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John Cravens: A Hoosier Ideal


The name of John Cravens is not widely known among students at Indiana University today. It hearkens to a time just distant enough to escape popular memory — in other words, to right before the Wells era. Yet that time was one of the most crucial in the development of the university, and Cravens was one of its key figures. For forty-one years he served in the upper echelons of IU's leadership and was "Deputy Father" to generations of students. At the same time, he worked tirelessly for the citizens of Bloomington and formed a valuable link between IU and the surrounding community. In many ways, he exemplified the Hoosier ideal.

John William Cravens was born on October 1, 1864 in Center Valley, Indiana.1 He was one of seven children of William Reece and Sarah Ruth (Bray) Cravens.2 John began his education in the country schools in Hendricks County before moving to Danville, Indiana.3 There he attended Danville High School and the Central Indiana Normal College, graduating from the latter in 1884. In the same year he co-founded the Danville Gazette, thus becoming the youngest newspaper editor in the state.

He left Danville for Bloomington in 1885, the same year Indiana University moved to its new campus in Dunn's Woods.4 However, Cravens attended only one spring semester at IU before turning his attention to Bloomington itself.5 He was made superintendent of Monroe County schools in 18876, and as before he was the youngest man in Indiana to hold the position.7 Cravens remained superintendent until 1890, when he was elected clerk of Monroe County Circuit Court.8 He was only the second Democrat to have been elected to that role.9 In the same year he became chairman of the county's Democratic committee.10

Cravens was married to Bloomington native Emma Lucille Krueger on his birthday in 1891.11 Two years later he reentered the field of journalism by founding the Bloomington World with his brother, Oscar.12 He would remain an editor of the World until he sold his interest to Oscar in 1906.

John's term as court clerk ended in 1894, and he was soon ready to return to his studies.13 Accordingly, he reentered Indiana University as an undergraduate in 1895. He was appointed Registrar by President Joseph Swain in the same year, thus embarking on what were to be four decades of devoted service to his not-yet alma mater. Until John Cravens, no man had served the university so long.




Throughout his life, Cravens' endeavors were marked by his kind personality and unswerving sense of ethics. "Rugged honesty, absolute integrity and a superior intellect were his most salient characteristics, tempered by a warm and winning personality," said trustee Val Nolan.14 Cravens was calm, mild-mannered, and friendly, with a genuine interest in the people around him. An editorial observed of him: "The best of all Mr. Cravens's fine points was the steadily maintained habit of doing something nice for someone each day of his life. It was a secret religion with him and he never missed doing some kind act."15 Perhaps to remind himself of this daily commitment, he kept a poem on his desk:

In the execution of his work, Cravens was persistent and quietly determined. He was also scrupulously honest, a quality particularly valued by his friend and colleague, President William Lowe Bryan, who succeeded Joseph Swain in 1902. Bryan said of him:

Another quality Bryan admired was Cravens' steadfast loyalty:

One of Cravens' strongest allegiances was to his alma mater. "Loyalty to I.U. was the dominant trait of his life," by one account19, and this loyalty coupled with his unflagging work ethic led him to serve Indiana University in a number of simultaneous roles. He worked as Registrar both during and after his undergraduate years (he earned an A.B. in history in 1897).20 He became Secretary to the IU Board of Trustees in 1898, and in 1915 he became Secretary to the University. His elegant handwriting fills volumes of minutes from several decades of trustees' meetings. Cravens would hold both secretarial jobs, as well as the post of Registrar, until his retirement.

Cravens was active during a critical period in IU's history. For a time, there was some question about whether the university would even remain in Bloomington. An editorial in the Telephone recalled:

During the Bryan administration (1902-1937) IU embarked on an ambitious program of expansion. Several new schools were founded, including the Graduate School, Extension Division, and the schools of Medicine, Education, Commerce and Finance (Business), and Music. The campus expanded from fifty to 137 acres (1,300 acres statewide), and the constant addition of new structures led Cravens to write, "The present period in the history of Indiana University may properly be designated as the 'Building Age.'"22 Throughout this period of growth, Cravens was "as much a part of the Indiana University campus as ivy-covered Wylie hall or the well house."23 He worked tirelessly — so much so that the trustees once passed a resolution ordering him to take a paid vacation.24 The trusted right-hand man to President Bryan, Cravens often took Bryan's place in meetings and ran the campus in his stead whenever he was absent.25 Dr. Bryan referred to Cravens as his "secretary of state."26

