Gayle Thornbrough


Honorary Degree (1983)
Doctor of Laws
Location: Bloomington
Presenter: John William Ryan


For more than four decades, Gayle Thornbrough has made significant contributions to the scholarly and popular understanding of Indiana and Midwestern history and has provided pioneering leadership to Indiana historiography through her association with the Indiana Historical Society.
Born in Hendricks County, Miss Thornbrough grew up in a family imbued with a love of the past. At both Shortridge High School and Butler University, where she earned her B.A. degree in 1936, she was an outstanding student. In 1937 Miss Thornbrough became the first full-time employee of the Indiana Historical Society when she accepted a position as editor. Except for a leave of absence to complete a master's degree in history at the University of Michigan, and an interval in which she served in the Library of Congress as a specialist in early United States History, Miss Thornbrough's remarkable career has been divided into two periods: the years in which she served primarily as an editor, 1937-1966; and the succeeding years in which she moved toward administrative leadership of the Society which she now serves as executive secretary.

As an editor, Miss Thornbrough has demonstrated an outstanding level of integrity, competence, industry, and good sense. The sheer quantity of her work is impressive. In addition to the more than twenty titles on which her name appears as editor, compiler, co-editor or author, there are at least fifty more works for which she did the "silent" editing by providing verification and revision. She was the copy editor for the only book published by a historical society to win a Pulitzer Prize, Indiana University Professor R. C. Buley's The Old Northwest, published by the Society in 1950. Her contributions to a major work left unfinished by the death of Glenn Black, the Society's eminent archaeologist, is futher evidence of her skill; Angel Site was greeted with acclaim when it was published.

In addition to her skillfully edited publications, Gayle Thornbrough has made available to research historians many primary source documents. Perhaps the most significant of her works is the magnificent nine-volume Diary of Calvin Fletcher. Fletcher was a prominent frontier lawyer in Indianapolis before and during the Civil War.

Throughout her tenure with the Society, Miss Thornbrough has played an important role in shaping the study of history in the state of Indiana. She has supported cooperative ventures with the faculty and students of Indiana University, including the joint funding of an interdisciplinary position in the Department of History and the Department of History and Philosophy of Science. This position enabled the University to add to the curriculum the study of medical history.

The generous bequest of Mr. Eli Lilly to the Society in 1977 moved the organization into a new era of expansion. Miss Thornbrough headed the organization during this period as executive secretary, and her time is now directed toward leading the Society through a challenging era of growth.

Gayle Thornbrough has made a significant contribution to the compilation of Indiana's history, as well as to the standards of excellence which are the foundation of the Indiana Historical Society. The Society will continue to benefit from her leadership and the leadership of those who have had the opportunity to study her style and absorb her scholarly objectives.