Caleb Mills – Activist

Mills Caleb PD-084_04

 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


Founding a college

Small 1878AtlasLow


Every year at this time, as the ground hardens and the snow flies, I think about the founders of Wabash College and their journey to the founding meeting. It would have been cold and very likely windy as well, but the little brick house of James Thomson would have been warm. Their dedication and enthusiasm led them to think big, to dream of a college in this wilderness. So in honor of their sacrifices, let’s look closely at our founding 182 years ago this November.

The image above is from the Atlas of 1878. The location of the meeting was at James Thomson’s brick house west of this campus, where the R. R. Donnelly’s parking lot is now. At the time of the founding Crawfordsville was a very small town, only four blocks wide and five blocks tall. When the Hoveys later moved to Crawfordsville and rented the same house, Mary described it as about a half mile from town. Near the top of the map is the area a few blocks north of here where Forest Hall was built. Also shown is the land which was offered by Williamson Dunn in the event that the project won approval. Dunn had already given the land on which Hanover was founded and donated land for the fledgling Indiana Academy (which would become IU).

Several leaders among the Presbyterians in this part of the state had been discussing the possibilities of creating a school for some time. their primary motivation was to educate the men who would serve as ministers and teachers in this area of the country. On this chilly November day, the founders gathered from far and near. After a reading from the scriptures, a hymn and a prayer, the motion was brought to the floor to found a literary institution in this, the Wabash Country. The next morning, Thursday, these young men (all but one under the age of 32 and he was only 41) gathered again and walked through the snowy woods to the land that had been offered as a gift from Williamson Dunn. They agreed on the fitness of the donation and it was here that the “Kneeling in the Snow” occurred.

Kneeling in the snow

In 1916 the College dedicated a small stone which still sits on the corner of Lane Avenue and Blair Street (near Nicholson elementary school) and marks the site for posterity.


Blair and Lane Marker

 Marker at the corner of Lane Avenue and Blair Street.

In a letter from James Thomson to Williamson Dunn dated March 13, 1833, Thomson tells Dunn that for the time being they are calling the institution the “Crawfordsville Classical and English High School,” although they will apply for the charter next winter under another name. Thomson continues by saying that they will build a frame building – as they could not afford bricks. When Caleb Mills rang in the first class, the building was unpainted and all in all it made a humble start.

An alumnus of that era described the scene many years later,

“The ground was some distance northwest of the town, not far from Sugar Creek.  No wagon road passed nearer than one or two hundred yards north of the building. The Western limits of the town extended to what is now called Grant Ave.  West of that all was native forest, except a small place a short distance West of this Avenue on Main Street, where Nathaniel Dunn had his residence and tan yard; there were also other small clearings being opened up.
“The students who lived or boarded in town, followed a path which passed between the Dunn residence and tan yard: thence northwest through the forest, crossing over two or three rail fences before reaching the College building.  The building was frame, unpainted, three stories high including the basement.  From the front facing South, where we entered, it was apparently only two stories, the ground sloping gently to the North, so the front entrance was on a level with the ground, while at the North it opened from a basement, also on a level with the ground.” 

In 1835 Wabash purchased a quarter section of land, 160 acres, from Ambrose Whitlock. The trustees immediately held an auction, sold 100 acres off the parcel and made money. This money was used to start the construction of the building known simply as “The College,” as there were no other buildings on this site.

HoveyCottage 1898This is a picture of the Hovey Cottage in its original location just to the west [right] of the Wabash Avenue entrance, moved when Kane House was built.

In a letter from November of 1835, Mary Hovey tells her sister that they have purchased 7-8 acres of land and will build a house. In 1836 Caleb Mills and Edmund Hovey built their homes and for the rest of their lives these two men lived and worked side by side.

CM house 1907

This is a picture of the Caleb Mills House taken about 20 years after the death of Mills.

What is notable about this building is that of the three white frame buildings in our Historic Corner, only the Caleb Mills House is in its original location.

So as we pass into the Thanksgiving season, it is nice to pause a while and think about the founders who were bold enough to start a college in the wilderness.

All best, 
Beth Swift
Wabash College 

A near thing














This is the earliest photo that we have of the first building on this site – South Hall as it later came to be known. In fact it is one of the few images that show this building just as it was built, this photo was taken in the 1870s.

