By Susan Burns
When Ernest T. Pyle arrived at IU in the fall of 1919, the university was just composed of 15 buildings lined up along Third St and Indiana Avenue, bordering woods and the old Dunn farm, whose meadow stretched out along Seventh Street. Enrollment had jumped to 2,300 men and women who scrambled to find housing in the rooming houses, fraternities, and sororities of Bloomington. Social life centered on the Book Nook bookstore, the Student Building, the Greek houses, and a smattering of church-sponsored spaces.
When Ernest Pyle signed onto the Indiana Daily Student, he was assigned the “bookstore beat,” where he covered student social life. This soon put him in touch with the Men’s Student Union, the Panhellenic groups, and organizations sponsoring dances, concerts, plays and visiting speakers. This also meant that, when it came time to form a publicity committee for the big Fund Drive, Pyle was tapped for the all-campus student committee. It was a role he filled with dedication – and plenty of written words.
The drive is a topic in his letter home Feb. 19, 1922, when Ernie said, “Yesterday I wrote one thousand words of ‘dope’ on the Memorial Drive for the downtown papers.” A plan had been approved a month or so earlier to add three much-needed new buildings all at one time. The buildings would honor the students who had fought and died in the Great War in Europe, hence the “memorial” in the names of the new Union Building and the football stadium to be built between Seventh and 10th Streets. Memorial Hall, which eventually become part of Agnes Wells Quadrangle and substantially ease the dilemma of young women who did not pledge one of the sororities or whose parents did not favor renting a room in a rooming house.
Beyond those news releases, Pyle demonstrated commitment to the $1.5 million campaign and devotion to the public good. As stated in a resolution of praise by the Executive Committee of senior Deans, President Bryan and leading alumni, “Through its columns, the Indiana Daily Student has already made a valuable contribution to the Fund – if not in the form of dollars and cents, certainly in that mysterious substance known as college spirit, which is at the heart of every great University.”
In a letter home marked March 9, 1922, Pyle gave an excellent first-hand account of the finale of the drive. He describes putting out multiple extra editions throughout the day on March 8 to report on events of the big day. “Dear Folks, Well the drive went off at midnight last night and I am sure not a bit sorry, for it means that most of our hard work is over. The drive opened at 5 o’clock Tuesday evening after a wonderful meeting at the Men’s Gymnasium. … Yesterday was a holiday and now, since the drive has gone over the goal, there will be no more school the rest of the week.”
Pyle pledged $200 towards the Fund Drive. (For perspective, he had written a whole letter home about how grateful he was to get $2 from his father.) The Executive Committee’s minutes of April 1922 reported that they had received 2,115 pledges, with an average per student of $141. Pyle also noted proudly in his letter home that his fraternity, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, was “the first to pledge 100%, that is everybody in the fraternity pledged to the drive.”
For a great article reporting on Ernie’ Pyle’s letters home from IU, including the full text of the letter describing the day of the Fund Drive, check out the article “It’s in the Air” by Owen Johnson in the Indiana Magazine of History, Sept. 2011.