Cravens remained loyal to IU despite many offers to go elsewhere. Most famously, he turned down a $6,000 per year job as private secretary to William Jennings Bryan, who at the time was Secretary of State to Woodrow Wilson.27 But Cravens' refusal to leave the sphere of one William Bryan did not mean he ignored the sphere of the other. To the contrary, he remained politically active throughout most of his career at IU. He was elected to the Indiana House of Representatives in 1898 and again in 1900, serving as joint representative for Monroe and Brown Counties.28 He was the only Indiana legislator in nearly four decades to succeed himself in his district.29 In 1912 Cravens was a presidential elector and voted for Wilson.30 He was a faithful Democrat, yet it was observed that "he was a believer in the party system and always fair to the other factions" and that many of his friends were active Republicans.31 People remarked that he bore an uncanny resemblance to Democratic leader William Jennings Bryan, to the extent "that he could almost have traveled and campaigned in the part of Mr. Bryan without the question of identity being raised."32 When Bryan tried to hire Cravens as his secretary, it was joked that the Secretary of State merely wanted a look-alike who could attend tedious events in his place.

Even in the world of politics, Cravens held fast to his personal values. This is illustrated by an anecdote from Judge Robert W. Miers:

It stands to reason that Cravens' political career might have interfered with his work at Indiana University. However, quite the opposite was true. Cravens' interest in politics and a number of other fields actually helped broaden his service to IU far beyond the titles of Secretary and Registrar. His experience in the House of Representatives made him a knowledgeable advocate when it came time to ask the legislature for funding or other support.34 His lifelong interest in journalism (he received an A.M. in journalism from Indiana in 1920)35 led him to publish a vast number of articles about all aspects of the university. He also used this knowledge to become a pioneer in the field of university public relations. Cravens believed that IU's rich history — of which there was then scarcely a century's worth — could be a valuable promotional tool. In an article for alumni, he wrote:

"The test," he wrote, "of each graduate of Indiana University is the answer to this question: 'How many young people have I caused to go to my Alma Mater?'"37 Cravens drilled this message into the alumni through speeches and personal contact as well as through frequent articles in the Alumni Quarterly. Through these efforts, Cravens fostered a close relationship with the alumni community around the country and was able to harness its power in support of the university's endeavors.

Cravens also maintained an excellent relationship with the Bloomington community. His deep political, business, and social ties, as well as his genial personality, made him a natural ambassador between town and gown. In addition to his distinguished political record, his service as school superintendent, and his work with the Bloomington World, Cravens served as a director of Monroe County State Bank,38 was Sunday school superintendent and chief usher at the First Presbyterian Church,39 and was an involved member of Bloomington Rotary, the Masons, and numerous other organizations. He combined all these involvements with the down-home sensibility of a man who returned to his family farm every summer to put up hay.40 Cravens never belittled the village of Bloomington; instead, he considered it the university's most vital ally and resource. He assured Bloomingtonians of this in a speech to the Rotary Club:

Cravens was noted for his ability to bridge social gaps. A friend wrote of him, "Mr. Cravens is at home with all classes of people and can converse entertainingly with the fellow in overalls as well as the fellow in broadcloth."42 His blend of the down-home and the urbane took strangers by surprise, as it did during his term as representative for Monroe and Brown Counties:

Cravens also enjoyed a warm relationship with the students at IU, many of whom he knew by name. As Registrar, he personally signed all diplomas, and his office was open to students seeking advice. It was said that his constant contact with them helped him to maintain a youthful and adaptable point of view.44 Cravens had a particularly close relationship with the Daily Student, which credited him with having "tipped off" the paper "to more live campus news than perhaps any other man in the University."45 The newspaper affectionately referred to him as "Uncle John" and called him the "Deputy Father" of the student body.

