By: Duncan King, Bicentennial Intern, Class of 2021, Tibetan Studies, Bloomington
In his life of sixty-three years, Paul V. McNutt was known for a great many qualities worth emulating. In the November 1930 edition of The Vagabond, McNutt, then dean of the law school, is described as a man who “walks with an impressive stride,” “speaks with strength and conviction,” and “inspires belief among common people.” (1)
It’s no wonder, then, that his resume included offices as prestigious as National Commander of the American Legion, Governor of Indiana, and High Commissioner of the Philippines. (2)
While at first glance McNutt may seem to be a prime example of what can be achieved after an education at IU, (and he is) it is the lesser known story of his time as a student at IU Bloomington that is of most value to a current undergraduate. His record of student involvement and leadership is a testament to what a Hoosier can get out of their time at Indiana University.
McNutt was not slow to start at IU. The 1909-1910 school year was his freshman year, and the 1910 Arbutus reads as a record of his success. As a freshman, McNutt had succeeded in joining Strut and Fret, IU’s premier club for actors. (3)
The Arbutus details Strut and Fret’s exclusivity, and membership was “considered one of the highest honors offered in student life” and limited to only twenty-seven students. (3)
In his first year with the group, Mr. McNutt, as he is billed in the production of The Magistrate, made an appearance in three stage performances. (3)
With a spot in the matinees secured, young McNutt turned to faith and fraternity. When he wasn’t rehearsing for productions like The Good Natured Man or Sweet Lavender, McNutt could be found carrying out his role as the YMCA’s recording secretary, or involved in the activities of Indiana University’s chapter of Beta Theta Pi. (3)
A respectable first year for any student, to be sure. But it wasn’t enough for McNutt; how could a man who would one day nearly hold the oval office be content with membership in a few clubs and a fraternity? He couldn’t. He didn’t.
In Launching a Political Career, published in the Indiana Magazine of History, author Dean J. Kotlowski describes McNutt as a “joiner,” the kind of man who held membership in the Elks, the Masons, Rotary; the kind of man who needed to be a part of something. (4) However, if you were to flip though any Arbutus from the four years McNutt was at IU it would be clear he didn’t enter any organization to be a member; he joined to be a leader.
It would probably be no surprise to you, then, (and likely not for any of his peers, either) that in 1911, McNutt seized opportunity by the reins and became the Union Board’s third president. (5) Having served as a director of the Union Board the previous year, which is in of itself a coveted position,
McNutt had secured himself one of the most prestigious offices a student could hold. Things began to move fast for McNutt. He became an assistant for the Indiana Daily Student, joined the College of Arts and Sciences’ English Club , was a member of the student democrats’ Jackson Club’s executive board, and was one of the 30 upperclassmen fraternity men invited to join the exclusive Sphinx Club. (5)(6)
When McNutt left Indiana University for Harvard Law School, he left behind him a legacy few could ever rival. (1) President of the Union Board, president of his fraternity, officer of a half dozen student organizations; and those are just the accomplishments listed on paper.
In the years following his graduation McNutt kept in touch with IU president Dr. William Lowe Bryan, and after McNutt’s WWI service with the U.S. Army was complete, the same Dr. Bryan appointed McNutt as a professor of law, and later, IU’s dean of the law school. (7) Years later, when McNutt left Indiana again, this time for the Governor’s mansion, he kept correspondence with Dr. Bryan’s successor, Herman B Wells. (8) While McNutt had certainly left a mark on IU, IU had done the same in the turn.
McNutt continued on after his positions at IU to posts as grand as Governor of Indiana, National Commander of the American Legion, High Commissioner of the Philippines, and almost, but not quite, President of the United States. (1)
While it is without question that McNutt had a level of charisma and drive found in few people, it is equally undeniable that Indiana University served as an essential incubator for his talents of public speaking, campaigning, and networking. Throughout his life McNutt accomplished many great things, and did so as a proud son of the cream and crimson.
1. “Paul Vorhees McNutt”, The Vagabond, Collection C461, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.
2. Cadou, Eugene J. Biographical summary. Box 1, Folder 1. LMC 1705, McNutt mss., 1899-1955. Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington
3. Indiana University. The Arbutus, 1910. Print. Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.
4. Kotlowski, Dean. “Launching a Political Career: Paul V. McNutt and the American Legion, 1919-1932.” Indiana Magazine of History [Online], (2010): n. pag. Web. 1 Mar. 2018
5. Indiana University. The Arbutus, 1911. Print. Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.
6. Indiana University. The Arbutus, 1912. Print. Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.
7. Bryan, Dr. William Lowe. Memo to Paul V. McNutt, June 20, 1917. Box 175, Folder 6. C286, Indiana University President’s Office correspondence, 1913-1937. Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.
8. Wells, Herman B. Letters to Paul V. McNutt, 1935-1938. Box 3, Folder 11. C75, Herman B Wells papers, 1819-2001, (bulk 1922-2001). Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.
9. Indiana University. The Arbutus, 1913. Print. Indiana University Archives, Bloomington. Courtesy of IU Archives P0021479.
10. Unknown photographer, IU Athletic Department. Herman B Wells and Paul McNutt at unknown football game. 1946. Photograph. Indiana University Archives, Bloomington. Courtesy of IU Archives P0053989