Rural electric cooperatives in Iowa

Turned on a light recently? If you live in a rural area, chances are you have an electric cooperative to thank!

Two men stand on top of the metal scaffolding of an electric substation, while a large piece of equipment is lilfted on a wire by a crane. Ten men work or watch from below.

Construction of a substation near Creston, Iowa. Box 38, folder 27. Iowa Rural Electric News, June 1962.

In 1936, Congress passed the Rural Electrification Act (REA) to provide federal loans to rural communities to cover the cost of developing their own electrical distribution systems. Commercial power companies by that time had provided electricity to the majority of city dwellers, but they felt that it was not cost-effective to run electric lines through the rural areas. Because of this, farmers were not able to take advantage of electrical power in their work. Nor were their wives able to use the newly burgeoning market of electrical appliances for the home.

Rural communities in Iowa joined thousands of others across the country in developing power cooperatives with the help of REA loans. Members jointly owned and ran the cooperatives and shared the benefits. In 1942, the Iowa Rural Electric Cooperative Association was founded to represent the state’s rural electric cooperatives, and later changed its name to the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives (IAEC). The IAEC came to represent 41 cooperatives throughout the state of Iowa and is still operating today. I recently processed the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives Records (MS 40), and you can check out the finding aid here.

The IAEC supports its member cooperatives in a number of ways, including legislative representation at the state and national levels, safety programs, education and training programs, electrical promotion programs, and youth activities. To learn more about the IAEC, stop by Special Collections.

National Poetry Month: Songs of Iowa

It’s National Poetry Month, and our department has several collections involving poetry. One of particular interest may be the Iowa Sheet Music Collection, MS 474, a collection of songs by Iowa songwriters and/or about Iowa. Songs, as you may know, are essentially poetry set to music (one could even argue that music is a sort of poetry, but let’s not go there today). Within the collection, the songs about Iowa truly showcase Iowa pride in the early 20th century.

We're more than just corn. We also have soybeans. Hamilton County, Iowa, summer 2011. Photo courtesy of myself.

We’re more than just corn. We also have soybeans. Hamilton County, Iowa, summer 2011. Photo courtesy of Whitney Olthoff (myself).

Iowa pride. It’s an actual thing, though people not from Iowa may wonder why on earth anyone would be proud to come from this state. As someone who spent a couple years out of state, I’ve gotten my share of “what do you… like… DO there?” and “do you mean Ohio?” or, “oh, you grow potatoes there, right?” No, we are not Idaho, nor Ohio, nor should it warrant a disappointed or pitying reaction. I missed my home state quite a lot when I was in Indiana (even though southern Indiana is a beautiful place). Sure I missed my family, my friends, my dog, my favorite restaurants… but I also missed the land itself. It can be very beautiful with its rolling hills and patchwork quilt fields. But above all, it’s home. I love it, and lots of other Iowans love it, too. Now before I get carried away and go on and on about the understated awesomeness that is Iowa, let’s focus on other people’s love letters to this state – in that form of poetry loved so well, song.

"Iowa, Proud Iowa" by Virginia K. Logan and Frederic Knight Logan, 1920. The inscription implies this was a gift from the Logans to Mrs. L. B. Schmidt.

“Iowa, Proud Iowa” by Virginia K. Logan and Frederic Knight Logan, 1920. The inscription implies this was a gift from the Logans to Mrs. L. B. Schmidt.

“Iowa, Proud Iowa,” pictured above, is a poem by Virginia K. Logan, set to music by Frederic Knight Logan. On the inside cover is a list of Iowa facts, including its pronunciation – “I’-o-wah.” A few other fun facts listed include “First settled near the present site of Dubuque by French, in 1788,” “A leading state in agricultural interests, fine livestock raising, and coal and lead mines,” and “Iowa’s State Motto: – ‘Our liberties we prize, and our rights we will maintain.'” The first verse of the song is as follows:

“All hail! Iowa, Queen of the West!

With her broad rolling prairies so fertile and blest

Where cool shady streams flow ‘mid verdure so rare,

With Iowa’s beauty no state can compare.”

