Instruction in the Archives!

On Monday, a class from the Iowa State University Office of Precollegiate Programs for Talented and Gifted (OPPTAG) visited Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA). The course was titled “Cook Your Way Through U.S. History.” In the SCUA classroom, I demonstrated how to find SCUA materials on their topic (cookbooks) and reviewed procedures and handling guidelines in our reading room. Amy Bishop, Rare Books and Manuscripts Archivist, reviewed different cookbooks from Rare Books and recipes from our Manuscript Collections & University Archives and provided students with context on the collections and books.

OPPTAG students viewing cookbook from Rare Book Collection

OPPTAG students viewing cookbook from Rare Book Collection

The students then came into our reading room and looked for historic recipes they plan to cook this week. You should come into our reading room too and check out our cool cookbooks! We’re open Monday-Friday from 10-4! You can also check out some selected cookbooks online in the Library’s Digital Collections.


Brothers in conservation: Frederic and Aldo Leopold

Leopold family portrait. Frederic is on the lower right, Aldo on the upper left. Brother Carl and sister Marie are also shown with their mother Clara. Frederic Leopold Papers, MS 113, Box 6, Folder 1.

Leopold family portrait. Frederic is on the lower right, Aldo on the upper left. Brother Carl and sister Marie are also shown with their mother Clara. Frederic Leopold Papers, MS 113, Box 6, Folder 1.

If you are familiar with conservation or American nature writing, you have probably heard of Aldo Leopold. Author of A Sand County Almanac, he has been called the father of wildlife management. Born in Burlington, Iowa, in 1887, he worked for many years for the U.S. Forest Service before accepting a position at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in Game Management, the first such position in the country.

But you may not have heard of his younger brother, also a conservationist, Frederic Leopold. Frederic was born June 16, 1895, nine years after Aldo, and he grew up looking up to his eldest brother. Their father was an outdoorsman and would take his sons on trips into the country, teaching them to identify birds and plants and to observe nature. Frederic writes of his older brother’s already developed sense of ethics while hunting:

Frederic Leopold, undated. From Frederic Leopold Papers, MS 113, Box 6, Folder 2.

Frederic Leopold, undated. From Frederic Leopold Papers, MS 113, Box 6, Folder 2.

“…Aldo never shot sitting game with anyt[h]ing but a 22 rifle. His first scatter gun was a single barreled one to teach him to aim each shot with care because he would have only one chance.

“Game birds were shot on the wing. In case a downed bird was c[r]ippled, every effort was made to find that bird before going on hunting.” (from “Historical Development of the Land Ethic,” speech given to Student Wildlife Conclave, Ames, Iowa, March 9, 1974, MS 113, Frederic Leopold Papers, Box 7, Folder 14).

Wood duck nesting in one of Leopold's duck houses, 1966. Box 6, Folder 9.

Wood duck nesting in one of Leopold’s duck houses, 1966. Box 6, Folder 9.

As an adult, Frederic worked for the family business, the Leopold Desk Company, first serving as vice president under his brother Carl, and later taking over as president. With the example of his conservationist brother Aldo, however, it is not surprising that he was also active in conservation efforts and wildlife ecology. Specifically, he became concerned with the survival of the wood duck, which had become threatened with extinction during the early part of the 19th century. He designed wood duck houses and spent almost forty years studying the mating and nesting habits of wood ducks, many of which made their home in his Burlington backyard. In 1951 he published “A Study of Nesting Wood Ducks in Iowa” in the scientific journal The Condor.

Page from vol. 1 of Frederic Leopold's wood duck nesting records, 1951. MS 113, Box 9, Folder 1.

Page from vol. 1 of Frederic Leopold’s wood duck nesting records, 1951. MS 113, Box 9, Folder 1. (Click for larger image.)

Frederic received recognition throughout the state of Iowa for his important contributions to conservation, including an Honorary Doctor of Science from Iowa Wesleyan College, the Iowa Wildlife Conservation Award in 1966, and the Iowa Academy of Science Centennial Citation in 1975.

