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!

Welcome Freshman! #TBT @IowaStateU

Freshman Orientation kicked off this week. Let’s celebrate the arrival of future Cyclones with a picture from the past! The photograph below is from Freshman Days in 1946. “Freshman Day” was first instituted at Iowa State College (University) during the fall quarter of 1926. The next year the program was expanded to three days.

Freshman Days 1946. Lee Bradish photographing freshmen during Freshman Days (University Photographs box 454.1)

Lee Bradish photographing freshmen during Freshman Days (University Photographs box 454)

In 1960, two significant changes occurred in regards to Freshman Days. One was the change of name from Freshman Days to Orientation Days. The other was the creation of a summer orientation program. The summer program was in addition to the fall program. The summer orientation program eventually became the main orientation program for students in the coming years.

Drop by the reading room to check out other historical University Photographs! We’re open Monday-Friday 10-4.

Ephemera in Archives

Tiger rake front

Lawrence Skromme Agricultural Machinery Literature Collection (RS 11/07/227), box 20, folder 39.

A few months ago I took a phone call from a farmer in another state. The man and his son were restoring a piece of farm equipment made in the 1890s. His dilemma was not knowing what color(s) to paint the machine. His research led him to our website, where he found an inventory for a collection of agricultural literature, including advertisements and brochures put out by the manufacturer of the machine being restored. I told him I would get back to him soon, hopefully with evidence of the machine’s original paint-job.

Drill front

Lawrence Skromme Agricultural Machinery Literature Collection (RS 21/07/227), box 20, folder 40.

I began examining the companies’ ephemera. Most of it was illustrated in black and white: nice, precise work, probably supplied to the printer as engravings. The brochures, pamphlets, etc. were very wordy by modern advertising and marketing standards, but none of them mentioned the products’ color.  Everything imaginable was detailed, except color and finish!

Later, I was relieved to find a few cards featuring color illustrations (shown above; the backs carry text). The farmer was pleased with the information I gave him. I thanked him for pointing me in the right direction at the outset; the work had gone quickly. Now he had at least some evidence to consider when painting his piece of 1890s farm equipment. Ephemera in an archive had been the key.


Archives collect and preserve ephemera, among other things. It’s a pretty word that, outside of archives, I’ve encountered most often as the adjective “ephemeral.” It comes to us from the Greek for “lasting only a day.” There are ephemeral things that literally last one day; for example, an old medical text refers to “that Feaure [fever] which we call Ephemera, not exceeding foure and twenty houres.” Nowadays the noun form is typically used the way archives use it, and for this, Wikipedia gives an adequate definition: ephemera is “any transitory or printed matter not meant to be retained or preserved.”

A crucial distinction, then: it is the ephemera’s intended use or purpose that is ephemeral. The item itself could be saved indefinitely. But why would someone save “such things as a bus ticket, a circus poster, a Christmas card or a Valentine, a police summons, […] a train timetable, or a travel brochure,” after their intended purposes are fulfilled?

The most general answer is that human beings repurpose things. It’s nice to know why something was made, by whom and for what purpose—we can’t fully understand the thing without such knowledge—but we’re free to use things (and ideas) differently. We decide what’s significant and how; we decide what it all means.

Perhaps most ephemera should be recycled. So much ephemera is produced that saving it all is not an option, but where do we draw the line?… I’m raising questions that I cannot begin to answer. I do know that experts are best-prepared to assess the significance of ephemera related to their areas of expertise. I know that ephemera is never enough in itself. A historian, for example, needs other sources, sound methodology, and a great deal of creativity. That being said, ephemera is indispensable.

The subject is a deep one that I plan to explore further. I hope to have inspired you to think about the ephemera in your life. You don’t have to save it, but what if you did? What could it be used for, other than the obvious?

(Except as noted, quotations are from Ephemera: a a book on its collection, conservation and use by Chris E. Makepeace. 1985.)

Archivists tour the Campanile!

The Campanile, 1938 (University Photographs box 230)

The Campanile, 1938 (University Photographs box 230)

This past Wednesday the Special Collections & University Archives staff went on a tour of the Campanile. Our tour guide was Cownie Professor of Music and University Carillonneur Tin-Shi Tam. We were lucky to have Professor Tam play a few songs for us.