Cravens was also very close to his colleagues at the university. He was a dear friend of William and Charlotte Lowe Bryan as well as of Ulysses H. Smith, the bursar. He also found love with a coworker: Mellie Parker Greene, a woman twenty years his junior who was President Bryan's secretary. John and Mellie were married on June 28, 1916.46 (John's first wife, Emma, had died on February 20, 1898, a few days after giving birth to their only child on February 12.47 ) John, Mellie, and John's daughter Ruth Ralston Cravens made their home in the Arbutus Apartments on Kirkwood Avenue (the current site of McDonald's).48 They later moved to a house at 730 East Third Street that eventually became home to the Hillel Center. Like her father and stepmother, Ruth Cravens attended IU (she earned an A.B. in English in 1920) and in later years both she and Mellie worked for the university.49




During the 1920s and '30s, as he approached an age at which many people would consider slowing down, John Cravens remained as productive as ever. He continued to serve as university Secretary and Registrar and also worked on special projects such as the Memorial Fund campaign.

He also played a role in the construction of what we now know as Collins Living-Learning Center. South Hall, IU's first dormitory for men, was opened in 1924, and by 1926 there were requests for more dormitory space. Eventually the university's Olympiad Board, with help from faculty members and the residents of South Hall, began a campaign to construct two new buildings adjacent to South. Cravens, along with bursar Ulysses H. Smith and Dean of Men Clarence Edmondson, was one of the chief university officials involved in the effort. It was Smith and Cravens who came up with the strategy for the campaign:

The Olympiad Campaign was a success, and in time South Hall was joined by two new structures: West Hall, which formed the heart of the new quadrangle, and North Hall. John Cravens did not live to see the completion of these buildings in 1940, but he was instrumental in their construction, a fact which would be remembered years later.

Cravens also remained active in promoting the university during this period. He wrote articles and gave lectures on IU history, one of his favorite subjects, and he also published pieces on other IU-related topics, such as the trustees and various building projects. In 1930 he wrote an article called "Indiana University Families" profiling families which boasted four or more IU graduates.51 In many such homes Cravens' signature appeared on multiple diplomas. He also continued to encourage the support of alumni through articles, letters, and visits. As always, these exchanges were warm and friendly. In one letter he wrote, "I like to talk to you in this way, but how much more would I like to be with you and clasp you by the hand. Since I cannot do this on this occasion, I can only say that I shall think of you in your meeting tonight and shall say now as I shall say then, 'God bless you every one.'"52

In 1922 Cravens' experiences in public relations were collected into a pamphlet called "Educational Publicity" which found great demand among college administrators throughout the country. In this way his approach became the accepted wisdom on university public relations.53

Cravens' writings from this period reveal his deep love of Indiana University and his faith in its future. To a group of alumni in Largo, Florida in 1930, he wrote:

One of his most moving speeches was given on May 7, 1924, the centennial of IU's first classes. Cravens gave an historical address at the unveiling of the marker in Seminary Square, site of the original IU campus. He said:

Cravens continued working for the university he loved even when his health began to fail in the mid-1930s. Despite diabetes and heart problems, he managed to spend some time in his new office in the Administration Building (now Bryan Hall) when it opened in 1936. As always, he signed all the diplomas for the class of '36. However, his worsening health forced him to retire that summer.55

At the time of his retirement Cravens had served IU for forty-one years — longer than anyone before him. He had watched the university's enrollment grow from 700 to over 7,000.56 However, his involvement with IU was not quite over. As Secretary and Registrar Emeritus, he continued to attend university events when his health permitted. His final such appearance was during Commencement activities in June 1937. Cravens sat in his office after commencement to greet the many alumni who had come for the occasion. He also attended the dedication ceremony for the Administration Building, during which a portrait of Cravens was presented to the university.57 (The portrait, by famed Hoosier artist Marie Goth, hung on the west wall on the first floor of the building until it was moved to Franklin Hall in 1978.)

Unfortunately, the strain of Commencement events caused Cravens' health to worsen, and he deteriorated throughout the summer. He died at seven p.m. on Tuesday, August 10, 1937, of coronary thrombosis complicated by diabetes.58 He was seventy-two years old.