In 1838 Wabash was in good shape. We purchased 160 acres, immediately sold 100 of them for a profit and started construction of “The College” as it was the only building on the new campus.  The first three floors housed student rooms; the fourth floor had classrooms, a small chapel and a library. Each floor was divided into three “Divisions” North, Middle and South. The two walls which created the three divisions were built as a unit from the basement to the roof. At the time it was built South Hall was a very large building and much admired. As it was considered to be as nearly fireproof as possible, it was not insured.

Just as it neared completion, tragedy struck. The fire of September 23, 1838 very nearly killed Wabash. Mary Hovey, the wife of founder and early faculty member Edmund O. Hovey, describes the fire in a letter to her brother-in-law Charles White, “The scenes of last Saturday morning can never be blotted from our memory. But the day before our beautiful college building – which cost sixteen thousand dollars – stood as the ornament of our town and pleased the eye of every beholder. The building was not entirely completed, but would have been this fall. Accommodations were already provided for sixty students. The building contained libraries and apparatus valued at six thousand dollars. At half past two on that morning we were awakened by the cry, “The College is on fire!” The flames had then burst through all the windows in the north-end which was unfinished and the whole roof was one sheet of fire. For a moment building library and all were forgotten in the thought Where are the students? We knew some were sleeping in the third and perhaps fourth stories and the fire was rapidly descending the staircases. But – we rejoice to add that the lives of all were saved, though many left all of their worldly goods behind to be consumed by the fire….”

In her wonderfully detailed letter she goes on to say that the fire started on the roof of the north division by the workers finishing the tin roof. It was largely due to the unique construction that most of the damage was limited to the middle and north divisions. The exterior and interior walls held the fire somewhat in check. However, all of the library and the scientific equipment were destroyed.

It was thought at first that this was the end, or in Mary’s words, “For a few hours our feelings were, Wabash College is dead, henceforth it will exist only in memory….But the united voices of our citizens is, it must not die.” Mary was writing this letter the day following a public meeting held between the college and the town. John Steel Thomson a founder and faculty member gave a rousing sermon which inspired the people of Crawfordsville to donate. A letter from nearly twenty years later written by James Thomson tells us that the money given by the town to rebuild Wabash was earmarked for a female academy here in Crawfordsville, which was never built. It is for this outpouring of generosity that President Lew Salter, on the occasion of 150th Anniversary of the College in 1982, penned a thank you to the citizens of Crawfordsville. Look for the plaque on the ground in front of Baxter Hall, Mall side.

The college did rebuild, although for a time classes were held in the “Hanna Building” downtown, seen below on the corner. The Hanna family had very close ties to the early college.

Downtown 1860












This is the building which now houses the store Heathcliff, on the NW corner of Main and Washington Streets.  Members of the faculty and the friends of the College took in the students who had lost nearly everything in the fire. It was a tough time for Wabash. The money from Crawfordsville started the repairs, but it was not enough to continue the mission and so Wabash borrowed from the state of Indiana. It was a struggle but by March of 1839 the Trustees reported that the repairs were complete and that the College would be insured for as much as possible!

All best, 
Beth Swift
Wabash College

Worldwide pandemic – 96 years ago

October 7, 1918.

This week I came across this story about the 1918 worldwide flu pandemic and noted the date. Estimates are that this illness killed 50 million people worldwide while World War One claimed 16 million lives. That is to say that the influenza pandemic of 1918 claimed more than three times as many and yet we know so little about this time. So let’s look at Wabash in the late 19 teens and see how we dealt with this tragedy.

I might start by noting that the National Archives has an excellent site [] that offers the above statistics and a great deal more, including the fact that there were actually two parts to this nightmare. The first phase happened in the spring and was less severe. Most of those who fell ill in the spring recovered. But the fall outbreak, which is the subject of this story, was really virulent. Many died within hours of the onset and young people were among the hardest hit. Yet we rarely hear about this incredible time. So during this week, 96 years later, here is what we know about the flu pandemic at Wabash.

Wabash was among the many colleges to have a Student Army Training Corps [SATC] program during the Great War. So let’s start with the rationale for the program. It was noted right across America that the number of men in college had decreased due to army enlistments. The fear was that there would be a shortage of men who could serve as leaders during the war and after it as well. The SATC was created to prevent that scenario from happening in America.

Details of the SATC program

Wabash College Record 10/1918

SATC Rationale CROP

Induction Student Army Training Corps NE corner of Arboretum October 1, 1918.


