“Alice Doesn’t Day” by Research Assistant Amanda Larsen

The following post was written by Amanda Larsen, who is working at SCUA this year as an Undergraduate Research Assistant (URA). Her project revolves around historical feminist activism on the ISU campus. Regarding today’s article, note that the Monday after next, exactly two weeks from today, will mark 43 years since the “Alice Doesn’t Day” strike.

-Rachael Acheson
Assistant University Archivist


Alice Doesn’t Day

October 29th, 1975 was one of the first days to show the nation how much women contribute to society. The National Organization for Women (NOW) created a national strike day for women in order to emphasize how important women are for society. They called it “Alice Doesn’t Day,” a reference to the 1974 film Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.  NOW called for every woman to refrain from work or spending any money. The alternative for women who could not skip work was to wear an armband and discuss its purpose.

On campus, the Government of the Student Body (GSB) was asked to support the strike by on campus women’s organization. The bill to support Alice Doesn’t Day was sponsored by Roxanne Ryan, a student in sciences and humanities.

Image of Roxanne Ryan with members of her residence hall, Miller. Image from the Bomb 1975, page 308.

Roxanne Ryan with members of her residence hall. Image from the Bomb 1975, pg. 308.

Various groups scheduled programs supporting Alice Doesn’t Day on the Iowa State campus according to news articles. For those who wished to participate in the event, the YWCA had seminars on women’s health, practical consumerism, pampering ourselves, and women and the law. If the participants had young children, there were male-run daycare and babysitting services provided. GSB passed the bill supporting Alice Doesn’t Day, to the dismay of some. In the community, Ames Mayor William Pelz showed support for Alice Doesn’t Day by signing an official proclamation naming October 29th as “Alice Doesn’t Day.”

Not everyone supported Alice Doesn’t Day. The Iowa State Daily’s “Point of View” section notes that some believed calling for women not to go to work was not the best tactic for showing women’s roles in society. While it might have shown how much women contribute, it could also have shown unprofessionalism and little regard for their work. Others felt that women should double their efforts on the 29th with the same goal of showing how much they can contribute to society. A group opposed to Alice Doesn’t Day vowed to wear pink dresses and call for the firing of any woman protesting. In terms of students, most told the Daily that the reason they could not participate in the strike was that they had classes and “school is more important than my ethical views.” Since they could not miss classes, many of the women interviewed said they would refrain from spending money that day.

Cartoon on student activism (or lack thereof). The Bomb 1975, pg. 504.

Cartoon on ISU student activism (or lack thereof). The Bomb 1975, pg. 504.

Rosl Gowdey, one of the publicity workers for the project, stated that the goal of the day was to “focus on what happens to the women who participate, than on the number of participants. If only one or two women get something out of it, then that’s great, and we’ve accomplished our purpose.” While most think that the day was a failure, others viewed the event as successful because of the awareness: “In terms of awareness and talking about women’s contributions, it was successful,” said by Susan Newcomer, the president of the Ames chapter of the National Organization for Women.

If you or anyone you know has any information about women activist from 1960-1979 here at Iowa State, please feel free to contact Special Collections to discuss preserving the material.

Image from page 19 of the Ames Daily Tribune, October 25th, 1975.

Image from page 19 of the Ames Daily Tribune, October 25th, 1975.

 


LGBT+ History Month: “Activist Archivists / Archivistas Activistas” by Research Assistant Luis Gonzalez-Diaz

As I mentioned in a previous post, this year, two talented upperclassmen have joined SCUA through the Undergraduate Research Assistantship (URA) program to help us uncover some of the “hidden histories” of ISU through research into underrepresented communities in the university’s past. They are working on digital exhibits that will serve as a resource for future scholars, and both URA students will be writing blog posts throughout the school year to update you on their discoveries. Today, it is my pleasure to introduce the work of Luis Gonzalez-Diaz, who has chosen to research the history of LGBTQIA+ communities at ISU.

-Rachael Acheson
Assistant University Archivist


 

Activist Archivists / Archivistas Activistas

The LGBT+ community since its beginning, has certainly faced its struggles in terms of finding visibility in society. A lot of the history from the community has been erased due to the historical oppression of its members. Nonetheless, some of the history is preserved in archives around the world. The word archivist according to the Oxford English Dictionary means “a person who maintains and is in charge of archives” (“Archivist”), but it is so much more complex than that. An archivist is in a unique position to correct the wrongdoings that society has done in the past. An activist according to the Oxford English Dictionary is defined as “a person who campaigns to bring about political or social change” (“Activist”), and exactly this, is what an archivist can be.

La comunidad LGBT+ desde sus comienzos, ha sin duda enfrentado sus luchas en el sentido de encontrar visibilidad en la sociedad. Mucha de la historia de la comunidad ha sido borrada, debido a la opresión histórica de sus miembros. No obstante, alguna de la historia es preservada en archivos alrededor del mundo. La palabra archivista se define como “una persona que mantiene y preserva los archivos” (“Archivist”); pero es mucho más compleja de lo que aparenta. Un archivista está en una posición única en donde existe la posibilidad de corregir las malas acciones del pasado. Un activista es “una persona que promueve el cambio político y social” (“Activist”); y exactamente esto, es lo que un archivista puede ser.

Archivist as Activists” is a term quoted from “Archivist as Activist: Lessons from Three Queer Community Archives in California”, written by Diana Wakimoto, Christine Bruce, and Helen Patridge. In the article, they talk about how by being an activist, archivists are able to preserve the history of marginalized communities, and be able to ensure representation in their collections.

