LGBT+ History Month: “Activist Archivists / Archivistas Activistas” by Research Assistant Luis Gonzalez-Diaz

As I mentioned in a previous post, this year, two talented upperclassmen have joined SCUA through the Undergraduate Research Assistantship (URA) program to help us uncover some of the “hidden histories” of ISU through research into underrepresented communities in the university’s past. They are working on digital exhibits that will serve as a resource for future scholars, and both URA students will be writing blog posts throughout the school year to update you on their discoveries. Today, it is my pleasure to introduce the work of Luis Gonzalez-Diaz, who has chosen to research the history of LGBTQIA+ communities at ISU.

-Rachael Acheson
Assistant University Archivist


Activist Archivists / Archivistas Activistas

The LGBT+ community since its beginning, has certainly faced its struggles in terms of finding visibility in society. A lot of the history from the community has been erased due to the historical oppression of its members. Nonetheless, some of the history is preserved in archives around the world. The word archivist according to the Oxford English Dictionary means “a person who maintains and is in charge of archives” (“Archivist”), but it is so much more complex than that. An archivist is in a unique position to correct the wrongdoings that society has done in the past. An activist according to the Oxford English Dictionary is defined as “a person who campaigns to bring about political or social change” (“Activist”), and exactly this, is what an archivist can be.

La comunidad LGBT+ desde sus comienzos, ha sin duda enfrentado sus luchas en el sentido de encontrar visibilidad en la sociedad. Mucha de la historia de la comunidad ha sido borrada, debido a la opresión histórica de sus miembros. No obstante, alguna de la historia es preservada en archivos alrededor del mundo. La palabra archivista se define como “una persona que mantiene y preserva los archivos” (“Archivist”); pero es mucho más compleja de lo que aparenta. Un archivista está en una posición única en donde existe la posibilidad de corregir las malas acciones del pasado. Un activista es “una persona que promueve el cambio político y social” (“Activist”); y exactamente esto, es lo que un archivista puede ser.

Archivist as Activists” is a term quoted from “Archivist as Activist: Lessons from Three Queer Community Archives in California”, written by Diana Wakimoto, Christine Bruce, and Helen Patridge. In the article, they talk about how by being an activist, archivists are able to preserve the history of marginalized communities, and be able to ensure representation in their collections.

Archivista como Activista es un término citado de “Archivista como Activista: Lecciones de Tres Archivos Queer de la Comunidad en California”; escrito por Diana Wakimoto, Christine Bruce, and Helen Patridge. En el artículo, hablan de cómo ser un activista, puede ayudar a los archivistas en el proceso de la preservación de materiales de comunidades marginalizadas. Esto puede ayudar a garantizar la representación equitativa en los archivos. Picture of the One Archives, one of the three California Community Archives stated in the article, from their website. / Foto del Archivo “One”, uno de los tres archivos mencionados. Extraida de su sitio web Picture of the One Archives, one of the three California Community Archives stated in the article, from their website. / Foto del Archivo “One”, uno de los tres archivos mencionados. Extraida de su sitio web

Furthermore, people constantly ask why collecting LGBT+ material is so important. Well, it is very important to collect these materials because there is a need for them. LGBT+ people have and always been a part of history, and leaving them out from the discourse would simply be wrong. By being an activist for the community, archivists can ensure that everybody is present when preserving and maintaining history.

Además, muchas personas se cuestionan por qué la preservación de materiales LGBT+ importa. Pues, es muy importante porque hay una necesidad de recolectar estos materiales. La comunidad LGBT+ siempre ha sido parte de la historia y dejarlos fuera del discurso, sería un acto atroz. Siendo un activista para la comunidad, los archivistas pueden asegurar que todo el mundo está presente en la preservación de la historia.

Here at SCUA, we are collecting and preserving Iowa State University LGBT+ history by being activists and making sure that the community is being represented within our archives. One of our earliest accounts of LGBT+ student life dates back to 1971, regarding a student organization called the Gay Liberation Front [RS 22/4/0/1, Box 1]. The Gay Liberation Front wrote a letter to the ISU Daily, where they expressed their feelings toward the discrimination of gay people in the 70’s. They specifically said “We, members of Iowa State University’s gay community, feel that we can no longer tolerate the overt and covert discrimination against homosexuals on this campus”.

