Whether you enjoy camping or glamping, get outside and enjoy the warm the weather! Too hot outside? Then stop by Special Collections and University Archives – not only do we have air conditioning, but lots of interesting collections and photographs to explore!
I almost didn’t write this blog post. Instead, I was lost in the pages of Lucia St. John Cook’s journal, as she described her adventures traveling from Iowa to Arkansas in 1850 to teach school for five months. What was so fascinating about reading her journal? Perhaps it was her lively, intelligent, and opinionated way of writing (Sun. Went to meeting today, heard Mr. Banks preach from the text, Behold how great a matter a little fire kindleth. A good subject but not very well handled. I have not the most exalted opinion of that man. He is literally only Mrs. Banks’ husband. — Louise A. Carson and Lucia St. John Cook Papers, MS 314, Box 1, Folder 3, all quotations punctuated for readability) .
Or perhaps it was her very human, very relatable internal debate about whether to return home after completing her five months in the south and her reluctance to abandon her friend, committed there for a year (Three weeks has passed very quickly yet is seems as though it had been two months since I saw Louise. Bless her heart. I wish she were not obliged to stay here a year. We would then go north when my five months were expired. As it is I do not know what to do. I am very anxious to go north but I do not like to leave her. I wish I had someone to tell me what is right and best. –ibid.).
Certainly, her journal also gives a glimpse into the particularities of living in a specific time and place in history.
Born Lucia Williams in 1830, this interesting diarist grew up in Illinois, where she married Rufus St. John in 1848 at the age of 18. They moved to Ohio, but Rufus died only two years later, at which point Lucia moved to Farmington, Iowa. Soon after, she and her friend Louise Carson, also from Farmington, headed south for a teaching adventure.
Lucia St. John (as she was then known) began her diary from 1850 with the following, “Started from Farmington Sept 25, for the wilds of Arkansas, rather a sad parting for I could not tell when we should meet again, if ever.”
She and her friend were heading into antebellum South, and they encountered slaves along their journey. Her observations of the women she met at this juncture and the language she uses to describe her experience reveal a woman very rooted in her own time and class. They indicate her own privilege as a white woman and make use of common stereotypes from that time of African Americans as childish and simple:
Of all the places I ever saw the one where we staid last night was the worst. There is no white woman there, nothing but negroes and an overseer. The negroes looked as though it was quite a treat to see a woman and I have no doubt it was. They are certainly true daughters of Eve for their curiosity is unbounden [sic]. Their astonishment at finding we were travelling [sic] without a gentleman was really ludicrous and many were their conjectures as to who we were. One old negro woman came into our room lighted her pipe and set herself down comfortably upon the floor and commenced asking questions, a perfect stream of them, the answers to which were however not always satisfactory. It was really quite amusing. (MS 314, Box 1, Folder 2).
One night on their journey, they were not able to find a house to stay in, so they had to camp out. She declares it “something entirely new and not altogether unpleasant.” Later, she goes on,
I am writing by the light of the moon, setting all alone while the rest of our party are camped all around me. It is just about midnight and all are asleep or trying to be but myself. The moon not being quite full does not give the most brilliant light in the world to write by but it is on the whole decidedly romantic. This is quite an episode in our lives and will not easily be forgotten. I am only sorry on Louisa’s account as she cannot put up with such hardship as well as I can, her health not being as good. (ibid)
When they finally reached the end of their travels, St. John describes her first day of teaching school, on February 25, six months after leaving Farmington, Iowa: “Commenced my experience as teacher in Arkansas. Only seven scholars but probably shall have more soon. Wise ones prophesy that the school will not last a month. We shall see.” (ibid)
As she continued teaching, she discovered some differences between the North and the South:
How different the girls are educated in the south and in the north. Were I in the north I should not think of sweeping this schoolroom myself – the girls would do it, but here I should not think of asking them to do so for they would think I was going to make a servant of them. Surely it is true a northerner has no business in the south – the manners and customs of the people are so different that it is difficult to act and speak as you have been accustomed to without giving offence [sic]. I do not know but the freedom of manners with which I treat gentlemen sometimes shocks their sense of delicacy but I can’t help this. Oh this is a strange world. (ibid)
She writes more on the subject of gentlemen, including this later passage when two preachers come to call. Here she refers to Mary, a woman with whom she shared a house:
A couple of preachers staid here last night. M[ary] and I took them to be old married men and talked as gravely to them as could be but one of them took the trouble to tell Mary before he left that he was not yet married but wanted to be and that he was going to quit preaching and settle down on a farm. Pretty well. Molly, you won’t hear the last of that preacher soon. (MS 314, Box 1, Folder 3)
Can you see now why I had trouble pulling myself away long enough to write?
