“Faithful friend of my girlhood”: the diary of Celestia Lee Barker

“I believe I will write a journal, said sister A. a few days ago,” Celestia Lee wrote in the first entry of her diary on July 5th, 1863. “It will be so novel like, and good to refer to, when I get old. That’s just it; I want to begin now; I will too said I; it will be so nice.”

Barker describes her decision to begin a diary.

First entry in Celestia Lee Barker’s diary, dated Thursday, July 5th 1863

The diary is part of the Celestia Lee Barker Papers (MS-246). Celestia Lee was born April 23, 1846, in Springwater, Livingston County, New York. In April 1855, when she was nine years old, her family moved to Macksburg, Madison County, Iowa. She began writing her diary when she was 17, and so perhaps it is not surprising that within the first few pages, we hear a description of a “beau” of hers:

Wm [William] accompanied me home from church yesterday. He did not come in but said if it was agreeable he would call in the evening. I consented and he went off. …Towards dark I was fixing up a little of course, and E. began about his coming. She had her own fun about it, and said she intended to sit up as long as I did. I told her I did not care, and perhaps C. would come too. She did not think he would; but time proved quite to the contrary, for soon there appeared to [sic] young men who took a beeline for our house….E. and C. were quite bashfull [sic] and did not have  much to say, but Wm. and I had a real time.

E. and C. were quite bashful and did not have much to say, but William and I had a real time. I wonder what A. will say about E's beau.

Barker describes she and her sister “E” meeting with their beaux in the evening.

By September, she writes about an unexpected change in her life. She has left home to attend a school (“seminary,” as she calls it) in Indianola. “A., H & [?] had been talking of coming here but I did not think as I could come till ma said I could if I wanted to. At first I thought it was impossible for there was so much to do at home but she argued it all away & the consequence was that I am here ready to begin studies,” she writes in her entry for Sept. 15, 1863.

She continues to keep in touch with William. On Sept. 18 she writes, “Rec’d a letter from Wm. this morning. He is most well & will start for the Reg’t before long.” As you might have noticed, she began keeping her diary during the Civil War.

She writes about school… “I like the Teacher very well & the scholars too, & had several new ones this week. One young man named Shepherd. Mattie calls him brother. He is real good looking.” (Sept. 22, 1863)

Have just returned from the Seminary and had very good sessions. I like the Teacher very well and the scholars too, and have several new ones this week. One young man named Shepherd Mattie calls him brother. He is real good looking.

Barker describes her school experiences.

…and social life… “Mat & I called on the other ‘old maids’ the other eve. O we had a splendid time pulling candy.” (Oct. 10, 1863)

…and loneliness… “O why do I feel so lonely & forsaken today as if I was alone from home & among strangers who cared nothing for me nor I for them. My thoughts turn to the past like a troubled dream & then to the future with appears so dark.

“I was out to the [?] last night & that accounts for it. It is the way with me generally after I have been so gay & they had music & dancing there. Farewell to fashionable society. I think I have witnessed you for the last time as a participator. I am sick of it. It is nothing but deceit adorned with gaudy trappings.” (Oct. 21, 1863)

Celestia kept her diary for about four years. In 1866, she got married to her beau William Barker. Her entry of May 10, 1866, begins, “Dear Journal how you are neglected of late & you have been such a faithful friend of my girlhood & these days will soon be over then this volume will be done & another begun then what will be the record.” Further on she continues, “We are to be married the 6th of Sept. & so much to do before that I intend to get the house plastered & things comfortable for ma before I leave her. That is my only grief & fear nothing in the future for myself. Wm. is as devoted as I could wish when we are alone but in public he hardly notices me & I hardly like such a marked difference but it is his way I supposed. He says he can’t understand me yet I am so different from others & I surely don’t understand him but I do not doubt his love.”

Journal entry states that she has neglected her journal lately, that she is looking forward to marriage, but that her fiance neglects her in public but is affectionate in private.

Entry for May 10, 1866 in which she describes her hopes for marriage.

There follows several blank pages before there are some poems.

