By: Cassie Heeke, Bicentennial Intern, Class of 2017, Journalism, Bloomington
My first thought when beginning my research on Mary Brown Craig: oh, the irony.
Here was the University’s first archivist — a woman who spent nearly 35 years of her life collecting, recording, filing, and preserving the history of Indiana University — and yet she is practically nonexistent online. A Google search for “Mary Brown Craig” yields only a few short obituaries with scraps of biographical information.
For someone who made a living documenting the lives of others, her own story is elusive.
In May, I began my Bicentennial Internship working on the IU Women’s History project, for which I research notable students, faculty, and staff contributors to academic life and campus culture. In June, the Women’s Philanthropy Leadership Council endowed the internship and named it after Mary Brown Craig.
The Council generously allotted $13,750 to the Office of the Bicentennial for the position. However, very little is known about Mary, so I spent about a week poring through web results and the library archives to get a sense of who she was.
So, who was she?
Mary Brown was born in 1907 in Pendleton, Indiana, northeast of Indianapolis. Sometime during my long search for a photo of her, I had a light bulb moment: her high school yearbook. Most high schools post their yearbooks online and have issues dating back into the ‘20s and Pendleton High School is no different. Mary’s senior photo is there in the 1925 issue, along with the rest of her graduating class. She has short, dark hair that ends just below her cheekbones and deeply set eyes. She is smiling, but just barely. The inscription next to her photo reads:
“To be great is to be misunderstood.”
Mary was born April 1, 1907. She is not what the date of her birth might indicate, but a very bright and industrious student.
Editor-in-Chief of “Papyrus.”
Associate Editor of Annual.
The Papyrus is the name of the yearbook and Mary is present throughout the 1925 edition. Other mentions give hints of what she might have been like as a teenager; for instance, the “Panorama of the Senior Class” recounts an inter-class basketball tournament that the seniors won “largely due to the backing of the Senior girls, who we feel sure are the best sports in school.”
The senior girls hosted a party for the players at Mary’s house to celebrate the victory.
Mary must also have been made fun of often for her April Fool’s birthday, judging by her short yearbook biography and this sentence is included in the panorama: “April first was a great day at school because of the many jokes sprung and because it was Mary Brown’s birthday.”
A page titled “The Line-Up” is another gem in the yearbook — it shows a chart with each senior, followed by the categories “Wants To Be,” “Chief Characteristic,” “Pastime,” and “As He Sees Himself.” It is evident that Mary valued intelligence in herself more than any other qualities; she listed her chief characteristic as “knowledge” and saw herself as “industrious.” She wanted to be a newspaper reporter, and her pastime was chewing gum.
Knowing Mary wanted to be a reporter, I found it interesting that she studied math in college. She attended Swarthmore College for two years, transferred to IU, and finished her bachelor’s degree in mathematics in 1929. Rather than pursuing a career in math, however, she became a cataloger in the IU library. She must have found something she enjoyed in this job, because soon after she earned a library science degree from Columbia University in 1932.
A fun fact about this degree: When I was going through Mary’s folders in this IU Archives, I found a letter from the Associate Dean of Columbia’s School of Library Science, dated Sept. 15, 1949, that assured alumni their library science degree was, in fact, a master’s degree, and they should be treated—and paid—as such. The school even issued a small card for the purpose of presenting to an employer as proof of this.
In 1934, Mary married E. Lingle Craig, for whom the IU Libraries Preservation Laboratory is named. Mr. Craig, as he was known, graduated from IU and spent his entire career working for the University. One can only guess he and Mary met at IU and bonded over their common interests—Mr. Craig began working in the IU Library as a student in 1926 and, like his wife, eventually attained a degree in library science (though his was from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor).
I was unsuccessful in discovering anything about his and Mary’s life together, but based on their obituaries, they did not have children. When Mr. Craig died—20 years after Mary—everything they owned was given to IU.
Mary stepped into her most well-known role as the University’s first archivist in 1943, when she was given reign over a central depository for the records of IU in the President’s File Room. She stayed put in this position for the next 34 years. In the Archives, many folders from this time span have Mary’s name on them, but I was still hard pressed to get an idea of Mary’s personal experiences from their contents.