Archivista como Activista es un término citado de “Archivista como Activista: Lecciones de Tres Archivos Queer de la Comunidad en California”; escrito por Diana Wakimoto, Christine Bruce, and Helen Patridge. En el artículo, hablan de cómo ser un activista, puede ayudar a los archivistas en el proceso de la preservación de materiales de comunidades marginalizadas. Esto puede ayudar a garantizar la representación equitativa en los archivos.

https://www.onearchives.org/exhibitions/. Picture of the One Archives, one of the three California Community Archives stated in the article, from their website. / Foto del Archivo “One”, uno de los tres archivos mencionados. Extraida de su sitio web

https://www.onearchives.org/exhibitions/ Picture of the One Archives, one of the three California Community Archives stated in the article, from their website. / Foto del Archivo “One”, uno de los tres archivos mencionados. Extraida de su sitio web

Furthermore, people constantly ask why collecting LGBT+ material is so important. Well, it is very important to collect these materials because there is a need for them. LGBT+ people have and always been a part of history, and leaving them out from the discourse would simply be wrong. By being an activist for the community, archivists can ensure that everybody is present when preserving and maintaining history.

Además, muchas personas se cuestionan por qué la preservación de materiales LGBT+ importa. Pues, es muy importante porque hay una necesidad de recolectar estos materiales. La comunidad LGBT+ siempre ha sido parte de la historia y dejarlos fuera del discurso, sería un acto atroz. Siendo un activista para la comunidad, los archivistas pueden asegurar que todo el mundo está presente en la preservación de la historia.

Here at SCUA, we are collecting and preserving Iowa State University LGBT+ history by being activists and making sure that the community is being represented within our archives. One of our earliest accounts of LGBT+ student life dates back to 1971, regarding a student organization called the Gay Liberation Front [RS 22/4/0/1, Box 1]. The Gay Liberation Front wrote a letter to the ISU Daily, where they expressed their feelings toward the discrimination of gay people in the 70’s. They specifically said “We, members of Iowa State University’s gay community, feel that we can no longer tolerate the overt and covert discrimination against homosexuals on this campus”.

Aquí en “SCUA”, estamos colectando y preservando la historia de la comunidad LGBT+ en Iowa State University. Lo estamos logrando siendo activistas y asegurándonos que haya representación en nuestros archivos. Uno de nuestros archivos más tempranos, es de 1971 y es relevante a un grupo llamado el “Gay Liberation Front” [RS 22/4/0/1, Caja 1]. El “Gay Liberation Front” escribió una carta al periódico local, el “ISU Daily”, donde expresaron sus sentimientos sobre la discriminación de personas de la comunidad LGBT+ en los años 70. Específicamente dijeron “Nosotros, los miembros de la comunidad gay de la Universidad, sentimos que no podemos tolerar el discrimen rampante contra los homosexuales en esta Universidad”.

ISU Daily Article, RS 22/4/0/1, Box 1. / Articulo del ISU Daily, Rs 22/4/0/1. Caja 1.

ISU Daily Article, RS 22/4/0/1, Box 1. / Articulo del ISU Daily, Rs 22/4/0/1. Caja 1.

The outrage nonetheless, was caused by a theater play that Iowa State brought to campus titled “Boys in the Band”; a famously known LGBT+ related play. The Gay Liberation Front then said that “By allowing the presentation of the play The Boys in the Band, Iowa State University has, in effect, said that its students are prepared to tackle the question of homosexuality”.

La furia, no obstante, fue causada por una obra teatral que Iowa State University trajo a la universidad, titulada “Boys in the Band”. Esta obra es notablemente LGBT+ y por esto el “Gay Liberation Front” expresó que “Si dejan presentar la obra, están diciendo que la Universidad y por ende su estudiantado están preparados para hablar sobre temas LGBT+”.

Luis_BoysinBand_2_IMG_2169

Boys in the Band Photos, RS 13/23/3, Box 17. / Fotos de “Boys in the Band”, RS 13/23/3, Caja 17

Boys in the Band Photos, RS 13/23/3, Box 17. / Fotos de “Boys in the Band”, RS 13/23/3, Caja 17.

Boys in the Band Photos, RS 13/23/3, Box 17. / Fotos de “Boys in the Band”, RS 13/23/3, Caja 17.

This article is one of the earliest accounts of LGBT+ life on the Iowa State Campus. While we do have some materials regarding the LGBT+ community and, there is a need for more materials. If you were an Iowa State University student and have any materials that pertain to the community, we would invite you to contact us, to discuss the benefits of preserving your history here on campus.

Este artículo es uno de los recuentos más tempranos de la vida estudiantil LGBT+ en Iowa State University. A pesar de que tenemos algunos materiales sobre la comunidad LGBT+ en la Universidad, hay una necesidad de conseguir y preservar materiales. Si usted fue un estudiante de Iowa State University, le invitamos a que nos contacten, para discutir los beneficios de preservar su historia en la Universidad en nuestros archivos.


Meet the Author!

Luis is a Political Science and Sociology undergraduate student at Iowa State University. His goal is to one day obtain a PhD in Sociology, do research, and teach at a university. At the university, Luis is a NCORE-ISCORE Scholar, McNair Scholar, and Student Success Leader for the BOLD Learning Community in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Luis is one of the two undergraduate research assistants for the University Archives, researching the LGBT+ community at Iowa State, and SCUA has been very impressed with his work to date.

 

Luis Gonzalez-Diaz, SCUA Undergraduate Research Assistant 2018-2019

Luis Gonzalez-Diaz, SCUA Undergraduate Research Assistant 2018-2019


Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month: HASU of the 1980s

Did you know there used to be an Hispanic American Student Union (HASU) on campus? Did you know that the group (for, indeed, it was a student group, not a building) was around for at least a full decade? And that it hosted a high-profile, multi-day, annual symposium with funding from the Government of the Student Body (GSB) for at least seven years in a row? And that this symposium created a unique space for American students with Hispanic/Latinx heritage to celebrate and share their culture, create dialog around social issues, converse with prominent activists, and voice to their own experiences?

