Collection ID: C75
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Collection context


Wells, Herman B
Before becoming president of Indiana University, Herman B Wells served as an assistant cashier at the National Bank of Lebanon before going on to work for the Indiana Bankers Association, the Indiana Commission for Financial Institutions, and the Indiana Department of Financial Institutions. He was named dean of the Indiana University School of Business administration in 1935 by IU President William Lowe Bryan. In 1937 he was named acting president of the university and president the following year, a position he held until 1962. Upon his retirement, IU created the position of University Chancellor, which Dr. Wells held until his death in 2000. This collection consists of Wells' personal papers and includes papers pertaining to his family and personal finances, his activities in the banking profession, his work in Germany for the United States government after World War II, and to his research and teaching and professional activities as a member of the faculty of Indiana University.
53 cubic feet (53 boxes)
Materials are in English
Preferred citation:

[Item], Herman B Wells papers, Collection C75, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.


Biographical / Historical:

Herman B Wells was born on June 7, 1902, in Jamestown, Indiana to Joseph and Anna Wells. In 1920, he graduated from Lebanon High School. Wells initially enrolled at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign but transferred to Indiana University in 1921 at the beginning of his sophomore year. While a student at IU, he was a member of the Sigma Nu fraternity, treasurer of the Union Board, member of the YMCA Cabinet, and business manager of the YMCA Red Book. Wells graduated from IU in 1924 with a Bachelor of Science in Commerce. After graduation, Wells worked as an assistant bank cashier at the First National Bank of Lebanon, Indiana for two years before continuing his education at IU. He graduated in 1927 with a Master of Arts in Economics. Wells began studying for his Ph.D. in Economics at University of Wisconsin-Madison but left school to take a job with the Indiana Bankers Association.

In 1930, Wells became an instructor in IU's Department of Economics and Sociology in addition to working for the IBA. He became Assistant Professor in Economics in 1933 but took a two year leave of absence from IU to work for the Indiana Department for Financial Institutions. In 1935, Wells returned to IU and was appointed dean of the business school. After the retirement of IU President William Lowe Bryan, Wells became interim president in 1937 and was elected the 11th President of Indiana University in 1938. Under the leadership of President Wells, IU transformed from a small, locally oriented college to a world-class institution of higher learning through expanded enrollment, recruitment of new faculty, construction of new buildings, new program efforts, and campus beautification projects. He was a steadfast supporter of IU's faculty and students especially in the areas of academic freedom and civil rights. In 1962, Wells retired as IU's president and was named Chancellor of Indiana University, the first to hold that position. His primary duties as chancellor included special projects, fundraising, conferring with private donors, administrative duties, attending cultural and athletic events, and acting as senior advisor to the university. After the resignation of IU President Elvis Stahr, Wells served as IU's interim president from July to November 1968. While chancellor, Wells wrote his autobiography Being Lucky: Reminiscences and Reflections which was published in 1980. He maintained an office at IU until his death on March 18, 2000, at the age of 97.

In addition to his roles at Indiana University, Wells held many appointed positions over the course of his career. He served as an economic analyst for the U.S. State Department's Office of Foreign Economic Cooperation from 1943-1944, as cultural affairs adviser to the U.S. Military Government in West Germany from 1947 to 1948, and as adviser to the Ministry of Pakistan in 1959 among other appointments. Wells was a member and served in leadership roles for several education foundations. He was a member of presidential committees on overseas voluntary activities and U.S.-Soviet trade relations.

Wells was the recipient of numerous honors and awards including twenty-eight honorary degrees. Since 1962, Indiana University has given the Herman B Wells Senior Recognition Award annually to an IU senior who exhibits a strong academic record, as well as leadership and service to the university. The IU Foundation established the Herman B Wells Scholar Program which provides four-year academic scholarships to a selective group of IU Bloomington students. The main library at IU Bloomington was named the Herman B Wells Library in his honor in 2005.

Please see the biography by James Capshew at

Scope and Content:

Spanning the period from 1819-2001, the personal papers of Herman B Wells contain information on Wells' activities outside of his administrative roles at Indiana University. Activities or topics covered by these records relate to banking, family and friends, personal property and finances, research, teaching, and writings. The Herman B Wells Papers are organized into fourteen series: General correspondence; Family records; Affiliations and professional organizations; Awards; Biographical records and personal documents; Education; Financial matters; Personal property; Teaching; Banking; Writings; German Assignment; Audio/Visual materials; and Artifacts.