For more from Lucia St. John Cook, see the Louise A. Carson and Lucia St. John Cook Papers, MS 314. For other collections related to rural Iowa women see our collection guide for women.
In honor of National Dairy Month, above is a photo of students being trained for dairy products judging for a contest in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in October, 1948. Here, some students and their professor are testing cheese products (something I wouldn’t mind doing). Want to know more about dairy production in Iowa and at Iowa State University? Stop by and have a look at the Iowa State Dairy Association Records (MS 65), the Department of Food Technology Laboratory Manuals (RS 9/13/0/5), and the Earl Gullette Hammond Papers (RS 9/13/17). We hope to see you soon!
Everything out of doors is fascinating, inspiring, uplifting. It has been so to me since earliest boyhood. I roamed the fields and woods, watching, wondering, and studying the things that were going on in the various realms of Nature. Everywhere there was life and action. The birds of the air, the squirrels in the tree tops – everything was moving. Even the ground seems to be moving under foot, the ants were carrying their burdens, the tumble bugs were busy rolling their huge balls and each were bound for some destination.
– “Nature Speaks” undated essay by Walter Rosene, Sr. (MS 589, box 13, folder 7)
If you are looking for an interesting museum in Iowa, here is a handy Iowa museum locator, created by the Iowa Museum Association.
More information on ISU’s University Museums can be found in the University Archives, Records Series 5/8.
June is LGBT Pride Month. What better time to highlight LGBT-related materials in our collections? Iowa State University strives to provide an inclusive environment on campus, but it hasn’t always been easy. Homophobia was once rampant, not just on our campus, but everywhere. That’s not to say that it’s been eradicated, but overall there appears to be more acceptance today. In the face of the challenges LGBT individuals have faced, several student groups sprung up on campus in the 1970s. These included the Gay Liberation Front (later called the Gay Men’s Rap Group), the Lesbian Alliance, and the Gay People’s Liberation Alliance.
The first gay student group on campus was the Gay Liberation Front, established during the 1971-1972 academic year (it’s unclear if the ISU group was associated with the national GLF). The organization came together to start a gay liberation movement on campus and became publicly visible for the first time in December 1971, with a letter to the editor published in the Iowa State Daily in protest of the play “Boys in the Band,” which was being performed on campus. The letter complained of the production’s “outwardly homophobic attitudes toward the gay lifestyle.” (“30 Years Is Just the Beginning,” Iowa State Daily, April 1, 2002; RS 22/4/0/1, Box 1, Folder 34). Several response letters critical of the initial letter were sent and published. The following year, the group changed its name to the Gay Men’s Rap Group, a name with less of a political connotation. Membership increased drastically from the first year to the next, with around 25 people at the first meeting that second year. A founding member of the Gay Liberation Front, Dennis Brumm, wrote a history of the gay liberation movement at Iowa State on his website, a copy of which we have printed off from 2001 (note: the version in the link above is a bit different than the version in our archive).
LGBT student organizations existing today on campus can be found on the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Student Services (LGBTSS) website, along with resources for LGBT individuals and allies. For more information on the history of LGBT organizations on campus, stop by and see the Iowa State University, Student Organizations, Political and Social Action Organizations Records, RS 22/4/0/1. We’d love to see you!
The library’s contribution to the 1928 VEISHEA was the house made of books that you see above. The sign over the door reads “This is the House That Books Built.” June is Freshman Orientation month at Iowa State and here in the library we are preparing to welcome students and their families by showing them a bit of what we do to support their time at the University. This VEISHEA construction was the 1920s librarian’s way of showing the wealth of knowledge available at the campus library.
We don’t advocate the use of books as building blocks in displays, but we do appreciate the sentiment. As an archivist, I would say “These are the books that archives built” – underscoring that books and publications rely on archives as their foundation – drawing from the observations, evidences, and human experiences found in records, manuscripts, photographs, and other archival materials.
As we welcome visitors over the next month, we encourage you to avail yourself of the wealth of books, databases, manuscripts, records, media, photographs, spaces, technology, and people eager to assist you in both Special Collections and elsewhere in the library.
Yesterday was Memorial Day in the United States, a federal holiday to remember those that died while serving in the armed forces. It also marks the unofficial beginning of summer, when many celebrate with backyard barbecues. While your celebration may not have looked quite like the photograph below of a 4-H exhibit, I’m sure you will sympathize with the quest to find more time to enjoy your backyard, if you have one–or maybe a park or nature preserve if you don’t.
Wishing everyone living in the northern hemisphere a warm and happy summer!
