Indiana State University Newsroom

Grant awarded for programming to explore pivotal 1919-1920

October 18, 2019

The Wabash Valley community will benefit from a yearlong series of historical talks, forums and more in 2020, thanks to a near $15,000 grant from the Indiana Humanities.

"America at the Crossroads: The Wabash Valley, 1919-1920" is a collaboration between Indiana State University, Vigo County Public Library, Eugene V. Debs Foundation and Museum, Vigo County Historical Society and Museum and Swope Art Museum. It will examine during the spring and fall semesters of 2020 life in early 20th century Terre Haute as a way to offer a snapshot of the United States at a critical period of transition.

"We're thankful to the Indiana Humanities for awarding this grant. It will enable the partners to offer some interesting and innovative programming over the next year," said Chris Fischer, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Indiana State. "The aim of this grant is to engage in a cooperative process but also to build capacity for future collaboration."

The program, funded by a grant of $14,927, will examine the vast social, political and cultural shifts in the United States in 1919-1920 through the lens of the Wabash Valley to understand important and interrelated developments, such as the end of World War I, onset of Prohibition and its threat to area breweries, women winning the right to vote, rise of the Ku Klux Klan, immigration in the region and Terre Haute native Eugene Debs' socialist third-party candidacy for president.

"The Eugene V. Debs Foundation and Museum are pleased to collaborate with our partner organizations for this series of programming. This time period situates Debs' final presidential bid in the context of broad social change in the Wabash Valley and across the nation," said Allison Duerk, director of the Eugene V. Debs Museum.

For instance, Debs was sentenced to 10 years in prison after criticizing U.S. involvement in WWI, Duerk said. Two years later, "Convict 9653" ran for president and earned nearly a million votes in the 1920 election. His campaign occurred amid the First Red Scare, a period of government suppression of socialists, anarchists and labor leaders ⁠- many of them immigrants.

"As the 1920-2020 centennial approaches, our society continues to grapple with themes of free speech, censorship, war, immigration, labor rights and the meaning of justice. This grant and collaboration create the unique opportunity to draw meaningful connections across a century of change," Duerk said.

Other sessions being planned include talks tied to library and art exhibits, a look at "seedy Terre Haute" and an examination of the post-WWI Indiana State Normal School (later, ISU).

The College of Arts and Sciences' departments participating include English, literatures, languages and linguistics, history, and art and design.

Fischer expects the schedule to be finalized in the next month. The events will be free, open to the public and held at locations throughout the community.

"These inaugural grant recipients demonstrate what happens when nonprofits partner on community programming," said Keira Amstutz, president and CEO of Indiana Humanities. "They are creating ambitious and innovative ways to engage the humanities and help Hoosiers better understand their state, their nation and their times. We're delighted by what these organizations proposed for our first-ever Collaboration Grants."

To qualify for the collaboration grants, applicants needed to meet specific criteria, including a focus on the humanities, programming intended for school or public audiences and a 50 percent cash or in-kind match.

Indiana Humanities aims to connect people, open minds and enrich lives by creating and facilitating programs that encourage the state's residents to think, read and talk. Learn more at


Media contact:

Mark Alesia, director of University Communication
(O) 812-237-3837
(C) 812-229-8020

Follow the Twitter feed of University Communication: @IndStU_News