The Frederic Leopold Papers (MS 113) here in Special Collections document Frederic’s wood duck studies, travels, and relationship to his brother Aldo and other family members. More information on Aldo can be found by consulting the Aldo Leopold Archives in the University of Wisconsin Digital Collections.


A harrowing crossing on a stormy night: the Kate Shelley Papers at ISU

“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.

Des Moines River bridge crossed by Kate Shelley in 1881. University Photograph Collection RS 4/8/L, box 373.

Des Moines River bridge crossed by Kate Shelley in 1881. University Photograph Collection RS 4/8/L, box 373.

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.

Top photo shows the depot at Moingona in 1876. The bottom photo may be the pusher engine that crashed into Honey Creek. University Photo Collection, RS 4/8/L, Box 373.

Top photo shows the depot at Moingona in 1876. The bottom photo may be the pusher engine that crashed into Honey Creek. University Photo Collection, RS 4/8/L, Box 373.

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.”

Letter from J. M. Noble to Kate Shelley, MS 684, Box 1, Folder 22. (Click image to enlarge.)

Letter from J. M. Noble to Kate Shelley, MS 684, Box 1, Folder 22. (Click image to enlarge.)

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.

Letter from E. O. Soule to Kate Shelley, MS 684, Box 1, Folder 6. (Click on image to enlarge.)

Letter from E. O. Soule to Kate Shelley, MS 684, Box 1, Folder 6. (Click on image to enlarge.)

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.

Kate Shelley High Bridge, built 1900-1901. University Photograph Collection, RS 4/8/L, Box 380.

Kate Shelley High Bridge, built 1900-1901. University Photograph Collection, RS 4/8/L, Box 380.

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:

 


CyPix: ISC Bicycle Club 1898

With RAGBRAI less than a week away, it seems like a perfect time to take a look at bicycle riding at ISU. Say hello to these dapper members of the 1898 Bicycle Club of Iowa State College, posing in front of Morrill Hall.

Two rows of men and women standing with their bicycles.

Iowa State College Bicycle Club, 1898.

The 1890s saw a bicycle craze in America, with Iowa State students–both men and women–joining in. Makes you want to grab your bike and take it for a spin, doesn’t it? To find out more about other student organizations, check out their collections page, or peddle on over to Special Collections.


Women’s History Month: Mary Newbury Adams letters

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

Portrait of Mary Newbury Adams

Mary Newbury Adams.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mary Newbury Adams, surrounded by seven grandchildren.

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

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

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

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

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


CyPix: Iowa State’s First President, Adonijah Welch

In honor of President’s Day, let’s take a look at Iowa State University’s first president, Adonijah Welch.

President Adonijah Welch, undated

President Adonijah Welch, undated

Welch held the post from 1869 until 1883. In addition to presidential duties, he taught classes at Iowa State (at the time known as Iowa Agricultural College) until his death in 1889. Not only was he a significant figure in the design of the campus, he also helped develop the college’s first agricultural and mechanical arts classes and was a supporter of the right for women to a have a college education. For more information on Welch, check out his digital collection or come in and see the physical collection. The photo above and a photo of his wife, Mary Welch, can be found on our Flickr page. Also, be sure to check out our past blog posts involving Welch, like this and this.


Iowa State’s First Student: Charles N. Dietz

Dietz, C.N. 2

Charles N. Dietz, Iowa State graduate and lumber businessman

Have you ever wondered what classes were like in Iowa State University’s early days? The Charles N. Dietz Papers, RS 21/7/58, can enlighten you. As the first student to enroll at what was then known as Iowa Agricultural College, Dietz took many notes during classes, several notebooks of which he left behind and are now stored in the University Archives.

