ISU Archivists visit the State Historical Society of Iowa @IowaMuseum #iowahistory

Yesterday we visited the State Historical Society of Iowa in Des Moines. We were able to visit with a number of librarians, archivists, and curators. We learned about the Iowa Newspaper Project and work being done collecting county records, among many other things. This blog post does not do justice to all of the wonderful things we saw and learned about, so you will just have to drop by and visit the collections yourself!

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“The world’s first and longest-running scientific periodical”

Phil Trans tp

The title page of the copy held by ISU Library Special Collections and archives.

A patron has been examining our 350-year-old copies of the first issues of Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London, which gives me something interesting to blog about. The patron is Marcia Prior-Miller, an Associate Professor Emeritus from the ISU Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication. I met Marcia when she visited Special Collections a year or so ago, and I enjoyed talking to her about her research and writing. Now she’s back, and working on a book chapter. Its topic is the historical emergence of magazine and journal publishing. Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London is one of the four earliest examples of magazines or journals; the other three publications are in German, Italian, and French, and we won’t address them here.

The first issue of Philosophical transactions […] contains ten entries on various scientific and technical topics. Some are essay-length; others are just paragraphs. None have illustrations, charts, or graphs. Nor are there bibliographical references or citations as we know them, although in some cases titles and names are provided. Henry Oldenburg seems to have edited the whole, drawing on an array of publications and correspondence. I find it to be interesting reading; the prose style is more colorful and lively than the scientific writing of our time.

Monstrous calf

Again, the first issue. Note that someone underlined dozens of words in ink that has turned brown with age. Perhaps it is iron gall ink.

Issue number two has pages numbered 17-32, i.e. it takes up where issue number one left off. To this day, journals (as opposed to magazines) commonly have “continuous paging throughout a volume.” Notably, volume two of Philosophical transactions […] does not begin with a fresh page one; rather, after some unnumbered pages, it carries on from p. 409. (Pardon me for noting these details. I am a librarian and a cataloger, so I can’t help but notice them!)

Issue two also feature the title’s first illustrations. They are beautifully done on a leaf that folds out. These figures are associated with the article (?) on pages 21-26 concerning “a way of producing Wind by the fall of Water.”

Phil Trans ill

Visit us here in special collections if you’d like to see our extensive collection of the Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of LondonYou can also view and download scans of individual issues (here, and I imagine elsewhere).

(My blog post’s title is borrowed from an exhibition catalog called Philosophical transactions: 350 years of publishing at the Royal Society (1665-2015). The catalog is an excellent resource in itself. You can view or download a PDF of it here.)

Instruction in the Archives!

On Monday, a class from the Iowa State University Office of Precollegiate Programs for Talented and Gifted (OPPTAG) visited Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA). The course was titled “Cook Your Way Through U.S. History.” In the SCUA classroom, I demonstrated how to find SCUA materials on their topic (cookbooks) and reviewed procedures and handling guidelines in our reading room. Amy Bishop, Rare Books and Manuscripts Archivist, reviewed different cookbooks from Rare Books and recipes from our Manuscript Collections & University Archives and provided students with context on the collections and books.

OPPTAG students viewing cookbook from Rare Book Collection

OPPTAG students viewing cookbook from Rare Book Collection

The students then came into our reading room and looked for historic recipes they plan to cook this week. You should come into our reading room too and check out our cool cookbooks! We’re open Monday-Friday from 10-4! You can also check out some selected cookbooks online in the Library’s Digital Collections.

Staff Pick!

Today’s post puts the spotlight on a staff member and she puts the spotlight on a collection. Meet Whitney Olthoff. She is a Project Archivist here in Special Collections and  University Archives.

Project Archivist Whitney Olthoff (standing far right) during a SCUA workshop for the 4-H Youth Conference this July

Project Archivist Whitney Olthoff (standing far right) during a SCUA workshop for the 4-H Youth Conference earlier this month

How did you get started in Special Collections & University Archives at Iowa State University?

