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Dawn Bakken
Indiana Magazine of History

Last modified: Wednesday, January 4, 2012

State history journal sheds light on childhood of Herman B Wells

Jan. 4, 2011

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- In the December 2011 issue of the Indiana Magazine of History, historian James Capshew offers the early life story of Indiana University's beloved president and chancellor Herman B Wells. Relying on research for his forthcoming 2012 biography, "Herman B Wells: The Promise of the American University," Capshew looks at Wells' childhood and early college career.

Wells and Dog

A young Herman B Wells posed for this photo with the family's collie, named Scottie.

Print-Quality Photo

Readers will discover the young Wells as an entrepreneurial newspaper boy and assistant in his father's bank; his adjustments to the lifelong consequences of his childhood mumps; and the stresses within his family brought about by his father's ongoing depression and his grandmother's suicide.

Capshew also offers details such as the teasing Wells underwent in his senior high school yearbook about his weight. Finally, the author considers the young Wells' early college years, when after transferring from the University of Illinois to Indiana University, he discovered what would become his lifelong love of the university, its campus and the town of Bloomington.

Capshew also looks at the development of the public man, writing about Wells' great capacity for friendship and the qualities of personal leadership that would serve him in his decades at Indiana University: "a great man, with a great career that transformed one of America's heartland universities into a player in national and global scholarship."

Capshew is an associate professor in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences. "Herman B Wells: The Promise of the American University" will be published this year by IU Press.

The Indiana Magazine of History is published quarterly by the history department of Indiana University, Bloomington. The magazine's website is For general information on the IMH, contact the editorial office at 812-855-4139. For more information on the Wells article and the forthcoming book, contact James Capshew at