New Collection Online: Papers of Iowa Folklorist Earl Stout

Although we have many of our collection descriptions/finding aids now online, we are still in the process of getting our legacy finding aids (available only in our reading room) typed up and put online.  This is the case for both our university archives and manuscript collections.

However, we are working hard to get as many of these finding aids available online for all to see, and new finding aids are added to our website every month!  I am happy to announce that the finding aid of a slightly different kind of collection than our main collecting areas (ISU, agriculture, science, and technology) is now available:  the papers of folklorist Earl Stout.

There are no photographs in this collection, so there will be no photographs accompanying this post!  However, there are a few boxes of Stout’s card files containing proverbs, riddles, autographs and other sayings.  Below is one of the riddles which reads “A house full, a house full, and you cannot get a bowl full. What is it?”  See the image below for the answer:

In addition to teaching, serving as a school administrator, enlisting in the American Expeditionary Force, and working for many years for the Red Cross, Earl Stout also studied as a graduate student and later published on Iowa folklore.  In the 1920s through the middle of the 20th century, Stout collected and studied the customs and beliefs of Iowans.  Folklore is defined as the unwritten, often oral, traditions and beliefs passed down among people.  These beliefs and traditions include riddles, proverbs, music and lyrics, poetry, superstitions, autographs (verses written in books and albums such as yearbooks), and stories.  Stout collected all of these from Iowans in the early part of the 20th century, and this collection is a wonderful window into those beliefs and the variations found throughout the world that were in Iowa at that time.  Some you may recognize and some you may not.

For instance, some may recognize this proverb found in Stout’s research card files – and students, whether you recognize it or not, should take note!:

“Early to bed, and early to rise, makes you healthy, wealthy and wise.”

As a graduate student at the University of Iowa, Stout did personal field work and also obtained the help of high school English teachers who had their students ask their parents and neighbors about the folklore, songs and stories they knew. Letters were sent to Iowa schools enlisting their help in collecting old songs, superstitions, proverbs, and other folklore which had been passed down through families. Letters were also sent to couples celebrating marriages of long standing, and Stout collected material from his family and acquaintances as well. Although the Great Depression ended this educational pursuit, Stout continued to study and write about Iowa folklore, including his book Folklore from Iowa (first published in 1936) .

The card files, one of which is pictured above, are a great resource to look through to find the variety of sayings Stout found in Iowa.  He carefully notes who gave him the saying, and where they are from, on each card.

Above is another proverb found in Stout’s card files.  He also included variations he came across.  The proverb above reads “Experience is a dear teacher but fools will learn the other way.”

The proverb on the card below merely reads “Experience is a wise teacher.”

In addition to the card files pictured above, there are many other sources for Iowa folklore found throughout Stout’s collection, including music and lyrics, one of which is pictured below.

The submissions are often accompanied by a letter from the submitter.  Below is the first page from the person who submitted the music shown above:

If you would like to see more of the Early Jonathan Stout Papers, take a look at the finding aid of his collection and visit us on the fourth floor of Parks Library.  However, please note that we will be closed to the public all day Wednesday, September 29th, 2010.  If you need to make special arrangements for viewing the collections, please contact us at, or 515-294-6648.

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