Another song, “The New Iowa Song: Iowa I Love Best,” was written and composed by Coe Pettit, 1925. It was dedicated to the Kiwanis Club of McGregor, Iowa, which sponsored the publishing of the song. For your reading pleasure, here is the third verse:

“I thought I’d like to travel, I thought I’d like to roam,

So then to realize my dreams, I wandered far from home;

Now since I’ve seen the others, I know what I like best;

I’ll take my good old Iowa, And they can have the rest.”

"Iowa Corn Song" by J. T. Beeston and G. E. Hamilton, 1922 (the cover says 1921, but the copyright is 1922)

“Iowa Corn Song” by J. T. Beeston and G. E. Hamilton, 1922 (the cover says 1921, but the copyright is 1922)

“Iowa Corn Song,” pictured above, was written by J. T. Beeston with the chorus written by G. E. Hamilton. Beeston was the director of the Za-Ga-Zig Temple All Shrine Band, who played this song in Des Moines and “all conclaves” in 1921. It is also titled “The Official Za-Ga-Zig’s ‘Iowa Corn Song’.” The first verse of the song goes as follows:

“Of all the states in the U.S.A. There’s only one for me,

It’s the good old state of I O A and we’re proud of her by gee,

We’re a bunch of corn-fed shriners, full of mirth and merry jest,

Our Temple it’s Za-Ga-Zig, all shrinedom knows the rest.”

Here’s the chorus:

“We’re from I O A, I O A,

From that grand old land trav’ling o’er the sand,

We’re from I O A, I O A,

That’s where the tall corn grows.”

“On a Little Farm in Iowa,” by Fred Howard and Nat Vincent, 1936, is referred to in the sheet music as “the new Iowa Corn Song” and the “state theme song.” It was used by Farm Folks Hour, Hawkeye Dinnertime, and Tall Corn Gang on the Iowa Br0adcasting System. The following is a verse and the very start of the chorus (which is most of the song):

“Yesterday I met a stranger,

Far away from his home town

And his tear filled eyes, made me realize,

How I long to settle down,

[Chorus] On a little farm in I-O-WAY

Where the folks are happy all the day…”

"I'm From Iowa (That Beautiful Iowa Song)" by Alice E. Snow and Clifford R. Snow, 1923

“I’m From Iowa (That Beautiful Iowa Song)” by Alice E. Snow and Clifford R. Snow, 1923

“I’m From Iowa (That Beautiful Iowa Song),” picture above, was written by Alice E. Snow with music by Clifford R. Snow and published in Goldfield, Iowa. The first verse follows a familiar theme:

“I’m a long way from home,

For I’m out on a roam;

And the world seems sad to me,

I would give all I own for a note from home sweet home;

From those friends I am longing to see,”

And the chorus also contains something familiar:

“Oh I’m from Iowa

Yes she is queen of the west

I’ll say that she is the best

That’s where I’m goin’

I can hear the cattle lowin’

Out in my home in the west.”

Either “queen of the west” was a common phrase for Iowa at the time, or this alludes back to “Iowa, Proud Iowa.” Either way, it’s interesting. The other theme here and throughout much of this list is homesickness. Clearly, it has played a significant role in the love for Iowa. So many of these songs convey a sense of longing for the author’s homeland, it makes one wonder whether this is common with all places, or if there is something different about Iowa that draws people’s thoughts back here. A discussion for another day, perhaps.

“Flag of Iowa” was penned by Mrs. Laura Wright in the hope of it being incorporated into the classroom in Iowa schools to familiarize students with the state flag. No year is given on the sheet music, as it simply says “Copyright applied for,” but based on information about the flag provided on the back of the music, the design of the state flag was made official in March 1921. Presumably, this song was written not too long after. The first verse is as follows:

“Dear old flag of Iowa. Wave, O, Wave.

You’re the emblem of a noble state. Wave, O, Wave.

For an hundred years she’s battled for the right

And we pledge our allegiance,

We’ll never give up the fight to keep her honor bright.”