Born July 18, 1853 in Oneonta, New York, Charles Dietz and his family relocated to Anamosa, Iowa, when he was just a small child. In the fall of 1869, Dietz drove his lumber cart to campus, arriving several days before it officially opened, and enrolled in the first classes at ISU. In his obituary in the July 1933 issue of The Alumnus, Dietz is mentioned as having described his first impression of the school as “a big, unfenced farm.” During his time at Iowa State, he was captain of one of the military-like student units that planted and harvested crops and performed all sorts of other labor in the early days. His group helped to build some of the early buildings, fence the college farm, dig ditches, and unpack textbooks. Later, he worked in the treasurer’s office where he helped correct entrance exams and was paid eight cents an hour. In addition to all of this, he did, of course, take classes. Among the classes he took were Comparative Anatomy and Physiology, Psychology (referred to as “Intel Philosophy” in one of the notebooks), Landscape Gardening (taught by President Adonijah Welch), Organic Chemistry, and Pathology. The notes Dietz took during these classes are all in the collection. In an entry dated May 22, 1871 in the Landscape Gardening notebook, Dietz took the following notes on a lecture on the distinction between science and art given by President Welch:

“Science is knowledge systematically arranged. Art is science applied in practice to some specific purpose. Landscape Gardening is an art. There are two great divisions of art viz Fine Arts and Useful Arts. Useful Arts apply science to the attainment of convenience, comfort and profit. Fine Arts have a single purpose in view, that is the realization of beauty.”

In 1872, Dietz became part of Iowa State’s first graduating class and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree at the age of 19.

After college, Dietz moved to Chicago to work for a lumber business. Due to the panic of 1873 and the subsequent layoffs of some high salaried personnel, Dietz quickly became one of the lumber company’s chief executives. After eight years in Chicago, he moved with his wife Nettie Woodford Dietz to Omaha to go into the lumber business for himself, starting the C. N. Dietz Lumber Company. Soon a wealthy man, he went on to establish the Sheridan Coal Company in Sheridan, Wyoming, which he owned until 1903. The coal mining town of Dietz, Wyoming was named after him. In 1890, the Dietzes built a home in Omaha, where they entertained such notables as Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and Helen Keller. Aside from entertaining, in their spare time the couple traveled the world, meeting other notables including future Egyptian president Mahmud Fuad, Herbert Hoover, and J. P. Morgan. Dietz was also quite involved with the Omaha Public Library and served on the library board for many years, later becoming president of the board. After a decline in health, Dietz passed away on June 18, 1933.

Dietz during his college years [check this]

Charles Dietz’s graduation photo, circa 1872

The Charles N. Dietz collection contains a folder of biographical materials and five notebooks from the classes previously mentioned. For more information, take a look at our finding aid and stop in to view the collection! As it’s only one document box, it will take a relatively short amount of time to look through. If you’d like to find out more about Iowa State student life through the years, we have many collections of alumni papers that you are more than welcome to explore. Come on in and see us!


Thanksgiving, Iowa, Corn, and Some Cookbooks

Formation for 1935 4-H Girls Convention at Iowa State College (University).

Thanksgiving is now less than a week away!  What might we have here in the Special Collections Department related to Thanksgiving?  Actually, quite a lot if you are creative about it.  You could search our website to find out all the places where Thanksgiving appears in our finding aids, or pick out a diary or two and see if the writer described Thanksgiving activities.  This post, however, will highlight just one of our rare books from the TX809 call number area (which encompasses books dealing with the cooking of cereals/grains…if the photograph above has not given it away, you’ll have to read more to find out which grain this post will discuss!).

One title which caught my eye as I scanned the TX section for possible cookbooks related to Thanksgiving was  “Indian Corn as Human Food” by Mary S. Scott.  The story of how the Native Americans taught the Pilgrims how to grow corn for food, and was very likely served at that first Thanksgiving, helped justify taking the book off the shelf for a Thanksgiving related post.  The book, published in 1889 in Nevada, Iowa contains an interesting selection of recipes and descriptions about corn by an Iowa woman at the end of the 19th century.  Corn was then, as it is now, an important Iowa crop.  Although we may not agree with everything she writes and the views she has, the book is still an interesting read.  A biography of Mary Sophia Scott can be found here (the book, American Women: Fifteen Hundred Biographies with over 1,400 Portraits…, can be found in the library’s reference section under call number CT3260 .W66a).

