Collection Highlight: the Architecture Wives Club (RS 22/5/0/37)

The Architecture Wives Club is a newly processed collection now available to researchers. This club is exactly what it sounds like – the wives of ISU students in the Architecture program. They would hold get togethers, host speakers, and had “club projects” each year, which were philanthropic in nature. As you can see below, the club was not just social but also academic as well.

The official charge from 1966.

The collection is small, only spanning 1952-1971, and I am not sure if it continued on after 1971. However the illustrations are beautiful and the records shine a light on family structures during the 1950’s – 1970’s. More information about the Architecture Wives club can be found by viewing the collection description here.

To view the collection in person, please visit the Special Collections and University Archives department, which is open Monday – Thursday, between 9am – 5pm.

Thank you to our Student Workers

Every year, our student workers graduate and I am reminded of just how much work they do for the department. Students are often the ones who are entering folder lists into finding aids, labeling boxes, pulling anything requested by researchers, reshelving boxes, creating inventories of material, data cleanup and entry and so much more. If you’ve ever used any of our resources, you’ve benefited from the work these awesome employees do.

This year, all 3 of the processing student workers graduated. I asked them all what they enjoyed most about working here, and what they plan to do next. Read on to see what they had to say!

Lauren Brousseau

Lauren, standing in front of our rare books.

Lauren joined SCUA in January of 2019. In her 2+ years here, she helped process many collections, worked on a very long term project to inventory the university photo collection, helped with data cleanup for a migration, and taught us all a lot about trains – one of her passions!

Lauren’s favorite thing about working in SCUA was the access to some really old and neat items. She thought it was amazing being able to see a book from 1475, as it is not everyday you get to view a book that old. Lauren graduated in May, and her post-graduation plans were inspired by her job here in SCUA. She is planning to take a gap year, and then hopefully attend the University of Iowa, where she will get a Masters in Library Science with a focus on archives and preservation.  She has always enjoyed working in libraries, but had never really considered it as a career choice until working for Parks Library. 

Delaney Kennedy

Delaney, enjoying a vacation in Italy.

Delaney also joined SCUA in January 2019. She has worked on several inventory projects, including the university photo collection and MS-0005, the Hugh Shepard papers. We only had a typed list of folder titles printed out, so Delaney’s work ensured this collection of 160 boxes was much easier to search. She also cataloged artifacts, which is a very detailed process using a notoriously difficult software.

Delaney’s favorite part of working in SCUA was the hands on work and actually being able to work with the materials in the department, such as cataloging the photographs and seeing photographs from the late 1800s. Also seeing the rare books such as St. Thomas Aquinas’s book from 1475. What she is most proud of is learning how to use PastPerfect software which is what other museums, archives, and institutions use to catalog their artifacts. Learning how to use the software made her feel like she was gaining experience that will help her be successful in her career and understand some of the tools archivists use. 

After graduation, Delaney has been searching for work in the Chicago area.

McKenzie Reimer


McKenzie joined SCUA in August 2020, and transferred from the Media department when they closed due to COVID. She helped complete many inventories and process collections, and did so wonderfully given the strange situation that brought her to SCUA.

According to McKenzie, she’s loved every part about working for SCUA, but if she had to choose one thing to be her favorite part, it would probably be the fact that she got to be surrounded by history all of the time! She really enjoyed getting to see the different collections and the historical significance it has for ISU. Not all of it was always the most interesting, but she could respect the importance it held for the college. Plus, SCUA just has some really cool historical items that were fun just to look at! [Its true folks, we really do!]

This fall, McKenzie will be attending Simmons University for graduate school. She will be earning a dual master’s degree for library science and history. 

SCUA wouldn’t be able to provide access to nearly as many resources without the help of our student workers, and we send a heartfelt thank you to all past student workers. If you are interested in joining the department this fall, please fill out an application for the Library.

Happy Inauguration Day!

In honor of the inauguration of President Joe Biden, today we take a quick look back at his visit to campus. In March 2012, then Vice President Biden came to visit Iowa State University, giving a public speech on innovation and domestic job creation according to this Inside Iowa State Article. If you’d like to hear the speech, you can find that on YouTube thanks to the Engineering Department. Below are a few photos taken by the External Affairs department.

If you’d like to see more of these photographs, you can find them using this link. For a full description of the collection and related records, view the finding aid.

Please email with any questions.