Again from the Wabash College Record:

Early in September the Board of Trustees of Wabash College signed a contract with the War Department in which it was agreed that the College would furnish lodging and board as well as academic instruction to 400 soldier-students. Ground was cleared at once on the campus between South Hall and the new gymnasium, for the erection of two barracks with capacity for two hundred men each. By registration day, October 1, one of these barracks was practically ready for occupation and the other was well under way. These buildings, which were planned after inspection by representatives of the College of the barracks at the Speedway Aviation Field at Indianapolis, Ground was 215 x 42 feet each and have walls eleven feet high above the floor. They are substantially built, by no means unattractive structures, well lighted by windows placed at eight foot intervals, and kept at a comfortable temperature by steam heat from the central heating plant of the College. Lavatories and showers and stationary laundry-tubs in the sufficient number for the four hundred occupants of the barracks are provided in a separate building built between the two barracks.

The barracks, where the Chapel now stands.


Inside the barracks


In addition, the College was charged to feed these men. And, of course, this was before the time of the Campus Center [Sparks Center] so there was no dining hall on campus. A cafeteria was established in the auxiliary gymnasium on the second floor of the Armory. Forest Hall was also pressed into service as the headquarters and guard house. The men were sworn in and immediately began drilling.

SATC unit in the Mess Hall

 SATC ArmoryDiningPD-253-05

The image below is of the first drill. As you can see, the uniforms had yet to arrive.

first drill

The program proved quite popular and five hundred and twenty five men came to Wabash. This was quite a strain on the system, but every available room was pressed into service with some even lodging in town. It was quite an upheaval to the day to day workings of this small college. But the commander was well liked and, perhaps more importantly, well respected by his men. Just one week later the influenza hit Wabash on Monday, October 7, 1918. Six men appeared at sick call with high fevers; by that night 11 more were added. All of the sick students were taken to the Phi Delta Theta fraternity on the corner of College and Jefferson. The fraternity was in the process of being converted into a camp hospital when suddenly there were patients. The description of the next day is alarming. From Wabash College The First hundred Years:

The two companies had scarcely lined up when two men pitched forward suddenly to the floor. They were being carried out when another man in the ranks fainted. The man next to him bent to pick him up, and he too fainted. Before roll call had been completed ten men had fainted in the sight of the badly demoralized corps….But college classes started that day so inauspiciously that an announcement was made in the afternoon of the suspension of all classroom work for an indefinite time. That night there were thirty-five men in the hospital. For a day or two the number of new cases decreased. Then it rose again, so quickly that on October 12 there were ninety-five men crowding every room and nearly every hallway of the transformed Phi Delt house, seven of them with serious cases of pneumonia. The hospital had been organized to take care of six patients, with one nurse in charge.

In all one hundred and twenty cases were received by the hospital during the run of the epidemic, and not a single boy lost his life. College and town were very proud of this record. It was attained only by an outpouring of energy nothing short of heroic. Miss Mary Jolley, of Crawfordsville, head nurse, remained steadily at her post in spite of the fact that she herself was attacked by influenza. Volunteers stepped forward to help her. Three of these volunteers were trained nurses – Miss May Huston, Miss Edith Hunt, and Miss Ethel Newell.

There was one tragedy, to soften the rejoicing that was felt when the epidemic was seen to have run its course. The third of the trained nurses to volunteer, Miss Ethel Newell, had offered her services in spite of the fact that she was convalescing from a very recent attack of pneumonia. She knew the risk was great, and took it. Pneumonia returned and she died, at the home of her parents…On the Roll of honor of non-coeducational Wabash her name does not appear. It surely belongs there.

Phi Delt House III

Phi Delt house, same location as the current house.

By October 24 of 1918 the outbreak had run its course and all classes and activities resumed. I might close by noting that much of what we know of this time comes to us from the writings of one of the members of the SATC.  This dedicated young man, Norman Littell [W1921] sat down in his junior year and wrote a history of the Student Army Training Corps which survives yet today.

For more on the pandemic of 1918, here are some links:

From the National Archives

From Health and Human Services

Beth Swift
Wabash College

Ringing in the new – a special time at Wabash

chapel top color

Posted on August 25, 2014 by Beth Swift

Each year at this time a little bit of magic flows over the campus. The pace picks up, the parking lots are full again and the students return to campus. You might say that the campus comes back to life as our students come back, carrying with them an infectious energy that permeates Wabash. I love to watch the students returning to their dorms or their houses, meeting their friends or a favorite professor on the mall. It is an annual occurrence, but never quite the same. It is as fresh as the students who create it. It is evergreen and ever changing.