She took up her diary again with an entry from April 23, 1881, that begins, “Well well here I am 35 ys. old today. What an old lady I am to be sure but don’t know as I feel any older than I did at 20 & people do say I have not changed much in looks. I do believe a great deal depends on keeping the heart young to keep our looks young & my life seems such a happy one with such a good man & 4 good smart children.”

Well well here I am 35 years old today. What an old lady I am to be sure, but don't know as I feel any older than I did at 20 and people do say I have not changed much in looks.

Entry dated April 23, 1881 on her 35th birthday.

Further pages include pasted clippings of poems and periodic diary entries. Her final entry is dated Apr 23d 1904, and begins, “Dear old journal it has been long long since I have written & now this is my 58 birthday & how busy I have been.” She writes that they now live in Denver, Colorado, “& have a beautiful home far nicer than I ever dreamed of having.” She reflects back on her life, noting,

How much I have to be thankful for & how often I have proved the old song I have always loved, ‘Ever down to old age all my people shall prove my sovereign eternal unchangeable love And when hoary hairs shall their temples adorn Like lambs they shall still in my bosom be borne.’ Blessed promise blessed hope but it seems as if I am getting only as I look in the glass for I am most always so old.”

Celestia Lee Barker diary 0006

Barker’s final entry dated April 23, 1904, in which she looks back on her marriage and thinks about aging.

A bittersweet reflection for one who was only (at least from a modern perspective) 41 years old. But all-in-all this diary presents a remarkable look at the life and reflections of a 19th century Iowa woman from youth through adulthood.

This diary can be viewed online in Digital Collections.

 

 


National Ag Day 2017

black-and-white photograph, young woman on tractor in field.

Extension photograph from University Photographs

Today is National Ag Day 2017. National Ag Day is organized by the Agriculture Council of America (ACA), you can check them out on their Facebook page. ACA is a nonprofit organization composed of leaders in the agricultural, food and fiber community. The ACA was founded in 1973, and their mission is:

To educate all American’s about the importance of American Agriculture.

In celebration of National Ag Day, check out some of our agricultural collections.

4-H boys and girls posing with their sheep

Extension photograph from University Photographs

Drop in some time to do some research. Our reading room is open Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.


#TBT On the Farm @ISUExtension

Two farmers lifting hay bales on the farm, (year?). University Photographs, box (#)

Two farmers lifting hay bales on the farm, undated. University Photographs, box 1349

There is so much I love about his photo: the angle, the light and dark contrast, the windmill, the depiction of farm work in the early-to-mid 20th century.  It also looks a bit like a storm is building, but that may just be blue sky that looks extra dark with the overall dark tone of the photo. This is one of several photos taken at farmsteads around Iowa by the Extension Service.

Stop in sometime to see more photos depicting rural life in Iowa!


Educating Farmers on Educational Trains

Amy Bishop, rare books and manuscript curator, at our exhibit table in the Iowa State Capitol's rotunda for Silos & Smokestacks Legislative Showcase.

Amy Bishop, rare books and manuscript curator, at our exhibit table in the Iowa State Capitol’s rotunda for Silos & Smokestacks Legislative Showcase.

Yesterday my colleague Amy Bishop & I attended the Silos & Smokestacks Annual Partner Site Meeting & Legislative Showcase in Des Moines. There are 115 partner sites that constitute Silos & Smokestacks National Heritage Area (SSNHA) and all of the partner sites preserve and tell the story of American agriculture in some way. National Heritage Areas are places designated by Congress where natural, cultural, and historic resources combine to tell a story that celebrates our nation’s diverse heritage. Special Collections & University Archives are a partner site for SSNHA.

We attended educational sessions in the morning and in the afternoon we put on a tabletop exhibit about a website created during a summer internship, Reflections on ISU Extension, that was funded by an SSNHA grant in 2014. The intern developed a digital collection and contributed to the design of its accompanying website. The collection offers a look into the early work of the Extension Service, its role in the education of farmers, and the impact it had on agricultural advancement and production. It is composed of documents, photographs, and select media.

One of the neatest things I learned from browsing through this digital collection was about the educational trains. The university (known then as Iowa Agricultural College and Model Farm) sent instructors on trains throughout the state to teach classes on seed corn and other agriculture related topics of interest to Iowa’s farmers such as crops, livestock, and home economics.