Saying goodbye to a “special” place

This is a guest post by one of our long-term student workers, Andrew, who not only worked in SCUA as an undergrad, but continued working with us while earning his MCRP (Master of Community and Regional Planning). Student workers are vitally important to the work we do in SCUA, and we couldn’t function without them. If you’ve ever looked at a finding aid or used any of our collections, you have benefited from their hard work. 

Andrew has been by far the longest running intern in our department. He has made a lasting impact, far beyond the work he has done for us. I thank him for his years of dedication, and look forward to hearing what great things his future brings! 

– Rosalie Gartner, Lead Processing Archivist

There’s a kind of grieving that people go through when they lose a “place.” Our sense of place and the emotional importance of one’s surroundings might not be as widely discussed as grieving a lost loved one, but just like how we all lose people in our lives, we all lose places too. Whether it be our parents finally selling our childhood home or moving across the country to an entirely new city never to return, we all encounter moments in our lives where we mourn the fact that we may never experience a certain environment that holds so many memories for us ever again – or at least not in the same way we once did. It is this type of sensation that I currently have for Iowa State’s Department of Special Collections and University Archives.

I came to Iowa State in August 2014 as a freshman, and in May 2020, I graduated with my master’s degree, finally completing my academic journey and nearly six years of calling Ames my home. And throughout that entire time, Special Collections has been my rock. I began as a Student Assistant in the Department in September 2014 and – being someone who collects antiques and holds a deep interest in history – I remember being ecstatic that of all the on-campus jobs offered, I managed to find my way into the Archives.

Picture of Andrew with photo boxes behind him.
Me in the backroom of the Archives indexing the University Photographs collection (January 2016).

Having not worked during high school, that position served as my first real job, and somehow every time I would leave, I would always find my way back. Throughout the past half-decade, I’ve earned two degrees, traveled to other parts of the country and world, gained and lost friends, experienced new relationships and love, witnessed family pass and new members come, been diagnosed with and beaten cancer, finally tackled my mental health, and in general saw some of my highest highs and lowest lows. College can be a tumultuous time, where nothing seems certain, permanent, or stable, yet I always had Special Collections – my job and the people there – to return to. That is not to say that Special Collections was stagnant – plenty of new staff and student faces have come and gone, policies have changed, setups and physical spaces altered, etc. But the place itself, the job I was doing, and the atmosphere surrounding it all remained.

My time at the Library saw me learn skills and take on tasks I never thought possible. I handled, researched, indexed, organized, filed, and described likely tens of thousands of individual pieces of history. From forgotten photo negatives, to all of the university’s blueprints and architectural plans, to artifacts and scrapbooks, I found myself diving into projects big and small. And no matter how monotonous the task, everything I did in the Archives felt like it had an important purpose in making history accessible and remembered. There is something magical and exhilarating about opening a box of photos or documents that was hidden away in somebody’s attic for decades to search for lost treasures or missing pieces to existing historical puzzles, and it truly made me feel like I was part of something bigger – even if the majority of my job was indexing and organizing. And those organizational skills and care for the physical objects of the past are likely to stick with me and prove invaluable in everything I do going forward.

A desk with tightly rolled architectural plans stacked on it.
Some of the largest organizational undertakings (like the University Architectural Plans collection) fell to me, as I enjoyed turning huge amounts of unprocessed materials into usable collections (February 2017).

Finally, Special Collections became the unlikely source of most of my closest college friendships, as despite the Department attracting student employees from all colleges and majors, something about working there fostered love, support, and a mutual interest in preserving and protecting the past for the generations of the future. Because of the staff and students there, Special Collections always felt like a safe place to discuss anything, to have a laugh, and in general to experience an environment where interesting work was being done. Student employees would go out of our way to welcome and talk to new students so they did not feel isolated, engage with full-time staff and the work they were doing, and in general saw the Archives as something important rather than just another job. I am so thankful to the Department and the lifelong friendships that came from it – my time at Iowa State would not have been what it was if it were not for all of the people that came into my life through Special Collections.

Five and a half years later, and the day I am finalizing this post is my last day as a student employee at Parks Library – a fact that is quite bittersweet considering the state of the world right now. Even through this raging global pandemic, however, Special Collections has still been something of an island of normalcy, as although we are all working from home, I still get to spend time working with historic materials and talking with familiar faces – even if it is through a screen. I am happy to have hopefully left a mark on Iowa State’s history through I work I completed in those years, and am equally glad that I managed to leave a piece of myself – a folder full of personal photos, writings, and accomplishments – in the Alumni files (RS 21/7/1) before the Department shut its doors to weather the crisis. If Iowa State is my second home, then Special Collections is my room within it, and will be what I miss most about my years spent in Iowa.


