haircut.



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Wally in a class out in front of Center Hall. Is that legendary Professor of Classics Jack Charles behind the pipe?


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Wally at the round table of the Scarlet Inn is making his point!


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Wally in Chapel listening intently to the words of wisdom, mandatory attendance meant that not all students were as engaged as this good man.



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Club Man Wally was a real joiner. We have a couple of these charms in the Archives. Worn on the belt, each club had a different charm or key.


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There are several more Wallys, but Commencement Wally represented the highest achievement and the goal of all students past and present. With his lambskin in hand Wally is ready to face the outside world just as his creator did.

Next time I will share more of Cole’s brilliant cartooning after Wabash. In the meantime, you might be interested in this former post with a witty take on student life:


All best, 
Beth Swift, Archivist, Wabash College
Crawfordsville, Indiana




The circus is in town

Lichtenstein circus picture not datedSometimes in the spring things get a little silly on campus. It seems like the warm sun just brings out the kid in all of us. But there was a time when there was a real circus on campus. The Royal Lichtenstein Quarter Ring Circus visited Wabash several times in the 70′s, 80′s and 90′s. Here is the best photo of all that I have seen. It really shows the delight of the audience members, young and old.

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This Bachelor article from April 14, 1978 gives us a little background on this interesting touring group. And clearly they were a hit at Wabash based on the frequency of their return performances.

And, whether or not it is officially a circus, on some warm sunny days here on campus, the mall is hopping with life – students and faculty who stop to chat with one another, Sphinx Club members doing air raids and Career Services taking their show to where the students are found. Yes, on a warm spring day it feels a little like the circus has come to town, which means not long now until commencement!


All best, 
Beth Swift
Wabash College


A day of giving…




Today is the day!

I just gave online – it is super easy.


In honor of ALL the women who have served Wabash well throughout her history!


A small gift to honor those women who have, for the whole of the history, sacrificed and struggled to make Wabash what she is today!

Here are the ways that women serve/have served Wabash:


Those who work or have worked here, whether faculty or staff.

Our first ladies who never stop working for Wabash.

The wives of our alumni and trustees.

The wives of faculty members.

Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, the mothers of all of the Wabash men in history.


Your good work, many sacrifices and love for this unusual place are a key part of the strength of Wabash.


4.22 is a great day for Wabash College! A group of alumni leaders will give $142,200 to the Annual Fund if 2,200 people Stand T.A.L.L. and make a gift TODAY. I made my gift. If you believe in the College’s mission, join me by making a gift today.



George Kendall – a Giant AND a Gentleman


George Kendall and his good friend Insley Osborne [W1906]

George Kendall at left and his good friend Insley Osborne [W1906]

For this blog posting I would like to share with you the story of a giant in our history. As with last month’s post, these remarks are largely taken from the Chapel Talk I gave in the spring of 2013. In Archives work there is a concept that lots of copies, kept in separate places (and in this case in different formats) keeps things safe so it seems to me that sharing this content via a blog might just be a good idea.

On with the story, part of what is so interesting about this giant is that while he had tremendous impact on the Wabash of his time, and of ours too, he is rarely mentioned. Dean George Kendall served Wabash, officially, from 1920 until 1957. Following his retirement, he moved back to the East, but like so many before and after him, even in retirement, he worked on behalf of Wabash for the remainder of his life.

George Valentine Kendall was born in Kirkwood, Missouri on February 14, 1891. His Valentine’s Day birth was the source of his unusual middle name. His parents were upper middle class, both college educated, his father was a doctor. When it came time for George to go to college, he attended Brown University and developed a love of the theater. He appeared in plays during college and served as president of the Sock and Buskin, the theatrical society of Brown. Kendall also spent a great deal of time in other theaters as well. Based on the collection of vaudeville programs in his papers, it’s amazing that he had time to attend any classes. But he must have done and given that he was a Junior Marshall for Brown’s commencement and a member of Phi Beta Kappa, we can infer that he did quite well in his studies. For graduate school he went to the University of Wisconsin where he earned his Master’s degree. He then went on to Columbia where he roomed with Insley Osborne [W1906] son of longtime faculty member Pat Osborne and one of our first Rhodes scholars.

As with so many men of that time, George’s plans were suspended for World War I. In France George served as an artillery instructor and it was there during the war that he met and married Yvonne Guyer, a shy beauty he always referred to as his “Alsatian lass.” Upon their return from Europe, the Kendalls lived in New York where George returned to his studies at Columbia. City life was hard for Yvonne who was more at home in the country. When Wabash was in need of a man to teach English, Insley Osborne recommended his friend George for the position and in 1920 the Kendalls moved to Crawfordsville.

