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The “Wind, Motion, and Freedom” of Lillian Gatlin, UIUC’s Pioneering Aviatrix

This guest post was written by Nathan Tye. Nathan is a doctoral candidate in the Department of History at the University of Illinois and the Assistant Book Review Editor of Middle West Review.

Lillian Gatlin in the Los Angeles Herald, March 1917

The early history of aviation is filled with pioneers and “firsts” whose accomplishments were quickly overshadowed by more impressive feats. Lillian Gatlin, a UIUC student from 1906-1908, is rarely remembered today, but in the fall of 1922 was the toast of the nation when she became the first woman to fly across the country.[1] Although Gatlin did not graduate from UIUC, transferring to Michigan for her senior year where she received an A.B. in English in 1909, she maintained a long correspondence with her old Rhetoric professor, Thomas Arkle Clark.[2] A lifelong writer and aviatrix, it was at Illinois that Gatlin discovered her love of writing. As she told Dean Clark, “I think it was Rhetoric 10. The number is of no consequence – it was where you encouraged me to write.”[3] Although Edward Bok, editor of Ladies’ Home Journal gave Gatlin her first big break, “he did not ‘discover’ me – entirely.” As she informed Clark, “Much to my mystification, you did – that: and trained me for him[.]”[4] Gatlin and Clark’s letters, recently identified in the General Correspondence of the Dean of Men, reveal a woman set on breaking free from society’s expectations, first as a writer and later as an aviation pioneer, whose life of adventure was started at the University of Illinois.

The Life of an Aviatrix


By 1915, Gatlin was an established aviatrix and author living in San Francisco. That March her flight instructor (and possibly fiancé), the famed barnstormer Lincoln Beachy, died in a crash at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco.[5] Beginning in 1916 Gatlin flew over Beachy’s crash site just off the coast of the Exposition Grounds (now the Marina District) and dropped flowers on the anniversary of his death. As untold numbers of pilots began dying in the World War the event became a citywide and eventually national event commemorating dead aviators. In 1921 it was officially reorganized with city sponsorship as “Aerial Day.”[6]

Continue reading “The “Wind, Motion, and Freedom” of Lillian Gatlin, UIUC’s Pioneering Aviatrix”

Reflections on Opening Day 150 years Ago – 2 March 1868

Gregory Behle, Professor at The Master’s University in Santa Clarita, California, and kick-off presenter of the Archives Sesquicentennial Speakers Series, March 2, 2017, authored this post at the request of the Student Life and Culture Archives to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the first day of class.  Behle’s research focuses on accessibility, student life, and campus culture at the University of Illinois from 1868 to 1894.  Slides from his 2017 presentation are available HERE.

For more information about campus during these earliest years, see the Archives’ Mapping History at the University of Illinois project website, including interactive histories and maps and a campus and community map digital archives.

Between 50 & 60 students appeared on the ground[s] this morning.  Fine energetic young men. More are coming with every train.[1]

John Milton Gregory to Mason Brayman, March 2nd, 1868.

Continue reading “Reflections on Opening Day 150 years Ago – 2 March 1868”

“A Mad Mixture of Sleigh Bells and Telephone Bells”: The History of Dial-a-Carol at the University of Illinois

Written by Anna Trammell

The holiday season is once again upon us and along with it an Illinois tradition returns. From December 7 until December 13, thousands of callers from around the world will dial in to Snyder Hall 24 hours a day to be serenaded with yuletide tunes.

An advertisement for Dial-a-Carol (Daily Illini, 12 December 1975)

Betty Gordon is commonly credited with conceiving of the Dial-a-Carol idea around 1960 when she was working as a clerk in Snyder Hall. “The story goes that she was speaking with a friend on the phone and her friend mentioned she could hear Betty’s radio playing while they were talking. Betty was inspired and thought it would be a neat idea to play carols on the phone to friends. She started Dial-a-Carol with the help of Snyder Hall residents and the rest is history,” said Snyder Hall RA George Carrera in 2008. [1]

Snyder Sanctum member Steve Price participates in Dial-a-Carol in 1962 (Daily Illini 11 December 1962)

Traditionally, the student volunteers have kicked off their 24 hour carol hotline with a call to Gordon at 12:01 am on the first day of the event. “As the students always do, they asked me if there was anything special I would like to hear,” Betty said in 1982, “Then no matter what I said, they sang ‘Jingle Bells’ at the top of their voices… After they sang, I told them the same thing I always do: what you lack in talent, you certainly make up in volume.” [2]

The early years of Dial-a-Carol were managed by members of the group Snyder Sanctum who occupied the second floor of East Snyder Hall. They cleared out the furniture in freshman Gary Allen’s room and filled the space with telephones, turntables, and holiday records. [3] The Daily Illini described the scene as “a mad mixture of sleigh bells and telephone bells.” [4] Callers would be greeted with a volunteer saying the name of the next carol that was to play. They would then hold the receiver up to the turntable for the duration of the song. “We hope you have enjoyed listening to your carol. Good evening and Merry Christmas,” ended the call. [5]. Over the years, the students put the records aside and began singing the festive songs to callers. By 1966, residents from all over Snyder Hall served as volunteers and “carol headquarters” had taken over the lounge. So many students wanted to volunteer, organizers were forced to limit shifts to hour long time blocks. [6]