Professor and University Carillonneur Tin-Shi Tam giving a tour inside the Campanile, playing the carillon (photo by Rachel)

Seated: Prof. Tin-Shi Tam, Standing from left: Asst. Dept. Head Laura Sullivan, Dept. Head Petrina Jackson, Reference Specialist Becky Jordan, Rare Books & Manuscripts Archivist Amy Bishop (photo by Rachel Seale)

The bells first rang in 1899 and were donated by Edgar W. Stanton, an Iowa State University alumnus, who graduated with the first class of ISU graduates in 1872. When Stanton’s first wife, Margaret McDonald Stanton, the university’s first dean of women, died in 1895 he wanted to establish a bell tower with 10 bells as a monument. Upon Stanton’s death in 1920, his will provided for a second memorial. At the request of his second wife, Mrs. Julia Wentch Stanton and their children, an additional 26 bells and a playing console were installed in 1929 and the musical instrument became the Edgar W. and Margaret McDonald Stanton Memorial Carillon. Read more about the rich history of the Bells of Iowa State here.

Carillon bells (photo by Rachel)

Carillon bells (photo by Rachel Seale)

Ira Schroeder was the University Carillonneur from 1931-1969, making him ISU’s longest-tenured carillonneur.

Taken at a Carillon Guild meeting held at ISU, November 1959. From left, seated: Percival Price, Univ. of MIchigan; Ira Schroeder, ISU. Standing: Ronald Barnes, Univ. of Kansas; Dean Robinson, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN; Charles Ward, Rueter Oregon Co., Lawrence, KS; Milford Myhre, Culver Military Academy; and C.G.B. Garrett, St. Peter's Episcopal Church, Morristown, NJ. (University Photographs box 132)

Taken at a Carillon Guild meeting held at ISU, November 1959. From left, seated: Percival Price, Univ. of MIchigan; Ira Schroeder, ISU. Standing: Ronald Barnes, Univ. of Kansas; Dean Robinson, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN; Charles Ward, Rueter Oregon Co., Lawrence, KS; Milford Myhre, Culver Military Academy; and C.G.B. Garrett, St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Morristown, NJ. (University Photographs box 132)

Drop by the reading room to learn more about the history of the Campanile. We’re open Monday-Friday 10 am-4 pm.


Gold Star Hall #TBT @isu_mu

During Memorial Day ceremonies at Gold Star Hall in the Memorial Union on ISU campus, 1954.

University Photograph Collection, RS 21/5, Box 1529.

In November of 1919, almost a year after the end of World War I, Iowa State students, alumni, and faculty formed a committee to plan a memorial to honor the men and women of Iowa State who gave their lives during the war. Memorial Union opened in 1928 and included Gold Star Hall, where the names of men and women who died in World War I were carved into the walls. Additional names were added over the years to honor Iowa Staters who gave their lives in subsequent wars.

For more information on the history of Gold Star Hall, see the Memorial Union Records, RS 21/5/1, in the University Archives.

Alpha Zeta Fraternity at Iowa State #TBT

Alpha Zeta fraternity in front of Agricultural Hall (now named Catt Hall) on steps. This photograph was taken on May 23, 1927.

(University Photographs box 1627)

(University Photographs box 1627)

Charles W. Burkett and John F. Cunningham, students in the College of Agriculture at the Ohio State University, founded the Fraternity of Alpha Zeta November 4, 1897. Alpha Zeta is a professional, service, and honorary agricultural fraternity for men and women in agriculture seeking to develop leadership skills to benefit agriculture, life sciences, and related fields. There are over 100,000 members worldwide.

Drop by the reading room and review the Alpha Zeta Wilson Chapter (Iowa State University) Records. We’re open from 10 -4, Monday-Friday.

30 years of Special Olympics Iowa Summer Games @IowaStateU @soiowa

Special Olympics Iowa Summer Games returns to Iowa State University this week. 1986 was the first year ISU hosted the summer games. This year will be the 30th year the Special Olympics Iowa Summer Games have been held here!

A race during the 1994 Special Olympics Iowa summer games (University Photographs box 21)

This is Special Olympics Iowa’s largest annual event. More than 3,000 athletes participate in the summer games. In 2006, ISU and the City of Ames put in a successful joint bid to host the first Special Olympics National Summer Games.


Awarding medals during the 1994 summer games (University Photographs box 21)

The 2016 Summer Games take place Thursday, May 19, through Saturday, May 21.

Drop by the reading room and check out our files & photographs on the history of Special Olympics Iowa at ISU. We’re open Monday – Friday 10-4.