Milking the Books in Bloomington: Researching 1960s Campus Life at Indiana University

Herman B. Wells Library 4 by Ben | Smith

I went to Indiana University in Bloomington this afternoon, to do research for my short story “Life”.  The Herman B. Wells Library is a massive structure – an institution in itself.  The “Archives” room was on the 4th floor of the East Tower.  I had to ask three different staff members the way before I arrived in the right place.

Assistant Archivist Carrie Schwier welcomed me warmly, pointing out a locker where I could hang my coat and leading me into a room surrounded by shelves with massive bound volumes – collections of student yearbooks, alumni magazines, and student registers.  She had already pulled out for me the transcripts of oral history interviews they had been doing for a project as IU celebrates its Bicentennial.  She also handed me a copy of  Dissent in the Heartland: The Sixties at Indiana University.

I set up my laptop, hoping to listen to some Bob Dylan as I took notes, but was only able to get limited Wifi service and couldn’t access Spotify.

I opened up the oral histories.  I couldn’t find any “perfect fits” for the characters in my story, but found some details about student life in the early 1960s that could be helpful for my story.  Things like –

Students took exams in “blue books” – (these were still around in the early 1980s).

The dorm rooms were small – basically 2 beds, 2 desks, and 2 chairs. 

A bathroom was shared with 4 students.

A grad student served as “Dorm Mother” (for female students).

The strawberry pie at Frisch’s “Big Boy” was delicious.

One of the required courses for Education majors was called, “The Nature and Practice of Play”.

The “Von Lee Theater” in town showed foreign films.

The beatnik/early hippies on campus were known as “greenbaggers” (for the green book bags they carried).

The administration policy was to be “in loco parentis” (in the place of parents) for the students.

Women dorm residents had a curfew of 11 p.m. weekdays and 1 a.m. weekends.

400 freshmen arrived in September, 1963 and promptly headed for a 3-day “freshman frolic” at Camp Riverdale.

By Fall of 1963, “Little Hyde Park” (in Dunn Meadow) was set up for free speech on campus.

There were two performances of “A Streetcar Named Desire” on Homecoming weekend (November 8-9, 1963).

On Valentine’s Day in 1964 there was a “kiss-in demonstration” to protest a ban on kissing in the student lounge. 

In the spring of 1964, there was a outdoor performance of Verdi’s “Aida” (in English).

It was a productive research session, I would say.  On my way out, I went to the second floor (where they house “microfiche” of past student newspapers).  I looked to my right and saw a door marked, “Lactation Room”.   I figured that meant I’d find one of two things behind that door.  Either –

a)  It was a secluded room to mothers to nurse their infants.  Or,

b)  It was a milking parlor for cows.

I paused in front of the door and took a big whiff, hoping to detect from the scent which it might be.  But I couldn’t tell.  The ventilation in the room must be good.  I thought of opening the door, but thought better of it.  I thought if it was for mothers, they wouldn’t want to see me and if it was for cows, I didn’t want to see them.

(photo of Herman B. Wells Library 4 from Ben | Smith, some rights reserved)

3 thoughts on “Milking the Books in Bloomington: Researching 1960s Campus Life at Indiana University

  1. Lactation room! Haha.

    This was an encouraging read. It’s great to hear about your research; I have never been able to do anything like that. Often though, I’ve dreamed of researching in such ways for a personal writing assignment. (My writing has not dictated such needs though I hope it will).

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