Aquí en “SCUA”, estamos colectando y preservando la historia de la comunidad LGBT+ en Iowa State University. Lo estamos logrando siendo activistas y asegurándonos que haya representación en nuestros archivos. Uno de nuestros archivos más tempranos, es de 1971 y es relevante a un grupo llamado el “Gay Liberation Front” [RS 22/4/0/1, Caja 1]. El “Gay Liberation Front” escribió una carta al periódico local, el “ISU Daily”, donde expresaron sus sentimientos sobre la discriminación de personas de la comunidad LGBT+ en los años 70. Específicamente dijeron “Nosotros, los miembros de la comunidad gay de la Universidad, sentimos que no podemos tolerar el discrimen rampante contra los homosexuales en esta Universidad”.

ISU Daily Article, RS 22/4/0/1, Box 1. / Articulo del ISU Daily, Rs 22/4/0/1. Caja 1.

ISU Daily Article, RS 22/4/0/1, Box 1. / Articulo del ISU Daily, Rs 22/4/0/1. Caja 1.

The outrage nonetheless, was caused by a theater play that Iowa State brought to campus titled “Boys in the Band”; a famously known LGBT+ related play. The Gay Liberation Front then said that “By allowing the presentation of the play The Boys in the Band, Iowa State University has, in effect, said that its students are prepared to tackle the question of homosexuality”.

La furia, no obstante, fue causada por una obra teatral que Iowa State University trajo a la universidad, titulada “Boys in the Band”. Esta obra es notablemente LGBT+ y por esto el “Gay Liberation Front” expresó que “Si dejan presentar la obra, están diciendo que la Universidad y por ende su estudiantado están preparados para hablar sobre temas LGBT+”.


Boys in the Band Photos, RS 13/23/3, Box 17. / Fotos de “Boys in the Band”, RS 13/23/3, Caja 17

Boys in the Band Photos, RS 13/23/3, Box 17. / Fotos de “Boys in the Band”, RS 13/23/3, Caja 17.

Boys in the Band Photos, RS 13/23/3, Box 17. / Fotos de “Boys in the Band”, RS 13/23/3, Caja 17.

This article is one of the earliest accounts of LGBT+ life on the Iowa State Campus. While we do have some materials regarding the LGBT+ community and, there is a need for more materials. If you were an Iowa State University student and have any materials that pertain to the community, we would invite you to contact us, to discuss the benefits of preserving your history here on campus.

Este artículo es uno de los recuentos más tempranos de la vida estudiantil LGBT+ en Iowa State University. A pesar de que tenemos algunos materiales sobre la comunidad LGBT+ en la Universidad, hay una necesidad de conseguir y preservar materiales. Si usted fue un estudiante de Iowa State University, le invitamos a que nos contacten, para discutir los beneficios de preservar su historia en la Universidad en nuestros archivos.

Meet the Author!

Luis is a Political Science and Sociology undergraduate student at Iowa State University. His goal is to one day obtain a PhD in Sociology, do research, and teach at a university. At the university, Luis is a NCORE-ISCORE Scholar, McNair Scholar, and Student Success Leader for the BOLD Learning Community in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Luis is one of the two undergraduate research assistants for the University Archives, researching the LGBT+ community at Iowa State, and SCUA has been very impressed with his work to date.


Luis Gonzalez-Diaz, SCUA Undergraduate Research Assistant 2018-2019

Luis Gonzalez-Diaz, SCUA Undergraduate Research Assistant 2018-2019

Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month: HASU of the 1980s

Did you know there used to be an Hispanic American Student Union (HASU) on campus? Did you know that the group (for, indeed, it was a student group, not a building) was around for at least a full decade? And that it hosted a high-profile, multi-day, annual symposium with funding from the Government of the Student Body (GSB) for at least seven years in a row? And that this symposium created a unique space for American students with Hispanic/Latinx heritage to celebrate and share their culture, create dialog around social issues, converse with prominent activists, and voice to their own experiences?

You didn’t? Don’t feel bad: neither did I.

Neither did any of the SCUA staff, in fact, until a few days ago. This is because scarcely a whisper of such a group exists in our archives. We have no collections of meeting minutes from HASU secretaries, no photographs, no write-ups in the yearbook (a staple in research on ISU student life). Virtually nothing.

