Articles & Essays
Fostering Excellence: The Life and Career of Pat Edmondson
The end of direct parental supervision is one of the great milestones associated with beginning college. For students, it is a thrilling prospect — for their parents, it is often nerve-wracking — and for both, it is likely to be fraught with unforeseen difficulties.
To ease student transitions and parental fears, colleges and universities traditionally acted in loco parentis — in the place of the parent — taking it upon the institution to dole out guidance and discipline as they were perceived to be needed. As the student body mushroomed and these "parental" duties became overwhelming, they ceased to be the direct responsibility of the institution as a whole and were instead entrusted to individuals specially appointed for the task. These individuals, the deans of men and women, became the surrogate parents of the student body. Theirs was the unenviable task of ensuring that the students of Indiana University awoke hangover-free, spent their days in productive study, and were safely tucked into their gender-segregated boardinghouses and dormitories by curfew. It's rather appropriate, then, that two of the oldest residence halls at Indiana University are named for the first people to occupy these parental roles. For women, it was Agnes Ermina Wells, the first Dean of Women and namesake of Wells Quadrangle. (Surprise! It isn't named after Herman B!) For men, it was Clarence Edmondson.
Clarence Edmund Edmondson was born in Ellettsville, Indiana on April 9, 1883.1 His rather unwieldy name was bestowed upon him by John Ewing and Nancy Florence (Buzzaird) Edmondson, his parents. It must have seemed as awkward to him then as it does today, because later in life Clarence Edmund would be professionally abbreviated as "C. E." and known informally as "Pat."
The Edmondsons moved to Bloomington when Pat was young and his early education took place at Bloomington High School, from which he graduated in 1901.2 He then went on to Indiana University, a step perhaps destined not only by the school's convenient location but by the fact that his father worked there as an assistant to Registrar John Cravens.3
Edmondson earned his A.B. from Indiana in 1906 and spent the next three years teaching biology at Crawfordsville High School.4 Medicine was his chosen path and in 1909 he returned to Bloomington to attend IU's recently founded medical school. Partway through his studies he decided to change his specialization, and when he earned his A.M. in 1912 it was in physiology rather than medicine.5 He was promptly hired to serve as a physiology instructor and did so for the next several years as he completed his Ph.D.6
Pat Edmondson married Edna Elder Hatfield on July 31, 1913.7 Only three years his junior, Edna was an Indiana native who had attended the University of Michigan for a year before coming to IU to complete her degree in sociology.8 She earned her A.M. from Indiana in 1914, the same year her husband earned his Ph.D.9 She then went on to pursue her own doctorate, which she completed in 1917. Meanwhile, Pat was promoted to Assistant Professor and continued his teaching career at the School of Medicine.
Edmondson's career took on new dimensions in 1919. In July of that year, the University was offered a proposal by the United States Interdepartmental Social Hygiene Board to establish a Department of Hygiene.10 If IU agreed to establish such a department, the government would chip in the sum of $6,200 per year for two years. The trustees accepted this generous proposition and chose Professor Edmondson to preside over the nascent department. Additionally, he became the instructor for a one-hour hygiene course that was required for all undergraduates.11
Also in that year, IU revamped its disciplinary process. Originally, disciplinary cases had been tried by the faculty as a whole.12 This had proven cumbersome, so in 1891 President John Coulter had established a committee on discipline to lighten the load. His successor, Joseph Swain, changed it again two years later into the committee on student affairs, with then-professor William Lowe Bryan as the committee's first chairman. Still, student discipline was not an efficient process:
The obvious solution was to put discipline in the charge of an individual rather than a committee. Agnes Wells had already been appointed Dean of Women in 1918, and in 1919 Edmondson was chosen to be IU's first Dean of Men. President Bryan chose him for the job because of his interest in guiding and supporting young men, as evidenced by his leadership of one of the first Boy Scout troops in Bloomington. As Dean of Men, Edmondson would chair the committee on student affairs and oversee all matters of guidance and discipline for male students.
Thus within one year, Pat Edmondson was transformed from a junior professor in the School of Medicine into a teacher and administrator who was known throughout the campus. His hygiene course was the biggest class in the University. Every undergraduate student, male and female, passed through his classroom, and as Dean of Men he had an additional bond with all male students. He made an effort to meet all freshmen personally.14
Edmondson's duties changed slightly in 1921 when he was joined by a second Dean of Men, Charles J. Sembower, the addition of whom
Although Dean Sembower was nominally in charge of counseling from then on, Edmondson continued to spend a great deal of time advising students. He also involved himself in many other aspects of student life. For instance, "he served as chairman of selection committees in student activities and many remember[ed] the calm with which he conducted the interviews and the business necessary to such meetings."16 He also advised the Board of Aeons, the recently formed group of students who served as advisors to President Bryan.
