George Washington Carver: Celebrating His 150th Birthday

Graduation image

Born a slave, George Washington Carver received two degrees from Iowa Agricultural College (now Iowa State University), and gained an international reputation during his career at Tuskegee University. Although the exact date of Carver’s birth is unknown, he was born around the year 1864 and many are celebrating this year as the 150th anniversary of his birth.

As an agricultural scientist, Carver’s research resulted in the creation of 325 products from a variety of food items such as peanuts, sweet potatoes, and hundreds more from a dozen other plants native to the South. These products contributed to rural economic improvement by offering alternative crops to cotton that were beneficial for the farmers and for the land.

The George Washington Carver Collection in the University Archives holds information on his life and work. In addition, Digital Collections at the Iowa State University Library maintains a digital collection which includes a selection of materials from the University Archives documenting his time here at Iowa State (primarily images) and his correspondence with Iowa State colleagues after he was at Tuskegee: The majority of correspondence is to Carver’s mentor, Dr. Louis Pammel, on a variety of scientific topics.

Only a portion of the George Washington Carver collection housed in the Special Collections Department is represented in the digital collection. The finding aid for the complete list of Carver materials available through Special Collections can be found here:

Iowa State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences will be hosting a George Washington Carver Life and Legacy Symposium on April 23, 2014 which will focus on encouraging future “George Washington Carver” students at Iowa State. The Special Collections Department will be participating in the Symposium, creating a booth which will highlight a selection of the diverse students who followed in Carver’s footsteps here at Iowa State. For more information about the Symposium, see

Call for Applications: Summer Digitization Project Internship – Silos & Smokestacks Agricultural Heritage Intern

Through a generous grant from the Silos & Smokestacks Agricultural Heritage Internship Grant Program, the Special Collections and Preservation Departments of the Iowa State University Library are offering a summer internship. The Silos & Smokestacks Agricultural Heritage Internship is a full-time, 10-week project position to develop a digital collection on Iowa State’s early Extension movement and create content for an interpretive website.  We will be accepting applications through Friday, April 18th.  For more information, please visit our website:

CyPix: Spring Fashions

March is here, and so are spring clothing lines!

As Apparel, Merchandising, and Design majors get ready for The Fashion Show next month, let’s take a look at an earlier ISU fashion moment.

Three women students ca. 1940 work in a Textiles and Clothing classroom decorated by bulletin boards showing current fashions. Two are working with a striped fabric and a small manequin or dress form: one is draping and the other appears to be cutting. The third is working with a pencil on a small drawing board.

Three women students work in a Textiles and Clothing classroom circa 1940. RS 12/10.

Here are three students in a 1940s Textiles and Clothing classroom working on a dress design. Two students drape and cut fabric on a small mannequin, while a third works at a drawing board.

Textiles and Clothing has a long history at ISU. Sewing classes were first introduced in 1879 as part of the Domestic Economy curriculum. In 1924, the Department of Textiles and Clothing was established. In 2001, the department was combined with the departments of Family and Consumer Science Education and Studies, and Hotel, Restaurant and Institution Management to form the Department of Apparel, Education Studies, and Hospitality Management. The Fashion Show grew out of the annual style show presented by the Textiles and Clothing Club during VEISHEA.

We have a number of resources for the (historical) fashionista! More photographs of Textiles and Clothing students can be found in the photo set on our Flickr page. We have many collections related to the Department of Textiles and Clothing (RS 12/10) in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences. Also, check out the finding aid for the Textiles and Clothing Fashion Show Records (RS 29/2/4). And be sure to take a look at the fascinating Fashion Plates Digital Collection.

Women’s History Month: Mary Newbury Adams letters

In celebration of Women’s History Month, today we’re highlighting a newly digitized collection of correspondence: a selection of Mary Newbury Adams letters from the Adams Family Papers found on our Digital Collections website.

Portrait of Mary Newbury Adams

Mary Newbury Adams.

Mary Newbury Adams was born in Peru, Indiana, in 1837 to Samuel and Mary Ann (Sergeant) Newbury. Her father strongly believed that both men and women should be educated, and so she attended Mrs. Willard’s Female Seminary in Troy, New York, where she graduated in 1857. A few months later, she married Austin Adams, a young lawyer who had graduated from Dartmouth College and Harvard. They moved to Dubuque, Iowa, where he eventually became a judge and was later elected to the Iowa Supreme Court and became chief justice there. The Adams had four children, Annabel (b. 1858), Eugene (b. 1861), Herbert (b. 1863), and Cecilia (b. 1865).

