Iowa State Alum, Landscape Architect, Wilderness Idea Pioneer: Arthur Carhart

As the holiday season is here, and the cold weather has descended upon us in Iowa and the rest of the Midwest, many are spending more time indoors with family and friends. The end of the year and the beginning of the next is when we frequently receive an upturn in questions regarding alumni, many likely arising during conversations during a winter get-together or as people think about family at this time of year. What resources do we have in the university archives to look into Iowa State alumni?


Arthur  Carhart’s folder in our alumni files, RS 21/7/1.

I’ll use a 1916 graduate, Arthur Carhart, as an example to walk readers through the possibilities. Why did I choose Arthur Carhart?  This past year, I visited the Gila Wilderness Area in New Mexico, which was established in large part due to the efforts of Aldo Leopold, a native Iowan (and, as a side note, we hold the papers of his brother, Frederick Leopold) – and Leopold’s ideas were probably influenced by Carhart, since they conversed on the wilderness idea at least once.  I am repeatedly reminded that even as a state which has significantly changed its landscape, Iowa has had many people who are passionate about conservation and preserving the land…as a perusal of this subject guide for our collections will reveal.

One such person I recently learned about was, as you all know by now, Arthur Hawthorne Carhart. One hundred years ago this year (1916), Carhart graduated with Iowa State’s first degree in landscape gardening (later landscape architecture), and became the first landscape architect for the National Forest Service. Carhart’s vision for wilderness preservation had a lasting impact here in this country. One of his first projects was to survey Trappers Lake in Colorado’s White Pine National Forest for development. After his visit, he recommended instead that the area be designated as a wilderness. Trappers Lake became the National Forest’s first wilderness preservation area. Before leaving the Forest Service to work in private practice, Carhart recommended that an area of northern Minnesota be designated as a wilderness area, and this is now the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Carhart later became a successful writer, drawing upon his earlier experiences. The Special Collections Department at the University of Iowa holds the Papers of Arthur Carhart, which contain his literary manuscripts.

What was Carhart’s life like here at Iowa State while a student, and what do we have which documents his accomplishments after graduation?  As our genealogy subject guide reveals, we have a variety of resources with which to begin.


In addition to supplying information about students at the time, the Bomb also provides a window into what life was like at that time. Above is a passage about a December Christmas Carnival which took place on campus (from 1916 Bomb).

The Bomb, the student yearbook, can often be a rich source of information and a great place to begin – especially if the alum was involved in a variety of student organizations, as Carhart was.  During his senior year alone, the 1916 Bomb reveals that he was a member of Acacia, band, glee club, horticulture department club, and the Iowa State College Chapter of the Cosmopolitan Club (an international student group; more on the Iowa State chapter can be found in this earlier blog post).


Carhart’s page from the section on seniors from the 1916 Bomb.

In addition to physical copies here in the department and the general collection, the Bomb is now available online through Digital Collections.

We also have his bachelors thesis (call number: Cob 1916 Carhart) entitled “Landscape Materials for Iowa.”  As Carhart states in his forward, he has compiled a listing of plants hardy enough to use in the middle west state of Iowa.  No single book, or even group of books, existed at that time which did so for midwest states.  This groundbreaking work of an Iowa State senior is a great view into Carhart’s work as a budding landscape architect, in addition to preserving an annotated list of plants available for such work in the early part of the 20th century. (Please note: we are in the process of cataloging our bachelors theses. His thesis will soon be discoverable through the library’s search system…just not yet!)


Title page from Carhart’s bachelors thesis (call #: Cob 1916 Carhart)

There are multiple other resources one could go to to find other windows into Carhart’s life here at Iowa State – but I will leave those up to you to find, if you’re so inclined. The student directories would reveal where he lived while here, as well as his hometown and major.  This would also be a good place to start if you had a basic idea for when someone attended, but not the exact date.  The records for the student groups he was involved with here on campus may have photographs, scrapbooks, programs, and other materials documenting what he may have done within those organizations.