You didn’t? Don’t feel bad: neither did I.

Neither did any of the SCUA staff, in fact, until a few days ago. This is because scarcely a whisper of such a group exists in our archives. We have no collections of meeting minutes from HASU secretaries, no photographs, no write-ups in the yearbook (a staple in research on ISU student life). Virtually nothing.

So how did I find out about it?

Well, I stumbled by chance across an article, not in a campus publication, but in the public library’s digitized copies of the local Ames Tribune while trying to answer a reference question.

Text of an article from the Ames Tribune, entitled, "Symposium brings issues to campus" by Mark Smidt. Ames Tribune, March 14, 1985, page 20.

Article from the Ames Tribune, March 14, 1985, page 20

I think it was the detailed nature of the article that peaked my interest, the inclusion of the full schedule for the benefit of community members wishing to attend. How could something like this have slipped so completely under our radar? Especially when none of the archivists had even heard of HASU, and it did not appear in any of our indexes or subject guides.

With an exact date to go off of, the University Archivist managed to track down a recording of the lecture delivered by Arnaldo Torres. But this turned out to be less helpful than we’d hoped, as the lecture is recorded in an older tape format and has not yet been digitized. So my curiosity remained unsatisfied.

I am particularly interested in the past and present (aka “future history”!) of student organizations on campus, and I know that this kind of detective work — the business of hunting down ghosts — while frustrating, can also be really fun. So I decided I was going to learn something about this mystery organization. As a side note, I didn’t carry the investigation very far, as I was really only hunting for blog post stories. But I wanted to share some of my methodology in this post so that any of you readers who find yourselves interested in this, or similarly under-documented histories, can replicate the steps and make your own discoveries.

Since I found the group in a news article, I decided to move my search to newspapers. Fortunately, my first stop, the Iowa State Daily, produced results. One is not always so lucky.

Unfortunately, the Iowa State Daily back issues are not digitized or keyword searchable prior to the 1990s. This means, in order to find anything, you have to scroll through miles of microfilm. And the microfilm is not housed in SCUA (on the 4th floor of Parks), either. It’s housed in the Media Center which is located (yes, you guessed it) in the basement of Parks. Naturally.

For those of you who have never used a microfilm reader before, this should give you an idea.

Microfilm reader in the Parks Library Media Center.

Microfilm reader in the Parks Library Media Center.

Microfilm reader in the Parks Library Media Center.

Look at all the gears and gadgets!

Essentially, then, a microfilm reader is a cross between a giant sewing machine, a film projector, a microscope, and a really old, bulky desktop computer. If that sounds off-putting to you, don’t worry: the staff at the desk are all trained to help, and you get the hang of it pretty quickly.

The real draw-back to microfilm, though is that, while it’s easy to find articles by date, it’s less easy to search for them by subject matter. For a limited date-range, though, the archives does have a printed subject index for Iowa State Daily articles, and this helped me out a ton.

Iowa State Daily Index 1986-1987, Call #PARKS Spec Coll: Archives AI21 I8x.

Iowa State Daily Index 1986-1987, Call #PARKS Spec Coll: Archives AI21 I8x.

So, using the index, and then searching the dates it gave me on microfilm, I found a few articles pertaining either to HASU or to their annual Hispanic Symposium in Daily issues from 1985, 1987, and 1990. And because the first mention of the symposium billed it as the “fifth annual” event, I could tell right away that HASU had existed and been active from at least 1981-1990. As to whether it continued beyond that, who can say? However, if I had decided to continue my research beyond this point, the date range would have provided an important clue.

Anyway, here are some of the articles I found on HASU and their annual Hispanic Symposium. I hope you enjoy them, and I hope they inspire you to do your own archival research. You never know what you will find with a little persistence.

And please, if you are an alumnus, and you remember participating in HASU in the 1980s, do get in touch with me. We’ll do what we can to help you tell the story of your group more fully for the benefit of future researchers.

Advertisement for the "Fifth Annual Spring Hispanic Symposium," Iowa State Daily, March 21, 1985, page 14

Advertisement for the “Fifth Annual Spring Hispanic Symposium,” Iowa State Daily, March 21, 1985, page 14

ISDaily_19850322_p1_PastImmigrantsTodaysBigots

“Past immigrants are today’s bigots,” Iowa State Daily, March 22, 1985, page 1

ISDaily_19870220_p15_HispanicPlayTakesOnStereotypes

“Hispanic play takes on stereotypes” and “1987 Hispanic Symposium,” Iowa State Daily, February 20, 1987, page 15


Photograph of a political button reading, "I march for full suffrage June 7th. Will you?" From the SCUA Artifact Collection. Suffragists wore buttons like this for a variety of reasons. Many to get people to know that suffrage was on the ballot or to proudly show that they were a suffragist.

“Ghosts of the Suffrage Club” by Research Assistant Amanda Larsen

This year, two talented upperclassmen have joined SCUA through the Undergraduate Research Assistantship (URA) program to help us uncover some of the “hidden histories” of ISU through research into underrepresented communities in the university’s past. They are working on digital exhibits that will serve as a resource for future scholars, and both URA students will be writing blog posts throughout the school year to update you on their discoveries. Today, it is my pleasure to introduce the work of Amanda Larsen, who has chosen to research feminist activism at ISU.

-Rachael Acheson
Assistant University Archivist

 


Ghosts of the Suffrage Club

When thinking of the early days of campus life, it is easy to distance ourselves from those who were here at the turn of the century. Women on campus had to live in dorms with few exceptions, endure strict curfew rules, and were not allowed to leave the city without special permission. Despite the restrictions to their campus life, women on campus decided to take part in gaining the right to vote. So, they created the suffrage club.