One of the real highlights each fall is Freshman Saturday when the new class arrives. This is the day when a lifetime of anticipation meets reality, when anxious parents are still struggling with the idea that their son is now on his way to adulthood. A time when, maybe for the first time, the sons will need to figure it out for themselves – whatever “it” is. A time when the boy they have been meets the man they will become. It is a joyous time, a sad time, an exciting time and for sure, a day most parents and students will remember forever. It is a day of change. Such a day should be marked in some meaningful way, it should be noted forever in the record books, and it should be special.  I am happy to say that at Wabash it is ALL of those things.

The highlight of Freshman Saturday is, without question, the Ringing In which happens in the Chapel. All of the students sit together in the balcony of the Chapel while the parents and other family members are on the main floor.  The ceremony starts as everyone is welcomed by the Dean of Students. The Dean of Admissions gives a short welcome and a brief summary of the incoming class. Next up is the President of the National Association of Wabash Men who welcomes the class to the brotherhood of Wabash men. The ceremony ends with remarks from the President. At the end of his speech the President picks up a very special bell and rings it with vigor. And it is now official, these fellows are “In.” For the young men of the incoming class this marks the start of their lives as Wabash men. After Freshman Saturday, whatever else they may do, they are now Sons of Wabash.

As I sat in the Chapel and watched my son become a Wabash man, I was thinking a thousand different things, but also about the bell itself. Caleb Mills’ Bell is not fancy, it is not particularly oversized. The truth is that this bell which plays such a large role in the life of the College is really a humble little bell.

Let me share with you what is known about this bell and why it is so special.   This bell was first used at Wabash by Caleb Mills, a young missionary and teacher, on December 3, 1833 to call the first class of 12 young men to order. He rang it to mark the start of the first class at Wabash 181 years ago.  For a really good description of this bell and its history, here is a snippet from a speech by President Joseph Tuttle. Dr. Tuttle delivered this address in 1882 at the time of the College’s semi-centennial:

CalebMills Bell PD295


I have by me not the first clock that ever ticked in Wabash College, but the bell that rung the boys together the morning of December 3, 1833. Here it is. The good right hand that touched it is mouldering in the grave. The tongue that said that morning, ‘Let us pray,’ is silent in death. But this bell has as sharp and clear a tone as it had that morning so long ago when for the first time it did duty for the College. Its metal is genuine, and so is its tongue. And yet how well balanced it has been. Here is a groove around the mouth of the bell made by the numberless taps of its tongue of iron. It was not a one-sided bell – nor a moody bell– nor a bell given to making excuses – nor a bell with a voice that failed sometimes.

Just hear its voice. The men that used it are gone, and even the boys for whom it rung out the summons to get up, and to be at duty, have most of them gone to the long home – and those that remain have cracks in their voice which tell of age. But this bell is as sound as when it was cast and its tones as clear as when it tapped the sounds of duty near half a century ago. When the College procured a larger bell, this one went on duty at the School for Young Ladies in the old Canby Mansion. And there too it was as honest as among the boys…this bell had a hard and true heart and an honest voice for all alike. This bell has been in Professor Hovey’s family and his son has had some letters engraved on it and presented it to the College. I will read … the inscription.”

First Bell


Wabash College


1833 to 1835

Presented by H. C. Hovey



With those words Tuttle very eloquently gives us a condensed history of the bell to 1882. For the next 90 years we must leave much to conjecture. It is quite reasonable to suppose that this bell was on display for many years in the History Room of Yandes Library. We do know that many of our earliest artifacts from this time period were part of the exhibit. No longer on display, I expect that it was overlooked when the Library moved to the new Lilly building in the 1950’s. Nearly two decades later the bell was found in a closet in Yandes Hall. The year was 1971 and Professor Peteris Silins found it wrapped in old newspapers. Happily it was immediately clear what this little bell meant to the College thanks to Horace Hovey’s inscription. Horace’s father was Edmund O. Hovey  a founder and early faculty member at Wabash. Both father and son had what one might call a predisposition for preservation of the historical record. Many of the items that we have from our pioneer days come from the Hoveys.