So how did I find out about it?

Well, I stumbled by chance across an article, not in a campus publication, but in the public library’s digitized copies of the local Ames Tribune while trying to answer a reference question.

Text of an article from the Ames Tribune, entitled, "Symposium brings issues to campus" by Mark Smidt. Ames Tribune, March 14, 1985, page 20.

Article from the Ames Tribune, March 14, 1985, page 20

I think it was the detailed nature of the article that peaked my interest, the inclusion of the full schedule for the benefit of community members wishing to attend. How could something like this have slipped so completely under our radar? Especially when none of the archivists had even heard of HASU, and it did not appear in any of our indexes or subject guides.

With an exact date to go off of, the University Archivist managed to track down a recording of the lecture delivered by Arnaldo Torres. But this turned out to be less helpful than we’d hoped, as the lecture is recorded in an older tape format and has not yet been digitized. So my curiosity remained unsatisfied.

I am particularly interested in the past and present (aka “future history”!) of student organizations on campus, and I know that this kind of detective work — the business of hunting down ghosts — while frustrating, can also be really fun. So I decided I was going to learn something about this mystery organization. As a side note, I didn’t carry the investigation very far, as I was really only hunting for blog post stories. But I wanted to share some of my methodology in this post so that any of you readers who find yourselves interested in this, or similarly under-documented histories, can replicate the steps and make your own discoveries.

Since I found the group in a news article, I decided to move my search to newspapers. Fortunately, my first stop, the Iowa State Daily, produced results. One is not always so lucky.

Unfortunately, the Iowa State Daily back issues are not digitized or keyword searchable prior to the 1990s. This means, in order to find anything, you have to scroll through miles of microfilm. And the microfilm is not housed in SCUA (on the 4th floor of Parks), either. It’s housed in the Media Center which is located (yes, you guessed it) in the basement of Parks. Naturally.

For those of you who have never used a microfilm reader before, this should give you an idea.

Microfilm reader in the Parks Library Media Center.

Microfilm reader in the Parks Library Media Center.

Microfilm reader in the Parks Library Media Center.

Look at all the gears and gadgets!

Essentially, then, a microfilm reader is a cross between a giant sewing machine, a film projector, a microscope, and a really old, bulky desktop computer. If that sounds off-putting to you, don’t worry: the staff at the desk are all trained to help, and you get the hang of it pretty quickly.

The real draw-back to microfilm, though is that, while it’s easy to find articles by date, it’s less easy to search for them by subject matter. For a limited date-range, though, the archives does have a printed subject index for Iowa State Daily articles, and this helped me out a ton.

Iowa State Daily Index 1986-1987, Call #PARKS Spec Coll: Archives AI21 I8x.

Iowa State Daily Index 1986-1987, Call #PARKS Spec Coll: Archives AI21 I8x.

So, using the index, and then searching the dates it gave me on microfilm, I found a few articles pertaining either to HASU or to their annual Hispanic Symposium in Daily issues from 1985, 1987, and 1990. And because the first mention of the symposium billed it as the “fifth annual” event, I could tell right away that HASU had existed and been active from at least 1981-1990. As to whether it continued beyond that, who can say? However, if I had decided to continue my research beyond this point, the date range would have provided an important clue.

Anyway, here are some of the articles I found on HASU and their annual Hispanic Symposium. I hope you enjoy them, and I hope they inspire you to do your own archival research. You never know what you will find with a little persistence.

And please, if you are an alumnus, and you remember participating in HASU in the 1980s, do get in touch with me. We’ll do what we can to help you tell the story of your group more fully for the benefit of future researchers.

Advertisement for the "Fifth Annual Spring Hispanic Symposium," Iowa State Daily, March 21, 1985, page 14

Advertisement for the “Fifth Annual Spring Hispanic Symposium,” Iowa State Daily, March 21, 1985, page 14


“Past immigrants are today’s bigots,” Iowa State Daily, March 22, 1985, page 1


“Hispanic play takes on stereotypes” and “1987 Hispanic Symposium,” Iowa State Daily, February 20, 1987, page 15

Photograph of a political button reading, "I march for full suffrage June 7th. Will you?" From the SCUA Artifact Collection. Suffragists wore buttons like this for a variety of reasons. Many to get people to know that suffrage was on the ballot or to proudly show that they were a suffragist.

