By: James H. Capshew, University Historian
Following the publication of the massive 4-volume history of Indiana University: Midwestern Pioneer, by Thomas Clark, completed in 1977, the idea of a pictorial history of the university slowly took shape.
Although commercial picture books of the campus had been produced occasionally, no attempt to visually document the growth and proliferation of the institution occurred until Dorothy C. Collins and Cecil K. Byrd took on the project in the late 1980s.
Collins, a research assistant to Chancellor Herman B Wells, and Byrd, a special collections librarian, collaborated on Indiana University: A Pictorial History, published by IU Press in 1992. Taking a chronological approach, the book was shaped by the paucity of images before photographic techniques were established and a surfeit of photographs of more recent vintage, combined with the usual problems of archival preservation and attribution.
“Our modest intent,” the authors noted, “has been to present an album of sightings along the span of Indiana University’s life, from its origins to its present, with certain symbolic inclusions. On this framework, dear reader, you are urged to hang your own memories, a link necessary to the whole.”
Collins gathered the photographs initially, and Byrd wrote the captions and textual transitions. John Gallman, then director of IU Press, and Byrd made the final selections of pictures, giving “preference to the aesthetic over particulars of coverage, to life over stone and mortar.” Additionally, Collins wrote a fine “Introductory Chronicle,” an essay that covers IU history through the successive generations of presidential administrations.
Her focus was on the university’s legal establishment in 1820 and its subsequent educational program and academic organization, ending with the appointment of Thomas Ehrlich in 1987 as IU’s fifteenth president. This sweeping survey narrated the highs and lows of nearly 170 years of the institution’s existence, focusing more on IU’s structural evolution than the changing contours of curricula, faculty work, or student life. Now, a quarter-century since publication, Collins’ chronicle remains a short but balanced, reliable yet readable, introduction to major themes in IU history.
Known to her friends as “Dottie,” Collins (1912-2010) came to IU in the late 1930s to pursue a doctorate in English after earning a MA at the University of Chicago in 1937. A native of Evansville, she earned her BA in 1934 at Western College for Women in Ohio. She married Ralph L. Collins, an IU English professor, in 1940; he served as Dean of the Faculties from 1959 to his untimely death in 1963.
Dottie’s career as a member of the IU staff was both broad and deep. She worked as a statistician of the Institute for Sex Research in 1951-56, before and after the path-breaking Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953) was published by Alfred C. Kinsey and associates. After spending one year as assistant director of the Bureau of Institutional Research in 1964-65, she became a speechwriter for IU President Elvis J. Stahr until he stepped down in 1968.
Moving to the office of the University Chancellor, Herman B Wells, in 1969, Collins became an indispensable editorial and research assistant for nearly 25 years. Her responsibilities ranged widely, from planning an IU retirement community to advising on personnel matters of his extensive office and residential staff.
Collins was the midwife to Being Lucky: Reminiscences and Reflections (1980), Herman Wells’ autobiographical memoir recounting his storied career leading Indiana University. In the preface, Wells lauded Collins’ extensive knowledge about the university which helped to shape the book, and cited her editing, “done with superlative skill, really incredible skill.”
“She was both a stern taskmistress and a constant source of inspiration, keeping me at the job when the temptation to chuck the whole thing was great. Without her sacrificial help and guidance there would have been no book.”
The Wells-Collins work partnership continued into the early 1990s.
In 1991, Collins was awarded the IU President’s Medal for Excellence. Presented by President Thomas Ehrlich, the medal honors service and accomplishments reflecting the values and goals of the university. When IU: A Pictorial History came out in 1992, it was marketed together with Being Lucky. That year also marked Wells’ 90th birthday and Collins’ 80th birthday.
Both had earned retirement years earlier, but each still found ways to contribute to the welfare of the university as they aged. In 2010, Dottie Collins passed away in Bloomington, at the age of 97, after a whole lifetime of service to Indiana University.