Following the rediscovery of the bell, President Thad Seymour immediately put the bell to work to “call” the freshmen to classes and again in the spring to dismiss the seniors at commencement.  I am told that the class of 1975 is first in the modern era to be “rung in” and here is a picture of former President Thad Seymour carrying the bell.

Seymour Bell PD-344-04

The Ringing In at Wabash is really one of those moments that all students and their parents will remember all of their lives. It is a clearly defined moment in time, one of those rare times where there is a clear “before and after” quality. It is an occasion as powerful as it is memorable and the little bell with its clear, strong tone somehow just makes it perfect. It was a moment I will never forget.

All best,

Beth Swift


Wabash College

Lou Ristine, a great alum!

Posted on July 23, 2014 by Beth Swift

Ristine Lou W1941 P140 ML03

Wabash has always been all-male, and mostly its faculty have been men as well. But as we all know, there is so much more to the story of Wabash than its men. From the beginning there have been strong women who loved this place every bit as much as the men they knew. Mary Hovey, as one of the first faculty wives, felt this love too. Her letters give us a glimpse into the day to day world of the pioneer era at Wabash. There have been so many women who have loved this old place well that there just isn’t enough time to name them all. But today I would like to focus on just one woman. Last week Wabash lost one of her very few alumnae when Lou Ristine [W1941] passed away. I was so taken with her obituary that I really wanted to share it as it really is a lesson in giving from the heart!


Mary Lou Ristine

Oct. 11, 1924-July 7, 2014

She died peacefully in Indianapolis on July 7.

“Lou” was born Oct. 11, 1924, to Thomas Earnest and Mary Edna Muir Durrett in Wichita Falls, Texas. After high school, she pursued her lifelong interest in music, studying first at Midwestern State University, then Southwestern University, and finally University of North Texas. In 1944, Lou met Richard O. “Dick” Ristine. In 1946, they were married in Wichita Falls and moved to Indianapolis. Within a few years they moved to Crawfordsville.

In Crawfordsville during the ‘50s and ‘60s, Lou and Dick raised three sons. Lou sang in the choir at Wabash Avenue Presbyterian Church. She helped launch two programs for new volunteer groups serving the local hospital, as well as the town’s first Meals on Wheels program. She hosted a morning talk show on WCVL-AM. In 1962, she was music director of the Crawfordsville High School production of “The King and I.”

Lou grew to love Wabash College. She opened her home countless times to a multitude of friends from the college, town and beyond. A frequent highlight of parties at the Ristine home at 606 W. Wabash Ave. was a sing-along with Lou on the piano. The couple also loved entertaining at their Sugar Creek cottage.

In 1970, Dick and Lou moved to Indianapolis. During their Indianapolis years, Lou co-chaired the Governor’s Mansion Commission, which selected the current site of the governor’s residence. Governor Otis Bowen named her a Sagamore of the Wabash for her service to the state. Lou helped establish the Downtown Beautification Committee, which among other things “bricked” Monument Circle. As in Crawfordsville, she helped launch Meals on Wheels. The Indianapolis Museum of Art, Second Presbyterian Church and other Indianapolis institutions benefited from her service on a variety of committees and projects during the ‘70s and ‘80s.

In 1983, Dick began working full-time for Wabash. Within a few years, Lou and Dick moved back to Crawfordsville. In 1992, in recognition of her decades of unique service, the all-male college made Lou an honorary alumna, only the second woman so honored in the history of Wabash. Following Dick’s retirement from the college in 1993, they moved permanently to Leland, Mich., where they resumed singing together in the church choir and otherwise participated in community activities. Her love of gardening, which began in Crawfordsville and continued in Indianapolis, reached its height in Leland. Everyone who passed by enjoyed the beauty of their riverside landscaping. Lou and Dick were fortunate to enjoy many years in Leland until he passed away in 2009.

In recent years Lou’s greatest pleasure was her family. She is survived by her sister, Mildred Louise Durrett Dinnin of Wichita Falls; three sons, Richard O. Jr. (Karen) and Thomas H. (Jill) of Indianapolis and James D. (Mardi Black) of Leelanau Township; four grandchildren, Emily Ristine Holloway (Benjamin), Abigail Ristine-Smith (Ryan), Jane Ristine Hixson (Timothy) and Dan Ristine, all in the Indianapolis area; seven great-grandchildren; and nieces, Patricia Dinnin Gonzales (Randy) and Sheila Dinnin Reynolds (Craig) and nephew Michael Dinnin (Lisa), all in Texas. Lou’s family wishes to thank the staff of Hooverwood for the care “Mama Lou” received there.

