Herman B Wells

Herman B Wells

The Promise of the American University
James H. Capshew
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 04/30/2012
Format: Hardback 44 b&w illus.
ISBN: 978-0-253-35720-5
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Energetic, shrewd, and charming, Herman B Wells was the driving force behind the transformation of Indiana University—which became a model for American public higher education in the 20th century. A person of unusual sensitivity and a skilled and empathetic communicator, his character and vision shaped the structure, ethos, and spirit of the institution in countless ways. Wells articulated a persuasive vision of the place of the university in the modern world. Under his leadership, Indiana University would grow in size and stature, establishing strong connections to the state, the nation, and the world. His dedication to the arts, to academic freedom, and to international education remained hallmarks of his 63-year tenure as President and University Chancellor. Wells lavished particular attention on the flagship campus at Bloomington, expanding its footprint tenfold in size and maintaining its woodland landscape as new buildings and facilities were constructed. Gracefully aging in place, he became a beloved paterfamilias to the IU clan. Wells built an institution, and, in the process, became one himself.

Author Bio

James H. Capshew serves on the faculty of the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at Indiana University Bloomington. He is author of Psychologists on the March: Science, Practice, and Professional Identity in America, 1929–1969 as well as numerous scholarly articles, and has served as editor of the journal History of Psychology and as editor for psychology for the New Dictionary of Scientific Biography.


“An energetic, shrewd, and charming man, Herman B Wells was the driving force behind the transformation of Indiana University. This biography shows how one man's sense of leadership helped IU grow in size and stature, establishing strong connections to the state, the nation, and the world.”

“Many universities have a giant of the past whose name is almost synonymous with the institution. Herman B Wells is Indiana University’s giant. His powerful vision and commanding presence transformed a small Midwestern college into a major research university of international stature. From his days as a student until his death in 2000, Wells demonstrated daily a deep and abiding love for Indiana University and the whole university community past and present. Professor Jim Capshew’s thoroughly-researched book provides thoughtful and detailed insight into Wells’ early life, his important contributions to banking reform, his road to the presidency, the transformation of the university he then brought about, his efforts to desegregate the campus and the community at a watershed time for the nation, his extensive contributions to the internationalization of Indiana University, and his steadfast and courageous support for academic freedom. This compelling and magisterial book will enhance our understanding of IU’s legendary eleventh president and all he accomplished. And it helps us understand how he achieved these remarkable accomplishments in the face of constant difficulties and opposition. It is a story of tremendous vision, of exceptional and subtle intelligence, of persuasive skills of the highest order, of almost irresistible charm, of relentless driving energy, but also of a man who hugely enjoyed being president of Indiana University. As such it is also a story which will serve the vital purpose of introducing new generations of students and new members of the Indiana University community to the extraordinary life and career of Herman Wells and to rekindle fond memories among those who knew this great and unique man. ”
 — Michael A. McRobbie, President, Indiana University

“Herman B Wells was, indisputably, the preeminent university leader of our time, who inspired and energized two generations of presidents, chancellors, and deans. Capshew's account of Wells’s remarkable career fills a critical gap—not simply by recounting his myriad achievements, but by helping us to better appreciate the true genius of a revered colleague and mentor.”
 — Robert M. O'Neil, former President, University of Virginia

“This much-needed biography gives Herman B Wells his rightful place in the sun as an important university leader.”
 — John R. Thelin, University Research Professor, University of Kentucky and author of A History of American Higher Edu

“It is impossible to really understand the history of American higher education in the twentieth century without this vivid, informed biography of one of the great, perhaps the greatest, of the university builders.”
 — John C. Burnham, Research Professor of History, Ohio State University

“In this delightful biography, James Capshew has captured the essence of Herman B Wells, his extraordinary leadership of IU as president and chancellor, and his contributions to the university, observable from every corner of the campus. With tenacity, intelligence, and skill, Herman B Wells pursued his vision of building the greatness of IU—and it is all set out for us with grace and elegance in this volume to remember, learn about, and appreciate the life and work of Herman B Wells.”
 — Lee H. Hamilton, former U.S. Representative; Director, the Center on Congress at Indiana University

“Capshew has written a wide-ranging, engaging, and highly readable account of Wells’ life as one of the major university builders in the twentieth-century United States.”
 — Journal of the History of Behavioral Sciences

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Table of Contents

Preface: A Hoosier State of Mind
Prologue: Campus Centennial, 1920
I. The Shaping of a Fiduciary, 1902-37
1. In the Land of Jordan
2. Betwixt Banking and Social Science
3. The Politics of Banking Reform
4. First Taste of Academic Stewardship
II. Transforming the University, 1937-62
5. Acting like a President
6. A Vision for Indiana University
7. Charting a New Course
8. War Stories
9. Renouncing Prejudice
10. Postwar World, Home and Abroad
11. Music Appreciation
12. The Man behind Kinsey
13. A Metropolis of Books
14. Expanding the University’s Universe
15. Passing the Presidential Torch
III. At Large in the World, 1962-2000
16. Education and World Affairs
17. Back to Basics: Management and Marketing
18. Being Plucky: Covering the Distance
19. An Icon Aging in Place
20. A Peaceful Passing
21. Keeping the Memory Green
Epilogue: Reflections on a Hoosier Antæus