I graduated with my MLS (Master of Library Science) degree from Indiana University – Bloomington in May 2012. After moving back to my parents’ house (about 30 miles from Ames), I continued my full-time job search while working part-time at a public library. This job (project archivist position) popped up, and I was lucky enough to get it! It took just over a year of job searching, but I got hired at my undergrad alma mater – I was pretty excited. I’ve been here for almost three years now, and I’ve gained experience in several aspects of the archival profession during that time. So far, so good!

What do you do?

Primarily what I do is process archival collections. This means that I go through a given collection and organize it – sometimes I physically rearrange the files and sometimes files are rearranged intellectually, that is, in the finding aid, while maintaining original order physically. Depending on the collection, I will re-folder materials, give new and improved titles to folders, number boxes and folders, sleeve photographs and negatives, and enter descriptive information into finding aids. This way, the materials are accessible to researchers. There’s a lot to archival processing, so for more information, take a look at a post one of our former project archivists, Stephanie, wrote a couple years ago:

I also contribute to our blog, handle the occasional reference request, and archive the university’s websites. Not to mention various other things that are asked of me as needed. I keep pretty busy around here.

What collection would you like to highlight?

This is tricky… it’s difficult to choose just one! I guess I’d like to highlight something lesser-known.  In the Elizabeth “Betsy” Hoffman Papers, there is a series devoted to, oddly enough, Russian WWI photographs and materials  – the   Andrew Kalpaschnikoff Memoirs and Photo Albums. Kalpaschnikoff was Hoffman’s grandfather. Hoffman was Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences here at Iowa State, as well as Professor of Economics. Eventually, she served as Executive Vice President and Provost of Iowa State University and is currently a Professor of Economics here.

Kalpaschnikoff led quite an exciting life. He was raised in Imperial Russia’s upper class, served as Ambassador to the United States, was a member of the Russian Army during WWI, and spent time in a Communist prison after the Bolshevik Revolution. Eventually he escaped and returned to the U.S. He also encountered notable figures including Czar Nicholas II and Leon Trotsky. Kalpaschnikoff’s materials include two photo albums depicting the Russian army in WWI (available to view online here and here), loose photographs, and memoirs.

Why’d you pick this collection/item to highlight?

This was the first collection (well, part of a collection) I ever wrote about for our blog. It was my first-ever post for our blog, as a matter of fact. The materials were newly processed back in 2013. Kalpaschnikoff’s story is fascinating and the photos give you a rare glimpse into life in the Russian army in WWI (fair warning: a few of the photos depict wounded and dead soldiers, some of which are graphic). For whatever reason, I like to highlight collections that most would not expect to find in the ISU archives – I also wrote blog posts on our science fiction and Underground Comix collections. Russian WWI materials and photographs certainly fall under that “unexpected” category in my opinion. Of course, this is just one of many collections worthy of highlighting. Anyone who wants to know what else we hold should check out our website and/or ask us!

Any other comments you’d like me to include?

I’ll end with one of my favorite quotes about libraries and archives:
“To me every trip to a library or archive is like a small detective story.” – Erik Larson

Tulip Gardening #TBT

It’s officially summer, and gardens are in full bloom. With the heat that we’ve had lately, aren’t you glad that dresses like the one below are no longer in fashion? Tulips typically bloom around May in Iowa – in fact, there are festivals devoted to the flower in Pella and Orange City during that month every year. Hopefully it was an unusually cool late spring/early summer day in this photo, otherwise that dress had to be stifling.

Woman in a tulip garden, undated. [collection/box #]

Woman in a tulip garden, undated. University Photographs, RS 16/3

While it’s far too late to plant tulips for this year and too early for next year, the sight of tulips in bloom over the last month or so might have you considering them as an addition to your own garden. If that’s the case, ISU Extension has some tulip planting tips. Happy gardening!

Summer Fashions @ISUExtension @tcmuseum_isu

Happy summer solstice! Today’s post will highlight different collections available online that show off some historical summer fashions.

Here are some summery fashion plates from the Fashion Plates Digital Collection. This collection contains plates of general fashion dating back to the 18th century. This digital collection stems from the Mary Barton Fashion Illustration Collection located in Special Collections and University Archives. Mary Barton (1917-2003), an alumna (Class of 1942) from Ames, was a quilt historian who had gained a national reputation for being able to judge a quilt’s age and origin by careful examination.