The first series, General correspondence, spans the period from 1924-1998 and contains primarily correspondence to and from Wells, but often also includes clippings, pamphlets and other ephemera related to various topics. Prominent correspondents include: Frank O. Beck, Ward G. Biddle, Herman T. Briscoe, William Lowe Bryan, George Cook, John W. Cravens, Cecilia Hennel Hendricks, Paul McNutt, Winfred Merrill, Sherman Minton, John Scott, Ralph D. Shoemaker, John Stempel, James Woodburn, and Dr. Wells' parents, Granville and Anna Wells. The files are arranged alphabetically by author or subject.

Family records, the second series, spans the period from 1819 to 1982 and contains records related to Wells' parents and to family history. The subseries on Wells' parents, Granville Wells and Anna Bernice Wells, includes personal and biographical records for each, as well as records relating to their deaths. The family history and genealogical records subseries contains correspondence related to Wells' genealogy, including family histories, pedigree charts, and records of genealogical research done by Wells or his relatives. The Endecott Family History and 19th century land documents for Wells' ancestors are stored in the Archives' Oversized collections. Please see staff for more details. The files in the Family records series are arranged alphabetically.

The third series, Affiliations and professional organizations, spans the period from 1927 to 2000 and includes records on the various organizations with which Wells was affiliated, such as correspondence about meetings, invitations to various events, and requests for membership fees or for donations to various causes. Prominent organizations or affiliations represented in this series include: Sigma Nu Fraternity, the Methodist Church, and the Indiana Academy of Sciences. The Sigma Nu records contain a great deal of correspondence concerning the new house for the Beta Chapter to be built near the IU campus, the Grand Chapter, and the Educational Foundation. The files are arranged alphabetically by organization.

Awards, the fourth series, spans the period from 1922 to 1999, and consists of records documenting the various awards Wells received before, during, and after his tenure as president of Indiana University. The series is subdivided into two subseries: plaques and oversized items, and certificates or other paper records related to awards. The first box of plaques is a normal record center box, but the rest of the plaques and oversized items are stored in flat boxes. The letter-sized certificates and other paper records are stored in a records center box at the end of the series. Wells received a variety of different awards including: Honorary Citizenship to New Orleans, honorary membership into several fraternal organizations, and distinguished services awards from organizations such as the Indiana Optometric Association. Prominent items in this series include several honorary degrees which Wells received from various universities and colleges, including Butler University, University of Louisville, Earlham College, and Indiana State College (now Indiana State University), as well as several awards from different departments or organizations at Indiana University, such as the School of Business. This series is arranged alphabetically within each box, but awards from the same organization may not all be stored together due to size and preservation concerns.

The fifth series, Biographical records and personal documents, spans the period from 1934 to 2000, and includes biographical statements or articles about Wells and various other personal documents such as his driver's license, passport, and will. Several versions and drafts of Wells' will are present, with the most recent being from 1997. The Emergency Call List is a file of documents distributed among Wells' staff and the administration of the University, detailing procedures in case of emergency involving Wells' health. This series is arranged alphabetically.

Education and schoolwork, spanning the period from 1906 to 1927, is the sixth series in this collection. This series consists of records related to Wells' education from the time he was a schoolboy in the early 20th century to his days in college at Indiana University. Included in this series are a "Universal Primer" booklet that was possibly used by Wells as a schoolboy to learn how to read and write; a copy of Wells' senior yearbook from Lebanon (Ind.) High School; outlines created for and a copy of Wells' Masters thesis, "Service Charges for Small or So-Called Country Banks"; lecture notes and exams from a Business Finances class Wells took with Dr. William A. Rawles; and notes on William Lowe Bryan's lectures to students in the Ethics Department. Also included in the series are Wells' diplomas from high school to graduate school, which are stored separately in the Archives' oversized collection. Please ask Archives staff for more details. This series is arranged alphabetically.

The seventh series, Financial matters, spans the period from 1906 to 2001, and is further sub-divided into five sub-series: General, Bills and receipts, Contributions and gifts, Insurance, and Investments. The General subseries consists mostly of personal financial records and bank statements, as well as several files related to income taxes and tax returns. Bills and receipts were created primarily during Wells' later years and include copies of bills and receipts for various purchases, from candy and meat to gasoline and furniture. The final two subseries include records related to Wells' investments in life and health insurance, and in various stock ventures. This series is arranged alphabetically.

