Harlan, Mabel L. (1877-1950) | Purdue University Libraries, Archives and Special Collections
Mabel Louise (Whitehead) Harlan, the daughter of Israel Lamb Whitehead and his wife, Louise Ryan was born December 26, 1877, near Rome in Tobin Township, Perry County, Indiana. The Ryans and Whiteheads were among the earliest settlers in the county, the Ryans having come in 1809 and the Whiteheads a few years later. As a farmer's daughter she engaged in the many activities of a small farm which fed her love of nature and nurtured an appreciation of its moods which so characterized her mature life. In her early years, by the death of her mother, she was thrown largely upon her own resources though she lived with her father until the beginning of a teaching career at sixteen. Determination and a will to help herself despite the few advantages that came her way dominated her life. How well she succeeded, despite tragic circumstances, was evidenced by the esteem in which she was held at its close, and is eloquent testimony of the results of her efforts.
After teaching in the rural schools of her home county for a few years she entered Central Normal College at Danville, Indiana, where she met her future husband, Dr. Wilbur Kendrick Harlan, a dentist and native of Danville, whom she married June 11, 1900. Their marriage was cut short by the untimely death of Dr. Harlan who contacted tuberculosis from which he died in 1905.
From 1905 until 1911 she maintained residence in Danville and taught in its public schools. She was offered an opportunity to come to Purdue University by Dr. G. I. Christie, then head of the Extension Department of the Agricultural Experiment Station and on June 11, 1911, she took employment in that department as a stenographer. In 1912 she became a clerk and on July 1, 1917, was made an Assistant in Agricultural Extension, which position she held until retirement December 31, 1947.
In this capacity she was closely identified with the program of Agricultural Extension for thirty years. Her work included the editing of hundreds of bulletins and other material published and circulated by the department, as well as contributing to farm magazines and newspapers, all of which stimulated and developed her natural bent for writing. She was also the author of a popular 16 page Extension Bulletin entitled Naming the Farm, issued in 1915 and in several later editions. About the time she came to Lafayette, Mrs. Harlan submitted her first efforts in writing on historical subjects to Mr. James Stuart, then editor of the Indianapolis Star, to which she was a contributor thereafter for many years, exhibiting, to use Mr. Stuart's own words, "a real talent in sensing human interest stories." She was for many years a member of the Penwoman's Club and the old Indianapolis Press Club for Women.
The opportunities afforded by her position enabled her to attend Purdue University from which she received a B.S. degree in 1929 and in 1916 she attended the summer session of the University of Wisconsin for special work in journalism. She was a member of Trinity Methodist Church, Lafayette; Phi Mu national social sorority, Daughters of the American Revolution, American Association of University Women and a number of honorary organizations, namely Kappa Delta Pi, Theta Chi Gamma, and Epsilon Sigma Phi. She was a member also of the Lafayette Art Association and the Tippecanoe County Historical Association, with which latter group she became more closely identified following her retirement, for which she could then give more time to the intensive research which resulted in the newspaper publication of the articles on local history which are reprinted in this pamphlet.
A project of special interest to genealogists was the copying of the county marriage license records, 1831 to 1850 inclusive, a labor of love which was proven helpful to many persons. Copies of this work were filed in the genealogical division of the State Library and in the local County Historical Museum.
From September until the end of December, 1948, Mrs. Harlan served as acting curator of the museum and was assistant curator during the year 1949. She lived but a short time following her duties at the museum and passed away March 5, 1950.
Honoring the organization to which she had already contributed so much by her labors in research and writing, she willed the residue of her estate to the Tippecanoe Historical Association to be used for the publication of works of local historical importance. It is a fitting honor to Mrs. Harlan's memory that this first publication from that fund should be her own writings on local history.