In an early letter, dated February 21, 1857, Mary writes from school to her fiancé Austin (“My dear one”). She suggests that his cousin might come to call on her while she is spending a Sunday with her aunt in Lansingburgh, New York, the following month. “I should be happy to see him,” she writes, adding with maidenly modesty that disappears in later letters, “although I should feel rather embarrassed I fear.”

Mary Newbury Adams was an avid student of science, history, philosophy, and poetry. In a letter to her sister Frances, she explains that she has been studying earlier that day about the formation of minerals. “I have little time to go to the library now,” she writes, “but I manage to keep one or two subjects on hand to think about – just to hang my thoughts on.” She adds, “I never was so driven in household matters” (November 9, 1869).

She established the Conversational Club of Dubuque in 1868 to promote access to education and ideas among women. Club meetings were held in the homes of members, and the topics discussed included education, local progress, political science and economy, mental and moral philosophy, the fine arts, political revolutions, belles lettres, ecclesiastical history, natural philosophy, and physical sciences.

Reflecting on the importance of the clubs to women’s lives, she writes to her sister, “Our literary clubs are getting along finely and their beneficial effects are already evident in society. When women have clubs for study then they will not be driven for amusement to make society a business. Any amusement made an occupation becomes dissipation. All dissipation ends in disease. No wonder our American women are so weak” (Letter to Frances Newbury Bagley, March 18, 1869).

In another letter, however, she attributes women’s weakness to a very different cause: the stress that comes from a very active life. Many women today can relate to Mary’s frustrations!

“I am not very well and then am driven by outside work – our literary club’s preparation for the opening of the Institute of Sciences and Arts. One doesn’t want to go and examine minerals when they know nothing of them[,] nor rocks when one can’t tell the difference between stratified and igneous rocks. Then the papers pile in and one keeps reading and taking notes & making scrapbooks so not to lose it before it is gone[.] Then the sewing, calls, church and one’s own body to care for. It’s no wonder American women are weak. They try to live ten lives in one and vote besides.” (Letter to Frances Newbury Bagley, April 26, 1868)

In 1866, Mrs. Adams became interested in women’s suffrage and did much to promote it through writing and speaking. She was a member of the Association for Advancement of Women, the American Historical Association, vice chairperson of Women’s Branch of the World’s Congress Auxiliary of the Colombian Exposition, and numerous literary societies. She was a founding member of the Northern Iowa Woman Suffrage Association.

Mary Newbury Adams, surrounded by seven grandchildren.

Mary Newbury Adams with grandchildren, circa 1898. Caption reads: [top row] Emily Goan, Adelaide Goan, Olive Adams, [bottom row] Percival Goan, Adele Adams (on lap), Harlow Adams.

She wrote a letter home to her children on October 27, 1898, from the National Council of Women meeting in Omaha, Nebraska, describing her busy schedule, meeting with many people, old friends and new. She writes of her “level headed practical friend by my side Maria P. Peck.” Peck was another prominent Iowa woman from Davenport and founder of the Davenport Women’s Club (see entry: “PECK, Maria Purdy,” Woman’s Who’s Who of America: A Biographical Dictionary of Contemporary Women of the United States and Canada, 1914-1915. ed. by John William Leonard. New York, NY: American Commonwealth Company, 1914. pp. 633).

The Mary Adams letters give a peek into the day-to-day concerns of a prominent Iowa suffragist and intellectual during her most active period. Be sure to take a look at the letters in Digital Collections. You can also come in to Special Collections and take a look at the entire Adams Family Papers, MS-10. To see what is included in this collection, take a look at the finding aid.

And to find other important women you can research in Special Collections, check out our Women’s Collections subject guide.

We always look forward to seeing you in Special Collections–online or in person!

Skating on Lake LaVerne

The days are getting colder, and if you have walked past Lake LaVerne lately, you may have noticed ice beginning to form on it.

Here is an early picture of ISU students playing a game of hockey on Lake LaVerne:

Students playing hockey on Lake LaVerne

Students playing hockey on Lake LaVerne.

The creation of Lake LaVerne was funded by LaVerne Noyes, an 1872 graduate of ISU who made a modest fortune as a businessman, manufacturer, and inventor of farm machinery. He wished to beautify the campus of his alma mater and hired the landscape gardener O.C. Simmonds. Lake LaVerne, as it came to be called, was created between 1914 and 1915. You can find out more from the LaVerne and Ida Noyes Collection, RS 21/7/235, Special Collections Department, Iowa State University Library. A finding aid is available online.