On April 14th, 1916, the newly created suffrage club met for the first time. Around 150 women showed up to vote Ava Johnson as the president, Jeanette Knapp as the secretary, and Katherine McCarrell as treasurer. During the meeting, Dean Katharine McKay and those listed above spoke to the crowd. They goal of the club “was stated to be the support of the suffrage movement in Iowa with particular emphasis on the securing of pledges of votes favoring the suffrage measure to be submitted to the voters of the state in the June election.” One of the first speakers brought in by the “suffrage boosters” was Mrs. Carrie Chapman Catt, president of the American Woman Suffrage association and former student of Iowa State, for a highly anticipated lecture at the university.

Despite having 150 women at the first meeting, there is little mention of this suffrage club in the archives and no mentions of it in the Bomb (the yearbook).  Ava Johnson, who was the president of the club graduated in 1916, but the suffrage club was not listed within her group involvement.

 

Photograph of Ava Johnson from page 76 in the Bomb yearbook from the year 1916.

p. 76 in the 1916 Bomb

 

Nor is the club mentioned when Jeanette Knapp or Katharine McCarrell are listed the following year.

 

Senior portrait of Jeanette Margaret Knapp from the Bomb yearbook, 1917, page 108.

Knapp is on the far left. 1917 Bomb, page 108.

 

Senior portrait of Katherine McCarrell. McCarrell is on the far right. 1917 Bomb, p. 110. Katharine’s name has been spelled Katherine when mentioned elsewhere.

McCarrell is on the far right. 1917 Bomb, p. 110. Katharine’s name has been spelled “Katherine” when mentioned elsewhere.

 

This was not the only suffrage club in Ames, but it is only one created by students at Iowa State. All the clubs in Ames, including the suffrage club, were focused on securing the votes for suffrage during the June 1916 election. The results of the vote were 2671 votes in favor of suffrage in Story County, while only 1606 voted against.

 

Photograph of a political button reading, "I march for full suffrage June 7th. Will you?" From the SCUA Artifact Collection. Suffragists wore buttons like this for a variety of reasons.  Many to get people to know that suffrage was on the ballot or to proudly show that they were a suffragist.

From the SCUA Artifact Collection. Suffragists wore buttons like this for a variety of reasons. Many to get people to know that suffrage was on the ballot or to proudly show that they were a suffragist.

 

Newspaper clipping featuring the only known mention in the archives of the Suffrage Club. RS# 22/04/00/01.

Newspaper clipping featuring the only known mention in the archives of the ISU Suffrage Club. RS# 22/04/00/01.

 

If you are a part of an Iowa State club or organization and have documents (any inactive records, meeting minutes, photographs, etc.) pertaining to the club, then please bring them to Special Collections on the fourth floor of Parks Library. Those records can be stored for future generations to have a better understanding of your club.

 


Meet the Author!

Amanda Larsen is in her third year at ISU with a triple major in criminal justice, psychology, and history. She has already proven herself to be a hard worker and innovative researcher, and SCUA is looking forward to watching her project unfold. She hopes that you have enjoyed the post!

Photograph of Amanda Larsen, SCUA Undergraduate Research Assistant 2018-2019.

Amanda Larsen, SCUA Undergraduate Research Assistant 2018-2019


Tornado Country

Tornadoes have always played a major role in Iowan life, as those still reeling from the images of last week’s destruction realize all too well. In fact, as one might guess from the nickname “Cyclones,” this aspect of life is something the area is known for. SCUA has not, at least in the past, actively collected documentation of any major storms, but evidence of their ongoing existence has crept in here and there nonetheless.

Below is a rare original page of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper housed in Special Collections. Also known as Leslie’s Weekly, the paper — based in New York — was famous for depicting scenes from breaking news via wood block engravings in an era before photographs were commonplace.

Page from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, features a wood block engraving of a young couple with children running into a dugout during a tornado. Caption under the illustration reads, "Iowa -- the approach of a tornado -- family seeks refuge in a 'cyclone shelter'."

Page from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, MS 390, folder 9

For folks who like more tangible evidence of the past, you should check out the “tornado souvenir,” a hand-carved piece of birch bark from a storm on campus in 1924, which is held in our artifact collection. See more pictures here.

Piece of birch bark with lettering (by hand): "Tornado Souvenir June 28, 1924[.] From Tree near Margaret Hall I.S.C. Ames, Iowa" (Artifact #2001-024)

Piece of birch bark with lettering (by hand): “Tornado Souvenir June 28, 1924[.] From Tree near Margaret Hall I.S.C. Ames, Iowa” (Artifact #2001-024). Photograph by Rachel Seale.

It’s a bit further away from home geographically, but you can also glimpse damage wrought by an earlier storm (circa 1890-1910, though the image itself is undated) in Grand Mound, Iowa if you visit SCUA’s Flickr page, where we have a lot of other cool pictures, as well. You will need to click through to the link to see it, but this particular image was scanned from a glass plate negative, which can be found in the Descartes Pascal Papers, MS 91, Box 6, Folder 8.

Because tornado damage is an ongoing reality in this part of the country, Iowans have cultivated a lifestyle of helping neighbors re-build and recover from these periodic disasters. And ISU students have been no exception, as all current members of the Cyclone football team demonstrated by donating their time last Saturday to help with clean up in Marshalltown. Nor have our athletes been the only students historically inclined towards lending a hand. The 1967 Bomb article below evidences that multiple Greek organizations provided monetary donations and were well-represented on site after a tornado struck Belmond, IA in October 1966, even if the author of the article presents a rather biased interpretation of their motives.

Iowa State Greeks Aid Others Less Fortunate. A perennial criticism of fraternities and sororities is that they have no purpose, and that they no longer accomplish anything worthwhile. Although there may be some truth to this, most houses at Iowa State actively participate in surprisingly worthwhile service projects. While many suspect that most of these projects are mainly for publicity, the fact remains that Iowa State's Greeks do a lot of things for other people that they wouldn't have to do. Pi Beta Phi and Delta Sigma Phi collected over $3,000 to help pay for the rebuilding of Belmond. Alpha Chi Omega pledges offered their services for a day to the Beloit Children's Home. Whatever the motive, ISU's fraternities and sororities devote time and energy, and sometimes even money, doing things for those who appreciate their efforts.