It was not long before George became a valued young member of the faculty. In just three years he was named Dean of the College and served as dean for sixteen years, longer than any other. It is important to understand that at this time, there was only one dean. Kendall was Dean of the College, Dean of Students and Dean of the Faculty – all in one. It was a big job. A faculty resolution offered at this retirement notes that his work was divided among, “no fewer than four members of the present faculty.” He also taught two classes during his time as Dean!

Kendall House - donated by George and Yvonne to the College was the site of many gracious evenings. during the Hopkins administration the Kendalls served as hosts to guests of Wabash.

Kendall House – donated by George and Yvonne to the College was the site of many gracious evenings. During the Hopkins administration the Kendalls served as hosts to most guests of Wabash.

In the 1920’s, under Kendall, there was a complete revamping of the curriculum which gave us our divisional system and comprehensive examinations. A voice of reason, a deep thinker and, perhaps more importantly in this sort of project, a calm and steady hand, it is widely agreed that the lasting success of the “new” curriculum is largely down to Dean Kendall’s ability to get men to work together toward a common cause. Again from the faculty resolution at his retirement we read that his judgment was highly regarded, so much so that it was said that when a committee voted down or modified his recommendations, they did so with feelings of “gravest misgivings and a queasy sense of inevitable miscarriage.”

In his book, Wabash on My Mind, Byron Tippet opens his lovely sketch of Kendall by saying, “George Kendall was the most civilized man I have ever known. Much as I would like to, I cannot do justice in words to the character and personality of this man, to say nothing of the quality of his mind.” It is also in this sketch that Trippet notes that the principal architect of the Gentleman’s Rule was Dean Kendall. From Trippet’s book, “He did not believe in wet-nursing students…He relied on repeated personal conversations with individual students and on occasional informal discussions with student leaders to make the Wabash philosophy work well in practice. When breaches in the code occurred, he dealt with them quickly, firmly and consistently. There were no half-way measures. Suspension from college was the only disciplinary action resorted to. But Dean Kendall did no preaching in such cases, no petty scolding. He was matter-of-fact and business-like, and rarely was there student whimpering. There was no appeal for higher authority from his judgments.”

Trippet credits the Gentleman’s Rule as a distinctive source of strength at Wabash. He says, “It was a philosophy which presupposed that students were adults, not children, that they were able to distinguish between right and wrong, and that they were aware of their responsibility for the consequences of their behavior.”

At his memorial, Kendall’s dear friend and former student Bob Harvey said this, “Student discipline was one of his duties, and is was not an easy task in the post-war climate of the rowdy 1920’s. But his discipline was always considerate and understanding. Perhaps it is worth noting here that the first Wabash man Dean Kendall saw,” during WWII, “welcomed him by shouting to George from an upper window of a barracks building. Their reunion was a pleasant one, and it was not marred by the fact that Dean Kendall had earlier booted the young man out of Wabash.”

This view of Kendall is also present in another address for his memorial, Walt Fertig – Wabash man and long-time faculty member in the English department – spoke of George in this way, “He was tall, big-boned, built on a kind of heroic scale, with a beautiful bald head and piercing blue eyes…Immediately, you knew he was a person with whom nonsense or pettiness would get nowhere. Kendall was a powerfully impressive dean.” Fertig notes that he believed in men taking care of themselves and that Kendall’s ideal college was a college for men, not a school for boys.

Kendall was the first member of the faculty to leave Wabash for the military in WWII. After Pearl Harbor, he lobbied a Wabash man, General Charles D. Herron, for a position in the Army. He was sent to the South Pacific where he served on the staff of General MacArthur. Kendall finished the war as a Lt. Colonel. He returned to Wabash after the war as Dean of the Faculty and served as a mentor to the new Dean of Students, Byron Trippet.

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Kendall retired from Wabash in 1957 and moved to Massachusetts to live near an old college friend. In letters from that time he notes that he is determined to, “get clean out of the way.” We can see that this was wise by reading the faculty resolution created at his retirement which notes, “No member of the Wabash faculty has ever carried more responsibility or commanded more respect than George Kendall. The embodiment of urbanity and of unassuming academic and executive efficiency, he impressed generations of students, faculty members, and trustees with his limitless talents.”  It was clear that his was a long shadow. I have often wondered if one of the primary reasons Kendall left Wabash when he retired was to ensure Byron Trippet’s freedom to lead as the new Wabash president. In many letters George wrote after his retirement, there was often a wistful quality, a longing for this place, and yet he knew that if he were around, the thoughts of “What would George do?” might be a hindrance to others as they tried to lead.

