Early Student Government at Iowa State: What the Cardinal Guild Records Reveal

The blog post below was written by one of our student employees, Barry Snell.  The Cardinal Guild Records (the Cardinal Guild was the organization which preceded the Government of the Student Body) needed some additional work, and since Snell was a Government of the Student Body (GSB) Senator we decided that this would be a great collection to have him work on, and to then write a blog post about! The online finding aid can be found here.

Concerned about Iowa State College’s tremendous growth, both as a school and in the student population, the faculty and staff gathered together in the spring of 1904 to discuss the formation of a student government to help connect the ballooning student population to the administration, and to help student organizations work with one another.  Using the student government models of Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Brown and California, the Iowa State administration chose eleven students from the senior class who were meritorious due to their academic achievements, leadership abilities, and sterling character.

And so it was on May 9, 1904 that those eleven seniors met in Engineering Hall (now Marston Hall) and established what they would eventually name the Cardinal Guild, which would in turn be known as the Government of the Student Body (beginning around 1962).

1906 Bomb_cardinal-guild-1

Members of the first Cardinal Guild (1904, top) and the second (1905, bottom) from the 1906 Bomb (student yearbook).

1906 Bomb_cardinal-guild-2

Second page of the Cardinal Guild’s entry in the 1906 Bomb, which describes the background and purpose of the new organization.

The original members decided that the Cardinal Guild was to be operated to “promote the welfare of Iowa State College,” and, according to an address given by the Guild’s first president, A.R. Buckley, to “bring into close touch and harmony with the various branches of college activity, and serve as a medium of communication between the students, the alumni, and the governing bodies of the college.”  The Cardinal Guild’s original constitution set forth these goals in addition to preserving and promoting desirable Iowa state traditions and customs, fostering and promoting a healthy and democratic spirit, and welcoming and extending courtesies to college visitors.

Calling themselves the “charter members,” the initial group of eleven seniors was tasked with choosing their successors on their own, without the college staff involvement that had chosen them.  This precedent setting appointment system lasted several years, with each preceding Cardinal Guild choosing the members of the subsequent Cardinal Guild.  Eventually, however, the appointment system gave way to popular election by the student body, originally including a rigorous primary system used to select the Guild presidential and vice presidential candidates and their platforms.

Cardinal Guild 1962 nominating convention

Cardinal Guild 1962 nominating convention

A single body at first, the Guild’s organization eventually evolved into a three-branched system of student government to include a senate, an executive cabinet, and a court, and the membership grew accordingly.  To this day, the Government of the Student Body has the same essential organizational structure and mission as its predecessor, the Cardinal Guild.

The Cardinal Guild Records (RS 22/1/1) contains a variety of documents ranging from the original 1904 meeting minutes and notes, constitutions and bylaws through the years, research and publications regarding student involvement, student organization budgets, presidential addresses, committee reports, legislation, and scrapbooks put together in the final decade of the Guild.  Because the Cardinal Guild and today’s GSB are the original student organizations in the sense that they are typically the origin of funding and assistance for student groups, this collection reveals a great deal about student life at Iowa State through the years.

First Guild President Buckley said, “we have various organizations, but there is no single undergraduate body thru [sic] which the students may work, and be brought into contact.  Harmony is an essential in all our endeavors and this must be fostered and encouraged.  The students cannot at present feel that they are in direct communication with the faculty, but this the Guild will right.”

First page of the minutes for the first Cardinal Guild meeting on May 9, 1904 (RS 22/1/1, box 1, folder 1).

First page of the minutes for the first Cardinal Guild meeting on May 9, 1904 (RS 22/1/1, box 1, folder 1).

The original meeting minutes book (the first part is available online here), which spans the years 1904 through 1909, shows the Cardinal Guild’s immediate interest in working with Iowa State College staff to make student life better.  The members of the Guild formed committees right away at the beginning of the 1904 fall semester, on September 13th.  They created the committees to work with the Athletics Department to staff refreshment stands during games, to establish a celebration on the anniversary of the founding of Iowa State College, and to investigate transportation options for visitors to the college during Excursion Day (Note: Excursion Day was formerly one of the largest events at Iowa State in that it brought thousands of alumni and community visitors to Iowa State to view the farms, research and school in general.  Excursion Day may be considered, in part, a precursor to VEISHEA).

As the fall 1904 minutes report, the staffing of the Athletics Department refreshment stands was the Cardinal Guild’s first successful external official act to come to fruition that directly connected them to their student constituents and assist a school department.  One may examine all the surviving Cardinal Guild minutes we have in the collection up through the late 1950s, as well as witness GSB activity in the modern day, and see that as far as student involvement goes, the role of student government at Iowa State has hardly changed since its very beginning.  Iowa State students, it seems, though not surprisingly, have always had an interest in helping one another out.