Don’t try skating on Lake LaVerne today! The lake no longer freezes over in winter because aerators are used to keep the water open through the winter months for ISU’s beloved pair of swans, Lancelot and Elaine. If you want to glide across some ice, try heading to the Ames/ISU Ice Arena instead. 

Swans on Lake LaVerne during VEISHEA.

Swans on Lake LaVerne during VEISHEA, 1936.

Check out these photos and others of Lake LaVerne on our Flickr site.

Russian World War I Soldier’s Memoirs and Photographs Available in the Special Collections Department


Russian World War I soldiers in the battlefield and trenches (photographs from Box 15, Scrapbook 2; image number 36 in the online digital copy).

Next summer marks the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, the first war fought on a large, global scale. A recent addition to the University Archives included a number of materials from a soldier who had fought in World War I.  The grandfather of former ISU Executive Vice President and Provost Dr. Elizabeth “Betsy” Hoffman, Andrew Kalpaschnikoff, fought in the Russian Army during this time. His accounts of the Great War and other experiences are held in the Special Collections Department and are ready for research!

Andrew Kalpaschnikoff grew up in Imperial Russia’s upper class, was employed by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs as Ambassador to the United States, and later joined the Russian Army during World War I. While in service, he was named Director of the Russian Red Cross, which explains the many Red Cross-related photographs within his materials. After the Bolshevik Revolution, Kalpaschnikoff was arrested and imprisoned by the Communists, escaped, and returned to the United States. Afterward, he wrote a book entitled A Prisoner of Trotsky’s (1920), a later copy of which can be found in the Special Collections (call number DK265.7 K25 2009x).

Kalpaschnikoff’s materials are located within the Elizabeth Hoffman Papers, RS 13/1/26. The materials related to Kalpaschnikoff include photographs, photograph albums, and undated memoirs. In his memoirs, Kalpaschnikoff tells of his encounters with such notable figures as Czar Nicholas II and Leon Trotsky. The two photograph albums can be viewed online here and here. They are well worth a look! These photographs include images of battleground sites, wounded soldiers, and Red Cross stations. A further description of the series and the collection can be found online.


Russian Red Cross workers and a patient during World War I (photographs from Box 15, Scrapbook 1; image number 20 in the online digital copy).

Collections of other World War I materials can also be found in the Special Collections Department.  A subject guide for collections related to World War I is available online.

If you have questions regarding the collection, please contact the Special Collections Department, Iowa State University Library at 515-294-4216, or visit our website. We’d love to hear from you!

April Showers Bring May Flowers: Seed Catalogs for a Rainy Spring!

Iowa Seed Company-1913_cover

With the slow onset of spring this year, many are probably getting anxious to be able to get out into their gardens.  Most have hopefully already ordered their seeds…so what can one do while waiting through the next week of rain?  Or perhaps you are looking for some interesting historical resources to use as you finish up your projects at the end of the semester.  The Digital Collections site has a selection of our materials available, including a number of our seed catalogs.

The Seed Catalogs Digital Collection contains digitized copies of a variety of seed catalogs from the latter part of the 19th and early part of the 20th century.  Companies include C. W. Dorr, Iowa Seed Company, and Page and Kelsey.  The catalogs can be quite fun to look through, in addition to being a wonderful study on the varieties of seeds available at that time and the different ways companies promoted and described their seeds.  Catalogs include seeds and bulbs for flowers, trees, herbs, ornamental shrubs, vegetables, grains, grasses, and fruit.  In addition, the catalogs often also include gardening tools and implements.

Most of the seed catalogs are from the Iowa Seed Company.  What did the Iowa Seed Company’s catalog look like one hundred years ago, in 1913?

Curious about the types of corn they might have sold for a later season like the one we are having now? (page 48):

Iowa Seed Company-1913_corn

Or the “curious vegetables”, such as eggplant, sesame, ornamental mice, cotton and Egyptian lentils (page 16):

Iowa Seed Company-1913_curious vegetables

And, if one would like birds for their garden, the Iowa Seed Company has a variety to choose from (page 146):

Iowa Seed Company-1913_birds

Have any of these pages sparked your interested?  Interested in the flowers, grains, and other seeds available through these early seed catalogs?  If you would like, take a look at more seed catalogs available from Digital Collections, or visit our department to look at the originals.  We have other seed catalogs which can be find from the library’s webpage.  In addition, we have several related manuscript collections such as the Iowa Seed and Nursery Pamphlets Collection (MS 393), and a wide variety of publications and archival collections related to agriculture.