"Iowa" by Meredith Willson, featured by Bing Crosby, 1944

“Iowa” by Meredith Willson, featured by Bing Crosby, 1944

Last to be featured here, but by no means least, is “Iowa,” written by Iowa’s own Meredith Willson, 1944. As many from this state know, Willson, who came from Mason City, wrote and composed the Broadway and cinematic hit The Music Man. The song pictured above was performed by none other than Bing Crosby. Here is the introduction and first part of the chorus:

“Ioway Ioway

That’s how they sing it in the Tall Corn Song

Other people call it I-“O”-WA

And they’re both just a little bit wrong.

[Chorus] I-O-WA, it’s a beautiful name

When you say it like we say it back home

It’s the robin in the willows,

It’s the post-master’s friendly hello.

I-O-WA, it’s a beautiful name

You’ll remember it where ever you roam;

It’s the sumac in September,

It’s the squeak of your shoes in the snow.”

Yet another song that harkens back to an earlier song on this list! Several of the songs in the collection use “Ioway” as a pronunciation, though of course no one today pronounces it that way. Mr. Willson has the right of it. And again, there is a hint of homesickness in this song. Oh, what papers could be written on this subject (hint, hint).

Keep in mind that this is only a small selection of the songs in the Iowa Sheet Music Collection. To see more, as well as songs not about Iowa but by Iowa songwriters, stop in and see us sometime!

Early 20th Century Bank Robberies in Iowa

The early 20th century marked a tumultuous time in America and the world. World War I, the Great Depression, World War II… and an apparent rise in bank robberies all occurred. I am currently processing the Iowa Bankers Association Records, MS 45. Among all of the records in the collection, the most interesting set, in my opinion, are those records involving bank robberies, which span the years 1910-1969. The bulk of these cover 1910-1940 or so. This portion of the collection features cross files of criminal cases in index card form, many mug shots, clippings, robberies organized by bank and/or town, and about 2,000 case files organized by case number. Hundreds upon hundreds of photographs are found within this part of the collection, though be aware that some of these are not for the faint of heart – there are several postmortem photographs, some of them featuring gun wounds. In addition to all of that, many artifacts have been found, including pieces of blown-up safes, ropes used in robberies, a bullet shell, and even a pillow case that was used to carry stolen cash and was buried.

While most of these bank robberies were conducted by relatively unknown bandits, a few hold ups were done (or at least allegedly done) by famous figures. Perhaps you’ve heard of Bonnie and Clyde. Or a man named John Dillinger.  Here is a brief description of their escapades in the Hawkeye State:

Clyde Barrow, leader of the "Barrow Gang," which included George "Baby Face" Nelson, circa 1934

Clyde Barrow, leader of the “Barrow Gang,” circa 1934. Box 145, folder 16.

Bonnie Parker (a.k.a. Mrs. Clyde Barrow) circa 1934

Bonnie Parker (a.k.a. Mrs. Clyde Barrow) circa 1934. Box 145, folder 16.

Texas outlaws Bonnie and Clyde, along with other members collectively known as the Barrow Gang, were suspected of holdups at at least three banks in Iowa, as follows: State Savings Bank in Knierim on February 1, 1934, First National Bank in Stuart on April 16, 1934, and the Bank Office in Everly on May 3, 1934. A woman (presumably Parker) was often reported as driving Barrow and other members of the gang away from these banks. The car used in the Knierim robbery bore the Arkansas license plate number 145-467, which was the plate number found in the abandoned car in which Bonnie and Clyde were killed. They met their end in Louisiana at the hand of Texas and Louisiana Peace Officers on  May 23, 1934. Marvin Barrow, Clyde’s brother who had a reputation as a “cop killer,” was killed in a raid near Dexter, Iowa in July 1933. Their hideouts in Iowa included heavily-wooded locations near Dexter, Sutherland, Lime Springs, and Mount Ayr. Supposedly, the Barrow Gang made many visits to Iowa, so they may have been responsible for other bank crimes in the state in which they weren’t identified.

Excerpt from the Minneapolis Tribune, March 14, 1934

Clipping from the Minneapolis Tribune, March 14, 1934. Box 146, folder 2.