“Ghosts of the Suffrage Club” by Research Assistant Amanda Larsen

This year, two talented upperclassmen have joined SCUA through the Undergraduate Research Assistantship (URA) program to help us uncover some of the “hidden histories” of ISU through research into underrepresented communities in the university’s past. They are working on digital exhibits that will serve as a resource for future scholars, and both URA students will be writing blog posts throughout the school year to update you on their discoveries. Today, it is my pleasure to introduce the work of Amanda Larsen, who has chosen to research feminist activism at ISU.

-Rachael Acheson
Assistant University Archivist


Ghosts of the Suffrage Club

When thinking of the early days of campus life, it is easy to distance ourselves from those who were here at the turn of the century. Women on campus had to live in dorms with few exceptions, endure strict curfew rules, and were not allowed to leave the city without special permission. Despite the restrictions to their campus life, women on campus decided to take part in gaining the right to vote. So, they created the suffrage club.

On April 14th, 1916, the newly created suffrage club met for the first time. Around 150 women showed up to vote Ava Johnson as the president, Jeanette Knapp as the secretary, and Katherine McCarrell as treasurer. During the meeting, Dean Katharine McKay and those listed above spoke to the crowd. They goal of the club “was stated to be the support of the suffrage movement in Iowa with particular emphasis on the securing of pledges of votes favoring the suffrage measure to be submitted to the voters of the state in the June election.” One of the first speakers brought in by the “suffrage boosters” was Mrs. Carrie Chapman Catt, president of the American Woman Suffrage association and former student of Iowa State, for a highly anticipated lecture at the university.

Despite having 150 women at the first meeting, there is little mention of this suffrage club in the archives and no mentions of it in the Bomb (the yearbook).  Ava Johnson, who was the president of the club graduated in 1916, but the suffrage club was not listed within her group involvement.


Photograph of Ava Johnson from page 76 in the Bomb yearbook from the year 1916.

p. 76 in the 1916 Bomb


Nor is the club mentioned when Jeanette Knapp or Katharine McCarrell are listed the following year.


Senior portrait of Jeanette Margaret Knapp from the Bomb yearbook, 1917, page 108.

Knapp is on the far left. 1917 Bomb, page 108.


Senior portrait of Katherine McCarrell. McCarrell is on the far right. 1917 Bomb, p. 110. Katharine’s name has been spelled Katherine when mentioned elsewhere.

McCarrell is on the far right. 1917 Bomb, p. 110. Katharine’s name has been spelled “Katherine” when mentioned elsewhere.


This was not the only suffrage club in Ames, but it is only one created by students at Iowa State. All the clubs in Ames, including the suffrage club, were focused on securing the votes for suffrage during the June 1916 election. The results of the vote were 2671 votes in favor of suffrage in Story County, while only 1606 voted against.


Photograph of a political button reading, "I march for full suffrage June 7th. Will you?" From the SCUA Artifact Collection. Suffragists wore buttons like this for a variety of reasons.  Many to get people to know that suffrage was on the ballot or to proudly show that they were a suffragist.

From the SCUA Artifact Collection. Suffragists wore buttons like this for a variety of reasons. Many to get people to know that suffrage was on the ballot or to proudly show that they were a suffragist.


Newspaper clipping featuring the only known mention in the archives of the Suffrage Club. RS# 22/04/00/01.

Newspaper clipping featuring the only known mention in the archives of the ISU Suffrage Club. RS# 22/04/00/01.


If you are a part of an Iowa State club or organization and have documents (any inactive records, meeting minutes, photographs, etc.) pertaining to the club, then please bring them to Special Collections on the fourth floor of Parks Library. Those records can be stored for future generations to have a better understanding of your club.


Meet the Author!

Amanda Larsen is in her third year at ISU with a triple major in criminal justice, psychology, and history. She has already proven herself to be a hard worker and innovative researcher, and SCUA is looking forward to watching her project unfold. She hopes that you have enjoyed the post!

Photograph of Amanda Larsen, SCUA Undergraduate Research Assistant 2018-2019.

Amanda Larsen, SCUA Undergraduate Research Assistant 2018-2019

Welcome Cassandra!