The Bomb 1967, page 403

Best wishes, then, from SCUA for a speedy recovery to everyone who got caught in one of the most recent storms. And for those of you who are newer to campus, or to the state, don’t forget to check out the University severe weather protocols and/or some safety tips from ISU Environmental Health and Safety.


AAPI History Month: David Teh-Yu Kao, former Dean of the College of Engineering

Note: It is unclear whether Dr. Kao is still alive (I suspect he is), but I have chosen to refer to him and his accomplishments in the past tense, as he seems to have moved on from his position at ISU some time ago. It is therefore this period of affiliation that I am referring to in past tense, and not Dr. Kao himself. 

Even without having met the man personally, I can say it would be difficult to describe Dr. David Teh-Yu Kao as anything less than an absolute credit to Iowa State University, where he served as the Dean of the College of Engineering from 1988 through 1994, and then as the Glenn Murphy Professor of Engineering from 1994 to approximately 1997. He is currently listed as a Professor Emeritus on the department’s website. I have not been able to verify that Dr. Kao was for certain the first Asian American dean of this college, let alone the first first-generation immigrant to hold the position, but the resources I have examined suggest that both are probable. Regardless of these distinctions, his influence left an enduring impact on the College of Engineering, and his leadership style speaks of a visionary with many diverse talents. 

Headshot of Dean Kao, University Photographs, 11/1/A, Box 813

Headshot of Dean Kao, University Photographs, 11/1/A, Box 813

Excerpt from memo entitled "Regents Approve Kao As new ISU Engineering Dean." RS 11/1/16, Box 1, Folder 1. Text reads as follows: "recieved varied grants and contracts and 10 patents and has provided technical consulting services to 15 public and private organizations. A Native of Shanghai, China, kao is a U.S. citizen. He and his wife, the former Theresea S. Yang, have three children. (Editors Note: Kao is pronounced 'gow,' rhyming with 'cow.')."

Excerpt from memo entitled “Regents Approve Kao As new ISU Engineering Dean.” RS 11/1/16, Box 1, Folder 1

Long before his time at ISU, Dr. Kao had distinguished himself as a gifted engineer. He earned his B.S. in civil engineering from National Cheng-Kung University, Tainan, Republic of China, Taiwan, in 1959. He then went on to receive his M.S. in civil engineering from Duke University in 1965, and his Ph.D. in civil engineering from the same institution in 1967. His research specializations included hydraulics and fluid mechanics, hydraulic transport of solids, and hydraulic machinery. For his work in these areas, Science Digest named him one of the Top 100 Innovators of 1985. 

 

Headline from The Ames Daily Tribune, Thursday, June 16, 1988. RS 11/1/16, Box 1, Folder 2. Headline reads as follows: "Dean: At top of his field in US (continued from page one)."

Headline from The Ames Daily Tribune, Thursday, June 16, 1988. RS 11/1/16, Box 1, Folder 2

Contrary to stereotypes about folks gifted in STEM fields, however, Dr. Kao also seems to have been naturally out-going, very much a people-oriented person, and consequently a talented and attentive teacher. In his previous positions at University of Kentucky, he won the Outstanding Teacher Award in the Kentucky college of Engineering three times and the R. E. Shaver Award for Excellent Teaching twice, in addition to receiving the Western Electric Fund Award for Excellence in Instruction of Engineering Students and the Great Teacher Award of the University of Kentucky Alumni Association.

Article from Visions journal, published by the ISU Alumni Association. Undated. RS 11/1/16, Box 1, Folder 2. Title of the article reads as follows: "Kao Brings 'Inner Strength' To College of Engineering." Photo of Dean Kao. Caption on the photo reads as follows: "Chinese-born David Kao credits Eastern philosophies for his cosmopolitan views of education."

Article from Visions journal, published by the ISU Alumni Association. Undated. RS 11/1/16, Box 1, Folder 2

In his position as Dean of the College of Engineering at ISU, Dr. Kao also earned a reputation for having a uniquely philosophical approach to outreach and problem-solving. 

Article from Connections newsletter, vol. 9 no. 1, September 1988. RS 11/1/16, Box 1, Folder 1. Title of the article reads as follows: "Philosophy comes to engineering." To read the entire article, please contact ISU Special Collections and University Archives.

Article from Connections newsletter, vol. 9 no. 1, September 1988. RS 11/1/16, Box 1, Folder 1

Among his many accomplishments during his 5 and a half years as dean, Dr. Kao lead the development of the College of Engineering’s first strategic plan, doubled student scholarship funds ($224,000 in 1987 to $430,000 in 1994), quadrupled private donations ($2 million in 1988-89 to $9 million in 1991-92), and advocated for the Women in Science and Engineering program. While it is nowhere explicitly linked to his efforts, it is also interesting to note that SCUA’s Archives of Women in Science and Engineering was established during his final year as dean. He also advocated for more balance in faculty teaching and research development, innovative teaching methodologies (which, at the time, meant an emphasis on collaborative learning), and established outreach programs that reached children as young as kindergarten. 

In short, ISU is a better place for Dr. Kao’s having worked here. We are immensely privileged to have benefited from his talents. 

Headshot of Dean Kao, University Photographs, 11/1/A, Box 813

Headshot of Dean Kao, University Photographs, 11/1/A, Box 813


Women’s History Month: Civil Engineers Alda and Elmina Wilson

Alda and Elmina Wilson were sisters and Iowa natives who held the distinction of being the first female graduates from Iowa State‘s Civil Engineering program. Neither was the first woman in the United States to formally study Civil Engineering – that honor belongs to Elizabeth Bragg of California. Nevertheless, Elmina was the first woman in the country to earn a master’s degree in Civil Engineering, and she and her sister were also the first women to earn their living as successful full-time professionals in the field.