The death of John Cravens prompted an outpouring of sympathetic messages and newspaper remembrances from around Indiana. His funeral, held in the Indiana Memorial Union, was a stately affair for which all IU offices were closed and afternoon classes canceled.59 The body lay in state in the Union lobby until the ceremony, which took place in the South Lounge.60 President Emeritus William Lowe Bryan gave the eulogy. Afterwards, the Student Building chimes were played as the funeral procession traveled to the burial in Rose Hill Cemetery.61

John Cravens was not forgotten by his alma mater. In 1959, over twenty years after his death, the trustees announced the renaming of the dormitories he had helped to build.62 North Hall was to become John W. Cravens Hall. The rededication ceremony took place on September 24, 1961, and was presided over by President Herman B Wells. Cravens' daughter Ruth, then sixty-three years old, unveiled the plaque which still adorns the wall beside the B entrance. Although by that time Cravens' accomplishments were probably unknown to most students, the dedication of Cravens Hall ensured that his name, at least, would never be forgotten.

John Cravens was a remarkable man who excelled in not one, but many fields. Journalist, historian, educator, politician, and farmer, he was a versatile figure reminiscent of Jefferson or Franklin. But unlike the Founding Fathers, Cravens was a quiet and unassuming leader. He was undoubtedly capable of running the university himself or of attaining high political office, but instead he was happy to serve in subordinate roles under men like William Lowe and William Jennings Bryan. Above all, he dedicated himself to working ceaselessly for the ideals he believed in and the institutions he loved. The Bloomington Telephone, his main competitor in the newspaper business, said of him: "Mr. Cravens gave outstanding service to Bloomington when a failure would have been entirely disastrous, he was one of the architects of the success of I.U., he stood four-square to all circumstances and he never broke a promise —what higher phrases of praise can be written for a citizen of Bloomington?"63 Cravens epitomized the blend of education, public service, and rural ethics and sentiment that comprises the Hoosier ideal, and he remained true to this ideal his entire life. What higher praise, indeed?

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Footnotes

1 Who Was Who in America. A component volume of Who's Who in American History. Vol. 1. Back

2 "John W. Cravens, I.U. Official 41 Years, Dies." The Indianapolis Star, 11 August 1937. Back

3 "John W. Cravens, Veteran I.U. Leader, Dies in Bloomington." The Indianapolis News, 11 August 1937. Back

4 "Cravens Family: Cravens family papers, 1835-1972." Indiana University Archives. Available http://www.indiana.edu/~libarch/Personal/050pers.html Back

5 Case, Paul Charles, Archives Associate. Letter to Mrs. Sally Mays Fink. Indiana University Archives, Bloomington, IN. 10 November 1986. Back

6 Who Was Who in America. A component volume of Who's Who in American History. Vol. 1. Back

7 "John W. Cravens, Veteran I.U. Leader, Dies in Bloomington." The Indianapolis News, 11 August 1937. Back

8 Who Was Who in America. A component volume of Who's Who in American History. Vol. 1. Back

9 "John W. Cravens, I.U. Official 41 Years, Dies." The Indianapolis Star, 11 August 1937. Back

10 Who Was Who in America. A component volume of Who's Who in American History. Vol. 1. Back

11 Who Was Who in America. A component volume of Who's Who in American History. Vol. 1. Back

12 "John W. Cravens, I.U. Official 41 Years, Dies." The Indianapolis Star, 11 August 1937. Back

13 "Cravens Family: Cravens family papers, 1835-1972." Indiana University Archives. Available http://www.indiana.edu/~libarch/Personal/050pers.html Back

14 "John W. Cravens, I.U. Official 41 Years, Dies." The Indianapolis Star, 11 August 1937. Back

15 "John W. Cravens, I.U. Official 41 Years, Dies." The Indianapolis Star, 11 August 1937. Back

16 "City, I.U. Mourn John W. Cravens." The Evening World, 11 August 1937. Back

17 "John W. Cravens, I.U. Official 41 Years, Dies." The Indianapolis Star, 11 August 1937. Back

18 "Last Rites Held for J.W. Cravens on University Campus." Unknown Bloomington newspaper (possibly the Telephone), 12 August 1937. Back

19 "John W. Cravens." The Indianapolis Star, 12 August 1937. Back

20 Who Was Who in America. A component volume of Who's Who in American History. Vol. 1. Back

21 Bradfute, B.W. "Comment." The Bloomington Telephone, 11 August 1937. Back

22 Cravens, John W. "Buildings Under Construction and in Prospect." 11 January 1924. Back

23 "John W. Cravens." The Indianapolis Star, 12 August 1937. Back

24 Minutes of the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees, 2 July 1927, p. 179. Back

25 "Death Ends Career of John W. Cravens." The Bloomington Telephone, 11 August 1937. Back