Of course, discipline remained Dean Edmondson's primary responsibility, and he was kept busy dealing with various student offenses. Student driving, which was strictly regulated in those days, was a frequent issue and once prompted him to announce in the Indiana Daily Student that "Students who drive cars without permits will be suspended from the university."17
The most sensational moment of Edmondson's disciplinary career was the 1927 case of Indiana vs. Book Nook. The Book Nook (now known as The Gables) was a sandwich and soda shop on Indiana Avenue that achieved legendary status as the pulsing heart of student life in the 1920s. It is best described by its most famous patron, Hoagy Carmichael:
And liquor was consumed, or so the University believed. It was the height of Prohibition and the Book Nook's owners, brothers Peter, George, and Harry Costas, were not actually selling alcohol, but there was little they could do to stop it from making its way into the Coca-Cola via students' hip flasks. The Book Nook was certainly not the only site of such activities — Peter Costas was said to have remarked that "students drank in fraternity houses, the Student Building, about town, in Indianapolis, and everywhere else"19 — but it was one of the most visible, or else was simply an easy target. Deans Edmondson and Wells decided to make an example of the popular hangout, and so on April 28, 1927, the case, State of Indiana vs. Book Nook, was brought to trial with the two deans as the accusers.20 On May 19, Peter Costas was convicted of "maintaining a nuisance by permitting liquor to be drunk on the premises of his place of business." He was fined $500 and served a suspended sentence of thirty days in the state penitentiary. His brothers were acquitted.
The blow to the Costas family was severe but temporary. Life at the Book Nook went on, and so, no doubt, did the drinking, but the deans had made their point: Indiana University did not condone alcohol and would not stand idly by while her students caroused right across the street. (What, if anything, was done to curb drinking in the Student Building is unknown.) Indiana vs. Book Nook was big news on campus, yet according to historian Thomas Clark, the case was only "a modest drama… beside national efforts to enforce prohibition laws, and to stem the tide of moral and social deterioration which neither Dean Edmondson nor Dean Wells could comprehend, let alone control."21 The times, as always, were changing.
For all the moral indignation he levied at the Book Nook, Pat Edmondson was hardly puritanical. He was, after all, the best billiards player in the Men's Faculty Club and a nationwide champion among college and university faculty.22 Edmondson was active in other Faculty Club ventures as well: he was the club's treasurer for 24 years and served as president during his last year at IU.
He remained well-liked by students in spite of the Book Nook case and his other disciplinary responsibilities. They seem to have regarded him with a mixture of love and great respect that was comfortable enough to allow for a bit of teasing, as evidenced in the caption of his portrait from the 1924 Arbutus:
Throughout his life Edmondson was plagued by chronic bronchitis,24 and his ill health twice forced him to take a leave of absence from the University. The first time, in January 1929, he and Edna went to California to speed his recovery. Edna, who was an assistant professor at IU and did child welfare work with the University's Extension Division, continued her work long-distance during the temporary exile.25
Pat eventually recovered and was able to return to Indiana and his duties. In fact, he took on even more responsibilities, such as serving a term as President of the National Association of Deans of Men in 1932.26 The Depression began, and Edmondson helped assign jobs to students who had applied for employment on one of the campus Civil Works Administration projects.27 These were the result of a letter to the CWA from President Bryan suggesting labor opportunities on the campus. The Jordan River culvert on Forrest Avenue near Ballantine Hall dates from this period.
This was also the period of the Olympiad Campaign for the construction of new dormitories. South Hall, IU's first dormitory for men, had been completed in 1924 and the Olympiad Board proposed the erection of two additional buildings on the site. Edmondson, along with his fellow dean Charles Sembower, bursar Ulysses H. Smith, and registrar John Cravens, was one of the leading administrators in support of the proposal. He remarked:
The Olympiad Campaign was a success, and by 1940 two new dormitories were completed: North Hall, which ran parallel to South; and West Hall (the University toyed briefly with calling it Olympiad Hall) at the heart of the new complex. Right away (and even more so in time) the new dormitories lent themselves to just the sort of community-building Pat Edmondson had envisioned.
Edmondson's contributions to the University did not go unappreciated. The 1935 Arbutus staff dedicated that year's volume jointly to Pat Edmondson and Agnes Wells, writing of the former:
Unfortunately Edmondson's health did not last, and in 1943 he took his second leave of absence from IU.30 Edna had resigned her professorship the year before and this time the Edmondsons were absent from campus for a year. At the end of the year's leave, in June 1944, Pat decided to retire and settle permanently in California. In November, he and Edna moved into a house at 1915 Mill Road in South Pasadena that they had purchased for their retirement.31
Edmondson was quickly missed on the campus. "He was such a swell guy that this place isn't the same without him," commented two alumni who visited campus in early December after returning from the war.32
A few days later, Edmondson was dead. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage at his home in Pasadena on December 14, 1944.33 He was 61 years old. IU's young president, Herman B Wells, was notified the next day by telegram. "No man meant so much to so many students at Indiana University," said Wells. "His devotion to the problems of individual students endeared him to all who knew him over a quarter of a century. His loss will be mourned by those who were his colleagues on the campus and by the thousands of alumni of the University."34
Edmondson's dedication to the students of IU was memorialized again in 1959, when the Board of Trustees voted to rename the buildings of the Men's Residence Center in honor of those who had helped enable their construction.35 Edmondson's name would be bestowed upon West Hall, the practical and symbolic heart of the quadrangle, of which it has since been said, "The University may build soaring towers for housing, but no tower will ever have the majesty and beauty of West Hall."36 The rededication took place on September 24, 1961, when Edmondson's former secretary, Frances M. Sare, unveiled the plaque dubbing the building "Clarence Edmondson Hall."37
Today, Edmondson Hall is the bustling headquarters of life in Collins Living-Learning Center, and much of the programming and student governance that makes Collins unique takes place within its walls. The building has fostered community and involvement since its construction, but with the foundation of the LLC it has truly realized and surpassed Pat Edmondson's vision of what a dormitory can be. Collins is more than just a storage bin for unruly students in need of supervision: it is a place where students are assumed to be maturing beyond that need and are given the support and agency to do so. The denizens of Edmondson Hall and its companion buildings live in a community of shared responsibility where the students themselves motivate their participation in University activities — where, in fact, University-planned activities are often secondary to programs of the students' own devising.