If you believe that people’s concern with healthy living is only a recent phenomenon, then this book might help to persuade you otherwise!  One of the goals of Scott’s book is to present an alternative, healthy way of eating a very economic grain.  Scott makes this very clear in her opening chapters.  Her first paragraph states “This hand-book is more in the interest of good living than of mere economy in expenses,-meaning by good living not only by preparation of palatable food, but also food conducive to health, comfort and length of days.”  On page 4 Scott writes:  “To bring the attention of American housewives, economists and philanthropists to the possibilities presented in this immense food supply is the object of this unpretentious book.”

Above is pictured the rebound book, Indian Corn as Human Food (call number TX809.C8 Sco85i )

And another one of her reasons for writing the book was “…there is possibility of danger that some of the customs of the early days that are worth preservation may become obsolete;-and, among others, the making of the very best foods from Indian corn may finally be numbered among the Lost Arts.” (page 29).

Hopefully Mrs. Scott would be happy to know that a copy of her book is housed down the road from her hometown of Nevada here in Iowa State’s Special Collections Department!  If you would like to keep some these “customs of the early days” alive, please feel free to come to our department and take a look at this little book!  Included are recipes for a variety of corn breads, brown breads, muffins, hominy, puddings and other dishes made from corn.  There are even instructions for how to make corn ginger bread, ash bread (cooked in the hearth covered with ashes!) and how to hull corn with potash or wood ash.

If you would like to find out other items we might have related to corn here in the Special Collections Department I encourage you to peruse our website…and narrow down what you are looking for…we have quite a lot of collections and rare books related to corn since it is, and has been, an important research area here at Iowa State for many, many years!  A good place to start might be our subject guide on agricultural collections.

A corn train in 1905.  Iowa State Professor Perry G. Holden established the “corn gospel trains” in 1904 which taught farmers how to select and test seed corn throughout the state.  More on the corn trains can be found here and  in the Perry G. Holden Papers (link to finding aid).

There are also a number of other rare books in our collection specifically about cooking with corn.  In fact, another book in the section had these two tickets carefully tucked among some recipe clippings (found in Corn Products Cook Book, call number TX809 M2 H49x 1910b):

Did the owner of this book attend the Thanksgiving football game?  Or did they tuck the tickets away in the cookbook before the game, only to come across them later?  Perhaps impossible to answer, these bits of ephemera sometimes contained in our rare books, holding their own secret history, are fun to come across and wonder about!

Interested in more about Thanksgiving related items and collections in the Special Collections Department?  Last year’s Thanksgiving post was about recipes from a WOI homemaker’s show, The Homemaker’s Half Hour (scripts from this show can be found in the WOI Radio and Television Records, and throughout a variety of other collections)

For more on the history of Thanksgiving from our National Archives, you can go here to see various government documents which created Thanksgiving!


The Hammer that Built Main Hall

Old Main, one of the first buildings on the Iowa State campus (However, from 1858-1898 Iowa State University was called the State Agricultural College and Model Farm).  Histories of the building can be found here and here.

In addition to our archival collections, rare books, photographs, and films, the Special Collections Department also holds thousands of artifacts, many of which document the history of Iowa State.  This spring spring semester, senior anthropology major Jennifer Lambert conducted her senior research project on the hammer our department holds which was used to help build Main Hall, and was used for other building and maintenance work at Iowa State for many years during its early history.  Old Main, after the Farm House and cattle barns (now gone), was one of the first buildings on the Iowa State campus and was used for a wide variety of purposes.  Jennifer generously gave us permission to use parts of her paper for a blog post. Sections from Jennifer’s paper, Hammering Out Local History: Material Culture Studies at Iowa State University, are  included below. [Please note: the photographs, and accompanying captions, were added for the blog post].