Instead, I found requests from professors and other universities’ deans for historical documents or information, invitations to Columbia alumni events, and what seemed like hundreds of blue slips of paper with scribbled, illegible notes to and from Mary.
Many of the letters praised Mary’s work, such as one from L. E. Laubert in the political science department: “The reproductions of the material on the Benton murals arrived in fine shape. I am most grateful to you for sending them over. More importantly, your assistance, based upon your skill and your deep and detailed knowledge of the University, will put me forever in your debt.”
A few of the blue notes had typed requests from Herman B Wells, who often asked Mary for information about very specific topics, such as how students were disciplined in the 1920s or where Alexander the Great “found his gold.” Correspondence between Mary and Theophilus Adam Wylie also suggests Mary played a role in helping to preserve the home and family belongings of IU’s first president, Andrew Wylie.
Despite her many responsibilities to Wells and other important administrators, Mary found time to do smaller jobs when needed. One day, she received a letter from a young man who was concerned that his transcripts wouldn’t be sent in full to the two medical schools where he was applying for admission.
He enclosed $1 and asked that Mary forward the transcripts to Saint Louis University and Vanderbilt University, to which she replied that she was happy to take care of it for him and it was “no trouble at all.” On occasion, she gave advice to librarians and new archivists at other universities about how to begin archiving and what catalogue system to use.
On a side note, I also found in the archives a newspaper article that reported the City of Bloomington was moving to place an injunction against her for owning too many dogs. It said Bloomington residents were bothered by the dogs as they walked or bicycled past Mary’s house, and they had spotted up to 34 canines on her property. I was suspicious whether this Mary Craig was the same woman who worked in the archives, but a document in another folder verified that it was.
On March 7, 1963, Mary wrote a letter to the editor of the Daily Herald-Telephone: “Dear Sir: I should like to protest a recent action taken by the City Council, which is detrimental to a very worthy minority group not able to voice its protest, or to make its influence felt at the polls. It is to be regretted that our Democratic Councilmen can’t seem to follow a logical course. Just because they think all Republicans are dogs, it does not follow that all dogs are Republicans.” She signed the letter, “A Canine Taxpayer.”
I could find nothing that denoted any kind of ceremony to celebrate Mary’s retirement in 1977. This seemed odd — most of the University’s important characters had some sort of retirement party, well documented with pamphlets and speech transcriptions—until I found a letter to Mary from a Bryan Hall co-worker, Betty Hall. The letter began, “I know you want no fanfare or special parties as you wind up your work there in the Archives, but I do want to write a few words to you.” So, it would seem Mary had very little desire to draw attention to herself, even after over three decades of hard work dedicated to the university.
After her death in 1981, however, Herman B Wells spoke about her decades of work: “She was a modest and shy person normally, yet she was fierce in her loyalty to the University and in her protection of the beauty of the campus. She was involved in the mission of preserving what is best of the University and in that task she spent unbelievably long hours, often seven days of the week.”
Mary’s humility made her an admirable employee but ultimately made my job of researching her life a bit more difficult. From what I can gather, Mary was a diligent worker with no desire for praise or recognition. Her dedication to history and her archivist role shine through everything that has been written to or about her.
Correspondence – S. B. Wylie Family; Wylie Family Collection, 1822-1990, bulk 1840-1900; Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.
Craig, Mary Brown; Administrative records, 1963-1990, undated; Indiana University President’s Office records, 1963-1990, (bulk 1971-1987); Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.
Craig, Mary Brown; Subject files, 1937-1962; Indiana University President’s Office records, 1937-1962; Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.
- Lingle Craig, Librarian and Head of Reference,” History of the Indiana University Libraries, accessed June 26, 2017, http://www.iub.edu/~iulibhis/items/show/1037.
Mary Brown Craig reference folder, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.
“PHHS Yearbooks.” Pendleton Community Library, http://www.pendleton.lib.in.us/phhs-yearbooks. Accessed 26 June 2017.