Posted by: Stephanie | June 13, 2014

Full Moon, Friday Night: Fick Observatory’s History

Today is a Friday the 13th and will be accompanied by a full moon, which seemed like a good time to talk about lunar history at Iowa State University. Namely, the university’s history related to space observation.

A photo of the Mather telescope. "Splendor of the Iowa Skies" calendar, RS 13/20/6

A photo of the Mather telescope. “Splendor of the Iowa Skies” calendar, RS 13/20/6

ISU’s original observatory, along with its telescope, were donated by the family of Milo Mather of Clarksville, Iowa. Mather was an accomplished amateur astronomer who had earned a degree in mechanical engineering from ISU in 1907. When he passed away in 1960, his 24-inch telescope became the university’s only astronomical equipment. The telescope had a 300 pound mirror, with an eight-foot focal length and a four inch-thick lens.

In 1966, with support from the National Science Foundation and the University Research Grants Committee, Iowa State moved forward with plans to move the observatory from the greater Ames area to the Boone area and improve its capabilities, adding features such as a sliding roof to improve star viewing and study. The observatory, on a 50-acre site, was completed in 1970. Its namesake, Erwin Fick, was a former member of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers who crafted refractor and reflector telescopes in his retirement. Fick donated generously to the ISU Foundation in his later years though he never visited Ames, despite being a lifelong resident of Davenport.

The moon, as seen from the Mather telescope at Fick Observatory. This photo illustrates the changing color as well as the features of the moon. "Splendor of the Iowa Skies" calendar, RS13/20/6

The moon, as seen from the Mather telescope at Fick Observatory. This photo illustrates the changing color as well as the features of the moon. “Splendor of the Iowa Skies” calendar, RS 13/20/6

The telescope at ISU has been upgraded over time, with a charge-couple device (CCD) camera installed in 1990, though the Department of Physics and Astronomy refers to it as a “first-general direct descendent” of Mather’s instrument. Information gathered using this telescope complements data obtained by larger observatories, which can provide fine detail but have difficulty observing wide areas of the sky.

For more information about the history of the Mather telescope and the Fick Observatory, come see us in Special Collections! We have materials on the observatory building itself (in RS 4/8/4, Buildings and Grounds Records), as well as Fick Observatory administrative records (RS 13/20/6).

Posted by: Stephanie | June 10, 2014

CyPix: Corn Season

This is my first summer here in Ames – and in Iowa – and I have been watching corn sprout in the fields with interest and excitement. Special Collections and University Archives, however, is no stranger to the plant – we are home to a number of collections regarding the farming and sale of corn.

Corn Trophies

 J.E. Prowdfoot with his champion ten ear of corn samples and trophies. From the Cooperative Extension Service in Agriculture and Home Economics photograph collection, RS 16/3

 Other corn-related collections here include Garst and Thomas Hybrid Corn Company Records, MS 173; Iowa Corn Growers Association Records, MS 473; and Iowa Corn Promotion Board Records, MS 495. We also hold a number of collections from Iowa State professors who had interest in the scholarly study of corn: the papers of Perry G. Holden, RS 16/3/11, the first superintendent of Extension Services who pioneered the seed corn gospel trains; Harold D. Hughes, RS 9/9/52, who helped initiate the state corn yield test; Arthur Thomas Erwin, RS 9/16/16, who supported extension work relating to crop growth; and Joe L. (Joseph Lee) Robinson, RS 9/9/57, who was involved in the hybrid corn movement in Iowa and an employee of ISU for forty years.

In 1872, when the Board of Trustees of Iowa State College (University) decided to create a Department of Domestic Economy, there was no precedent for how to begin such a curriculum. No other land grant institution was teaching in this field, and there were no textbooks. Mary Beaumont Welch, wife of the first ISC president, Adonijah S. Welch, was suggested to head up the department.

“With fear and trembling I finally decided to try,” Mary Welch later reminisced in an essay on “The Early Days of Domestic Science at I.S.C.” for The Alumnus for June 1912, “after telling the committee frankly that I was without experience in that sort of teaching, that there were no established precedents to guide me and no classified courses for me to follow.”

Portrait of Mary Beaumont Welch, wife of Iowa State College President Adonijah Welch. Undated photograph circa early 1900s.

Mary Beaumont Welch, wife of Iowa State College (University) President Adonijah Welch, undated.

In spite of her professed fear, Welch dove in to the task and forged a way ahead. Before she began teaching classes, she took a course at Juliet Corson’s School of Cookery in New York, and later on, she traveled to London to attend the South Kensington School of Cookery, from which she received a certificate.

The London school was established to train young women to go into domestic service for the English upper classes. Welch remembered:

“It was incomprehensible to the English mind that a women, apparently a lady, whose husband was, as my letters of introduction proved, at the head of an important institution of learning, should be anxious either to learn or to teach cooking. The question was often asked me what family I was engaged to work for when I received my certificate.”