“The agricultural college building was purposefully designed to house professors, students, and staff, along with their classrooms and living areas, all under one roof.  After the stresses of the Civil War had passed, funds became available in 1864 to start construction work on the college.  The project’s architect was C.A. Dunham with Jacob Reichard as contractor and by the fall of 1868 ‘Old Main’ was completed and stood as a five story tall building fashioned after the Mansard period of architecture.  Old Main’s facilities included: library, bell tower, balconies, lecture room, two octagon tower staircases, recitation rooms, steward’s room, laboratory, bathroom, dining room, kitchen, scullery, store room, washrooms, laundry, servant’s rooms, housekeeper’s room, armory, professor’s rooms, twenty-one student rooms, thirty rooms on the fourth and fifth floors, and a cellar.  When the first recognized term started on October 21, 1869, there were seven professors, 136 male students, and thirty-seven female students attending the college.  President Welch asked for two wings to be added to Old Main in 1870, and both were completed by May 1872…”

Campus circa 1875.  The enormous size of Old Main (and the amount of work it must have been to build!) can be better imagined from this early image of the Iowa State campus.  Old Main is the large building to the far right.  Look at those small houses to the left in comparison!  A fire destroyed the north wing and devasted other parts of the building on December 8th, 1900, and two years later the south wing was burned by fire (completely destroying the building).  Main Hall no longer remains, and is now known as Old Main.

“…Many people moved to Ames to work on the first Old Main construction project and some brought their own tools with them, such as hammers.  One of these workmen, Oliphant P. Stuckslager, is tied to not only to the history of one hammer and Iowa State University, but to the history of the United States, as well.

Born in Fayette County, Pennsylvania on December 4th, 1837, Stuckslager grew up and moved to Iowa, where he married Emily Harlan and was the father of four children.  During the Civil War he served with the 44th Iowan Volunteer Infantry and was honorably discharged September 15th, 1864.  Stuckslager worked as a mechanic, carpenter, and contractor with his first job being to assist in constructing Iowa State University’s Old Main.  In a note left with President Friley, Mrs. Alice Stockwell (Oliphant’s daughter) and Mr. Harley Stuckslager (Oliphant’s son) explain that the hammer that was donated to Iowa State University was purchased in Marshalltown, IA by their father ‘for the express purpose of being used in the construction of the first building on the grounds of the Iowa State Agricultural College in 1868’ (Friley).  Stuckslager moved both his family and his hammer to Ames in 1868 so that he could work on the Old Main building, and their house still stands today at 812 Douglas Ave.  After spending a full life helping to build town businesses and residences, Stuckslager passed away on July 5th, 1908 and is buried in the Ames Cemetery…”

The Hammer

Lambert concludes that Stuckslager’s hammer is a claw hammer, made sometime after 1840: “…Claw hammers have two styles depending on their weight: a 13oz-24oz hammer is used for carpentry purposes, and a 24oz-28oz hammer is used by framers to chop, split, and pry apart structural wood.  The Stuckslager hammer weighs in at 18.7oz and can be placed in the claw hammer category that is used for carpentry work.  Hickory is used in hammer handles because it is a natural vibration dampener, but is prone to break if the user overstrikes and hits the handle on the wood instead of the head.  Observations of the Stuckslager hammer and comparisons with other hickory handled hammers shows it to most likely be made from hickory, and that it also has damage to the wood surrounding the head’s base from overstriking.  Hammer heads are forged from steel for strength and durability, often heat-treated for toughness and wear resistance.  This treatment focuses on the striking face, the eye where the handle is inserted and on the claws.  Looking at the Stuckslager hammer, the striking face and claws are a different color and texture from the rest of the head, but this could also be from wear and not heat-treatment.  A ground striking face that is canted slightly toward the handle to center hammer blows and a double-beveled nail slot are two other indicators of a carpenter’s claw hammer.  Both of these indicators can be observed on the Stuckslager hammer as well.

Other observations of Stuckslager’s hammer include the indentations of nicks and grooves on the head and handle, as well as cracks in the wood shaft seen through the top of the hammer head.  These indications of wear, along with the uneven coats of varnish on the hickory handle, all attest to the conclusion that the hammer was used repeatedly and diligently repaired.  The wear and documentation surrounding the hammer prove that it is from 1868, but it can’t be proven if the hammer was made then or earlier.  The making of the hammer has been lessened to a time span of between 1840 and 1868 because its styling matches David Maydole’s from the 1840s.  Considering the information currently available, the Stuckslager hammer can be between 171 and 143 years old.”

Thanks to Jennifer Lambert for letting us share parts of her informative paper.  We wish her all the best as a graduate of Iowa State University!