And this, ultimately, is the goal of higher education: not to tell students what to think, what to do, and what not to do, but to raise them into equal partnership in an academic and social community where they seek and share knowledge and responsibility of their own volition. This is the purpose of the university, and Collins LLC fulfills it admirably. The Dean of Men would heartily approve.
1 Who Was Who in America. A component volume of Who's Who in American History. Vol. 2. Back
2 "On the Campus," Indiana Alumni Magazine, January 1945, Vol. 7, No. 5. Back
3 Daily Student, 11 December 1903, p. 1. Back
4 Who Was Who in America. A component volume of Who's Who in American History. Vol. 2. Back
5 "On the Campus," Indiana Alumni Magazine, January 1945, Vol. 7, No. 5. Back
6 Who Was Who in America. A component volume of Who's Who in American History. Vol. 2. Back
7 Who Was Who in America. A component volume of Who's Who in American History. Vol. 2. Back
8 "Edna Edmondson." Fact sheet, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington, IN. Back
9 Who Was Who in America. A component volume of Who's Who in American History. Vol. 2.Back
10 Myers, Burton Dorr. History of Indiana University. Vol. II: "1902-1937: The Bryan Administration." Indiana University, 1952, p. 223. Back
11 "On the Campus," Indiana Alumni Magazine, January 1945, Vol. 7, No. 5. Back
12 Myers, pp. 761-762. Back
13 Myers, pp. 761-762. Back
14 "Dean C. E. (Pat) Edmondson Dies in California." The Indiana Daily Student. Vol. LXXIV, No. 72, 16 December 1944, p. 1, 4. Back
15 Myers, p. 762. Back
16 "Dean C. E. (Pat) Edmondson Dies in California." The Indiana Daily Student. Vol. LXXIV, No. 72, 16 December 1944, p. 1, 4. Back
17 "Dean Warns Students." The Indiana Daily Student. 11 April 1921, p. 3. Back
18 Carmichael, Hoagland, qtd. in Clark, Thomas D. Indiana University: Midwestern Pioneer. Vol. II: "In Mid-Passage." Bloomington and London: Indiana University Press, 1973. P. 275. Back
19 Clark, p. 277. Back
20 Clark, p. 277. Back
21 Clark, p. 278. Back
22 "Dean C. E. (Pat) Edmondson Dies in California." The Indiana Daily Student. Vol. LXXIV, No. 72, 16 December 1944, p. 1, 4. Back
23 Arbutus, 1924, p. 20. Back
24 "On the Campus," Indiana Alumni Magazine, January 1945, Vol. 7, No. 5. Back
25 Minutes of the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees, 7 January 1929. Indiana University Archives, Bloomington, IN. Back
26 Who Was Who in America. A component volume of Who's Who in American History. Vol. 2. Back
27 Clark, p. 251.Back
28 "University Officials Approve Dormitory Plan of Olympiad." Indiana Daily Student, 24 September (year unknown). Back
29 Arbutus, 1935. Back
30 Who Was Who in America. A component volume of Who's Who in American History. Vol. 2. Back
31 Who Was Who in America. A component volume of Who's Who in American History. Vol. 2. Back
32 "Clarence E. Edmondson." Fact sheet. Indiana University Archives, Bloomington, IN. Back
33 "Dean C. E. (Pat) Edmondson Dies in California." The Indiana Daily Student. Vol. LXXIV, No. 72, 16 December 1944, p. 1, 4. Back
34 "Dean C. E. (Pat) Edmondson Dies in California." The Indiana Daily Student. Vol. LXXIV, No. 72, 16 December 1944, p. 1, 4. Back
35 "IU men's dorms to be renamed." Frankfort, IN Times, 10 September 1959. Back
36 Morris, Ray L. Letter to Mike Davis and Collins LLC Alumni Association. 15 March 1981. Back
37 Program from Men's Residence Center renaming ceremony, 24 September 1961. Indiana University Archives, Bloomington, IN. Back
Questions? Comments? Submissions? Contact us!