On April 2, 1920, Welch answered a note from Elizabeth Storms, then a junior in Home Economics and Agriculture at Iowa State College, asking about “the early days of the Home Economics Department.” In her reply, she writes, “There was very little method of formality in my manner of conducting those early classes. My lectures were intimate talks on the ways and means I had found useful in my own home. …One thing we did to make our work practical was to cook a dinner for a table of eight in the College Dining Room, three days in each week. We were given the same materials from the kitchen that were used for all the tables, but allowed to cook and serve them as we pleased, and I can assure you each table awaited its turn for our dinner with eagerness.”

Welch wrote some of her lectures on domestic economy in a notebook. These lectures covered subjects such as ironing, management of domestic help, cooking, and household accounts. Her no-nonsense approach is apparent in this passage from one lecture: “Avoid primness in your surroundings. Be orderly and neat, but be sensible at the same time. There is nothing more disagreeable than a housekeeper who follows husband, children, and guests about with a broom and dustpan or a floor cloth.”

In 1884, she published a cookbook called Mrs. Welch’s Cookbook, which can be viewed in the Digital Collections.

Not only did Welch teach the basics of home management to ISC students, but she also lectured to women’s groups around the state. Around 1882-1883, she gave six lectures to a group of 60 women in Des Moines, in this way embarking on the first Extension activity in the area of home economics.

Wlech resigned from ISC in 1883 but continued to lecture to various women’s groups. In 1992, she was inducted into the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame.

Find out more from the Mary Beaumont Welch Papers in Special Collections.

Posted by: Whitney | June 3, 2014

CyPix: National Dairy Month

Cheese-lovers and ice cream aficionados rejoice! It’s National Dairy Month! To celebrate, here’s a photo of the source of these wonderful things, a dairy cow.

A farmer with his dairy cow in front a sign that reads: "Dairy Cattle Congress: National Belgian Show," 1927. RS 16/03/G

A farmer with his dairy cow in front a sign that reads: “Dairy Cattle Congress: National Belgian Show,” 1929. RS 16/03/G

Dairy has been studied at Iowa State University since 1880, both in the respects of breeding and caring for dairy cows and of food production. Of course, cheese and ice cream aren’t the only things that dairy cows have given us. Thanks to these creatures we have milk, yogurt (frozen, Greek, etc.), gelato, lattes, milk chocolate, and much more. For more information on dairy cattle and dairy foods, we have several collections for you to peruse. The best bets include the Department of Food Technology Laboratory Manuals, Earl Gullette Hammond Papers, Richard L. Willham Papers, Wise Burroughs Papers, Damon Von Catron Papers, the Iowa State Dairy Association Records, and various collections within the Cooperative Extension Service in Agriculture and Home Economics. Also be sure to check out Flickr for more dairy-related photos. Enjoy!

Posted by: Stephanie | May 30, 2014

150 years of Professor Anson Marston

May 31, 2014, marks the 150th anniversary of legendary engineering professor and department head Anson Marston’s birth. On campus, Marston still looms large – the original Engineering Hall was renamed Marston Hall in his honor in 1947 and Marston Water Tower bears his name. Ames has also recognized this distinguished professor with Marston Avenue.

Anson Marston, 1925

Anson Marston in 1925

Marston is renowned locally for good reason; he was the first Dean of the Division of Engineering and also spent twenty-five years as Professor and Head of the Department of Civil Engineering. He designed the water tower that bears his name, along with the sewage disposal system for the campus. He initiated the construction of the engineering building that now bears his name. He supervised the construction of the Campanile and the restoration of Lake LaVerne in the 1930s, both beloved icons of the Iowa State campus even today. Christian Petersen designed the Anson Marston Medal, which annually recognizes an ISU alumnus for achievements in the field of engineering. You can see digital images of the coin via our Digital Collections site.

We recently mentioned Marston in a post about the 100th anniversary of the Iowa Department of Transportation. If you will recall, Marston established the early version of this group, the Iowa State Highway Commission. But Marston’s contributions were not to Ames and Iowa alone. He consulted on engineering projects from California to Florida, from Chicago, IL, to the Panama Canal.

In addition to providing information about his professional work, the Anson Marston Papers (RS 11/1/11) gives us insight into the man who accomplished these feats – his values and his life outside of Iowa State. In a 1938 remembrance of President Beardshear, Marston recounted the values he prized in Beardshear:

[A] first impression of strength was deepened by acquaintance with the man. Dr. Beardshear possessed in eminent degree that most essential qualification of a great college president, the ability to inspire young men…What he insisted upon was the great essential that every student should be an honestest gentlemen or lady, and many a one owes all he has become in life to one of [Beardshear’s] vigorous, searching, heart to heart talks… – “President Beardshear and the College,” 1938

This compliment to the man who hired him provides insight into Marston’s personal leadership ideals.