Hello everyone! We are very excited to introduce our new Curation Services Student Writer, Cassandra Anderson!

Photograph of white female student, long hair with glasses, close-up in a library office setting (cubicle & book shelves filled with books visible in the background).

Photograph courtesy of Cassandra Anderson.

Cassandra grew up in Creston, Iowa where she spent a lot of her time in her mother’s elementary/middle school library. When she wasn’t there, she could be found hanging out in her grandmother’s libraries in Urbandale, Iowa. Cassandra is hoping to be the third generation of library workers in her family. She is currently a senior here at Iowa State where she is studying English. After she graduates she hopes to attend a graduate program to study library science or archives management. Growing up she occasionally was able to attend the annual American Library Association conferences with her mother and grandmother, and was even able to attend the most recent one in New Orleans this summer. While there, she sat in on a discussion lead by Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden and Archivist of the United States David Ferriero, and was incredibly excited to learn about her future career! Cassandra will be writing blog posts and sharing interesting finds on our social media accounts. When she is not writing for us, she is working as the student assistant on the AvIAn project here in the library. Welcome Cassandra, we are excited to have you!

Rare Books Highlights: Telling the story of wood betony in a book

Portrait in dark tones of a man seated in a chair with long hair, a black shirt and a high white collar.

Nicholas Culpeper. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images Nicolas Culpeper. Oil painting. Published: – Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

The best booksellers are storytellers. They make the book leap off the catalog page and into the imagination, as authors, printers, or book owners are brought to life as vividly as any character in a novel. A well-crafted description, like a bird’s brightest breeding plumage, can take a book from “that’s an area we collect in” to “I’ve got to buy this book!!!”

Take, for example, my recent purchase of a 1656 copy of Nicholas Culpeper’s The English Physitian Enlarged. Culpeper, trained as an apothecary, was noted for his efforts to aid the poor, treating patients for free in his pharmacy near Spitalfields in London. He wrote this book as a resource for people to treat themselves, and–unlike other herbals from the time–included only those plants that grew in England, so that people would not expend valuable time and resources trying to find herbs that were not available.

Two leaves with small rounded lobes and long stems encapsulated in clear plastic.

Leaves identified as wood betony found pressed between pages 162 and 163 of the book. They have been encapsulated in mylar to preserve their excellent condition.

The heading for the catalog description immediately points out a unique feature of the book, “With Wood Betony Pressed between its Pages.” Preserved botanical matter certainly adds interest to the book, but the shrewd cataloger at Pirages pursued the trail of the leaves even further. Noting that the book’s entry for “Wood Betony” appears to be particularly well-used, the entry draws an intriguing connection between the medicinal uses of the plant and the year during which an early owner inscribed his name. I’ll let the catalog entry speak for itself:

One hopes the present copy was of use to former owner Richard Hill, who inscribed his name in it in 1666, the “annus horribilis” that saw both the Great Plague and the Great Fire of London. The two leaves pressed between two pages here appear to be wood betony, an herb protective against epidemical diseases; its entry in this text bears the marks of frequent consultation.

Opening of a book.

Entry for “Wood betony” shows ink and dirt stains indicating that it was seriously consulted.

Thank you, Pirages, for this ready-made story to delight and horrify my audience when I show the book!

Single page of book shows index with owner's inscription at bottom of page.

Owner’s inscription at the bottom of the last page of the book reads, “Richard Hill his Bowk 1666.”

Culpeper, Nicholas. The English Physitian Enlarged. London: printed by Peter Cole, at the sign of the printing press in Cornhil, neer the Royal Exchange, 1656. Call number: R128.7 .C857 1656

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.

Been Farming Long? – 75 Years of the Ag 450 Farm

When Iowa State University was established in 1858 it was as the Iowa Agricultural College and Model Farm. The name alone sent a clear message that the school’s founders wanted the students who attended Iowa State to have a strong understanding of and practical education in farming. Of course, the students didn’t all want to be farmers, but that’s a different story.

Announcement for the Iowa Agricultural College, circa 1884

This announcement for the Iowa Agricultural College (now known as Iowa State University) shows scenes of campus as it appeared in 1884. The map also identifies the extent of the campus farm at the time. (University Photograph Collection, RS 0, oversized).