Elmina Wilson was born on September 29th, 1870 and Alda Wilson on September 20th, 1873. They lived in Harper, Keokuk County Iowa with their parents, John Chesney and Olive Eaton Wilson and six older siblings. Both their parents and grandparents were apparently very progressive and encouraged pursuit of higher education. It is unclear whether all of the older children did so (though one sister named Olive studied Agriculture at Iowa State before marrying). But Elmina, at least, seems to have settled on her career choice early in life. In a 1905 interview with the New York Sun, she mentions her love of mathematics and surveying as motivational factors, as well as of the necessity of having a degree to teach. She also speaks about having spent time doing railway field work as a teen, “walking the ties for miles, carrying transit and chain, whenever a fence crossed the path of the surveying party of which I was a member, the men went over it, but, of course, I went under.”

Elmina earned her B.S. in Civil Engineering from Iowa State in 1892.

Elmina Wilson at her 1892 graduation from ISU with a B.S. in Civil Engineering (University Photographs, RS# 21/07)

Elmina Wilson at her 1892 graduation from ISU with a B.S. in Civil Engineering (University Photographs, RS 21/07)

Alda soon followed in her footsteps, earning her B.S. in 1894, the same year Elmina made history by graduating with an M.S. and becoming the first female instructor in the department. During their time in school, both sisters were members of Pi Beta Phi, and both supplemented their ISU coursework with practical summer internships for various architectural and engineering firms in Chicago. Elmina also took advanced courses at Cornell, and Alma completed a masters at MIT, after which she took a job in Chicago, where she worked until 1904.

Elmina’s time as an instructor at ISU spanned over a decade post-graduation. She worked as an Assistant of Civil Engineering from 1892-1897, as an Instructor of Civil Engineering from 1898-1902, and an Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering from 1902-1904. 

1894 Bomb yearbook, page 54. Elmina is listed as a department instructor even before she had officially graduated with her masters', as she taught while pursuing her graduate degree.

1894 Bomb yearbook, page 54. Elmina is listed as a department instructor even before she had officially graduated with her M.S., as she taught while pursuing her graduate degree.

While an instructor at ISU, Elmina also periodically collaborated on design projects with her supervisor and mentor, Anson Marston, the head of the Civil Engineering department. Most notably, she contributed to designs of the Marston Water Tower, now on the National Register of Historical Places.

1899 Bomb yearbook, page 23. Faculty. Civil Engineering. "By hammer and hand, all arts do sand. Yet too low they build who build beneath the stars." When this department was first established in the early years of the College history, there being no adequate place in which to conduct such a course, the students were taught simply land surveying and leveling. To-day the whole upper story of Engineering Hall is devoted to the work of this department. This includes a large class room, drafting room, office and instrument room, and is supplied with instruments for ordinary field work, including transits, levels, compasses, plane tables and the like, besides a cement testing outfit and testing machines. The students test in the laboratory, building stones, paving brick and other materials used in the construction of buildings. There is also a hydraulic laboratory connected with the new water works which furnishes facilities for many kinds of experiments in the mechanics of the flow of water. The best preparation, to our mind, that an engineer can have is a thorough knowledge of the underlying principles of his profession, without attempting an application of these principles by the use of formulas or rules, unless the laws and theory on which these formulas are based and the means by which they are deduced are thoroughly understood. Prof. A. Marston has had charge of this department since the Spring of '92, and Miss Elmina Wilson is the assistant professor.

1899 Bomb yearbook, page 23. She has no portrait in the faculty section, but Elmina is listed as assistant professor directly under the department chair Anston Marston.

From 1903 to 1904, Elmina took a sabbatical from teaching to reunite with her sister Alda (who had been working for some time in Chicago) for a trip to Europe. The sisters took the opportunity to study and draw, as well as marvel at, great European architecture. Happily, the ISU University Archives collection of Alda and Elmina’s papers contains all of their sketchbooks and journals from this period.

Alda Wilson European Sketchbook page, pencil illustration of architecture from an aerial view, entitled "Vaulting of San. Francisco - Lower Church Assisi 3-8-1904" (RS#21/7/24, folder 5)

Alda Wilson European Sketchbook page, entitled “Vaulting of San. Francisco – Lower Church Assisi 3-8-1904” (RS 21/7/24, folder 5)

Alda Wilson European Sketchbook page, pencil illustration of architecture dissected with numerical dimensions of components, entitled "Gothi Stone Staircase Pecci Palace Siena. Mch.16 1904" (RS#21/7/24, folder 5)

Alda Wilson European Sketchbook page, entitled “Gothi Stone Staircase Pecci Palace Siena. Mch.16 1904” (RS 21/7/24, folder 5)

Alda Wilson European Sketchbook, 2 page spread, pencil illustration of architecture from an exterior view, entitled "Pompeii Dec. 5 1903" and Cave Dec 6th 1903" (RS#21/7/24, folder 5)

Alda Wilson European Sketchbook, 2 page spread, entitled “Pompeii Dec. 5 1903″ and Cave Dec 6th 1903” (RS 21/7/24, folder 5)

Following their trip, the Wilson sisters decided to move to New York City together to pursue more hands-on work experience, as well as to become active in the movement for Women’s Suffrage. While there, Alda designed architecture, and Elmina first took a job with the James E. Brooks Company and then, several years later, with Purdy and Henderson. The latter company was associated with the era’s foremost innovators in engineering design and headed by a man nicknamed the “father of skyscrapers.” Among other projects she completed at P&H, Elmina is reported to have collaborated with another newly-minted female engineer, Marian Sarah Parker, on designs for the Flatiron Building.