Even more information about Marston as a man away from the college is gleaned from family correspondence included in his collection. Dr. Marston was an engineering giant, but he was also a son and brother. “Dear Bro,” his brother Charles writes in 1906. “I can raise half of Mother’s [mortgage payment] if you send raise the other half.” Then, as now, the siblings were working together to care for their elderly parents. The letter goes on to discuss possible bull and stallion purchases that Charles is considering.

Letters from Mrs. Marston, his mother, are also familiar in their parent-child discussions. A January 1906 letter from Mrs. Marston details recent severe weather in her home in Winnebago, Illinois, and the observation that “according to the paper, you must have had a greater amount of snow…there was more rain and sleet here.” I think I had this conversation with my parents at least a few times this winter, 112 years later. A few more letters from wife Alice and to his sister Mary are included in the collection as well.

Marston Water Tower Construction, 1897

Marston Water Tower being constructed in 1897 using Marston’s design

For more insight into Marston’s many contributions to the field of engineering, his leadership at Iowa State, or his life during the first half of the 20th century, take a look at the finding aid for the Anson Marston Papers. Let us know if you have any questions or come by to explore the work of Dr. Marston in person.

Posted by: bishopae | May 27, 2014

CyPix: Iowa State Soldiers in World War I

Memorial Day, while marking the unofficial beginning of summer, is a holiday to honor those that have died while serving in the Armed Forces. In honor of Memorial Day yesterday, here is a circa 1919 photograph of Iowa State College students at a memorial service for ISC students who were soldiers in World War I. The monument, erected in the College Cemetery, reads “To our 117 dead.”

A row of women dressed in white dresses and carrying flowers processes through the college cemetery past a monument that reads, "to our 117 dead." A row of soldiers is at the right of the picture, and a general stands under a tree in the middle of the image, facing toward the monument.

Memorial services at College Cemetery for soldiers of World War I, circa 1919.

When the United States entered the war on April 6, 1917, Iowa State College threw itself into the war effort. Five hundred students left campus — 200 joined the military, and 300 served in war employment. Even college President Raymond Pearson went to Washington, D.C., to serve as an assistant secretary of agriculture, though he returned to finish his tenure at the college after the war ended. Thirty-six students served in the war as part of the Ames Ambulance Unit.

Even for those on campus, life took on more of a military character. Military drill had already been mandatory for male students, but now, in addition to the regular morning drill, many students also participated in an afternoon drill session on Central Campus. Many of the women on campus became involved with Red Cross activities. In April 1918, 500 soldiers came to ISC to train as auto mechanics, blacksmiths, and machinists.

In total, about 6,000 ISU students, alumni, and faculty served during World War I. The Memorial Union was built in 1928 to honor those who died in World War I. Its Gold Star Hall lists the names of 119 people from the Iowa State community who lost their lives in World War I.

For more information about the Iowa State experience of World War I , check out the Department of Military Science Subject Files (RS 13/16/1), and for other World War I collections, check out our World War I manuscripts collections subject guide.

Posted by: Whitney | May 23, 2014

Films in the Special Collections Department

Here in the Special Collections Department, we have all sorts of collections – university archives, manuscript collections, rare books, photographs, and the focus of this blog post, films. What kinds of films do we have, you ask? Primarily they are films produced by and about Iowa State University and its interests – agriculture, science, technology, home economics, etc. When I refer to films in this post, I refer to various motion picture formats:  VHS tapes, 16mm film, DVDs, U-Matic tapes, and so on and so forth. We have just about every format in existence and we are incredibly fortunate to have the equipment to play them on.


As some of you may know, Iowa State University ran the WOI-TV from its beginning in 1950 until 1994, when it was sold to Capital Communications Company, Inc. It was the first television station to be owned and operated by an institution of higher education in the United States. From 1951 to 1994, it was home to the popular television show Magic Window, hosted for its last 40 years by Betty Lou (McVay) Varnum. We do have some of these episodes on film (sadly, not all), so please contact us if you’d like to take a look at any. A few of the films can also be found on our Youtube channel, so be sure to check that out, too! Records of this program and others can be found in the WOI Radio and Television Records, along with lots of other information about the station.


In addition to WOI-TV films, we also have general university and university-related films, which were largely created by the university. These go back as far as 1927 (how cool is that??) and as recently as the 1990s. Films of Iowa State’s campus span the 1930s and 40s, a scene of which is pictured above, taken from our Youtube channel. Also included are farm films, football films, and instructional films. Another noteworthy set of films are those of Philip H. Elwood, Professor of Landscape Architecture, dating from the 1920s and 30s that showcase his travels around America. A screenshot of one of his films is featured below, also taken from our Youtube channel.