Kendall lived for another 15 years after his retirement. By all accounts it was a full and happy retirement with many pleasant visits from friends among the Wabash family. I will leave you with a couple of quick stories gleaned from the letters which came to his widow following his death. One was particularly striking, from a Wabash man who had long since graduated. As the alum tells the story,  he was doing very poorly in his accounting class and wanted to drop it. He also had terrible headaches. Dean Kendall recommended that he have his eyes tested, perhaps he might need glasses. Decades later, this former student was a very successful accountant and head of his state association. He credited Kendall with his lifelong success. The second account came from a former student who had been having trouble making his 8:00 classes. Kendall recommended that the student drink large amounts of water before going to sleep as the need for the men’s room might just prompt him out of bed. This suggestion was so embarrassing to the student that he was never late to class again. And there were dozens like these from men whose lives were changed for the better by the tough, yet fair, Dean of Wabash.

Obviously, there was much more to George Kendall than I can convey here. But in summary, let me just say that Dean George Valentine Kendall was a giant force on campus in his time. He led the faculty through the biggest curriculum change in our history. He crafted the policy which became codified under Trippet as the Gentleman’s Rule. He inspired generations of men with a love for Shakespeare and ferocious loyalty. But perhaps Bob Harvey said it best, “George had a grin like a sunrise on a bright morning. He was urbane. His wife, Yvonne, was a joy and so was their home. He was a great dean in a college which has been fortunate in having great deans. He was a scholar. He was a man of absolute integrity. And he loved Wabash College, literally, until the day he died.”

I hope that you have enjoyed this close look at one of the giants of Wabash College, a man whose influence lingers still.

All best,
Beth Swift
Wabash College



Caleb Mills – Activist

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 Excerpts from a Chapel Talk – Beth Swift 02/26/2015


Just recently I had a visit from a  young scholar, a fourth grader from a local school working on an Indiana history project. She wanted material and information about Caleb Mills. As I prepared for her visit, Mills kept popping up in other work. So I have been thinking a lot about Caleb Mills and thought perhaps our time might be well spent if we could obtain a better picture of the man. Pull away the preconceptions and really look at the man and his life’s work.

Now we all know a little something about Mills – even if it is only that he had a bell. This bell greets you as you enter Wabash as a freshman and it rings for you as you leave at Commencement in one of the neatest traditions in education.

Beyond the bell, if pushed further you might say that he was the first teacher hired by Wabash. But how many know that he is referred to as the “Father of the Indiana school system?”  I didn’t. But having heard this and years ago reading that he was the second superintendent of Indiana schools made me wonder how he could be the father of the system? Seemed a reasonable question and the answer is a perfect example of Caleb Mills as an activist. Let’s talk about Caleb Mills not as some old figure head in our history, who happened to be the first teacher with a neat bell.

Instead, I want to introduce you to Caleb Mills Man of Action. I will share with you several instances of Mills as a man with a lifelong passion to do good work. He was a man on a mission to make a difference in the lives of those around him, his students certainly, but also to improve the lot of his fellow citizens. A man who believed that education was the key to a good life and a right of all citizens.

Caleb Mills was indeed the first member of the Wabash faculty, hired in the summer of 1833 as the only teacher at the Crawfordsville Classical High School, which would grow into Wabash College. Mills was a graduate of Dartmouth and Andover Seminary, like his friend and former roommate Edmund O. Hovey – a founder of Wabash College. Mills, like Hovey, worked for the American Home Missionary Society and had a passion to do good work in the West. In fact, Mills had worked in this area for a time before he returned to Andover to finish his seminary training.

The advertisement from the AHMS newspaper

The advertisement from the AHMS newspaper

In January of 1833, the Prudential Board of Wabash, forerunners of our Board of Trustees, advertised for a teacher in the pages of the home missionary society newspaper. They were looking for a man who could teach during the week and serve as minister to a church on Sundays. This one man could, they said, “Do more to benefit the country than three ordinary missionaries.” Mills applied for the post adding that Hovey knew him and his qualifications. By July, Mills was nominated as teacher and Hovey wrote to Mills offering him the post. With hindsight we can see that the words of that ad were prophetic. Caleb Mills WAS that one man and his life’s work was even greater than the ad supposed.

Mills arrived in Indiana in November of 1833 in miserably cold, wet weather with his new bride, Sarah. Accompanying them were her sister, Lydia Marshall and a missionary teacher, Salina Wyatt. Forest Hall was still under construction. Mills’ new job was to teach ALL of the classes and on December 3, 1833 he began by calling the students together with a humble school bell.