Several Cardinal Guild records which document its very early years are now available online.  The first part of the minute book can be found here (the entire minute notebook can be found in the Cardinal Guild Records, RS 22/1/1, box 1, folder 1).  Another set of documents available online are two commencement addresses by the first two Cardinal Guild presidents, A. R. Buckley (1904) (original in RS 22/1/1, box 1, folder 2) and R. R. Jorgenson (1905) (original in RS 22/1/1/, box 1, folder 1).

Scrapbooks from the Cardinal Guild Records.

Scrapbooks from the Cardinal Guild Records (RS 22/1/1, boxes 7 and 8).

Another fascinating set of items in the collection are the scrapbooks.  Ranging from 1950 to 1962, marking the final twelve years of the Cardinal Guild prior to becoming the Government of the Student Body, the scrapbooks are collections of various newspaper clippings, mostly from the Iowa State Daily, of various things regarding student life and directly relating to Cardinal Guild activities.  This amazing array of articles paints a vibrant picture of what life was like at Iowa State in the mid-20th century.  Interestingly, the public relations committee of the GSB continues the scrapbooking practice to this day.

One notable event captured in the scrapbook is the riot that took place one night in 1956.  A secret society calling themselves the Pi Xis (Greek letters: Π Ξ), aka the “Pixies,” were a rascally bunch of students who existed to pull pranks and generally be disruptive.  The Pixies were possibly a throwback to the days of the underground Greek system, accidentally created by the college’s ban on fraternities and sororities in the late 1800s due to their untoward behavior at the time.  Rather than obey the ban, the Greeks of the day simply made their activities secret until some years later the ban was lifted by the college.  Early Iowa State legend has it that some of the first fraternities here never stopped being secret, giving credence to the claim that the Pi Xis were one such group.

Regardless of their origins, the Pixies did exist and were alive and well on the evening of Thursday, May 24, 1956.  They were planning a demonstration for unknown purposes, though probably simply to create some temporary disorder.  Their plan was to meet at the Campanile at 10:00 PM and go from there.  However, members of the Cardinal Guild found out and deployed themselves to the Campanile ahead of time.  Turning the Pixies back as they arrived, the Guild was confident they had prevented the shenanigans.

Not ones to be easily thwarted though, the Pi Xis regrouped.  At approximately 11:00 PM, someone blew a bugle at the Memorial Union, sounding a rallying call.  The Pixies and other nefarious students rallied indeed, and the bunch moved to Friley Hall, where they shouted and raised a ruckus, attempting to call more students into their growing numbers.  As fortune would have it, the residents of Friley weren’t interested.  Frustrated by their rioting impotence, the Pixies moved on to Sorority Circle, where they attempted to break into the Delta Delta Delta house and disturb the girls in residence there.

Cardinal Guild members, with the help of like-minded students, took positions before the Tri-Delts’ doorways and windows, pushing back all who tried to enter.  With amazing fortitude, the Guild held back the invaders, defending the honor of the women within.  But still refusing to give up, the Pi Xis regrouped yet again and headed for the women’s dormitories on campus.

Page from the scrapbook describing the Pixies' raid.

Page from the scrapbook describing the Pixies’ raid (RS 22/1/1, box 7).

Once more into the breach, dear friends, did the intrepid members of the Cardinal Guild rush.  Finding the Pixie rioters at Roberts and Barton Halls, the Guild redeployed themselves, employing their tried and true tactic of manning the doorways and blocking all who attempted entry.  In Gandalf-esque fashion, the Guild’s message to the Pi Xis was clear: You shall not pass.

The battle of wills persisted, with the Pixies taking a page from history.  In a scene that Caesar would have recognized and would have made his enemies in Gaul proud, the Pi Xis discovered ladders nearby and attempted to raise them and scale walls of the women’s dorms.  Guild members fought the ladders from the hands of the would-be invaders, and pushed them back away from what would prove to be an impenetrable blockade.


Another page from the scrapbook with a new article describing the Pixies’ schemes the evening of May 24, 1956 (RS 22/1/1, box 7).

In what was less like the Thrilla in Manila and more like the Lames in Ames, this battle of wills ended with a righteous victor: The Cardinal Guild.  Citing their bravery and good character in the midst of difficult circumstances, Iowa State President James Hilton and the police chief congratulated and thanked the members of the Cardinal Guild for their gallant actions that night.

Want to know more?  Such as how the Pixies also tried to blow up the College Creek dam across from the Memorial Union with a bundle of dynamite and a homemade timer, or how the Cardinal Guild actually had a pact with the college to mobilize in the event of such insurrections and disturbances?  What other cool stories of campus legend lurk in the archive of the Cardinal Guild?  You’ll have to stop by Special Collections and request to see the Cardinal Guild Records (RS 22/1/1) to find out!