Purdue Alumnus — March/April 2012
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Purdue Archives Come Of Age
Jeanne Norberg

As we look back over a century of spectacular change, what can we learn?

Many of the answers for Purdue will be found in its Virginia Kelly Karnes Archives and Special Collections Research Center. Pulling together collections from eight locations, the Karnes Archives is now just three years old and housed on the fourth floor of the Humanities, Social Science, and Education Library in Stewart Center. Part of Purdue Libraries, the center also has created a searchable archive without walls — with more than 214,105 digital items and growing — on the Web. The goal is to not only preserve the past but also make it more accessible to visitors and scholars.

As you enter the Archives and turn left, a 12-by-20-foot exhibit area offers historic appetizers that change quarterly. This fall, in tribute to its 125th anniversary, the Purdue Bands was featured with a sampler of memorabilia including a three-foot silver trophy presented to the Purdue Military Band, November 9, 1927, by Mr. Stars and Stripes himself, John Philip Sousa.

Besides the exhibit area, a gift from the Class of ’60, the rest of the main public area is dominated by 11 dark, polished research tables, including two larger ones for viewing maps and other oversized documents. On either side are glass-enclosed bookshelves full of some of the most popular items. Other items are brought out from the vault as requested.

The blue-gray eyes of founder John Purdue watch over the reading room from a life-size oil portrait standing floor to ceiling on the back wall. On request, you can page through his business ledger books and grade books. His white plaster death mask, made by a local dentist for $25 and originally stored at First National Bank of Lafayette, also eventually found its way to archive’s vault.

“Archival materials are often one of a kind,” says Sammie Morris, an associate professor of library science and head of Archives and Special Collections/University Archivist. “They let you peek behind the scenes to learn not just what happened, but why. You learn so much more by looking at the raw data and the original documents than you would by just reading a book or a newspaper.”

“Frequently used by researchers around the globe — including students, faculty, visiting scholars, and the public — the Archives support the learning and discovery mission of the University. Librarians and archivists provide information literacy instruction to Purdue students, helping them learn how to conduct historical research.”


Among the rare and one-of-a-kind items in the Purdue Archives is the handwritten prenuptial agreement that Amelia Earhart presented to George Putnam on the morning of their wedding, February 7, 1931, at his mother’s house in Noank, Connecticut. It reads:

Dear GPP

There are some things which should be writ before we are married — things we have talked over before — most of them.

You must know again my reluctance to marry, my feeling that I shatter thereby chances in work which means most to me. I feel the move just now as foolish as anything I could do. I know there may be compensations but have no heart to look ahead.

On our life together I want you to understand I shall not hold you to any medaevil [sic] code of faithfulness to me nor shall I consider myself bound to you similarly. If we can be honest I think the difficulties which arise may best be avoided should you or I become interested deeply (or in passing) in anyone else.

Please let us not interfere with the others’ work or play, nor let the world see our private joys or disagreements. In this connection I may have to keep some place where I can go to be myself, now and then, for I cannot guarantee to endure at all times the confinement of even an attractive cage.

I must exact a cruel promise and that is you will let me go in a year if we find no happiness together.

I will try to do my best in every way and give you that part of me you know and seem to want.

A. E.

Archives explores America’s space odyssey

Purdue has launched a space flight archives that is out of this world.

The Barron Hilton Flight and Space Exploration Archives includes the challenges of Purdue alumni astronauts, pilots, and engineers from the pioneer days of the Kitty Hawk through America’s space odyssey. It salutes Purdue’s 23 astronauts, but also the countless others who made the missions possible.

Leading the way, Neil Armstrong (AAE’55) and Eugene Cernan (EE’56) — the first and most recent persons to walk on the moon — donated their papers and memorabilia.

Now, thanks to a gift of $2 million split between Barron Hilton and the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, Purdue is hiring an archivist to curate this valuable collection. The archives are now named for Conrad Hilton’s son, Barron, a retired chairman, president, and CEO of Hilton Hotels Corp.

The collection includes the astronauts’ slide rules and college textbooks, including many of Armstrong’s. One of his three-inch thick texts is titled Thermodynamics. Tucked inside are calculations on weight, friction, compression, slope, and energy supplied by impact load, all written in disciplined block writing on unlined notebook paper with a note to self saying “Learn derivations of these for test.”

Besides Armstrong’s personal papers, there also are 55 hours of tape-recorded interviews with the astronaut in preparation for the 2005 book First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong.