Personal property, the eighth series, spans the period from 1835 to 2000 and consists of records related to Wells' property and personal possessions. Prominent topics include records related to Wells' art, antique collections, farm real estate, and the different houses he owned and lived in throughout Bloomington and the surrounding area, including the Woodburn House, Wells House on Tenth Street, at the Meadowood retirement community, and for a house on Second Street. Several architectural records for these homes were pulled and added to the Archive's Architectural Records collection. Please ask staff for more details. Inventories of his possessions, compiled at different times usually for legal purposes, are included in the series. There are also records related to houseboys, housekeepers and cooks who lived with and assisted Wells. This series is arranged alphabetically.

The ninth series, Teaching, includes records from Wells' teaching career at Indiana University during the late 1920s-1930s. Wells teaching duties at IU consisted of the following appointments: Graduate Student and Assistant, Department of Economics, 1927-1928; Instructor, Department of Economics, 1930-31 to 1932-33; and Professor and Dean, School of Business Administration, 1935-36 to 1936-37. This series is further divided into two subseries: Economics courses and Business courses and advising. The Economics courses subseries includes most prominently lecture notes and other teaching materials for the following courses taught by Wells: Economics 1b and E101a & b: Political Economy; Economics 102a & b: Economic History of England and the United States; Economics E214: Corporation Economics; and, Economics E229: Social and Economic Control of Business. This subseries is arranged numerically by course number, and by lecture number within each course. The Business courses and advising subseries consists of lectures and papers for some of Wells' courses on Business Administration and other business related topics while Wells was Professor and Dean of the School of Business. This series is arranged numerically by course number and alphabetically by subject.

Banking, the tenth series, spans the period from 1928-1962, and is further divided into four subseries: Study Commission for Indiana Financial Institutions, Indiana Bankers Association, Federal Home Loan Bank of Indianapolis, and Other Banking Activities. Wells served as Secretary and Research Director on the Study Commission for Indiana Financial Institutions from 1931-1933. It was a state appointed commission to study county bank failures in Indiana and recommend reforms. Arranged alphabetically, this subseries contains correspondence, report typescripts and notes, and subject files. From 1928-1931, Wells served as Field Secretary for the Indiana Bankers Association. This subseries consists primarily of addresses by Wells in relation to this position, as well as some subject files on topics such as credit bureaus and service charges. Wells was a member of the Board of Directors Federal Home Loan Bank of Indianapolis from 1936 to 1971, and served the majority of this time (1940-1971) as Chairman of the Board. This subseries contains correspondence, minutes of Directors meetings and Executive Committee meetings, and reports, and is arranged chronologically. Please note that post-1962 records on Wells activities on the Board can be found in the Records of the University Chancellor, Public Service Record Series. The final subseries, other banking activities, includes records relating to various other banking organizations and conferences, including American Bankers Association, Federal Reserve System, and a conference in Washington on Bank Statement Standardization. This subseries is arranged alphabetically by subject.

Writings is the eleventh series in this collection. This series spans the period from 1893 to 1986 and includes several examples of writings and speeches by Wells. The series is divided into three subseries: Being Lucky (Wells' autobiography), Articles and other publications, and Speeches. Being Lucky makes up the vast majority of this series, and it consists of notes, research materials, drafts, transcripts, audio tapes and reels, correspondence, and other materials related to preparation of Being Lucky: Reminiscences and Reflections by Herman B Wells, which was assembled in the 1970s, and published by the IU Press in 1980. The subseries also includes material created by the Chancellor's administrative assistant Dorothy Collins and researchers John L. Haste and David Warriner. This subseries is arranged into the following categories: 1) Planning; 2) Notes and drafts by chapter; 3) Research materials; and 4) Audio tapes. Files for Chapter XVIII "A New Trip and a New Awareness" were missing at the time of reprocessing. The articles and other publications subseries consists primarily of writings by Wells on various topics, particularly higher education. Articles of interest include "Cooperation and Coordination of Federal Supervisory Agencies," "How to Succeed as a University President without Really Trying," and "Higher Education Faces a Crucial Decade," written in 1956. Also included is a file of correspondence and drafts related to books that Wells planned to write. This subseries is arranged alphabetically by title or subject. The speeches subseries consists of notes, outlines, and drafts for speeches Wells gave from 1933 to 1984 during the years when he was not serving as President of Indiana University (for Wells' speeches as President of IU, see Collection C137). Many of these speeches are related to the banking industry. Also included are speeches on the State of the University while Wells served as Interim President in 1968, the dedication of the Elisabeth Ball room at the Lilly Library, and the eulogy given at the funeral of former IU President William Lowe Bryan in 1955. This subseries is arranged chronologically.