For more information on our collection of films, see our Film Collections webpage, which includes links to listings of many of our films and to our Youtube channel. Check it out: there is all sorts of fun stuff on there!


Posted by: bishopae | May 20, 2014

CyPix: The View from the Campanile

Last week, Whitney posted a picture of sheep in front of the Campanile. Today we’re taking a slightly higher perspective, and looking down from the Campanile itself.

View looking northwest from the bell tower of the Campanile, . Through the left window is visible the erection of Beardshear Hall with Marston Hall and Martson Water Tower in the background. Through the right window Morrill Hall can be seen. A bell can be faintly seen at the bottom.

View looking northwest from the bell tower of the Campanile. Through the left window is visible the erection of Beardshear Hall with Marston Hall and Martson Water Tower in the background. Through the right window Morrill Hall can be seen. One of the carillon bells can be faintly seen at the bottom. Photo first appeared in the 1908 Bomb.

Construction on Beardshear Hall, which can be seen through the window on the left, began in 1903, after fires burned down Old Main, which had originally occupied the spot. Construction was completely finished by 1908, although parts of the building had been occupied since 1906. The building was initially called the Central Building, but in 1938 it was renamed Beardshear Hall after President Beardshear, who presided over the proposal of its construction. The building initially provided space for multiple departments, including Mathematics, English, Botany, History, Modern Languages, Elocution, and offices for the President, Secretary and Treasurer, and Board of Trustees.

More information on these and other campus buildings may be found in the Iowa State University Facilities Planning and Management Buildings and Grounds Records, RS 4/8/4. More photos of Beardshear Hall can be found on Flickr.

Posted by: Stephanie | May 16, 2014

Celebrating National Preservation Month in Ames

May is a month of many graduation celebrations; congratulations to all the newly minted Iowa State University alumni! It is also, in the United States, a month for recognizing historic preservation efforts across the United States. During National Preservation Month, federal government agencies as diverse as the National Park Service  and the General Services Administration  recognize the work that is being done on government-owned properties and structures.

Old Main and Morrill Hall, circa 1890s

Old Main and Morrill Hall, circa 1890s, RS 4/8/4

Lest this seem like something that is focused on structures like the Washington Monument, preservation of historic sites and buildings is done all around Iowa. On the Park Service’s page devoted to the month, Dubuque and its historic landmarks are highlighted. In the National Register of Historic Places, thirty-four structures in Story County are listed, including a number of the University’s classroom buildings, the Bandshell Park Historic District, Ames High School, and the Old Town neighborhood. Every time we walk past or through Morrill Hall, we are experiencing history. One hundred twenty-three years of history, to be exact.

Check out the National Register’s website for more information and search tools on historic sites around the United States. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has a tip sheet (link opens a PDF) regarding its efforts and affects in Iowa as well.

As part of its sesquicentennial (150 year) celebrations, Ames will have a Home and Garden Tour through the Old Town neighborhood next month, on June 22. Though not part of National Preservation Month, it will be a great way to get to know more about this local historic district and the roots of the town. For more information on ISU’s preservation sites and architectural history, search through our Special Collections website or come visit us in 403 Parks Library with your questions.

Posted by: Whitney | May 13, 2014

CyPix: The Campanile… and Sheep

Sheep graze near the Campanile in 1905. RS 4/8/I

Sheep graze near the Campanile in 1905. RS 4/8/I

When you look for photos of iconic campus buildings, what do you expect to see? The building in question, a lovely green lawn, maybe a sprinkling of trees, and… sheep? Probably not, unless you’re researching Iowa State’s sheep barns. The sheep grazing in the foreground of this photo with their shepherd and sheepdog add an interesting dimension to this image of the often photographed campanile – although, of course, all photos of the campanile are interesting. The campanile was built in 1899 in honor of prominent ISU alum Edgar Stanton’s beloved wife, Margaret MacDonald Stanton, who was Iowa State’s first dean of women and passed away in 1895. After Edgar Stanton’s death in 1920, 26 bells were added to the original 10 in his name. These became the instrument known today as the Edgar W. and Margaret MacDonald Stanton Memorial Carillon. As for the sheep, well, why exactly they’re on this part of campus is not known for certain. It’s possible that they’re out grazing to act as a sort of substitute lawn mower, but again, that’s speculation. Personally, I rather like that thought.

More information on the campanile can be found in RS 4/8/4, this website devoted to the building’s 100th anniversary, the admissions website, and on the Sesquicentennial Celebration website. The photo above and others can be found on our Flickr site and in the digital collections. If you’re interested in sheep at Iowa State, you can find additional information on the old sheep barns in both RS 4/8/4 and the Sesquicentennial Celebration website as well.

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