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

Iowa State University Library #TBT @ISU_Library

Today a group of library staff, including University Archivist, Brad Kuennen, and myself, took a tour for library staff given by library staff member Mark Forbis (pictured below).

Mark Forbis at the beginning of our library tour

Mark Forbis at the beginning of our library tour

The tour focused on the original library building and the purposes for which rooms were originally designed, as well as their subsequent uses. Some interesting spaces that no longer exist or are used for different purposes include: a janitor’s apartment in the basement of the library, currently used for storage; a basement-level loading dock in what is now the front of the library; and Bookends Cafe occupies space that used to be a ladies’ lounge!

Mark also talked about where the different library additions met the original building. Photographs, floor plans, and information culled from The Library at Iowa State helped tell the story. Mark and some other library staff attending the tour were also able to fill in some blanks.

The photographs below show the different views of the library from 1925 through 1999. These photographs can be found online in the University Library’s Digital Collections in University Photographs. You can also drop by the reading room to see more photographs of the library and other historical ISU pictures. We’re open from 10-4!

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The Dinkey’s 4th of July debut #Flashback Friday @IowaStateU

The Ames & College Railway, better known as “the Dinkey,” made its first run between Ames and the ISU campus on July 4, 1891.

Ames & College Railway Dinkey circa 1900s

Undated photograph of the Dinkey (University Photographs box 233)

To learn more about the history of the Dinkey drop by the archives! We’re open Monday-Friday from 10-4. Except for this upcoming Monday — we’ll be closed for the 4th of July!

In honor of #NationalPollinatorWeek @ReimanGardensIA @ISUExtension

It is National Pollinator Week, and several groups at ISU are partnering with Reiman Gardens to celebrate Pollinator Fest tomorrow, June 25.

hummingbird and feeder

Hummingbirds are pollinators too! This ruby-throated hummingbird picture is from the Iowa Ornithologists Union Records (MS 166), box 12, folder 23.

More than a hundred years ago, Iowa State College Agricultural Extension recognized the importance of bees as pollinators. If more Iowans kept bees, they suggested, “the presence of such large numbers of bees would result in the better cross pollenization [sic] and fertilization of blossoms, which would indirectly add very much more in the production of fruits and seeds of various kinds” (Bee Keeping in Iowa, Extension Bulletin no. 11, March 1913, Bee Keeping Extension Publications, RS 16/3/0/17).

"Bee Keeping in Iowa," Extension Bulletin no. 11, March 1913. From Bee Keeping Extension Publications, RS 16/3/0/17.

“Bee Keeping in Iowa,” Extension Bulletin no. 11, March 1913. From Bee Keeping Extension Publications, RS 16/3/0/17.

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.

Out milking the cows #TBT #DairyMonth @iastate_cals

Dairy science students at ISU have been getting practical experience working with dairy cattle throughout the history of the program.

Here is a picture of students at the Iowa State Dairy around 1905-6:

Nine male students and 3 men in period clothing standing or sitting holding rakes, brooms, or milking pails.

Iowa State Dairy students, circa 1905-6. University Photograph Collection, box 639.

Students were involved in everything from herd development, to milking, to feeding trials.

Student milking a cow at Iowa State Dairy Farm, undated.

Student milking a cow at Iowa State Dairy Farm, undated. University Photograph Collection box 620.

The image below shows two students, George Gast of Osage and John Cavitt of Des Moines, that started a herd for the Iowa State College dairy farm in the 1940s.

Two men stand next to 4 cows inside dairy barn.

University Photograph Collection, box 639. Circa 1940s.

According to the caption on the back of the photograph, “The men, taking part in the class in Farm Operations, had to do the planning, investigation and buying of the herd to the satisfaction of the rest of the class. The actual operation of the dairy herd, soon to get underway will provide a project for still other members of the class.”

Stop by to check out more photos of Dairy Science students at Special Collections and University Archives!

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.

Notable Women of ISU: Catherine MacKay @IowaStateU

For this installment of Notable Women of ISU, we’re going to highlight Catherine (also spelled “Catharine”) MacKay. Born in Canada in 1871, MacKay eventually became the first dean of the Division of Home Economics at Iowa State College (University).

Portrait of MacKay, featured in a 1951 article in The Iowa Homemaker. RS 12/1/11, Box 1, Folder 6

Portrait of MacKay, featured in a 1951 article in The Iowa Homemaker. RS 12/1/11, Box 1, Folder 6

At the young age of 16, MacKay took over the maternal role in her large family after her mother died, leaving education behind. Eventually she returned to school and received her Master’s degree from Drexel Institute in Boston in 1905. She also attended the Boston Cooking School as well as Teacher’s College, Columbia University.

MacKay joined Iowa State in 1911, at which time she worked as an assistant to Domestic Science department head Virgilia Purmort. The following year, MacKay took over as head of the department and was named dean when it became the Division of Home Economics in 1913. During her tenure at Iowa State, the Division for Home Economics saw a significant increase in student enrollment, as well as an increase in faculty and staff. MacKay also initiated the use of “practice houses,” which you can read about in this blog post.

Home Economics faculty (MacKay is third from left), 1912. University Photographs, RS 12/1/D, Box 908

Home Economics faculty (MacKay is third from left), 1912. University Photographs, RS 12/1/D, Box 908

Over the course of her career, MacKay was involved in a number of other things. She served as a consultant for the New Housekeeping department of the Ladies’ Home Journal, was a member of the Iowa Equal Suffrage Association, served as president of the American Home Economics Association, and worked with the United States Food and Drug Administration, to name a few. She was awarded an honorary Master’s degree in 1917 by the Drexel Institute.

Portrait of MacKay from the 1917 Bomb. RS 12/1/11, Box 1, Folder 9

Portrait of MacKay from the 1917 Bomb. RS 12/1/11, Box 1, Folder 9

Dean MacKay died at her brother’s home in Winnipeg, Canada, in 1921 after a long illness. She was greatly missed by the Division of Home Economics, as evidenced by this passage in an August 23, 1921, article from an Ames newspaper (possibly the Student [now the Iowa State Daily], but it’s not labeled):

“Home Economics at Iowa State without Miss MacKay will seem much like the play of Hamlet with Hamlet left out. She was the heart and soul of the division for so long that she came to personify it. It stood for her and she stood for it.” (RS 12/1/11, box 1, folder 9)

With words like that, it’s no wonder the Home Economics building was later named after her.

For more information, come in and see the Catherine J. MacKay Papers. As always, we look forward to seeing you!