Summer Walking Dress, showing influences from the eastern Mediterranean; underskirt covered by a lace lined overjacket and lace-lined turban with parasol (published by John Bell) from the Mary Barton Fashion Illustration Collection.

Summer Walking Dress, 1809

Morning Promenade Dress and Summer Walking Costume, illustrating elaborate ruffled collars and leg-of-mutton sleeves with widening shoulders overall, a highly decorated bodice with lace cutouts, the waist emphasized by ribbons tied in bows or belt, geometric decoration towards the hem (also tightly fitted), wrists, gloves, parasol, and hats decorated with plaid ribbons, feathers, and lace

Morning Promenade Dress and Summer Walking Costume, 1828

The New Spring and Summer Cloaks and Mantles, demonstrating 5 varieties of loose capes and tent-shaped mantles or paletots that all provided modest warmth and coverage for the large hoop skirts. They have various trims including lace, tassels, braid, and rickrack. Four of the five have sleeves that are fairly loose, and the headwear is a bit more elaborate. The dresses illustrate the changing shape of the skirts shifting more toward the back

New Spring and Summer Cloaks and Mantles, 1864

The videos are from the Special Collections and University Archives YouTube channel. They don’t solely deal with summer fashions but do include dresses I think are pretty summery.  These videos were part of the series “Couture Close-Ups with Charles Kleibacker” produced by the Iowa State University Extension Service. In the series, New York fashion designer Charles Kleibacker demonstrates how he designs women’s clothing using various fabrics and construction techniques.




Check out other fun online collections from the University Library Digital Collections and the Special Collections and University Archives YouTube channel.

Or drop by the reading room to look at our collections in person. We’re open Monday-Friday from 10-4.

If you are interested in researching clothing and textiles, you should check out the ISU Textiles and Clothing Museum.

Staff Pick!

Today’s blog post highlights both a member of the Special Collections and University Archives staff, Becky Jordan, and some items from the Marie Hall Papers (RS 21/7/51).

Becky Jordan is the Reference Specialist here. She has worked in the department the longest and has graciously answered a few questions about herself.

Becky Jordan giving tour of collection storage area for History class April 2016

Becky Jordan giving a tour of the collection storage area for HIST 195 class, April 2016.

How did you get started in Special Collections & University Archives at Iowa State University?

I had worked in the Library as a student, and so was somewhat familiar with the University’s Merit System jobs.  Several months before I graduated, I took the test for Secretary I over at Human Resources in Beardshear Hall (I was an English major, so I had excellent typing skills).  It happened that there were two secretarial jobs open in the Library, and I interviewed for both during final week of my last quarter—we were still on the quarter system then.  I graduated on Saturday, March 1, 1975, and was offered the secretarial job in Special Collections the next Monday.  My first day was the following Friday, March 7.  I’ve never left!

What do you do?

I handle reference requests relating to the collections in the department.  Most are from people off-campus and can cover any topic, from aircraft design to the 1895 football team.  I regularly do tours of the department, for classes and other groups.  I also spend at least six hours a week at our public desk in room 403 of the Parks Library.

Why’d you pick this collection/item to highlight?

This is Marie Hall’s college “Memory Book” from the Marie Hall Papers (RS 21/7/51).  Marie entered Iowa State in the Fall of 1916 and graduated in the Spring of 1920. 

Marie Hall as a young woman

Portrait of Marie Hall (RS 21/7/51 box 2)

The scrapbook begins with a letter to the incoming freshman class and the Iowa State College Handbook, and ends with the invitation to the 1920 Commencement.  In between, she saved what looks like everything—dance cards, newsclippings, programs from events, invitations, greeting cards and photographs.  I like to use this for class tours, because it includes “General House Rules for Young Women of Iowa State College.”  I read them off and ask the students if they think they could follow the rules today.  We lose them right away with the 10:30 bedtime.