In the early years, the male students were required to spend several hours each day helping out on the school’s farm and in the shops, while the female students were assigned to help with domestic chores in the kitchens and laundry. There was no tuition at Iowa State at the time, so perhaps it seemed like a fair trade. Within 20 years, the practice of requiring students to work on campus became impractical due to the complexities of organizing and supervising a workforce of hundreds of students.

Farming by Majority Student Vote Here at Iowa State University, Hormel Farmer, Austin, Minn., June 15, 1969

This issue of Hormel Farmer from 1969 highlighted the Ag 450 Farm course at Iowa State. (Ag 450 Farm records, RS 9/8/3, Box 1, Folder 1)

By the early 20th century, the Iowa Agricultural College and Model Farm had become the Iowa State College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts and had grown to become a highly respected agricultural and engineering school. Students in agriculture still gained practical experience working with livestock, understanding how to maximize crop yields, and learning the business principles of farming. However, faculty still felt that the experience of the agriculture students could still be improved.

In 1938, Dr. William Murray, professor of economics, identified that his students had no real experience in actually managing a farm. He set out to change this. Murray convinced the college administration to purchase a farm and to provide a budget for the first year of farm operations. He argued that the cost of operation should not be high—if the students apply what they learned in class then the farm should be profitable.


Members of the Ag 450 Class of 1971. Female students have much more representation in the program now than they did in the first half of the program’s history. (Ag 450 Farm records, RS 9/8/3, Box 17, Folder 5)

The college administration agreed to the proposal and purchased a 187-acre farm just south of campus in the fall of 1942. The first formal Agriculture 450 class was offered in January 1943 with Murray as instructor. In March, the farm was turned over to the management of the students with the only limitation being that each expenditure and sale be approved in advance by the instructor. The farm has been in the care of students ever since.

Students in the AgEds 450 course (as it is now called) are responsible for every major decision that happens on the farm. As of 2018, the students farm around 1400 acres of land, some of which is rented or custom farmed. They are responsible for determining which crops to plant, caring for the livestock, purchasing equipment, and marketing the animals and grain that they raise. According to the Ag 450 Farm website this farm remains “…the ONLY completely student managed farm at a land grant university in the United States.”

Color snapshot of a crane setting a small grain bin up on a cement platform. People are standing around and helping guide it into place.

Students raising a grain bin on the Ag 450 Farm. Students plan, purchase, and manage the entire operation of the farm. (Ag 450 Farm records, RS 9/8/3, Box 17, Folder 10)

If you are interested in taking a deeper dive into the history of the Ag 450 Farm, feel free to visit Special Collections and University Archives. The Ag 450 Farm records contain account books, photographs, scrapbooks, clippings, and more documenting the history of the Ag 450 course and the farm itself. Stop in and take a look!

NHPRC Update: Record Group Roundup

When migrating the finding aids into the new archives management system, SKCA, the Manuscript Collections and the University Archives Collections each had their own unique challenges. The Manuscripts Collections are all created by different groups and people, and although they might be related by subject or geographic area, they are organized separately from each other. On the other hand, the University Archives collections were all created by the same creator – Iowa State University – and are organized by record series in a way that reflects the structure of the University – colleges, departments, centers, etc.

This can be seen in the numbers assigned to the University Archives collections. They follow a format of #/#/# (sometimes this is 4 or 5 numbers).

The first number is for the college or administrative unit, the second number is for the department, and any numbers after that are for the sub-group – equivalent to a series in a Manuscript Collection.

For example, let’s take a look at RS 9/10, the record group for the Department of Animal Ecology. The first number is a 9 because this department is in the College of Agriculture and Life Science. News clippings about the Department of Animal Ecology have the record series number 9/10/0/0, because 0/0 is the subgroup number that is always used for news clippings.

When browsing by record group on our website, this is how department records are currently displayed:

Listing of subgroups on the current website

University Archives finding aids were previously created at the sub group level, (I.E. RS 9/10/0/5 above).  This meant that there could be multiple finding aids for records from the same department. Additionally, only sub-groups that had a finding aid were listed on the website, so although the sub-groups without finding aids were all open for research, researchers had to come in to the archives to find out that they existed.

SKCA is able to link information about everything from the same department together, so that everything related to RS 9/10 is now in one finding aid.