The twelfth series, German Assignment, consists of records created by Wells in late 1947 during his six-month leave of absence as President of IU to serve as Director of the Education and Cultural Relations Division of the Office of Military Government for Germany, U.S. (OMGUS). During this time he also served as General Lucius D. Clay's cultural affairs advisor. The series includes writings and reports, a diary, and subject files, but consists primarily of correspondence with Indiana University, fellow OMGUS personnel, and individuals seeking help immigrating or with locating displaced persons. The series is divided into three subseries: Correspondence, Writings and reports, and Subject files. Correspondence constitutes the largest subseries and spans the period from 1947 to 1950. It is arranged alphabetically by surname. Significant correspondents include: William Lowe Bryan, General Lucius D. Clay, Peter A. Fraenkel, J.A. Franklin, Alonzo G. Grace, Walter Greenough, George B. McKibbin, Edward H. Litchfield, Secretary of War Robert P. Patterson, Fenwick T. Reed, Catherine Royer, and Wells' mother, Anna Bernice Wells. The correspondence in this subseries was sometimes cross-referenced by President Wells' secretary, with references pointing the user to letters housed in subject files or under another name as well as to letters in Wells' Presidential records (Collection C213). References that direct users to items housed outside the collection are identified in the container list. The second subseries, writings and reports, spans the years from 1947 to 1948 and is arranged chronologically, but many of the items are undated. It includes a directive on constitutional reform in German institutions of higher learning, a memorandum regarding the Cultural Affairs Program, a report on Wells' trip to Washington, and Max Rheinstein's report on the U.S. education mission to Germany. Subject files span the years from 1947 to 1952 and are arranged alphabetically by folder title. Subjects or types of material include: applications for employment, President Wells' arrest by Russian troops in East Berlin, newspaper clippings, Wells' diary from his first trip to Germany, German cultural exchanges and re-education, places to visit, and requests to help persons enter the U.S.

The final series, Audiovisual materials, spans from the period from 1946 to 1998 and consists Wells' home movies from the 1940s and 1950s, as well as a small number of recordings from the 1980s and 1990s related to Herman B Wells. The home movies captured by Wells cover his travels in the United States, Mexico, South America, and Europe, as well as family gatherings in Brown County, Indiana.

Acquisition information:
Accns. 0009, 0341, 0379, 0783, 7041, 7154, 9118-9121, 9172-1973, 9176, 9179, 9180, 2001/044, 2001/045, 2006/015, 2007/058, 2007/142, 2010/050, 2014/087. Several reference files were also interfiled into this collection. Speeches given prior to Wells becoming president of IU that were originally processed into C137, Wells' speech collection, have been pulled and interfiled into this collection. Wells' German Assignment records, formerly Collection C230, were interfiled as a separate series into this collection. In addition, several folders from Collection C104 that were related to Wells' German Assignment were pulled and interfiled into that series within this collection.
Custodial history:

Many of these records were originally stored and managed in Wells' Owen Hall office.

The wooden cane in the Artifacts series was donated to the Archives by Wayne Craig in 2004. Craig received the cane as a gift from Herman B Wells sometime after Craig's 1992 retirement from the IU Office of University Ceremonies.

Processing information:

Processed by Tom Malefatto; re-processed by Ryan Lee and Carrie Schwier.

Completed in 2009


The Herman B Wells papers are organized into fourteen series: General correspondence; Family records; Affiliations and professional organizations; Awards; Biographical records and personal documents; Education; Financial matters; Personal property; Teaching; Banking; Writings; German Assignment; Audiovisual materials; and Artifacts.

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[Item], Herman B Wells papers, Collection C75, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.

Indiana University Bloomington
Herman B Wells Library E460
1320 East Tenth Street
Bloomington, Indiana 47405-7000, United States
Indiana University Bloomington