For his teaching at the school he received the student’s tuition. Remember there were only twelve students at first and tuition averaged $5 per term. To supplement this meager amount the American Home Missionary Society paid him a small salary in exchange for serving as the minister to a local church.

Mills taught five days a week and on the sixth he went out to his church – described as six miles west of town. He spent Saturday evenings with his church people, stayed overnight, delivered a sermon on Sunday and returned home. In summary, he worked seven days a week for very little money. Later in his life he reflected that he was paid least when he worked most. Mills was motivated, not by money, but by a passion to improve the lives of as many people as possible.

Forest under construction

Forest Hall under construction – wood cut from by R.E. Banta from Wabash College, the First Hundred Years

Preachers and teachers is a sort of a shorthand phrase we use to describe the motivations of the founders of Wabash. They were interested in educating those who would educate and minister to the thousands of illiterate Hoosiers then filling up the Wabash Country. Mills wanted to teach so that good, highly qualified teachers could go out from Wabash and deliver high quality education to their pupils. In turn these teachers would bring the light of learning to the members of their communities. It was this, above all else, that drove Mills.

To understand the needs of the country, let’s look at the state of education in Indiana in the middle 1800’s. There were schools scattered around the state, but they were all merely local ventures which is to say sporadically funded – really barely funded – and operated for short periods of time. Just a few weeks each year, not uncommonly coinciding with breaks from the colleges when teachers [students at college] could be hired on the cheap. Instruction was limited and often of poor quality, as there were no standards for teachers.

Of more importance to Mills was the fact that these schools were subscription schools, meaning they were only open to those who could pay tuition. Thus insuring that those with the most need of an education, the poorest of our state, were the least likely to receive it.

To better show the need for education, let’s look at the numbers from the 1840 census. 1 of 7 Indiana adults could not read or write, not even their name. This placed Indiana dead last of all northern states in terms of literacy.

By late 1846 Mills decided to take DIRECT action. He took up his pen and wrote a piece entitled, “An Address to the Legislature.” He had this piece printed in the Indiana State Journal which was on every legislator’s desk at the opening of the General Assembly in Indianapolis. The anonymous letter was full of passion, vigor and statistics and signed “One of the People.”

The numbers I cited above come from Mills’ address to the legislature. We have in the Archives the very copy of the 1840 census he used when composing this plea for universal FREE education as a means of raising the living standard in Indiana. He was determined to bring this issue to the attention of as many legislators and citizens as possible.

It is likely that Mills was driven to action by a committee formed earlier that year which noted that only 37% of school age children attended school and that those who did were only there for a few weeks each year.

In this first address, Mills noted that the only public money allotted to schools came from the federal government. There was 640 acres of land per township set aside that could be sold to fund a school. The problem with this is that, first of all, that’s very little in terms of the need for a building, books, supplies AND a teacher year after year. Also, land in the poorest parts of the state was worth a good bit less and the students in those communities, Mills thought, were the ones who most needed education.

In all, Mills wrote six addresses between 1846 and 1851. It is widely accepted that it was his work that drove the legislature to create a true public school system. These addresses were not simply pleas for funds, nor were they attacks of high minded rhetoric, although they contained both.  They were so effective, in the end, because they provided a clear-eyed assessment of the problem – AND more importantly – they provided simple, straight forward solutions.

As the addresses continued through the years Mills applauded the positive steps taken, offered his views on needs unmet and ways to continue the improvements. He included possible sources of revenue, boards for governance and ways to fund libraries in each community school.

In fact, in 1850, as legislators gathered to write a “new” constitution, there appeared in the Indiana Statesman a series of four letters by One of the People. Again, here is Mills bringing his message to the people and their legislators at just the right moment. His aim in these four messages was to have the education laws enshrined in the constitution where they would be safe from tinkering or future reversals.

Mills was not simply an editorial writer. He also had each message privately printed, at his own cost. Each message carried the subtitle “Read, Circulate and Discuss.” Mills sent them all over the state. The evidence is that his readers followed this direction and they were widely circulated and extensively discussed.

His last address as One of the People was in 1851 as the General Assembly went to work under the new constitution. Mills wrote of the importance of any new laws as a reflection of intent. He said that any laws passed must contain state supervision of common schools, competent teachers AND standards for them.  More importantly, Mills felt that the freedom to function outside of politics was essential.

The laws created and passed in 1852 contained funding in the form of taxes equally distributed to all areas of the state, local control which was subject to review by the State Board of Education, which was then watched by an elected state Superintendent of Public Schools. In short, a system of checks and balances Mills thought essential for decent statewide education.