Memorial contributions may be made to Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Second Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis or the Leelanau Conservancy, P.O. Box 1007, Leland, MI 49654.


What a life of service she embodied! And to the above, I would simply add  that when asked to provide a picture of Lou the photos I found might serve just as well as a tribute and here they are…

Ristine Lou W1941 P306 Crop


Ristine Lou W1941 P306 portrait

Ristine Lou W1941 P14001

Ristine Lou W1941 P14002

ROR WeddingCrop

In every picture she is smiling, almost laughing. What a wonderful thing, to smile one’s way through life. Especially, I love the picture of the political convention.

Here it is again and note that it shows Dick and Lou and their sons as well.

Ristine Lou W1941 P140 ML03

And while it might be hard to see from the photograph above, off to the right of Lou’s shoulder, in the third row is another legend of Wabash…Ginny Hays.

Ristine HAYS Ginny Crop P140

So here is a toast to the women of Wabash, and to one in particular, Lou Ristine [W1941] a grand lady with a winning smile!

All best,

Beth Swift


PS Here are links to great remembrances of Fran Hollett, the first woman named an honorary alum and to Ginny Hays.


Old News

Posted on July 3, 2014 by Beth Swift

Here is a news story from another time, a simpler time.

TKEs and the con man
This little news clipping came to the Archives in the pages of a 1931 yearbook given to Wabash by an alum’s family. When I opened the book I saw two news clippings, both undated.

While it is very definitely Old News, the story is timeless. It involves a fast talking con man and a fraternity house full of nice guys. In the 1930’s a lot of good people were forced out of their homes and on to the Road. There were thousands of them, moving from one place to another in search of work or a new start.  Often, they had no transportation so they hitchhiked from place to place. Good folks offered rides and that was not uncommon. It was just what any decent fellow might do.

This news story starts with a well-meaning former student from Wabash, let’s call him the Good Samaritan. This Wabash man offered a guy a ride and the two of them came on over to the College. Our former student had planned to visit with his friends at the Tau Kappa Epsilon house. The fraternity was, at this time, on West Main Street. Many folks might know this as the home of Eric Dean, today it is the home of Dr. Lon Porter.

Back to our story and Patrick Karney, as the hitchhiker was known to his hosts, was a very friendly fellow and quickly ingratiated himself with the students. Knowing that he had no money and was in need of a place to sleep, the guys at the house invited him to stay too. Through the use of his skills as a confidence man, Karney was soon good friends with all of the fellows.

So good was Karney at ingratiating himself that he was invited on a double date with one of the students and two local girls. After the date, the con man and several of the Wabash men sat up talking late into the night. It happened that one of the fraternity men who did not live in the house needed a lift. Karney offered to drive him home using the car of the Good Samaritan.  As time passed, the students began to worry about their new friend. When two hours had gone by the students realized that Karney was long gone. Not only  had he taken the Model A Ford sedan, he also threw in three suits, two overcoats, a pen and pencil set and “several other articles belonging to the ‘boys’ at the Teke house.”

A story of naiveté and misplaced trust. It is certain that these fellows learned a lot from Patrick Karney. I am sorry to say that we do not know if the car and the other items were ever recovered. Nor do we know if Karney was ever caught.

All best,

Beth Swift

Archivist, Wabash College


A flyer and his legacy

A flyer and his legacy

Posted on June 3, 2014 by Beth Swift

Eglin FB pic

Eglin from his football days.

In this post I would like to highlight the life and career of a Wabash man who was a pioneer in combat flight.  You may have heard of Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. A large base, Eglin is named for Frederick Irving Eglin [W1914]. A gifted athlete and a good friend, Eglin left quite a mark on Wabash during his time here.

Eglin’s story is pieced together from the reminiscences of his former class and team mates here at Wabash. We owe a debt of gratitude to Wayne Guthrie who wrote a sports column for the Indianapolis News in the 1970s.  Two of his articles serve up a great deal of what we know about this Wabash man.