Virtual Access to Digital Records

The Special Collections & University Archives department has been closed to the public since March 18. That’s 47 (as of 5/21) business days and counting without researchers being able to visit and use our collections. It became clear early on that we would not be returning to campus any time soon, and we needed to provide virtual access to our collections as much as possible. So we are!

Since we don’t currently have a way to share born digital records, we’re creating an access copy of the original files and saving these to This method of access is only temporary, and will change once we find a long term solution.

How to Find Digital Records

Not all of our collections have born digital records. To see what is available, navigate to our catalog, CARDinal; from the SCUA homepage scroll to the bottom and click on the large icon for CARDinal.

The CARDinal icon, found at the lower left hand corner of the Special Collections & University Archives website.

CARDinal will open in a new window. Click on the Advanced Search button in the top yellow bar. Type “Digital Records” in the Titles field, and select the “series” option under Parts(“levels”) of Description; click Search.

Note: If you search for “Digital Records” in the Quick Search, your results will include descriptions without links to digital records. Only results with the title Digital Records will have any records for you to view online.

Search criteria are shown highlighted in red.

Once you have found a collection within the results list that interests you, click on the Display Finding Aid link right under the collection name.

The Display Finding Aid button is highlighted in red.

The finding aid will open directly to the Digital Records series. You will find information about how many digital files are available, a brief description of what they are, how they are arranged, and most importantly, a link to the actual digital records.

The link to digital records in the Electronic Resources section is highlighted in red.

Clicking on the link in the Electronic Resources section will take you directly to the folder in Here you will be able to view any born digital records for the collection, but will not be able to download them.

A preview of the digital records available.

A few extra notes about digital records:

  1. We are still adding links to collections as fast as we can, so please continue to check back.
  2. Some files do not preview well in Box. If you find a record you cannot preview, please email with the details (collection number, folder name, file name) so we can troubleshoot.
  3. The process we’ve used here does not follow our digital processing and preservation work flow, however the original materials are still being preserved and have not been altered.

I hope all our readers are doing well and staying healthy! If you have any feedback or need assistance finding digital records please email us at

SCUA Has Upgraded Shelves!

As I wrote about in my last blog post, the department closed over the winter break to have new motors installed on our compact shelving – several kept getting stuck and they were becoming harder and harder to repair.

Now that the work is over, I thought I’d share some of the photos I took during the process.

We used the reading room to store collections we had to remove from the shelves.
The old handles were removed, seen dangling here.
After the old handles were removed the shelves were prepped for new ones.
Here you can see the shelving was removed, and the motor components are ready to be replaced.
You can see just some of the equipment and supplies needed for the project.

Thank you to all researchers for your patience while we improved our space!

An explanation for our upcoming department closure

By now, hopefully all researchers have seen the notice on our website that the Special Collections & University Archives will be closed from December 23 until January 10, reopening on Monday January 13, 2020. What you probably haven’t seen is an explanation.

The motorized compact shelving we have in our storage area was installed over 20 years ago and has surpassed its expected lifespan; some of the replacement parts aren’t even made any more! We’ve been experiencing some failure among these shelves for many years, and we’re now at the point that replacing some of the electronics is the most reasonable course of action.

To do this, staff will need to remove the boxes from some of the shelving to allow for the work to happen. Below you see one shelf in one range, which gives you an idea of how many boxes staff need to remove, then replace.

A view of how many boxes are on one range of our motorized shelving units.

While one shelf range is being fixed the shelves on either side are inaccessible, meaning that about 1/5 of our holdings would be unavailable to researchers at any given point during this process. In the photo below you can see how the shelves fit snugly together, limiting access.

A portion of our motorized shelves.

Since the winter break is usually a slow period for us here in Special Collections & University Archives, we decided to do the work now to limit the impact on researchers.

We look forward to starting the new decade with fully functioning shelves!