John Dillinger left a bloody trail all across the Midwest. Dillinger and his gang, which included for a time notorious gangster George “Baby Face” Nelson, were suspected of robbing $52,000 from the First National Bank in Mason City on March 13, 1934. There was some debate as to whether or not it really was Dillinger, or if it was instead a similar-looking criminal named Frank D. Carpenter. The photo above, clipped from a Minneapolis newspaper, highlights this debate. Overall consensus, however, is that it was in fact Dillinger. In this robbery, the gang used bank employees as hostages to stand outside of the car and protect them from gunfire and used tear gas in the bank. One witness was wounded in the leg by a stray bullet, but luckily there were no deaths in the robbery. For more information on the robberies of the Barrow Gang and Dillinger, contact us about looking through the collection.

A group of vigilantes gather for a practice shoot, this time with a tommy gun.

A group of vigilantes gather for a shooting match. Matches involved pistols and rifles, so this photograph featuring a Tommy gun is unusual. Box 333, folder 8.

In response to the common occurrence of bank robberies across the state, county vigilante groups were organized, known as County Auxiliary Protective Units. These were official units that were recognized by the American Bankers Association. Story County participated in this, and the Ames National Bank and Ames Trust and Savings Bank were among those that contributed to the protective units. In exchange for contributing to the County Auxiliary Protective Units, banks were entitled to discounts in their premiums for Burglary and Robber insurance. These units look to have been formed in the mid-to-late 1920s, while county vigilance committees formed a bit earlier. “State shoots,” held at Fort Des Moines, started as early as 1918. The “state shoots,” or “state matches,” were made up of sheriffs, regular deputy sheriffs, special deputy sheriffs, town marshalls, and constables representing their respective counties. The special deputy sheriffs were men who were chosen from Iowa communities, and they were often referred to as “vigilantes”; their purpose was to find and apprehend bank bandits and other major criminals that endangered their communities. Participants at the shoots competed in pistol and rifle matches, consisting of short range, midrange and rapid fire contests. The Iowa Bankers Association bore the costs of these shoots, although the county associations paid the expenses of their contestants. More information about these vigilante organizations can be found in the collection.

If you’re interested in this, other collections might appeal to you that involve the time periods covered in Bank Robberies record series featured in this post. A few examples include MS 409, United States Works Progress Administration (Iowa): Special Reports and Narratives of Projects, MS 605, Harold French Davidson Papers (these contain letters from World War I), and MS 388, World War II Ration Memorabilia. Or, take a look at our many other wonderful collections. You never know what might pique your interest!

An Iowan’s Reminiscences of Iowa Life in the Early 20th Century

We now live in the early 21st century, but what was life like in Iowa a hundred years ago?  There are many resources here in the Special Collections Department which can help shed light on this question, but this post will highlight a collection which recently had its finding aid made available online:  Joseph C. Reasoner Reminiscences (MS-182).   Reasoner was a life-long resident of the Humboldt, Iowa area.  As an adult, he took over the operation of his family’s farm and also worked on the hog cholera vaccine for the Fort Dodge Serum Company.

The reminiscences in this collection cover a wonderful range of topics – some of which, such as Iowa storms, can still be recounted by residents of Iowa today (although the experiences might be a bit different!).  Reasoner created many of the reminiscences for his grandchildren so that they might have an idea of what life was like when he was a boy.  Topics include his early school days, farming, his involvement in the hog cholera vaccine, stone quarries, ice harvesting, Iowa storms, rag doll corn tests, and various trips.

Reasoner in 1975, with some of the artifacts he donated to the Special Collections Department in front of him.  He is probably wearing on his right hand the hand corn husker (Artifact 2011-R001.002).  See below for a close-up photograph of the corn husker.  (Photograph located in MS-182, Box 1, Folder 1).

The “Common Sense Husker No. 3 Pat. 4-26-04”.

During the heat of this summer, and as the in-season fruit and vegetables continue to change as the weeks go by, his reminiscence on food preserves and preservation might be interesting to read.  How did people preserve their food before refrigerators, especially during Iowa’s hot and often muggy summer days?  Reasoner describes how he and his family kept food cool during the summer with a cooling tank made of wood and cooled with well water (pages 6-7). He discusses food preparation and preservation, how his family kept food cool in both the winter and summer, and storage of fruits and vegetables over winter.