Eglin was from the Bowery area of New York City and came to Wabash in much the same way as so many others, through the persistence of an alumnus. The story goes that Eglin was pretty good at basketball and was spotted by the alum. Wabash was basketball mad in that era and a talented player was quite a find. The alum recruited him and bought his ticket to Crawfordsville. A poor boy whose parents had died, Eglin came to Wabash with almost nothing. One friend said that when the young Eglin arrived in town, he had no money and no clothes and fainted in class due to hunger. He was taken home by a local student and in just a few days some good home cooking had him back on his feet. It was a hard road for Eglin and initially he depended upon the generosity of others for necessities, but it was not long before he found a job and got squared away.

Initially Eglin started Wabash as a “Special Student” as he had not graduated from high school. He got the courses he needed and in short order he was on his way in the collegiate course. Eglin played football, basketball and baseball and made many good friends. He joined the Delta Tau Delta fraternity and in his junior year he was elected class president and was the captain of the basketball team. Among his very good friends were the Lambert brothers.

Eglin Senior Pic

This scan is from the senior issue of the Wabash Magazine of 1914.

From an article by Wayne Guthrie which ran in the the Indianapolis News of August 26, 1974:

M.E. “Doc” Elliott, Connersville…said the Wabash basketball team of that era was unbeatable on its home floor which was a box-like room, with only one side open to spectators, in the Crawfordsville Y.M.C.A. He added, “Those players became expert at caroming the ball off the walls and Ward, “Piggy” Lambert; his brother, Kent “Skeet” Lambert, and Eggie would run fill tilt toward the wall, make a couple of steps up the wall and hit the floor on the run beyond the rival guard. Sounds like a human fly stunt but they did it.”


Eglin met and married a local girl, Mary Oda, and joined the Crawfordsville company of the Indiana National Guard. In 1916 the unit, along with many others, was deployed to the Mexican border in answer to Pancho Villa’s raids into New Mexico. Eglin served as a Sergeant Major at Headquarters in the Southwest. Soon after returning to Crawfordsville, the unit was again called and this time to service in WWI. It is clear that Eglin served with distinction as he was immediately raised to the rank of Second Lieutenant in 1917. He moved from the National Guard to the Army Signal Corps and a biography from Eglin AFB says Eglin then completed his flight training and began to train other WWI pilots.

Eglin Wikipedia

Eglin as an officer from the Air Force website:

Following WWI Eglin stayed in the Army in aviation and again, from the Air Force biography:

In 1929, he was promoted to captain and commanded several organizations including the 9th Observation Squadron in Sacramento, Calif., the Provisional Administrative Company at Clark Field, Philippines and the 40th School Squadron at Kelly Field, Texas.  Eglin was also an instructor and executive officer for the Air Corps Tactical School at Maxwell Field, Ala. Later, he served as director of the Department of Command, Staff and Logistics before becoming a major in 1934.

As a major, he worked as Assistant to the Chief of Staff, Headquarters Air Force at Langley Field where he was promoted to lieutenant colonel. He also earned titles as Airplane Pilot, logging over 3,800 hours and Airplane Observer with over 100 hours.


It was not long after his promotion to lieutenant colonel that Eglin lost his life in 1937 at the age of 45 on a mission. Wreckage of his Northrop A-17 pursuit aircraft was found on the Appalachian peaks of Ala. about 50 miles from Birmingham. At this same time, the Army Air Corps was going through a transformation and because of Lt. Col. Eglin’s accomplishments and sacrifice, the Valparaiso Bombing and Gunnery Base was renamed in 1937 “Eglin Field” which, after the establishment of the Air Force, later became Eglin AFB.

A story in the New York Times of January 3, 1937 provides a bit more detail on the crash that ended the life of this great flyer. The plane flown by Lt. Col. Eglin was flying from Langley Field in D.C. to Maxwell Field in Montgomery, Alabama with Lt. Howard E. Shelton, Jr. as a passenger. The plane was in Alabama when it crashed on the afternoon of January 1, 1937. There was heavy rain falling and thick fog was reported. The NYT article says, “The wreckage lay near the top of Cheaha Mountain, highest of the Appalachian peaks in Alabama, fifty miles from Birmingham. The plane, skimming across tree tops 800 feet before it nosed into the mountainside, lost its left wing before bursting into flames.”

In August of 1937 the air base at Valparaiso, Florida was named Eglin Field in honor of this army flier. Eglin AFB has a long and distinguished history. A base history tells us that Eglin became a site for training army pilots in WWII, including Colonel Jimmy Doolittle’s B-25 crews training for raids on Tokyo. Eglin was also the site where “personnel developed the tactics and techniques to destroy German missile installations being built to support V-1 buzz-bomb attacks on England.”