Elmina’s life was cut tragically short in 1918 due to illness. She was 48 years old, childless, unmarried, and at the height of her career when she died. A 2010 article in the journal Leadership and Management in Engineering points out that she also just missed the passing of the 19th Amendment, for which she fought actively, by a mere two years.

Alda, however, lived a long and varied life. Despite having spent much of her career in her sister’s shadow, and despite having been deprived, by an accident of birth-order, the historical notoriety of being “first,” she continued to prove herself resourceful and innovative, even in the wake of her grief. She moved back to Iowa after Elmina’s death, only to find that the Iowa Department of Transportation (IDOT) was suffering from a shortage of competent drafters, as most of the men who had previously been employed in the office had shipped overseas to fight World War I. So Alda became the superintendent of the first ever Department of Women Drafters in Ames.

1918 Report of the State Highway Commission, page 15, listing Alda Wilson as Superintendent of the Women's Drafting Department (RS# 21/7/24, folder 1)

1918 Report of the State Highway Commission, page 15 (RS 21/7/24, folder 1)

Shortly thereafter, having strengthened a friendship with fellow ISU graduate and women’s rights leader Carrie Chapman Catt, Alda became Catt’s personal secretary in addition to her other professional responsibilities. By the time her own death arrived in 1960, Alda, aged 87, had advanced to the powerful position of executive secretary and executor of Catt’s estate. It is thanks to her that many important documents related to the women’s rights movement from the early 20th century now reside at the Library of Congress.


Women’s History Month: Evidence of Exclusion at ISU

Last month, a SCUA blog post on Black History Month and audiovisual recordings referenced the problem of “cultural memory gaps,” which is to say, gaps in the historical record that came about as the direct result of exclusionary attitudes and practices of the time. Sometimes, the loss or absence of a record is noticeable, as was the case with Ralph Ellison’s undocumented visit to Iowa State University. Sometimes, however, this loss or absence takes the form of lost potential, as is the case when members of underrepresented groups are systematically denied access to education, opportunity, and association that might have allowed them to better develop their talents in the first place.

Traditionally, Women’s History Month draws attention to the achievements and contributions of extraordinary individuals who proved exceptions to the rule of their time. It is equally important, however, to remember why so few achievements and contributions exist (at least, in documented form) to celebrate. Today, therefore, we are going to look at material which evidences some discriminatory practices and attitudes connected with ISU history.

The first example is a rejection letter from the Vet Med school, dated 1957.

The picture below features a photocopy of the original letter, with the name of the individual to whom it is addressed redacted for privacy purposes. The photocopy also contains markings from a patron who once included the letter in a class guide and wished to draw special attention to the justifications offered for the rejection.

March 11, 1957. Dear Miss: It is the policy of the Division of Veterinary Medicine at Iowa State College not to admit women to the professional curriculum. Because of limited educational facilities it has been necessary to restrict the number of new students who may be admitted to approximately sixty-four. Each year we receive more applications from men students than can be accommodated. If women were admitted, they would displace the same number of men. In many cases women are not physically equal to the educational requirements of the large animal clinics. There are many good fields for women which are closely related to veterinary medical science, such as medical technician, radiologist, major study in bacteriology or zoology, and possibly human medicine. We are sorry to disappoint you. If you wish, we will be happy to consider your application for admission to some other curriculum offered by the Iowa State College. Sincerely yours.

Photocopy of 1957 letter of rejection (Iowa State University, Margaret Sloss Women’s Center, Subject Files, RS 3/6/1; Iowa State University, College of Veterinary Medicine, Office of the Dean, Administrative Records, RS 14/1/8)

Notice how none of the justifications for rejection reference the applicant’s personal qualifications, but instead emphasize a desire to give male applicants priority consideration based exclusively on their gender.

The practice of discriminating against qualified applicants based on gender ended shortly thereafter, in 1960. Unfortunately, though, the attitudes which shaped the original policy seem to have persisted within the institution beyond the following decade, as there is later evidence of discriminatory practices that limited female students’ access to opportunities for professional development in more subtle ways, even after they had been admitted.

For example, we have a piece of correspondence from 1971, written in the name of the Osborn Research Club and signed by distinguished professors in animal husbandry and bacteriology, one of whom was dean of the graduate college at the time. The purpose of the letter was to establish unwritten policies in response to a challenge, though it is unclear whether this was common practice, as Osborn did not have a constitution at the time of founding.

The Osborn Research Club is a prestigious, now nearly-century-old, group on campus. It is not merely a student club or an honorary, but rather an academic, discussion-based, professional organization, intended to stimulate debate among active researchers in various branches of science. Unfortunately, certain matters were not up for debate.

2. No, women should not be admitted to membership; nor should they be guests at the meetings. (Unanimous). There are several good arguments for not accepting women as members (or even as guests). The presence of women, as members or guests, would make less free the discussions both at the table and after the paper; their presence might also restrict the freedom of selection of the content of the paper or the manner in which it was presented. The rules of politeness in our society are different when women are present than when the affair is stag. Almost all women view matters from a subjective viewpoint; many men can, and some do, view matters objectively. A woman presenting a paper is most likely to view serious and deep discussion as criticism; a man is not likely to react this way. In the presence of women men have to be careful not only what they say but how they say it. Sigma Xi, which is much more impersonal than Osborn Research Club, should serve better the needs of the woman scientist on our campus until such time as the campus women start some activity of their own.

Correspondence from Osborn Research Club, 1971 (Iowa State University, Osborn Research Club Records, RS 20/2/1, box 1, folder 11)

It is especially interesting to note that, despite the authors’ confidence in the absolute truth of their assertions, there was a pointed reluctance to open this question up for discussion among their reportedly objective-minded members. In fact, the authors of this letter – who, incidentally, signed themselves as “The Patriarchs” – burdened their membership with the responsibility of raising the issue in the first place, perhaps hoping it would simply not come up during their time in office.

