By: Ellen Glover, Bicentennial Intern, Class of 2018, Journalism, Bloomington
This blog is comprised of excerpts from the Campustry podcast. All information was obtained from the Indiana University Library Archives.
It’s a sunny spring morning in Bloomington in 1895. The sun is hanging low in the blue, cloudless sky. The birds chirp from the branches of the maple trees and a young couple wanders along a dirt path running through Dunn’s Woods, a green space at the heart of Indiana University’s campus.
The pair walks until they find a nice, grassy, spot beneath a tree. They lay a blanket out and sit. They spend the next few hours talking, reading to each other and flirting. Soon the entire area is dotted with other college sweethearts—the women in pink and white dresses and the men in duck trousers. The couples will sit outside and mingle until the day grows dim.
This ritual occurred reliably in the early days of IU, as long as the sun was out and the air was warm. In fact, this courting custom was so popular that it developed a name: Campustry.
Campustry’s beginnings go back to the first year women were admitted as students to IU in 1868. It was performed at pretty much any grassy and shady spot on IU’s nascent campus, but it was most commonly seen in Dunn’s Woods. The area was compact enough to allow for easy socializing and camaraderie, but the trees provided privacy for the couples’ courtship to be carried on discreetly.
Contrast this scene with the dating ritual of the 1950s where young men and women would hang out at the drive-in. The whole place was public, which allowed for some socializing. But, when they wanted to, the couple could go to the privacy of the car and do whatever they wanted to in privacy.
At its peak, it was a common sight to see as many as fifty couples out on a nice day taking Campustry. In fact, it was so common that it was simply a fact of life if you attended Indiana University. Upperclassmen would even teach uninformed new students about the unique custom.
In those days, Indiana University was so small that pretty much everyone knew everyone else. Rumors would spread about who was taking whom into the woods. As a result, the students who were active Campustry participants developed reputations. The men and women who spent their days under the trees were made into stereotypes, similar to the way college students stereotype fraternity and sorority members or football players and cheerleaders.
The following is an 1898 excerpt from The Student, an IU newspaper, describing the typical IU boy who partook in Campustry:
“There is one type of undergraduate that is more interesting and more widely known than any other. I refer to that happy-go-lucky individual who parts his hair down the middle and takes a cocktail on the side. He sticks a flower in his buttonhole and a cigarette in his face and imagines himself a superior of Count de Castallane or any other titles foreigner. He is sipping the joys of life and throwing out the dregs. He is a curious combination of saint and sinner, fool and philosopher. He spends fifteen minutes digging on his mathematics and thirty polishing his shoes. You ask him about his work, and he is driven to death. In the forenoon he attends recitations and takes campustry.”
But this wasn’t just an activity that appealed to men, obviously. In fact, in Campustry’s heyday, IU was famous for it. Students, particularly women who wanted to find their husbands in college, would flock to the university from all over to participate in Campustry.
The following is another newspaper article, this time from The Daily Student in 1897. It describes the women who did Campustry:
“I have never seen a place where it was possible for a reasonably pretty, clever girl to have such good times socially as here in Bloomington. She is perfectly free from her home duties. When her lessons are learned she is free to drive, play tennis, and study Campustry.”
Now, you might think that because Campustry was considered rebellious that the institution demanded it be terminated. For some faculty, you would be right. The reverend of the chapel certainly didn’t approve of it. However, it also wasn’t uncommon to see a few professors taking part in Campustry with each other and even other students. For years, more than half of the faculty marriages were those that stemmed from spring days in the woods. According to a 1903 Bloomington Daily Student article, statistics showed that more than 68% of the IU faculty were married to either Indiana University professors or students.
Because it was so widely accepted, Campustry also had a very romantic allure about it. Nearly every Arbutus yearbook has at least one reference, poem, or story poking fun at and even admiring the time-old tradition. While many of these “Campustry cases” were considered casual and flirtatious, many of them succeeded as relationships and even ended in marriages.
Couples that effectively moved from the campustry stage to the couple stage even had a tradition of their own. On Commencement Day, newly graduated couples that spent their college days taking Campustry, would walk the trodden paths of Dunn Meadow in search of the perfect spot. When they found it, they would plant two young trees side by side in hopes that, as they grew, their limbs would entwine, symbolizing the couple’s everlasting love.
It’s an impossibility to say just how many of these trees still stand in Dunn’s Woods today but, judging how popular Campustry was in its pinnacle years, I would guess many of the trees in the woods were planted by these lovers.
It’s difficult to determine when Campustry actually reached its final days, but it did start to decline considerably in the early 1900s. It would be hard to pinpoint exactly what caused its deterioration as a tradition but I would say it has something to do with the new methods of entertainment, like the radio and the “talkie” movies that were being invented at the time. Students were finding new ways to entertain themselves and they no longer needed the outdoors to do so.
Although it has since died out, it is amazing just how long Campustry survived as a tradition. As a 1903 Bloomington Daily Student article stated, “in the western school, there seems to be an utter lack of this spirit which fosters and preserves tradition and there are few customs that date back more than twenty-five years. Those that do are the exception, not the rule.”
Campustry proved to be an exception, which makes it an interesting custom to learn about. It should still be considered an irreplaceable and special tradition. It provided the students and faculty at IU with the freedom to be themselves and explore the ways of love. It gave them a break from the stresses of classes and obligations and allowed them to simply lay outside beneath the trees and enjoy each others company.
Listen to more podcasts here:
Music from this podcast courtesy of freemusicarchive.org:
“Ravel – Ma Mere L’Oye” by Felipe Sarro: Felipe Sarro, Attribution-Noncommerical-NoDerivatives International License, http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Felipe_Sarro/Maurice_Ravel/09_1685
“Four” by Marcel Pequel: Marcel Pequel, Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike United States License, http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Marcel_Pequel/From_One_To_Nine/marcel_pequel__from_one_to_nine__04
“Gnossienne 5” by Chad Crouch: Chad Crouch, Attribution-Noncommercial International License, http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Chad_Crouch/Vol_4_Satie_Rearranged_Furniture_Music/Chad_Crouch_-_Vol_4-_Satie-_Rearranged_Furniture_Music_-_08_Gnossienne_51
“Pretend and Walk Outside” by krackatoa: krackatoa, Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike United States License, http://freemusicarchive.org/music/krackatoa/Pretend_and_walk_outside/10_Pretend_and_walk_outside
“Six” by Marcel Pequel: Marcel Pequel, Attribution-Noncommerical-Share Alike United States License, http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Marcel_Pequel/From_One_To_Nine/marcel_pequel__from_one_to_nine__06
“One Way Life” by the Shining Men: The Shining Men, Attribution-Noncommercial License, http://freemusicarchive.org/music/The_Shining_Men/17_Sons_Records_-_Vol_1/09_-_One_way_life