Accessing Unprocessed Collections

Most of you are likely familiar with our finding aids; they follow a standard format, they have background information, and most importantly they have a list of folder titles so you can easily find what you’re looking for. These finding aids are created after a collection has been processed – that is, after someone has spent many hours arranging and describing the collection to make it as user friendly as possible. This has traditionally been how things work in archives – process, then provide access. We weren’t restricting access to unprocessed collections, but how would you know to ask for them if we haven’t told the world they’re here?

This year, we’re doing something new (to us). Instead of waiting until a collection is fully processed, we’re creating a finding aid before processing to provide access as soon as possible.  These finding aids are a lot shorter than most, and will have some special instructions/notes in them that I’d like to highlight:

Any unprocessed collections will require advance notice – 2 working days to be exact. This allows us a chance to locate the boxes, which are kept separately from the processed materials, and do a quick review of them before providing access.

Location/Public Access Data field shows the Unprocessed status and requirements for requesting material.

SCUA also requires special permission to make a copy or take a photograph of any material in unprocessed collections. During processing, we remove any information that’s restricted or protected by regulations, such as social security numbers, medical information covered by HIPPA regulations, or student educational information covered by FERPA regulations. Since we haven’t taken those steps with these unprocessed collections, we want to make sure we aren’t releasing copies of this information.

Side note: If you find any of these types of restricted information in any of our collections, please tell us! 

The Restrictions on Access and Use field shows the requirements for making reproductions from unprocessed collections.

Finally, unprocessed collections can sometimes be unorganized, and a little messy. Because of this, it can take a lot longer to find what you’re looking for. My advice is to plan on spending a little extra time looking through these! Below are two examples of what you might find.


Highlighting the hidden women in history

Several months ago, a researcher visited the department to look at the materials of G. Perle Schmidt, a poet, composer, and author born in Waterloo, Iowa in 1881. As I normally do when someone is using a collection I haven’t looked at before, I went to our website and did a quick search for Perle – no results found. After talking with the researcher a little more, it turns out the papers of Perle Schmidt are actually  found in the collection of her husband’s papers, Louis B Schmidt. I’ll never know how this researcher found the collection, but her research skills are amazing.

You can see the Louis B. Schmidt collection listed on our website, but no finding aid is available, making it impossible to key-word search for Perle’s name in the finding aid:

A snapshot of the finding aid for RS 13/12/22, the Louis B. Schmidt papers listed on the SCUA website.

Despite the fact that Perle was well known in her own right, she has been hidden in her husband’s collection since it was donated over 40 years ago. She was active in several societies such as the Society of Mayflower Descendants, had her first poem published at age 12, composed music, published many short stories and articles, and was even selected at the 1936 Iowa delegate to the National Democratic Convention in Philadelphia.

Although I normally focus my energy on making new collections available to the public, this is a clear case in which revisiting an old collection and re-working the description will make a significant change in accessibility to the collection, specifically to Perle’s materials.

Bringing “hidden women” to light can sometimes be very challenging, particularly those living in the early 1900’s. Women would frequently be referred to by their husband’s first and last name, which can make it very difficult to find or verify information about a woman. Although this practice is less common today, it does still happen. As you can see in the article below, Perle is referred to as “Mrs. Louis Schmidt.” Even in her own obituary, she is known by her husband’s name rather than her own unique identity.

Obituary for Perle Schmidt, referred to as Mrs. Louis B. Schmidt. RS 13/12/22

Sometimes women also weren’t given credit for the work they completed. I’ve often heard the tale of the wife who did the research for a husband’s newest paper, or the female secretary who wrote departmental reports that were credited to a male boss. While this didn’t happen everywhere and all the time, it does add to the challenges of verifying accomplishments. In the case of Perle Schmidt, it is her work with the ISU Music Department that we have been unable to verify. Both her husband and her son mentioned that Perle was working in the Music Department in 1907-1908, however she isn’t listed anywhere that we have been able to find.

So….what can I do about it? A few things. One small change that would bring Perle Schmidt out of the shadows is just to change the title of the collection. Rather than the Louis B. Schmidt papers, I plan to rename the collection the Louis B. and G. Perle Schmidt papers. This will allow her name to at least be key word searchable on the internet.

The description we currently have for the collection doesn’t include any biographical information on Perle Schmidt, but instead is a 2 page biography of Louis Schmidt along with an 8 page list of his publications. This biography for the collection will be updated to include more even amounts of information about both Louis and Perle. By doing this, anyone looking at the finding aid online will know Perle is a prominent part of this collection.