“Imagine what it would be like to be able to sit down and have a cup of coffee with Christopher Columbus and ask him what was going through his mind when he first saw land,” Cernan says. “Now you will have firsthand insights into the Christopher Columbus of the 20th century.”

Cernan’s collection includes tapes and transcripts on what he’s said about his experience as well as about the space program, past, and future.

“I’ve always asked people for a recording of what I said, not because I want to go back and listen to it — I just put them in boxes — but somebody, somewhere might be interested in what we said about the space program.

One of the few women launched into space, Janice Voss (AAE’75), who recently passed away (see page 43), had logged five space flights, spending a total of 49 days in space and traveling 18. 8 million miles in 779 Earth orbits. Yet, Voss was as down-to-earth as most Boilermakers and has even submitted her grade-school report cards to the Archives. She also admitted to having suffered hero worship as a student dreaming of space and finagling to stay close to Gene Cernan while he was on campus as an Old Master.

To Cernan, that’s part of what the Archives are all about: inspiring students to “dream the impossible and then go out and make it happen.”

Preserving the past

All of the minutes of the Board of Trustees are found in the Archives, including the earliest ones following the passage of the land grant act and the approval for the state of Indiana to create an institution of learning devoted to the agricultural and mechanical arts.

The minutes from 1865 to 1869 predate the official founding of the University and are simply titled minutes of the trustees of the “Indiana Agricultural College.” These tell us that the trustees met in Indianapolis on May 25, 1869, to accept the donation of $150,000 and naming request from the “Hon. John Purdue.”

Morris, who earned her master’s degree in library science at the University of Texas, was drawn to Purdue in 2003 because of its extensive collection on the life of famed aviatrix Amelia Earhart.

“I wanted to process her collection and get to know her as a person. She was brave and forward-thinking for her time,” Morris says. Earhart had what was thought of as a man’s career in a time when few married women worked outside the home. She drove a convertible and wore pants. She encouraged women to fly high to achieve their dreams.

Her prenuptial agreement with her husband George Putnam is a curiosity, and 20 scrapbooks of newspaper clips document her achievements. What Morris likes best, however, is a poem Earhart wrote in the early 1920s when she was just learning to fly. “It’s touching to see what flying meant to her,” Morris says. It reads:

From an Airplane

Even the watchful, purple hills That hold the lake, Could not see so well as I The stain of evening Creeping from its heart; Nor the round, yellow eyes of the hamlet Growing filmy with mists

By the numbers

The archive is home to: Books: 20,000 volumes Oral histories: 400 Images: 200,000 Alumnus, complete set Debris, from 1889 Exponent, from 1889 All Board of Trustee minutes

Many are online at earchives.lib.purdue.edu

The Earhart collection is part of a division of the Archives’ called the Susan Bulkeley Butler Women’s Archives, which highlights pioneering women at Purdue. Butler (IM’65, HDR’99), who was a Purdue trustee and is the CEO of the Susan Bulkeley Butler Institute for the Development of Women Leaders, founded the archive unit with a $1 million gift. She retired in 2002 as managing partner for Accenture’s Office of the CEO.

Among the most requested items are films, documents, and photographs by Frank and Lillian Gilbreth, the real-life Cheaper by the Dozen parents who pioneered the field of motion studies and ergonomics for the home and assembly line. For example, they would study bricklayers to see how they worked, which motions were most effective and less fatiguing, and therefore most productive. Lillian joined Purdue as a guest lecturer in 1925. This led to a visiting professorship in 1935, when she became the university’s first female engineering professor.

Treasures that lie inside the vault

The $2.7 million Karnes center, which opened in 2009, brings together, for the first time, most of Purdue’s special collections into a centralized, State-of-the art facility. Most of the treasures are in the “vault,” an 80-foot-by-90-foot room equipped with strict temperature and humidity controls as well as security and fire suppression systems.

Just inside the vault’s door is a framed 5-foot tall cartoon of a student orator drawn by John T. McCutcheon during his time at Purdue.McCutcheon came to be known as the dean of American political cartoonists, mirroring life in the first half of the 20th century. About 1,100 of his original ink sketches can be viewed in the Archives. One drawn in 1931 for the Chicago Tribune and called a “A Wise Economist Asks a Question” earned a Pulitzer Prize. It depicts a businessman sitting on a park bench beside a sign that says “Victim of bank failure.” The man is smoking his pipe, his face lined with worry, his tie unknotted, and his coat off. A squirrel looks up and says, “Why didn’t you save some money for the future when times were good?” The businessman responds, “I did.”