26 "City, I.U. Mourn John W. Cravens." The Evening World, 11 August 1937. Back

27 "Double Traitor is John W." The Bloomington Telephone (date unknown). Back

28 Who Was Who in America. A component volume of Who's Who in American History. Vol. 1. Back

29 "John W. Cravens, I.U. Official 41 Years, Dies." The Indianapolis Star, 11 August 1937. Back

30 "John W. Cravens, I.U. Official 41 Years, Dies." The Indianapolis Star, 11 August 1937. Back

31 "John W. Cravens, I.U. Official 41 Years, Dies." The Indianapolis Star, 11 August 1937. Back

32 Bradfute, B.W. "Comment." The Bloomington Telephone, 11 August 1937. Back

33 "'Deputy Father' to Hundreds of Young Hoosier Men and Women." Unknown newspaper, 24 March 1920 (?) Back

34 "John W. Cravens." The Indianapolis News, 11 August 1937. Back

35 Case, Paul Charles. Back

36 Cravens, John W. "What Can the Alumni Do for Indiana University? Registar (sic) John W. Cravens Suggests the Following Fifteen Points." Alumni Quarterly, 1922. Back

37 Cravens, John W. "What Can the Alumni Do for Indiana University? Registar (sic) John W. Cravens Suggests the Following Fifteen Points." Alumni Quarterly,1922. Back

38 "Cravens Rites Will Be Today." The Indianapolis Star, 12 August 1937. Back

39 "City, I.U. Mourn John W. Cravens." The Evening World,11 August 1937. Back

40 "City, I.U. Mourn John W. Cravens." The Evening World, 11 August 1937. Back

41 Cravens, John W. "Indiana University and its Relation to Bloomington." Read to Bloomington Rotary Club, 10 December 1919. Back

42 "City, I.U. Mourn John W. Cravens." The Evening World, 11 August 1937. Back

43 Bradfute, B.W. "Comment." The Bloomington Telephone, 11 August 1937. Back

44 "John W. Cravens." The Indianapolis Star, 12 August 1937. Back

45 "'Uncle John' Lights Another Candle for Birthday Cake Today." Daily Student, 1 October 1929. Back

46 Who Was Who in America. A component volume of Who's Who in American History. Vol. 1. Back

47 "Cravens Family: Cravens family papers, 1835-1972." Indiana University Archives. Available http://www.indiana.edu/~libarch/Personal/050pers.html Back

48 Case, Paul Charles. Back

49 "Cravens Family: Cravens family papers, 1835-1972." Indiana University Archives. Available http://www.indiana.edu/~libarch/Personal/050pers.html Back

50 "Selling Idea of Dormitory Life to Unorganized Men is Decided on at Meeting." Indiana Daily Student, 28 September (no year given). Back

51 Indiana Daily Student, 3 February 1930. Back

52 Cravens, John W. Letter to I.U. alumni of Largo, FL. 13 December 1930. Back

53 Indiana University Bulletin, Vol XX., No. 9. Back

54 Cravens, John W. Letter to I.U. alumni of Largo, FL. 13 December 1930. Back

55 "John W. Cravens, Veteran I.U. Leader, Dies in Bloomington." The Indianapolis News, 11 August 1937. Back

56 "John W. Cravens, Veteran I.U. Leader, Dies in Bloomington." The Indianapolis News, 11 August 1937. Back

57 "John W. Cravens, Veteran I.U. Leader, Dies in Bloomington." The Indianapolis News, 11 August 1937. Back

58 "J.W. Cravens, I.U. Registrar 41 Years, Dies." Plymouth Daily News, 11 September 1937 (misdated?) Back

59 "Tributes to Cravens." The Bloomington Telephone, 11 August 1937. Back

60 "Death Ends Career of John W. Cravens." The Bloomington Telephone, 11 August 1937. Back

61 "Last Rites Held for J.W. Cravens on University Campus." Unknown Bloomington paper (Telephone?), 12 August 1937. Back

62 "I.U. men's dorms to be renamed." Frankfort, IN Times, 10 September 1959. Back

63 Bradfute, B.W. "Comment." The Bloomington Telephone, 11 August 1937. Back





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