This collection also needs to be re-processed, and some materials will need intervention from the Preservation department to ensure the collection survives another 40 years. Some of the materials used for photographs, paper, and other formats are just not meant to last – they deteriorate even in the best of conditions and need to be checked on periodically. For example, the photographs below may have been perfectly usable in 1975, but are now so brittle they can’t be handled:

Until the collection is re-processed, it is still open for research, with a few restrictions for the more brittle items. If you’d like to come learn more about Perle, please come visit! In the coming months, an updated version of our guide to this collection can be found in our new catalog, CARDinal.

Norma Lyon: The Woman Behind the Butter Cow

Today’s post is brought to you by another of SCUA’s fabulous student workers, Zoe. She has been processing a collection we have posted about before (see the first and second posts), although today she brings a new perspective to our final post about ISU alumnus Norma “Duffy” Lyon, aka “The Butter Cow Lady” (Collection RS 21/7/280). We hope you enjoy a behind the scenes look at the life of Norma, a woman who helped shape the Iowa State Fair, which is currently happening.

This collection (the Norma Lyon papers, RS 21/7/280) is open for research, and more information can be requested by contacting us.

 – Rosalie Gartner
Lead Processing Archivist


While many know her simply as the Butter Cow Lady, there is much more to Norma “Duffy” Lyon than just her creamy dairy creations. While working on this collection, I have learned all about her life and career as a sculptor and would like to share what I have learned with you.

Image 001, College Photo
Norma “Duffy” Stong, the ISU Harvest Ball Queen, 1948

Lyon was born Norma Duffield Stong, an Iowa farm girl with a passion for animals. In order to turn this passion into a career, Norma studied Animal Husbandry at ISU, earning her Bachelor of Science in 1951. During her time at Iowa State University, her sculpting talents were recognized. The Artist-in-Residence of the University, Christian Petersen, saw an ice and snow sculpture done by Norma and encouraged her to attend his sculpting classes. Thus, Norma began to refine her talent as an artist.

Image 002, First Sculpture
Alpha Delta Pi Winter Festival sculpture, 1949

After graduating, Norma married her college sweetheart Joe Lyon, and the two moved to Toledo, Iowa, to open Lyon Jerseys, where they raised dairy cattle. In 1960, Norma was asked to take over the job of carving the butter cow for the Iowa State Fair.

Image 003, First Butter Cow
Norma sculpting her first butter cow, 1960

She carved cows for the fair for the next 46 years, each one unique and showing an exquisite amount of detail that only a master of the craft could accomplish. Her sculptures attracted visitors from all over Iowa, each one wanting a glance at the famous life-sized butter cow.

Norma was not just a sculptor of cattle! During her career, she carved various animal statues at fairs across the Midwest, always returning to the Iowa State Fair to showcase her greatest works. She continued to show her passion for horses in particular, sculpting several over the years.

Image 006, Butter Horses
Horse and foal butter sculpture, Iowa State Fair, 1984

In 1994, with the approval of the Fair officials, Norma expanded her repertoire even further with the addition of people. Her first displayed sculpture of a human subject was none other than country legend Garth Brooks. Fair-goers loved the addition, and from that point on she added many more buttery likenesses of everyone from Elvis to Tiger Woods (with a life sized tiger included)!

Image 007, Garth Brooks.jpg
Garth Brooks butter sculpture, 1994

It comes as no surprise that Duffy Lyon garnered recognition on a national scale. She crafted butter busts of Katie Couric, Matt Lauer, Barack Obama, and a cheddar cheese bust of David Letterman. Norma appeared on the game show To Tell the Truth and the popular talk show The Late Show with David Letterman – she even brought Mr. Letterman a tiny cow carved out of cheese.

Image 008, Norma and her Butter Cow
Norma with one of her final butter cows, undated

A statue stands in Norma’s home town of Toledo, Iowa, commemorating the famous Iowa State Fair butter cow, and in turn celebrating her term as its sculptor. The town’s welcome sign proudly declares, “Home of the Butter Cow Lady!” Norma carved her final butter cow in 2006, passing on the mantle of butter sculptor to her mentee, Sarah Pratt. While the job title may have passed on to a new sculptor, Norma “Duffy” Lyon will always be remembered as the original Butter Cow Lady.


Image 009, Posing with Statue.jpg
Norma Lyon at the unveiling of her commemorative statue in Toledo, Iowa. Undated.

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