3. We advise against the chairman going out of his way to present these questions of membership to the club for action. By tradition any member has always been free to bring any matter before the group for consideration at any meeting. It is probably wise that the chairman be informed in advance of such intention. 4. The chairman should decide the amount and nature of background material presented at the outset in a formal way. Discussion should be free and complete. (But we warn that there will be more wind than wisdom.)

Correspondence from Osborn Research Club, 1971 (Iowa State University, Osborn Research Club Records, RS 20/2/1, box 1, folder 11)

But, indeed, the patriarchs‘ hesitance to democratize the issue and create “wind” seems to have been well-founded, as the young men of the club voted to admit women in 1972, the year immediately following. Today, the Osborn Research Club counts numerous female researchers among its officers and members.

Nor is this the only moment in ISU history when students have stood up to their elders in the name of a social justice cause.

In the summer of 1943, the ISU chapter of Mortar Board, then an honor society for senior women (now a co-ed honorary for upper-classmen), initiated a letter-writing campaign to debate a national board ruling, which had excluded a highly-qualified black student from joining the Ohio State University chapter, even though the girl’s classmates had already unanimously voted her in.

The letter, after quoting the Mortar Board constitution, summarizes the incident below:

As you will note after reading carefully our purpose and membership qualifications we have no statement in that which bars a girl because of race, color or creed. However, in the past your Council has made it a policy to admit only members of the white race except where special permission has been requested and granted. This spring one of our chapters unanimously elected a girl of the negro race. This girl has all the necessary qualifications for membership: high scholarship, service to the school, and holds many importatn [sic] offices including that of president ofthe [sic] Y.W.C.A. and A.W.S. board member. The chapter advisors, knowing of our former policy, referred the matter to Council. Since the six members of the Council are so widely separated it was difficult in so short a time to discuss adeqately [sic] the situation and to decide wisely and fairly. also, we did not wish to pass judgment hastily on a matter of national policy of some years standing. Therefore, we reqested [sic] the chapetr [sic] to elect the other new members this spring and if, after our Council meeting, we decided to sanction the election of a negro, this action would be retroactive and the chapter in the fall would initiate the girl in question and she would still have her full year of active membership.

Correspondence from Iowa State University chapter of Mortar Board (Mortar Board. Torch Chapter (Iowa State University), RS 22/2/3, box 1, folder 10)

The language of the ISU chapter letter remains carefully diplomatic throughout, framing the issue as one of local democracy, in which each chapter should be allowed to decide on their own admissions policies. It does, however, repeatedly call for response from its sister chapters (implying that the complaint, although addressed to the national president, was not posted privately). It is also filed together with just such a response from the Mortar Board chapter at the University of Washington, and the latter minces fewer words:

It has seemed to us that there is very little room for debate on the matter. Mortar Board is a national organization to recognize and honor coed achievement and leadership. It is not an organization to honor white achievement and leadership. mortar Board loses its entire meaning if it refuses to recognize ability outside of a certain selected group. If a Negro girl -- or a girl of any other race -- has met the standards set forth by Mortar Board for membership, then there is no conceivable reason why she should not be admitted. If National refuses to verify her initiation, then national would be guilty of one of the basic principles against which we are fighting -- racial intolerance. And we as sub-chapters of the organization would share that guilt.

Correspondence from University of Washington chapter of Mortar Board, 1943 (Mortar Board. Torch Chapter (Iowa State University), RS 22/2/3, box 1, folder 10)

Sadly, we have little evidence on the outcome of this specific incident. The folder contains only a reply from the national president, along with a note on onion skin paper from an unidentified alumnae association. Both the president and the alumnae repeatedly, almost redundantly, classify the matter of whether or not to admit black students as a “problem,” find the University of Washington chapter’s tone “belligerent,” and generally agree with the ISU chapter that such policies, such “problems,” are best decided upon at the local level. There is no indication of whether or not Ohio State permitted the girl to join Mortar Board, let alone whether she had any remaining desire to do so.

With this lack of resolution in mind, here are a few take-away points:

1). Despite what the first two documents examined in this blog post imply, the attitudes and prejudices which shape exclusionary practices, at ISU and elsewhere, are not, and have never been, the sole property of men. Women of color have faced systematic exclusion much longer than, and frequently at the hands of, white women.

2). Historically speaking, it is not at all a new phenomenon for young people to champion policy-based change, only to hear their elders patronize and dismiss them for their zeal. In fact, many individuals who make sweeping generalizations about Generations X, Y, and Z today would themselves have belonged to the generations that protested exclusion with such recognizable turns of pandering, “wind,” and “belligerence.” 

3). The missing pieces from all of these stories are the thoughts, reactions, and even identities of the women whom these exclusionary policies impacted. All of these individuals must have had some perspective on what had happened to them and why. All of these individuals had lives before and after they butted up against the policies. But their stories are filtered exclusively through the words of their oppressors and/or, occasionally, the people who chose to stand up for them. This is unfortunate, because it frames our entire knowledge of these women as victims who required saving, and there is no evidence that this is how they saw themselves. For all we know, they may have been glad to discover upfront how prejudiced these organizations were, or what a potentially toxic environment they had escaped. A number of them may have gone on to be very successful in the context of other institutions, other organizations, or in other fields. Without hearing the story from multiple sides, we have no way of knowing what precisely was lost.

The real loss in all of these cases, then, is the institution’s loss, the archives’ loss, the historical record’s loss. Not only was ISU denied many opportunities to boast a role in shaping young talent, but current and future historians have been denied the opportunity to gauge with any accuracy precisely how much damage these exclusionary policies caused, or to whom. All we know for certain is that they existed, they were implemented, and why.