By 1962, the group was already answering nearly 4,000 calls. While most calls came in from Illinois, callers did ring in from other parts of the country. After a New York radio announcer mentioned the event, calls came in from those who “just wanted to find out if it was really true.” [7] A 1966 United Press article generated calls from Miami, Alaska, and Hawaii. [8]  In 1973, a Dial-a-Carol alum paid a hefty long distance fee to call in from Austria for a carol. [9] As the tradition gained notoriety, calls began pouring in from all over the world.  In 2015 alone, students answered 16, 354 phone calls from 70 countries. Calls had come in from all 50 states within 14 hours. [10]

Some members of the 2015 Dial-a-Carol Team (@DialaCarol Tweet 30 November 2016)

Champaign-Urbana residents are the most frequent callers, and early volunteers were particularly excited about the cheer they were able to bring to area children and hospital patients. “Little kids call Dial-a-Carol before they go to school in the morning and when they get home in the evening. It’s really funny to hear them- especially when a group call together- fighting over whose turn it is to listen,” a Snyder Sanctum statement said in 1962. [11] That year, the Dial-a-Carol phone number was very similar to the number of a local professor who found himself singing holiday tunes to the mistaken callers. [12]

You can join in on this Illini tradition by dialing 217-332-1882 24 hours a day from December 14 to December 21. For more information, check out the Dial-a-Carol website.

[1] “Carols and Carolers Just a Phone Call Away at the University of Illinois,” University of Illinois News Bureau Press Release, 9 December 2008. Record Series 39/1/1 Box 51.

[2] “Dial-a-Carol,” University of Illinois News Bureau Press Release, 17 December 1982. Record Series 39/1/1 Box 51.

[3] “Latest Christmas Idea: Snyder’s Dial-a-Carol,” Daily Illini, 11 December 1962.

[4] “Call it a Sing-a-Thon? Dorm Furnished Round the Clock Carols,” Daily Illini, 13 December 1962.

[5] “Latest Christmas Idea: Snyder’s Dial-a-Carol,” Daily Illini, 11 December 1962.

[6] “Dial-a-Carol Booming,” Daily Illini, 9 December 1966.

[7] “Dial-a-Carol Still Strong,” Daily Illini, 14 December 1962.

[8] “Dial-a-Carol Booming,” Daily Illini, 9 December 1966.

[9] “Snyder Residents Continue Dial-a-Carol,” Daily Illini, 19 December 1973.

[10] @DialaCarol Tweets, 19 December 2015 9:05 am and 9:07 am.

[11] “Call it a Sing-a-Thon? Dorm Furnished Round the Clock Carols,” Daily Illini, 13 December 1962.

[12] Ibid.

Campus Life on the Silver Screen: The 1916 Film “Pro Patria”


Inez (played by Zelomia Ainsworth) and Dale (played by Heinie Sellards), 1918 Illio

Written by Anna Trammell

Betty Gibson, a University of Illinois freshman, is attracted to a wealthy classmate named Eduardo Salazar. Between registering for classes, attending parties at fraternity houses, watching baseball games, and conducting experiments in the chemistry laboratory, Betty realizes her true love is actually fellow student Happy Harding and the two become engaged. Meanwhile, Dale tries to win back the affections of Inez after she returns his pin. This is the plot of Pro Patria a movie filmed at the University of Illinois in the summer of 1916.[1]

Advertised as “the first all-University movie ever attempted,” virtually ever aspect of the film was connected to campus. The writer, director, and star of the film was student Vivian Kay and it was produced by alumni. [2] The rest of the cast consisted of members of the Illini Photoplayers student organization and other dramatic societies on campus.  Special cameo appearances were made by Dean of Men Thomas Arkle Clark and his wife Alice, Athletic Director George Huff, and Coach Bob Zuppke. [3] Even University President Edmund James appeared on horseback in the film. [4] Scenes were filmed all over campus including the Boneyard Creek, Illinois Field, and the Sigma Chi and Alpha Tau Omega fraternity houses. Chicago filmmaker R.E. Norman, who would go on to direct many important silent films including The Flying Ace, served as the cameraman for the production. Continue reading “Campus Life on the Silver Screen: The 1916 Film “Pro Patria””

The First Years of U of I Student Life: Sesquicentennial Speakers Series Kickoff

Illinois Industrial University campus, circa 1873

The First Years of University of Illinois Student Life…with Reflections on Today, 1868-2017

March 2, 2017

University of Illinois Archives, Rm 146 Main Library


March 2, 1868, marked the first day of class at the newly established Illinois Industrial University.  Who were the University of Illinois’ earliest students?  What did they study?  Where and how did they live?  What did they do for fun?  And, how do their experiences compare to Illinois students 150 years later?  Join us as Professor Gregory Behle shares his extensive research on student life in the earliest years of the University and Vice Chancellor Renee Romano reflects on UI student experience in 2017.   Exhibits and refreshments.

The Archives will exhibit official documents, personal correspondence, recollections, broadsides, maps and photographs that tell the story of early University history. Continue reading “The First Years of U of I Student Life: Sesquicentennial Speakers Series Kickoff”