It is an amazing honor to have such a base named after Frederick “Eggie” Eglin. And he was young, only 45, when he crashed. I wonder what he might have achieved during WWII, only a few years away at the time of his death. It is hard to say what Eglin might have contributed, but it is possible to say that he loved Wabash. The friends he made here, his adopted hometown where he met and married, and the old school that was happy to welcome a kid from the Bowery, all of these he treasured.

The Eglin base history finishes with this tribute:

Although Lt. Col. Eglin accomplished much in his short life, it is the lasting words of his devoted friend, Russell Hesler of the Journal Review in Crawfordsville which may speak most to his character, “[he] was intensely loyal to his friends, possessed a sympathetic understanding of the problems of others and deeply patriotic.”


I hope that you enjoyed reading this story as much as I have enjoyed researching it. For more information on this amazing Wabash man, here are a few links:


All best,

Beth Swift


Wabash College

Crawfordsville, Indiana

Sigma Chi

Recently I had a request for a scan of the old white frame Sigma Chi house at the corner of Wabash and Crawford. I pulled the file, scanned that picture and then several more and thought I would share them, just for fun today.

Here is the house that served the chapter from after World War II until the construction of the “new” house. An article in the Wabash Bulletin of December of 1947 gives us the details:

Above is pictured the new home of the Wabash chapter of Sigma Chi. The fraternity,            which for years had occupied the old home of President Kane at the corner of the                  campus, last year acquired property at the corner of Wabash Avenue and Crawford              Street. The chapter moved into the house last year while workmen still were engaged in      remodeling, but this fall activities were started with all work completed. Purchase and        remodeling of the home cost approximately $36,000. On the ground floor are the                dining room and kitchen. The first floor includes a living room, card room and library.          On the second floor are eight study rooms. A dormitory is on the top floor. The house            accommodates 28 to 30 men.

Prior to the purchase of this house, the chapter was housed in Kane House. Here is a picture of the house ready for Homecoming in 1922.

This is the east side of the house. Here is another shot from 1922.

It has always been interesting to me that while the other fraternities purchased their homes and moved to campus, the Sigma Chis went into this house. To understand how this came about requires a little background.  Kane House was built so that the president of Wabash, at that time William P. Kane, would have a suitably grand house. When President Kane died in 1906 a Wabash man, Reverend George Lewes Mackintosh [W1884], became president. Doc Mack, as he was affectionately known, was a widower. He found Kane House too big and rather lonely.

When President Mackintosh took office, the Sigma Chis were inactive. In the Little Giant Sig of 1958 it is noted that the revival of the chapter in 1909 was largely due to President Mackintosh. Seems he was a charter member of the Sigma Chis at Wabash. So as the other fraternities left their downtown halls and secured houses, the Sigma Chis were offered Kane House. Here is a picture of one of the Sigma Chi halls downtown, as captured in a photo of the class of 1896. If you look closely at the windows you will see the Greek letters marking this as the hall of the Sigma Chis. This is the Fisher block on the southwest corner of Main and Green streets. The tower at the back right is the old Methodist church by the Lane Place.

To finish our tour of Sigma Chi homes from the past, let us have a look at the architectural rendering of the next to last house which was printed in the December 1962 issue of the Wabash Bulletin.

A discussion of the proposed house from that issue of the Bulletin adds detail to the narrative:

Costing approximately $350,000, the new Sigma Chi house will occupy the fraternity’s        present lot at the corner of the Wabash Avenue and Crawford Street. Divided into three      units, the house will be a complete departure from the usual fraternity house design.            For instance, the social area is separated from the study area by a loggia – or dining              area. The kitchen area is also separated from the living-study area to provide maximum      soundproofing.

This house served the chapter for decades before the new house was built just down the street and the chapter moved into its lovely new home. After serving briefly as independent housing in 2007 the “modern” house of the 60s was demolished.

The new house stands tall on the far west side of campus. More change is coming as the new dormitory buildings will fill in that area to the south formerly occupied by small houses. In an area roughly the size of the Mall, Wabash will begin building new dormitories. The one thing that doesn’t change on campus is the drive for a “greater Wabash” and the Wabash men who step up to make that happen.

All best, 
Beth Swift
Wabash College
Crawfordsville, Indiana


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