In his book A History of Education in Indiana author Richard Boone says of Caleb Mills, “Among all those who saw the calamitous ignorance of the people, and who were ambitious of better things for the state…was one whose contributions were sufficiently definite and sound to be recognized as the chief factor in its solution.” Boone P.91

So now we understand why Mills is called the father of Indiana education. It is for his steadfast determination that the more people that were educated, the better it was for all of Indiana.

Mills was elected State Superintendent of Public Instruction in 1854 and took a leave of absence from Wabash to do it. While in this position he visited every county in the state and addressed students and voters at every chance. His Address to the Youth of Indiana is a classic.

It is clear Mills made things happen, but before we leave today I would like to share just a few short snippets to show that he had other passions as well. It should be no surprise that he also devoted this same drive and energy to them.

Map showing campus and the regular little trees on the left are Mills' orchard.

Map showing campus and the regular little trees on the left are Mills’ orchard.

Let’s start with Mills’ passion for horticulture. His garden was his great delight and in particular his orchard. His apples were his nightly treat – one description of him said that every night he studied until 11, ate a baked apple and retired.  Students were often invited over for a glass of cider and felt it an honor to have been asked. He invented a cold storage system for his apples that was a marvel to all who saw it. This storage house assured a supply of fresh apples for cider well into the spring.

Mills was also passionate about books. He served as the college librarian for a number of years and his piece from the Wabash Magazine of 1871 is a stirring plea for support to fill the beautiful new Library space with books. That space was, incidentally, the ground floor of the north wing of Center Hall. We know it as the business office.

He was also a land developer. In 1850, years after the college abandoned the original site, and Forest Hall with it, Mills bought the parcel for $1,050. A great deal of the west end was at one time owned by Mills. To save the old building, he had Forest Hall taken apart and reassembled on his ground here – originally where the Sparks Center is now.

On another part of his land he created a cemetery for those members of the Wabash family, including his own infant children, who died early in our history. Long since removed, the graveyard was about where the Trippet Hall parking lot is now.

Marshall Street, just across from the Sigma Chi house, is named for his only son who survived into manhood. Marshall served in the Civil War, returned to finish at Wabash, died soon after, and was buried there. The entry to the cemetery was off of that short street.

When the college needed additional housing Caleb Mills fixed up Forest Hall as a dormitory.  It had baths for the students, a pretty big deal at the time and a dining hall that could seat 50.

As he neared the end of his life, Mills  gave Forest Hall to the College. So the fact that we have the building in which classes were first held is due to Caleb Mills.  He bought it, saved it, moved it and made it useful to Wabash, thus ensuring its survival.

I started this by describing Mills as a man of action. Let me finish our look at Mills with one last story.

In his article on the history of Wabash for the December 1894 [p105] issue of the Wabash Magazine, long serving faculty member John Lyle Campbell described Edmund Hovey as a thoughtful down to Earth man. Mills, he said, was the creative, energetic man.

With this description in mind, from Wabash College, the First Hundred Years comes this story. In 1853 Hovey had reprimanded a student for card playing. At that time many activities were forbidden to students and gambling was high on the list, as was drinking. Both were considered quite serious offenses. So when Hovey got word that this same student was hosting a card party in his dormitory room, Hovey went to stop it. At this time the dormitory, South Hall, was set up rather like a suite today with a common room and two separate single bedrooms. When Hovey came in the students ran to the bedroom and locked the door. When Hovey tried to force it open he injured his knee. Mills was sent for and arrived on the scene with an axe. Never one to delay when action was needed, Mills took his axe and chopped open the door. The final report is that most of the fellows apologized for their behavior and were allowed to stay in college. The host, we are told, was unrepentant and defiant, then expelled.

Caleb Mills was a man of convictions, of faith and always a man of action. If he was passionate about a subject, then he acted on that. He was a man of action, always in motion. He was so much more than simply the first member of the faculty, or the owner of the famous bell.  I hope you have enjoyed getting to know Caleb Mills, the activist. Thank you!

Beth Swift, Archivist, Wabash College




Center Hall in the morning

Here is a picture to brighten the day. Center Hall DC950f001LO



Center Hall basking in the morning sun makes such a nice picture on a cold winter day. While this picture is undated, we can guess that it was taken in the late 1940′s based on the materials found along with it. The colors are still fresh though clearly it was stored folded in half.  Still, it is a sturdy image of the east side of the building. I can almost imagine a young student just about to enter the picture.

Take care and stay warm!

All best,

Beth Swift
Wabash College


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