Battle of Pea Ridge: The Battle from an Iowan’s Perspective

For almost a year now, events marking the sesquicentennial of the Civil War (which began on April 12, 1861 with the Battle of Fort Sumter) have taken place.  Today marks the 150th anniversary of the pivotal Battle of Pea Ridge (also known as Elkhorn Tavern), which took place in northwest Arkansas on March 7 and 8 and decided the fate of the West during the beginning of the Civil War.  The Union won the battle on March 8, when General Van Dorn and his army retreated. The Battle of Pea Ridge was the largest battle in the West, and the battlefield today is the most intact battlefield in the United States.

The Special Collections Department is lucky to have a detailed letter describing the battle from an Iowan’s perspective (the letter is located in the Van Zandt Family Papers).  William Vanzant wrote to Henry and Nancy, his brother and sister-in-law, on March 14th from Arkansas’ Sugar Creek Camp.  William, who had lived in Kossuth, Iowa, had volunteered for the Union Army on August 11, 1861 and fought with the First Iowa Battery.  In the letter describing the Battle of Pea Ridge, William mentions that the last he heard of the confederate General Sterling Price was that “…he was on the other side of the Boston Mountins 20 miles from hear making his way toward Fort Smith as fast as his men could make their legs carry them…”  William describes his own exciting experience, including a bullet which “…pass my side through my canteen but not tetching the flesh…”

Towards the end of the letter, William asks his brother and sister to write often, and to send as many newspapers as possible.  In this day of smartphones and online news, it is hard to imagine what life must have been like for many Civil War soldiers.  They were making history, while at the same time having little to no idea of what was going on in the rest of the country!

The collection contains an ambrotype of William Vanzant (MS 213, box 4, folder 46).  It can be quite startling to view the rather clear image of a Civil War soldier who spoke so vividly in his letters one hundred and fifty years ago, and who you know died only a few years after the photograph was taken.

The cover of William Vanzant’s ambrotype has an image of the United States flag.

Interested in reading more about William’s experience during the Battle of Pea Ridge?  The letter and a transcription are now available online.  Additional stories of other soldiers (including another Iowan) who fought in the Battle of Pea Ridge can be found on the National Park Service’s website.

The Van Zandt Family Papers contains additional letters and a diary by William Vanzant describing his experiences during the Civil War. File 1/67 covers General William T. Sherman’s attempt and subsequent retreat at Vicksburg, December 29, 1862-January 1, 1863 and the Battle of Arkansas Post.  Files 1/68 through 1/73 all concern the Vicksburg campaign and more can be found in William’s diaries.  William died of an unspecified disease in the hospital in St. Louis on February 12, 1864.  His brother Henry collected his body, and apparently his effects, for there are letters to William in the collection also, from friends in Agency and Kossuth, as well as his colleagues in the First Iowa Battery.

More on the Civil War sesquicentennial can be found on many sites, including The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. Iowa State’s Digital Collections has made a selection of our Civil War diaries, also written by Iowans, available online.  A blog posting by our department about this Digital Collection can be found here, and a blog posting from the Preservation Department describing preservation work done on the Civil War diaries during the digitization project can be found here.  And, finally, a subject guide listing our Civil War related collections can be found here.

Civil War Diaries Now Online!

One hundred and fifty years ago this morning, April 12, 1861, the first shots of the Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter.  A year ago Iowa State’s Special Collections Department and Digital Initiatives were excited to announce the launching of our Digital Collections library.  A number of collections have been added since then, and in honor of the Civil War’s sesquicentennial commemoration this year, six of our Civil War diaries and reminiscences have been digitized and made available online.  The diaries can now be searched by keyword through CONTENTdm, and eventually transcripts and metadata will be added.

A news clipping from the L. Stone Hall Diary (MS 587) about James Irva Dungan and his capture and escape from the Confederates.