An Iowa State Student’s Letters from 1899

What was life like for students in 1960?  At the turn of the 20th century?  Answers to these questions can be found in a variety of sources, but one of these might be in our collections of former students and alumni, which are listed here.

We recently added a former student’s papers to our collections, and the finding aid has been made available online.  The Robert Jack Sharps Letters (RS 21/7/219) contains letters written by Robert Jack Sharps, and includes a few letters from his family.  All of the letter were written in the fall of 1899 when Sharps entered his freshman year at Iowa State College (now University). The letters range from August, when Sharps first arrived on campus, to November, when Sharps was preparing to finish up his coursework and return home.  Even though the last letters do not indicate whether or not he planned to return to Iowa State, they hint that the family was struggling to finance his education and it is unlikely that he returned.

A photograph from 1899 when Sharps attended Iowa State, showing the Mechanical Engineering Lab (located in the Lab of Mechanics).  Although we do not know if Sharps was ever in the lab, it might be fun to wonder to what extent, or whether, he knew the person in the photograph.

The Lab of Mechanics (in 1902), where the Mechanical Engineering Lab (pictured above) was located.

Although an incomplete set of letters, these letters provide a wonderful window into the life of a first year student here at Iowa State right before the beginning of the 20th century.  In his letters Sharps recounts experiences and concerns which are probably familiar to many current college students, such as anxiety about passing examinations and requests for money from home.  In fact, worries about money and finances run throughout his letters.  A number of the items Sharps describes are unique to the time including the military drills, the banquet he attended in which the freshman class was dubbed the “Erehas” by the sophomores, and Sunday chapel services that students were required to attend at the time.

A page from the 1900 Bomb (student yearbook) which lists the class officers, yell, motto, and colors.

Sharps writes his sister in an August 10, 1899 letter:

“Everyone seems to come here to learn so they all have their lessons. I like it very much here and I dont have such hard studying yet except in german, but things are getting harder every day.”  His concern about money and the costs of college are again revealed near the end of the letter “I believe as you say I can’t get something from nothing so I will stay a while any way and see how it goes here…Please hand Pa’s and Ma’s letter to them and it will save two cents.  Write soon, as I am in a hurry I dont expect you can read this.”

As an archivist who has struggled to decipher the written work of numerous handwritten letters, I was extremely surprised to read that last sentence!  His letters might are very clear and neat examples of penmanship – although as the term continues his handwriting becomes less and less clear!

The 1899 Freshman Class.  If this was taken in the fall of 1899, Sharps may be one of the students pictured here (from the 1900 Bomb, page 62).

From his letters, one sees firsthand how someone from 1899 viewed and described their current student experiences.  For instance, in an August 13 letter Sharps writes his parents about a Y.M.C.A reception for freshmen he attended in which Henry Wallace “of the ‘Des Moines Wallaces Farmer’ gave a short speech.”  This is all he says about Henry Wallace – the Henry Wallace to which he refers was the father of Henry A. Wallace, future Secretary of Agriculture and Vice-President under Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

And, finally, one last passage from an undated letter I found particularly fun to read (especially considering the similarities and differences from our current campus over 110 years later!):

“The campus is a fine place with the short grass and big shade trees the grass is kept about 2 inches high and it is just liking walking on a carpet the college is just like a town with out stores, with big buildings and barns and shops and other buildings then there is a water tower higher than any of the buildings and the main hall is six stories hall.”

The Iowa State campus (circa 1897) as it looked around the time former student Robert Jack Sharps was here.  Old Main can be seen to the left, and Morrill Hall to the right.  The Marston Water Tower, which Sharps mentions in at least one of his letters, can be seen in the background.

If you would like to read more of these letters, please visit the Special Collections Department.  In addition to this collection, other materials in our Department might provide additional information to his descriptions.  For instance, the 1898-1899 catalog includes brief descriptions of the military drills, entrance examinations, courses and other general information about the college.  For information related to the military drills Sharps participated in on campus see the Department of Military Science Records, RS 13/16/1.  The Bomb is also a great resource on student life and activities.