The history of agriculture alone takes up two full rows in the vault. There are boxes of the papers of past Purdue presidents, especially Edward C. Elliott, Frederick L. Hovde, and Steven C. Beering. Nearby is a section of rare books that gave birth to the field of economics, such as first editions and various versions of the Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations.

David Hovde, an associate professor of library science as well as a research and instruction librarian for the Archives, is documenting fascinating and sometimes bewildering student traditions and sharing his findings on the Archives’ website.

Boilers dressed a mannequin and named it Miss Indiana for their archrival. Resting in a coffin, Miss Indiana would lie in state in the Purdue Memorial Union before being tossed onto a bonfire just before the Old Oaken Bucket game.

Fire also played a leading role in end-ofsemester mock trials on Stuart Field, now the site of Elliott Hall of Music, that condemned the worst of the mechanical engineering classes’ books to the flames.

A lock and chain from 1913 testifies to the last battle Purdue students — often freshmen versus sophomores — fought for the right to paint their class year on the West Lafayette water tower. Called “Tank Scrap,” the losers were paraded in their underwear and in chains to the Courthouse. Having begun in 1894, the tradition lived on until a student was killed in the melee.

Many videos that bring campus to life are online. One from the 1940s documents a more gentile tradition, as Purdue Glee Club men in tuxes with white bowties sing a Christmas serenade to women hanging intently out the window of their residence hall. The videos also document that pre-Golden Girl twirlers wore gold pants. The old forge shops, the senior parade in Ross-Ade Stadium, Easter egg hunts, Homecoming decorations, and the former Heavilon Hall with its legendary bell tower are also captured on video. A newsreel from 1955 includes shots of animated Purdue greats like Jack Mollenkopf the year he was made head coach and a smiling President Edward Elliott.

There also is history as told in photos that follow the evolution of the Boilermaker Special and Purdue Pete, and memorabilia such as freshman beanies and pots, sailor-type hats colored to designate student organizations.

Firsthand history

An oral history collection contains interviews of about 400 people who played critical roles at Purdue. Many are online, and some are accompanied with audio or video. For example, Roberta Banaszak Gleiter (ChE’60) of Valley Village, California, tells what it was like to be one of a few women to graduate from the School of Chemical Engineering and find that no one would hire her because she was a woman. After raising three children, she tried the workplace again and was welcomed into Aerospace Corp., a think tank for Air Force, where she is now an engineering consultant and has worked on projects related to satellite, shuttle payloads and more.

Gleiter also has become a rock star for young men and women. She mentors and recruits for Aerospace and as CEO of the Global Instituted for Technology and Engineering, an organization to elevate the status of women in technical and engineering fields.

Civil Rights movement at Purdue

For African Americans, the march toward equality is remembered online in a digital timeline and in the documentary film Black Purdue, commissioned by the Black Alumni Association. The film reminds us that as recently as the days of World War II, African American students Could not live in residence halls or have their hair cut in West Lafayette. Now, a major facility will be named for an African American alumnus, the Roland G. Parrish Library of Management and Economics.

Parrish (IM’75, MS M’76) today owns 25 McDonalds franchises in North Texas. When Parrish came to Purdue in 1971, he lettered four years in track and field and served as team captain his senior year. He credits much of his academic success to a Purdue program and its leader, Cornell Bell, who helped recruit him from Hammond High School

The civil rights movement was transitioning. The protests and lunch counter sit-ins were history. Now the nation needed to figure out how to help young African Americans get their slice of the economic pie. John Day, the dean of the School of Management, established the Business Opportunity Program and hired Bell to recruit promising African American high-school seniors. Bell took it a step further. He served as their mentor, friend, and father figure. Bell entertained the students in his home, and had dinner at their kitchen tables back home.

Parrish, who later discovered that he had been his mentor’s first recruit, was executor of his mentor’s estate when Bell died 41 years later in 2009. So no one will forget Bell’s legacy, Parrish gifted Bell’s papers, awards and letters to the Archives.

As for Parrish, he says he hopes that one day he will merit to be asked to donate his papers to the Purdue archive as well.

Jeanne Norberg (LA’75) is the director of public information for the University News Service. Photos by Dave Mason.