By: Claire Repsholdt, Bicentennial Intern, Class of 2017, History, Bloomington. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As a budding young historian, I find myself worrying a lot about what people think. What did she mean when she wrote this in her diary? Who thought he would be good at that job? Why’d they pick that chest-of-drawers for the office? Sometimes the answer is obvious, but usually you have to rely on your imagination—and a heap of secondary source research—to fill in the gaps.
In my position as a research intern for the Bicentennial department, I’ve lately been directing these sorts of questions into my research on the history of the women of Indiana University. As the start of my project, I’ve been composing a list from 1820 to the present of all of the women of IU who, for many unique and exciting reasons, deserve more recognition than they’ve gotten up to this point.
Searching for unrecognized women to recognize involves a little ingenuity. I mean, if they were easy to find, they’d probably have been recognized already and my whole position would be obsolete.
Let’s pause and appreciate how great it would be to live in a world with such amazing acknowledgement of women!
But, as this isn’t our situation–yet!–I spend a lot of time digging through bulky archives in search of names that seem important. It has had the effect of making me more eager than ever to see a new woman’s name–reading dusty placards in classroom building hallways, standing behind professors in line for coffee, reading student reviews; I am on high alert for any sign of powerful Indiana University women like the internet lives for any explanation of “Becky with the good hair.”
Which reminds me, let me pause to plug: Have you got a name I need to hear? Tell me. There are important women out there who have run our dorms and solved our politics and started our major programs and they deserve recognition— now?
Needless to say, there is a lot of totally unfruitful and very ho-hum page flipping involved in archival research. Until I hit a documentation jackpot that makes it all worth it.
This week it was the club scrapbook.
I repeat: the club scrapbook. Never seen one? It’s a rare thing nowadays, the scrapbooking organizational Historian–when student organizations are changing and their documents shifting to more versatile online platforms and the five-member minimum for recognition can be a struggle–is quickly becoming obsolete. Who should we trim from our exec board? President? Can’t. Vice President? How could we train people for Presidency? Treasurer? SOA would be involved with that one. Historian? Why sure!
And so the group scrapbooks and up-to-date web presences of decades past fall to the way side as the members carry on as well as they can making (unrecorded) progress under the circumstances before they fizzle quietly and humbly out into the student organization abyss. But every so often, at the supplicating sounds of a wise humanities major at a meeting, the Standards Chair is dropped, the Historian kept, and the club scrapbook lives to fight another day.
In case you didn’t catch that I’ll rephrase it. It’s Claire Repsholdt, your local historian, pleading with you, under even the most dire of circumstances, to keep your club scrapbook alive.
Let me convince you. Take a trip with me to the IU Archives, where we can request University Women’s Club records.
This group (formed in 1913) as a way to unite the wives of the then mostly male faculty grew quickly to encompass a wide range of women’s activities at IU, and it has a rich archive of those activities with records from 1913-2004. In particular, we’ll look at the scrapbooks from the late sixties, compiled by a cracker-jack historian whose personal mission it clearly was to fill every page of hefty scrapbooks for a good four years.
And not only did she scrapbook their materials, but she, or some other intrepid committee member, arranged material to be scrapbooked, for The Herald Times was apparently the Women’s Club’s biggest champion. Their every sniffle got an article in local society pages.
Flipping through the scrapbooks, we’ll pass headlines upon headlines that begin with “Women’s faculty club to…[fill in terrific activity here]” as if The Herald Times c. 1960s was the Women’s Club’s very own first generation Facebook, which you’ll remember used to demand statuses begin with “[Insert name here] is…” (except of course in the ’60s these intelligent and powerful women were going by their married names, i.e. Mrs. Roger Rogerson, Mrs. Biff Bifferson, and so forth).
These women, who were without doubt some of the best and brightest wives behind some of the best and brightest minds at the University, and who were at IU during an era when women were still fighting to be called anything but “instructor” even when they got hired to teach, took it upon themselves, at the hands of one dedicated, scrapbooking club Historian, to make sure that their every tiny move was photographed, newspaper-ed, and scrapbooked–even if they had to use their husband’s name to do so.
So, the next time the behind-the-times relatives or ahead-of-the-times hipsters in your life question your prolific social media practices, bring them to the archives. Demand box C478.
Take their hand and lead them through the beautiful yellowed pages of the scrapbooks of the Women’s Club. Watch carefully as they smile at the funny pictures, the specificity of the society page articles, the hand drawn invitations to club events, and notice as they begin to appreciate the woman (women?) behind the scrapbook for taking the time to put everything together so painstakingly well.
The Women’s Club scrapbooks are just the tip of the iceberg. The old women’s dorms (could you list them?) have a whole trove of handmade yearbooks–professionally-bound but looking awfully scrapbooky with hand-scribbled captions and goofy pictures of all sorts.
There are clubs whose only records are scrapbooks–see The His Girl Friday Club archives. And let’s not even get started on actual yearbooks, please, on a whim some day, request 1967-1971 or so and talk to me about the amazingly daring typographical choices.
For now, part of my work to honor the approaching Indiana University bicentennial is to celebrate women, and to celebrate women of all campuses, positions, and colors at Indiana University in enough kinds of celebrations to match their wide variety of accomplishments.
So, the next time you and your club mates are looking for ideas for your next philanthropic event or, perhaps, trying to attract new members in September, take a page from the Women’s Club scrapbook: why not listen to a casual lecture from a professor at a luncheon? or put on a variety show? or drink tea with a few of your closest friends in your best dress? Do it all!
And don’t forget to call The Herald Times to alert them to a scoop and raise a toast to the University Women’s Club, for it is in their well-documented footsteps you’re following.