His file in our alumni files (RS 21/7/1) reveals what he accomplished after graduating from Iowa State – and this included quite a lot, far more than I knew about him before examining the file! In addition to his accomplishments mentioned above, a 1969 letter to President Parks (from a nomination packet for Iowa State’s “Distinguished Achievement Citation”) says that he “conceived and carried through to establishment” the Conservation Library Center (now the Conservation Collection, Denver Public Library), and saved Dinosaur National Monument from a proposed dam. Carhart’s alumni file is full of additional information, including news clippings, resumes, articles, correspondence, updates to the alumni association, among others.

Incidentally, Dinosaur National Monument has at least two Iowa State connections.  In addition to Carhart’s work, the large array of fossils which eventually became Dinosaur National Monument was discovered by another Iowa State alum, Earl Douglass. I’ll leave it to the curious among you to find out what we may have on Douglass! I hope this post has given everyone a better idea about the resources we have in the University Archives related to former students.


For Earth Day 2012: Frederic Leopold Papers

Earth Day 2012 is just around the corner, coming up this Sunday, April 22.  The Special Collections Department contains many collections related to the environment and sustainability.  This year, we would like to highlight the Frederic Leopold Papers for an Earth Day related post.  Why Frederic Leopold, you may ask?

Frederic Leopold (at front of boat) with John Hale near Two Key Island (from Frederic Leopold Papers, MS 113, box 14).

Conservationists Aldo and Frederic Leopold were both born and raised in Iowa.  Many have probably heard of conservationist, forester, wildlife ecologist, and author Aldo Leopold, but his younger brother Frederic Leopold was also very much involved in  conservation efforts and wildlife ecology.  Both Frederic and Aldo grew up in Burlington, Iowa.  Staying in Burlington and running the family’s Leopold Desk Company, Frederic became concerned about the survival of the wood duck.

The wood duck was close to extinction in the early part of the 20th century.  Frederic Leopold developed a design for wood duck houses and conducted extensive studies on the wood ducks’ mating and nesting habits.  Some of these studies were done in his own back yard in Burlington, overlooking the Mississippi River and its bluffs.  Included in the papers are his detailed wood duck notes and studies, including a large number of photographs he took of the wood ducks and their nests.

A wood duck perched atop one of Frederic Leopold’s wood duck houses in 1965 (box 6, folder 7).

Frederic kept wonderfully detailed records, and his travel journals are a great example of this.  For instance, in his journal of a trip to Quetico Provincial Park (the Canadian side of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area) with his wife Edith, the first page of notes contains the first date of the trip (June 6, 1936), the number of people (2), the number of days (13), and a listing of food and supplies (often including amount and cost).  Also included are lists of camping clothes, cooking utensils, equipment, and a couple pages of brief recipes (including cocoa and tortillas!).  The final list is a tally of the amount of gas and oil bought – including where – and the beginning and ending mileage is also noted!

Leopold checking one of his wood duck houses in 1960 (box 6, folder 7).

Do the Frederic Leopold Papers contain anything on Earth Day?  Leopold was very much alive on that first Earth Day (April 22, 1970), and there may be correspondence, a diary entry, or other material within the collection documenting Leopold and Earth Day.  While finalizing the papers for public use, I did not come across anything on Earth Day, but my job was to make the collection available for researchers to use.  If you are curious, please come up to the Special Collections Department and look through Frederic Leopold’s Papers to see if there is anything on Earth Day or any other research area you are interested in which the papers might shed light on!

While not necessarily for Earth Day, the following brief excerpt from one of his speeches is just one of many examples within the collection of Frederic Leopold’s concern for the Earth:

“I am asked to speak on Iowa’s Conservation Heritage, which I feel is Iowa’s problem of the day…We are here because we know that unless we change our present wasteful consumptions of our natural resources we face a future calamity…”  (1970s speech from Frederic Leopold Papers, box 5, folder 8).

You can find a listing of many of our environment and sustainability related collections through our subject guide.  Interested in Gaylord Nelson and the beginning of Earth Day?  The Wisconsin Historical Society has made available online some of the records in the Gaylord Nelson Papers related to Earth Day.