The diaries reveal a variety of experiences of Iowans who participated in the Civil War: Cyrus Bussey, L. Stone Hall, Charles Chapman, James Robertson, John Chambers, and Celestia Barker.  Cyrus Bussey details his experiences as an officer with the Iowa Cavalry, his involvement in the Battles of Pea Ridge and Vicksburg, and the occupation of Helena, Arkansas.  Bussey’s reminiscence begins with a description of how the Civil War was brought very close to Iowans early on in the conflict:  “In July 1861, the rebels under Martin Green and Harris were organizing in North East Missouri.  Union men were driven out and much alarm felt by the citizens of the Southern border counties of Iowa.”  L. Stone Hall, who served in the Iowa infantry, spent most of the Civil War in the far south, and was a Confederate prisoner at Shreveport, Louisiana.  Charles Chapman’s diary contains brief notes concerning daily life as a private.  His regiment took part in the Battle of Prairie Grove, Arkansas, and the siege of Vicksburg.  James Robertson was taken prisoner at the Battle of Shiloh and hospitalized in Nashville, Tennessee’s University Hospital.  John Chambers was stationed in Tennessee, Louisiana and Mississippi.  Chambers also took part in the siege of Vicksburg.

Cover page from the John Chambers diary (MS 159).

In addition to the soldiers’ diaries described, we also have a diary from the Iowa home front.  Celestia Barker’s husband served in the Civil War.  Barker describes her work on her family’s farm, social activities, attendance at church meetings, and visits to family throughout central Iowa.  Included throughout are reminders of the Civil War.  For instance, Barker describes (page 10) a time when she was baking with a friend, and her friend was “in the bread up to her elbows.  I had to laugh at a remark she made about killing chickens.  She said she hated to kill them and then she would think of our soldiers being killed so unmerciful and then she would be more courageous because the rebels kill the soldiers she spits her spite on the chickens.”  The diary primarily contains descriptions of daily life, but is interspersed with descriptions like this which show that that the Civil War was still on the minds of Iowans as they lived their life in Iowa far from the fighting.

Celestia Barker's journal (MS 246).

These online diaries and reminiscences now allow more people to read perspectives of Iowans who fought in and lived during the Civil War.  At the end of his reminiscence, Stone says “As you read please correct what errors you see.  I have not patience to do it now, am tired of the thing.”  Hopefully his efforts did not go in vain, and can be even more appreciated with the wider audience now made possible with the narrative’s digitization, along with the stories of other Iowans who lived during the Civil War.  The Civil War diaries can be found from the Digital Collections homepage.

The digitized diaries and narratives are only a portion of Civil War related materials held in Special Collections.  Check out our Civil War Subject Guide to find out about our other collections.  In addition, if you would like to find out more about the digitized diaries and narratives described above, you can find links from this page of our online finding aids for the Civil War diaries.

Now Online: Video on Extension’s History

This week, March 21-26, Iowa State University Extension is celebrating Extension Week.  Check out their website for activities taking place on campus and throughout the state, such as here in Story County.

Perry Holden in the fields at Iowa State in 1905, one year before he was appointed first director of the Agricultural and Home Economics Extension Service

The Extension Service first began here at Iowa State, even before a national extension program was established.  As a land grant college, one of Iowa State’s founding principles was that higher education should be accessible to all.  In the 19th and early 20th century, the Extension Service grew out of early activities such as Iowa State’s short courses for farmers and Perry Holden’s corn train.  These were created from the need and desire to bring the ideas and research here at Iowa State out to the citizens of Iowa.

In 1906 the Iowa General Assembly appropriated funds to create a Department of Extension at Iowa State College.  The National Cooperative Extension Program was a result of the Smith-Lever Act (passed in 1914), which brought together the federal government, the states, and participating county governments as partners in a three-tiered organization to serve the nation’s farm population.

Holden presenting during one of his corn train classes in a train’s passenger car.  Holden’s short courses on corn were so popular that he decided to bring the course to farmers instead of having them flock to the Iowa State campus – and he did this on trains, nonetheless!

To learn more about the history of the Extension Service, take a look at a video we recently uploaded to our YouTube channel.  The video, Extension Heritage: Commemorating 50 Years of Extension Work in Iowa, was made in 1956 to celebrate Extension’s 50 year anniversary.  The video includes reminiscences of one of the founders of the Extension Service, Iowa State Professor Perry Holden.

Holden laid the groundwork for the Extension Service (first called the Agricultural and Home Economics Extension Service), and was appointed its first director in 1906.  In the video, Holden tells about giving 50 speeches in 3 days on his “corn train.”  Holden also reminisces about these courses with a reverend who was on one of the trains on which Holden spoke.  Among a variety of other topics, they discuss early extension work and past and future problems agriculture would face.

The video was made in a different documentary style than we may be used to now, but it contains interesting conversations and bits of history throughout:

We have a variety of collections here at Iowa State documenting the history of Extension, such as the Iowa State University Extension Service Records.  Other Extension related records and papers are listed here on our website.  The collections listed include our Perry G. Holden Papers.