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Keith Erekson
Indiana Magazine of History
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Elisabeth Andrews
IU Media Relations
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Last modified: Wednesday, June 13, 2007

What is a "Hoosier"?

Newly discovered clues in Indiana Magazine of History

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 13, 2007

Hoosier Boy Woodcut

This woodcut of a Hoosier boy fishing by the river is by Gustave Baumann, circa 1912.

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- What was the original meaning of the word "Hoosier"? In this month's issue of the Indiana Magazine of History, Jonathan Clark Smith of Hanover College unearths the earliest known references to the term. He concludes that far from being a derisive epithet (as some historians have maintained), Hoosier status was a point of pride from the start.

In the article, "Not Southern Scorn but Local Pride: The Origin of the Word Hoosier and Indiana's River Culture," Smith reports his discovery of two previously unnoticed references to the term in the newspapers of 1831. Both relate the word specifically to the then-hot political issue of river transportation and canal building. Reviewing other sources -- including the first-known use of the term in a February 1831 letter -- Smith concludes that Indiana's nickname originated not as a derisive term for the state's southern migrants but as an indication of local pride in those who sought to improve the state's economy. Hoosiers were boatmen who made a living on Indiana's canals and rivers and who, therefore, supported government-sponsored development of water transportation.

Elsewhere in the issue, two articles explore Indiana's reaction to the Great Depression. Robert G. Barrows, chair of the history department at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis, meticulously reconstructs the local origins of the Indianapolis neighborhood that came to be known as Lockefield Gardens. The housing project was built "under the auspices of the New Deal's Public Works Administration," Barrows states in the article, but he adds that "Lockefield's origins involved considerable local initiative" on the part of the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, local architects and civic organizers. Only after Indianapolis leaders failed to raise the required funds did federal officials carry out the project designed and planned by Hoosiers.

While Indianapolis residents faced the Depression by planning for the future, citizens of LaPorte looked to their past. George Boudreau of Penn State Harrisburg narrates local activities of townspeople who, while losing their jobs, "crafted a celebration that would carefully acknowledge selected aspects of the town's heritage -- triumph over economic hard times, pioneer perseverance and community spirit." By preparing a written history, a reconstructed log cabin, and a massive outdoor pageant, LaPorteans marshaled the past in an effort to assuage the psychological and economic impact of the Depression.

This issue also contains reviews of recent books on Indiana's first governor Jonathan Jennings, Hoosier native St. Meinrad Archabbey and famous evangelist Billy Sunday.

The Indiana Magazine of History is published by the IU History Department in cooperation with the Indiana Historical Society. It can be found online at http://www.indiana.edu/~imaghist. For subscription and back copy information email imaghist@indiana.edu.