To see more 4-H photographs, check out our Flickr album, or stop by Special Collections and University Archives and ask for photographs from RS 16/1 and 16/3.
“Before her yet lay her most hazardous journey, to undertake which required the cool, calculating bravery of a heart not insensible to fear, but inspired by that sublime determination which risks danger when duty calls…. Along the high approaches of open timber work, and over the body of the river, thirty feet above its roaring current, she must make her way, stepping from tie to tie. A single misstep would be fatal, and to add to the horror of her terrible venture, just as she reached the bridge her flickering light went out, leaving her in total darkness. Providence must have guided the footsteps of that intrepid girl, for she made her way over in safety.” (Kate Shelley Papers, MS 684, Special Collections Department, Iowa State University Library, Box 1, Folder 14)
Thus did an 1881 newspaper capture the hazards eighteen-year-old Kate Shelley faced as she crossed the Des Moines River on a trestle bridge to warn the Moingona, Iowa, depot of a washed-out bridge further down the tracks.
If you grew up in Iowa, you probably heard the story of railroad heroine Kate Shelley in elementary school. I did not grow up here, so I was excited to hear this nineteenth century teenager’s story and learn that we have her papers here in Special Collections (MS 684).
It was the night of July 6, 1881. A strong storm was blowing through central Iowa where Shelley lived on her family’s farm on Honey Creek near Moingona in Boone County. Heavy flooding of the creek had weakened the railroad bridge crossing it near the homestead. A pusher engine, used to push trains up steep inclines, had been sent to check the tracks for damage. While crossing Honey Creek, the bridge collapsed, sending the engine and its four-man crew plunging into the creek. Two men died, and two men were left stranded in the creek.
Shelley was at home when she and her mother heard the collapse of the bridge and the men’s cries for help. A regular express train, she knew, was scheduled to come through later that night, passing through Moingona, then over the Des Moines River and on to the collapsed bridge over Honey Creek. Against her mother’s protests, she decided she had to get to Moingona to warn the station. She first made her way down to the collapsed bridge and called down to one of the crewmembers, saying that she would get help. She then followed the train tracks to the Des Moines River bridge.
After the harrowing crossing, she did successfully reach the depot and gave the warning of the collapsed bridge. A rescue party was sent out to save the two men in the creek, Shelley once again leading the way to find a safe crossing to reach the men.
Stirring accounts of Shelley’s heroic deed, such as the one quoted from above, were printed in newspapers across the country, and she became a household name. She received many letters from admirers, especially from other young women, requesting photographs, information, and correspondence from this suddenly famous teenager.
One such writer, a J. M. Noble, writes in a letter dated “October 10, ’81” from Tupper’s Plains, Ohio, “Dear Madam:- It is with timidity that I request of you the pleasure and honor of your correspondence. I enjoy the society of a lady far more than that of a gentleman, and deeming you to be a lady of more than ordinary endowments I should feel proud to consider you as one of my lady friends.” Later in the letter, she provides references, in case Shelley is in doubt of her potential correspondent’s reputation: “In regard to my character, you can address Mr., or Mrs. M. Bowers the teachers at the Plain’s Seminary, or a young lady (whose name I will give if you desire) whom I have been intimately acquainted with for about two years, she will be married soon and is going to Kansas but she can give you more information, perhaps, that any one else, concerning my standing in society.”
The Burlington, Cedar Rapids & Northern Railway Company was, of course, indebted to Shelley for the deed, for which they presented her with a watch and chain. Our collection includes this letter from E. O. Soule, Train Master in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
He writes, “The enclosed ‘watch & chain’ you will please accept on behalf of ‘Valley City Division, NE 318, of the ‘Order of Railway Conductors’ as a sleight [sic] testimonial of our appreciation of your brave and noble deed of July 6th, and I wish to assure you that the name of ‘Miss Kate Shelley’ and the remembrance of her bravery will ever be cherished in the memory of every member of ‘Div. 318.'”
In 1901, the bridge that Shelley crossed was replaced by a new iron bridge, named the Kate Shelley High Bridge. Here is a picture below.
The Boone County Historical Society runs the Kate Shelley Memorial Park and Railroad Museum, marking the site of the original Moingona depot.
ISU Special Collections has several collections about Iowa railroads. Stop by to check out these great collections:
- Iowa Train Photograph Collection, MS 604
- Albert Parks Butts Reminiscences, MS 185
- Iowa Central Railway Company Timetable, Ms 245
- Guyon Whitley Papers, MS 148
- Herbert Gilkey Airline, Busline and Railroad Schedule Collection, MS 217
- Railroad Blueprints, MS 571