Close up of General House Rules

General House Rules for Young Women of Iowa State College Close up of General House Rules (RS 21/7/51 box 2)

Page from memory book containing "General House Rules for Young Women of Iowa State College"

Page from memory book containing “General House Rules for Young Women of Iowa State College” (RS 21/7/51 box 2)

Becky’s last comment about working in Special Collections and University Archives: “I’ve always enjoyed working here, because we learn something new every day.”

Drop by the reading room to check out other collections documenting the history Iowa State University!

Television is for Kids! @IowaPublicTV

This month is a great time to celebrate children’s television programming in the State of Iowa. After all, Iowa Public Television is debuting their new IPTV Kids Clubhouse with host, and personal friend of yours truly, Dan Wardell. If you have kids (or you are a kid at heart) I would recommend checking it out.


This undated image shows longtime host of The Magic Window, Betty Lou Varnum, on the set of the show. Photograph from box 4, folder 6 of the Betty Lou Varnum Papers, RS 5/6/53.

Of course, any discussion of children’s programming in Iowa eventually leads to talk of WOI-TV and America’s longest-running children’s program (who am I to argue with Wikipedia?)–The House with the Magic Window. Originally called The Magic Window, this program aired in central Iowa on WOI-TV from 1951 until 1994 and for nearly 40 years was hosted by Betty Lou (McVay) Varnum. Betty Lou became a fixture in most central Iowa households and almost anyone growing up here during this time could tell you who Betty Lou was and name each of her puppet friends that regularly appeared on the show.

However, Betty Lou was not the first host of The Magic Window. Other hosts included Virginia “Ginny” Adams, Joy (Ringham) Munn, and Arjes “Sunny” Sundquist. Each of these women hosted the show for a year or so until Betty Lou took over permanently. Special Collections and University Archives has kinescope (16mm film) recordings of some of the earliest episodes of The Magic Window in our collections, but sadly we only have one recording, dating from 1955, of Betty Lou as host of The Magic Window!

Something most people may not be aware of is that WOI-TV produced a second children’s program in 1954 called Window Watchers (I see a theme here). This program was sponsored by the National Educational Television and Radio Center, later known as the Public Broadcasting Service. Window Watchers was hosted by Arjes Sundquist and featured a  format very similar to that of The Magic Window.

To view some of these early children’s programs, visit our YouTube Channel!

For more information on WOI-TV during the time it was owned and operated by Iowa State University, read through some of the finding aids listed on the Special Collections and University Archives website on this page.

Military Circus #TBT @CycloneROTC

The first Military Circus at Iowa State University was held on March 4, 1922. It was held annually, with some exceptions, until approximately 1941.

Boys, Military Service in Armory, March 7, 1925 (University Photographs box 1112)

Boys, Military Service in Armory, March 7, 1925 (University Photographs box 1112)

To learn more about the history of the Department of Military Science, drop by the reading room and check out the Department of Military Science Subject Files and other related collections! We’re open Monday – Friday 10-4.

Beaux Arts Ball #TBT @ISUDesign

Beaux Arts Ball 1953

Beaux Arts Ball 1953 (University Photographs box 1649)

The Department of Architecture used to host a Beaux Arts Ball in the 1940s and 1950s. The College of Design rekindled it in 1999 to celebrate the college’s 20th anniversary. Check out articles from Designnews  1999 (p. 10)  and  2000 (p. 33)  to read more about the Beaux Arts Balls from those years.

The Graduate Students in Architecture currently host a Beaux Arts ball in the spring for members, friends and faculty.

The Beaux Arts Ball originated from an annual ball called the Bal des Quat’z’Arts  held by  students of the École of Beaux-Arts in Paris in the spring from the 1890s. The Beaux Arts Ball came to New York City in the 1920s and was used by the Beaux-Arts Institute of Design as a fundraiser. Since then a variety of organizations have used the ball as a fundraiser or fun activity for its members.

Watch this video on YouTube to learn more about the history of the Beaux Arts Ball.

Stop by the reading room to see more photographs from Beaux Arts Balls in the past or other fun activities hosted by Iowa State student organizations. We’re open Monday-Friday 10-4.