World War II and The Great Depression
1930 - 1949
As unemployment jumped and businesses struggled, Bloomington faced a period of downswing after its rapid growth. However, the city persevered through the greatest economic crisis in U.S. history.
One family who forged Bloomington: The Seward legacy
1946 – 1974: Doris Marie Seward
Fred Seward’s daughter Doris Seward made her mark in the halls of academia, often far away from the family business. Like her parents, she was a Bloomington High School graduate. After earning her undergraduate degree at IU in 1938, she went on to receive both masters and doctoral degrees in education from Syracuse University. She also took graduate courses at Columbia University, among other institutions.
In her adult life, Doris contributed immensely to multiple colleges. At Purdue University, she served as a professor, the assistant dean of women and acting dean.
When Doris was appointed the assistant dean of women at Purdue University, she was quoted as saying, “The educated woman will understand her privilege and responsibility as a citizen . . . She will be more than a wage earner, a housewife, a mother; she will be a person, who through the advantage of education, has endeavored to develop the potential within her for the welfare of others.”
Later, at the University of Kentucky, she was a professor of education, the dean of women and the dean of student affairs and planning.
During these years, she kept some connections with the family business. After her father died in 1967, Doris and her sister Janet were elected to the company’s board of directors. She also traveled extensively, visiting places like Egypt, China, Siberia, and Ethiopia, says her nephew Allen Dunn.
Allen remembers the souvenirs Doris brought back from her travels. When she came to Bloomington, she would spread the goodies out on the bed and let her nephews pick what they wanted. Allen always went for the foreign coins.
During her nephews’ high school years, Doris made sure each of them studied abroad. Allen spent six weeks in Switzerland.
During the next decade, Doris worked as the executive assistant to the president of Pennsylvania State University, then retired to Bloomington and devoted herself to local volunteer work.
She was particularly concerned with the education of young people, especially women. She had paved a path in academia at a time when many women didn’t act on such aspirations. She made it her mission to educate other women and encourage them to pursue learning in many forms.
Allen, while impressed with everything his aunt accomplished in her life, notes ruefully that her success wasn’t absolute. “The job opportunities were limited, even in academia,” Allen says. “She was maybe always the assistant, never the president.”
As part of her volunteer work, Doris was president of the National Association of Women’s Deans and Counselors, helped establish the Bloomington Community Foundation and donated 20 acres to the Hilltop Education Foundation to create the Fred Seward Nature Preserve in her father’s memory. For her efforts, IU honored Doris with a Distinguished Alumni Service Award.
As she grew older, Doris looked toward the 21st century with great anticipation. She joked with family members that she’d already picked out her tombstone because she was so determined to see the turn of the century. True to her word, she had her tombstone engraved in 1997 with her birth year and the numbers “20 –.“ She died in October 1999.
Today her tombstone in Dunn Cemetery reads, “Doris Marie Seward / 1917 – 1999/ She was an optimist.”
“She was the last Sewardess,” Allen recalls. “She was proud of that. The name sort of died with her.”
Fashion of the era
The Great Depression hits local families.
Just before the stock market crash of 1929, William and James Showers, the owners of The Showers Brothers Furniture Company, predicted 1930 would be their biggest year. As it turned out, it was the worst.
When the Great Depression struck Bloomington as it did the rest of the world, the local economy didn’t completely fail. According to the Monroe County Public Library’s Christine Friesel, Bloomington had no bank failures or bread lines, but unemployment rates were high. They soared to 38 percent for African Americans and 11 percent for whites, making it difficult for people in Bloomington to find and keep steady jobs.
The Bloomington school board cut teachers’ pay by 23 percent — a move that severely affected women, who were a majority of the teachers in Monroe County. The limestone industry also suffered losses, and companies fired their black workers in an attempt to save money.
The Showers Brothers furniture factory, on the other hand, was known for keeping its employees in hard times and not firing African Americans first. “The limestone industry was not nice to African Americans, but the Showers brothers were,” Friesel says.
The newly formed Civilian Conservation Corps recruited men ages 18-25 to work on public projects so they could send money home to their families. The group created much of the infrastructure of our state parks. Even though the CCC was segregated, an African American chapter of the organization was stationed locally.
Despite the economic downturn, one notable business came out of the Depression – the Chocolate Moose. Cletus May had to close his café due to the poor economy, but he opened the Chocolate Moose on the same site. Today, the Moose still serves up ice cream on the lower floor of a new apartment building that stands at its former location.
Then and now
Herman B Wells (1902 – 2000)
President of Indiana University
Born in Jamestown in 1902, Wells graduated from IU in 1924 with a degree in business, then spent two years as an assistant bank cashier before earning a master’s degree in economics at IU. Ten years later, he became dean of the business school.
His success in that role let to his appointment as the 11th president of IU. As president, he worked hard to recruit renowned faculty, like ground-breaking sex researcher Alfred Kinsey, biologist Tracy Sonneborn and Nobel Prize-winning geneticist Hermann J. Muller. He once traveled 33,000 miles in one year to attract young scholars and faculty members from around the world to come to Bloomington for study and research.
He was a strong advocate of academic freedom, says his biographer James Capshew. When Kinsey’s sex research sparked widespread protests in the 1950s, he stood by the professor.
“The Kinsey Institute is still here and thriving,” Capshew says.
Wells also helped end segregation at the Indiana Memorial Union and was instrumental in recruiting IU’s first black basketball player, Bill Garrett, in 1948.
During his time as president the student body nearly tripled, growing from 11,000 students statewide in 1938 to 31,000 in 1962. Wells left the president’s office in 1962 but continued to serve as chancellor until his death. He never married and died in Bloomington in 2000.
"With full knowledge of the trauma, travail, blood, sweat, and tears the office demands, I would eagerly undertake the chore again,” Wells later wrote in his autobiography Being Lucky.“For me no other career could have been so satisfying, I have been lucky and happy in my life work.”
Capshew says Wells was an inclusive and engaging person who didn’t have any enemies. “When you talked to him, he looked you in the eye and paid attention to only you. He was genuine in a way that not many public figures are.”