You can see in the screenshot below the full list of sub groups that actually exist for the Department of Animal Ecology, which we are now able to provide at least basic information about if there is not a box listing. These were always available for use, but now they will be much easier for researchers to find.

This is how the records for the Department of Animal Ecology will look in SKCA:

Finding aid for 9/10 in SKCA


The information about the department and the materials is at the top, and then information about each sub-group can be seen by scrolling down, as shown here:

Listings of record groups in the finding aid for RS 9/10


Alternatively, by clicking on the specific sub-group in left hand menu, you can view the information about just that material, such as the Alumni newsletters seen here:

The alumni newsletter sub-group for 9/10

The related resources section includes clickable links to the papers of faculty members or records for research programs related to this department that have their own separate finding aid.

It will be exciting how much more of the University records will be find-able online as a result of the new system! Stay tuned for more information about when SKCA will be going live and the features it will have.



This project has been generously funded by a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC).

Tornado Country

Tornadoes have always played a major role in Iowan life, as those still reeling from the images of last week’s destruction realize all too well. In fact, as one might guess from the nickname “Cyclones,” this aspect of life is something the area is known for. SCUA has not, at least in the past, actively collected documentation of any major storms, but evidence of their ongoing existence has crept in here and there nonetheless.

Below is a rare original page of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper housed in Special Collections. Also known as Leslie’s Weekly, the paper — based in New York — was famous for depicting scenes from breaking news via wood block engravings in an era before photographs were commonplace.

Page from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, features a wood block engraving of a young couple with children running into a dugout during a tornado. Caption under the illustration reads, "Iowa -- the approach of a tornado -- family seeks refuge in a 'cyclone shelter'."

Page from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, MS 390, folder 9

For folks who like more tangible evidence of the past, you should check out the “tornado souvenir,” a hand-carved piece of birch bark from a storm on campus in 1924, which is held in our artifact collection. See more pictures here.

Piece of birch bark with lettering (by hand): "Tornado Souvenir June 28, 1924[.] From Tree near Margaret Hall I.S.C. Ames, Iowa" (Artifact #2001-024)

Piece of birch bark with lettering (by hand): “Tornado Souvenir June 28, 1924[.] From Tree near Margaret Hall I.S.C. Ames, Iowa” (Artifact #2001-024). Photograph by Rachel Seale.

It’s a bit further away from home geographically, but you can also glimpse damage wrought by an earlier storm (circa 1890-1910, though the image itself is undated) in Grand Mound, Iowa if you visit SCUA’s Flickr page, where we have a lot of other cool pictures, as well. You will need to click through to the link to see it, but this particular image was scanned from a glass plate negative, which can be found in the Descartes Pascal Papers, MS 91, Box 6, Folder 8.

Because tornado damage is an ongoing reality in this part of the country, Iowans have cultivated a lifestyle of helping neighbors re-build and recover from these periodic disasters. And ISU students have been no exception, as all current members of the Cyclone football team demonstrated by donating their time last Saturday to help with clean up in Marshalltown. Nor have our athletes been the only students historically inclined towards lending a hand. The 1967 Bomb article below evidences that multiple Greek organizations provided monetary donations and were well-represented on site after a tornado struck Belmond, IA in October 1966, even if the author of the article presents a rather biased interpretation of their motives.

Iowa State Greeks Aid Others Less Fortunate. A perennial criticism of fraternities and sororities is that they have no purpose, and that they no longer accomplish anything worthwhile. Although there may be some truth to this, most houses at Iowa State actively participate in surprisingly worthwhile service projects. While many suspect that most of these projects are mainly for publicity, the fact remains that Iowa State's Greeks do a lot of things for other people that they wouldn't have to do. Pi Beta Phi and Delta Sigma Phi collected over $3,000 to help pay for the rebuilding of Belmond. Alpha Chi Omega pledges offered their services for a day to the Beloit Children's Home. Whatever the motive, ISU's fraternities and sororities devote time and energy, and sometimes even money, doing things for those who appreciate their efforts.

The Bomb 1967, page 403

Best wishes, then, from SCUA for a speedy recovery to everyone who got caught in one of the most recent storms. And for those of you who are newer to campus, or to the state, don’t forget to check out the University severe weather protocols and/or some safety tips from ISU Environmental Health and Safety.