The topic of preserving milk and cream comes up quite frequently in the food preservation reminiscence. As I read through the transcript, one of the passages which struck me was his remembrance of his father pouring cream over his pie – and that “today” (1965), with the benefit of fridges and freezers, Reasoner used ice cream instead:

” ”Course today we’d go to the refrigerator and get a big helping of ice cream and put on it and that would be pie a la mode, but our a la mode was just the cream without it being frozen.  And I guess probably it had just as many or more calories in than what you would use today.” (page 13)

If you are interested in taking a look at any of Reasoner’s reminiscences, please come on up to the Special Collections Department. (But please excuse the construction which is now taking place on the fourth floor – a new classroom is being constructed!).

New Collection Online: Papers of Iowa Folklorist Earl Stout

Although we have many of our collection descriptions/finding aids now online, we are still in the process of getting our legacy finding aids (available only in our reading room) typed up and put online.  This is the case for both our university archives and manuscript collections.

However, we are working hard to get as many of these finding aids available online for all to see, and new finding aids are added to our website every month!  I am happy to announce that the finding aid of a slightly different kind of collection than our main collecting areas (ISU, agriculture, science, and technology) is now available:  the papers of folklorist Earl Stout.

There are no photographs in this collection, so there will be no photographs accompanying this post!  However, there are a few boxes of Stout’s card files containing proverbs, riddles, autographs and other sayings.  Below is one of the riddles which reads “A house full, a house full, and you cannot get a bowl full. What is it?”  See the image below for the answer:

In addition to teaching, serving as a school administrator, enlisting in the American Expeditionary Force, and working for many years for the Red Cross, Earl Stout also studied as a graduate student and later published on Iowa folklore.  In the 1920s through the middle of the 20th century, Stout collected and studied the customs and beliefs of Iowans.  Folklore is defined as the unwritten, often oral, traditions and beliefs passed down among people.  These beliefs and traditions include riddles, proverbs, music and lyrics, poetry, superstitions, autographs (verses written in books and albums such as yearbooks), and stories.  Stout collected all of these from Iowans in the early part of the 20th century, and this collection is a wonderful window into those beliefs and the variations found throughout the world that were in Iowa at that time.  Some you may recognize and some you may not.

For instance, some may recognize this proverb found in Stout’s research card files – and students, whether you recognize it or not, should take note!:

“Early to bed, and early to rise, makes you healthy, wealthy and wise.”

As a graduate student at the University of Iowa, Stout did personal field work and also obtained the help of high school English teachers who had their students ask their parents and neighbors about the folklore, songs and stories they knew. Letters were sent to Iowa schools enlisting their help in collecting old songs, superstitions, proverbs, and other folklore which had been passed down through families. Letters were also sent to couples celebrating marriages of long standing, and Stout collected material from his family and acquaintances as well. Although the Great Depression ended this educational pursuit, Stout continued to study and write about Iowa folklore, including his book Folklore from Iowa (first published in 1936) .

The card files, one of which is pictured above, are a great resource to look through to find the variety of sayings Stout found in Iowa.  He carefully notes who gave him the saying, and where they are from, on each card.

Above is another proverb found in Stout’s card files.  He also included variations he came across.  The proverb above reads “Experience is a dear teacher but fools will learn the other way.”

The proverb on the card below merely reads “Experience is a wise teacher.”

In addition to the card files pictured above, there are many other sources for Iowa folklore found throughout Stout’s collection, including music and lyrics, one of which is pictured below.

The submissions are often accompanied by a letter from the submitter.  Below is the first page from the person who submitted the music shown above:

If you would like to see more of the Early Jonathan Stout Papers, take a look at the finding aid of his collection and visit us on the fourth floor of Parks Library.  However, please note that we will be closed to the public all day Wednesday, September 29th, 2010.  If you need to make special arrangements for viewing the collections, please contact us at, or 515-294-6648.