 

Educational Trains. 1905. J. W. Jones speaking. M. L. Mosher helping. Audience in coach listens to a talk on producing better corn. Note the Holden sawdust corn testing box, a method by which 6 kernels of corn from each seed ear could be tested. Audience advised to plant only ears that tested six kernels strong.

Educational Trains. 1905. J. W. Jones speaking. M. L. Mosher helping. Audience in coach listens to a talk on producing better corn. Note the Holden sawdust corn testing box, a method by which 6 kernels of corn from each seed ear could be tested. Audience advised to plant only ears that tested six kernels strong.

 

On the Hog train. Snyder speaking soils man, ca. 1910s.

On the Hog train. Snyder speaking soils man, ca. 1910s.

 

Read more about the history of ISU Extension here: http://digitalcollections.lib.iastate.edu/sites/default/files/documents/ISUExt_History.pdf or view the Reflections on ISU Extension digital collection. You can always stop by and see original documents and photographs documenting the work of Extension or other collections related to agriculture. We’re open Monday-Friday 10-4.


Cypix: Wintertime fun

Here is another glass plate negative from the Descartes Pascal Papers demonstrating some wintertime fun.

91.Pascal.9-5

Boys on horse-drawn sleds in winter. Lee Pascal and Jasper Babcock are on the front sled. Percy Pascal and Jim Townsen are on the rear sled. The horse’s name is Daisy. The photo is taken in front of the corn crib on the Pascal farm. MS 091 Box 9, folder 5.

Descartes Pascal (1870-1937) was a photographer, farmer, and pioneer seed corn breeder.  Pascal was born in De Witt, Clinton County, Iowa, where he raised corn, Shorthorn cattle, and Berkshire hogs. Pascal was also a practicing photographer.

You can find more information on the Descartes Pascal Papers in this finding aid that describes the collection and view more of his collection in our ISU Library Digital Collections, the online exhibit, and on our Flickr site.

You can also view the collection in person! We’re here from 10-4 Monday – Friday.


Farms in Crisis: The Center For Rural Affairs Tackles 1980s Rural Life

Thirty years ago, rural America was in the midst of a farm crisis, one so significant that it’s often simply referred to as “The Farm Crisis.” During this time, things were so bad that many farmers left their profession and sold their farms. For some, the whole situation was more than they could handle. Those that stuck it out endured a long, hard struggle, one that is far from forgotten in the rural Midwest. The Center for Rural Affairs Records, MS 413, now available for research, contains subject files on the farm crisis and illustrates the work that the Center did to help those affected by the crisis.

How did it all start? It seems there were many causes, not the least of which was a “boom and bust” economic cycle. In the early 1970s, an economic boom in agriculture occurred, and by late in the decade signs of a bust became evident. Loan interest rates skyrocketed, less demand from foreign markets helped drive crop prices down, and as a result many farmers couldn’t pay back the loans they were able to take out so cheaply in the ’70s. The impact on the agricultural community was huge, with farms being sold or abandoned and many people moving to urban areas to make a living. The stress on farmers and their families was horrific. It was the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, but only the agricultural community bore the brunt this time.

MS 413, Box 73, Folder 22

Farm Crisis Manual, published by Rural America. CFRA contributed a great deal of research and material related to Farmers Home Administration (FmHA) to this manual, undated. MS 413, Box 73, Folder 22

The Center for Rural Affairs (CFRA) was established in 1973 as a non-profit organization to advocate for rural interests in politics and to improve the welfare of rural Americans. Naturally, the farm crisis fit right in to their work (and provided new challenges). CFRA conducted research on how to help farmers get through these tough times and worked hard to change policies that had led to the bust, such as those regarding tax subsidies and cheap credit. Not everyone followed the organization’s recommendations on how to get through the crisis, but CFRA labored to guide farmers and policy makers through it nonetheless. While all of this was occurring, CFRA was working on various other projects, which you can read about in the previous link as well as here. CFRA has kept quite busy over the years with various agricultural issues, and their passion is evident throughout their manuscript collection.

MS 413, Box 100, Folder 29

A letter to FmHA from CFRA commenting on proposed changes to the FmHA property management regulations, 1984. MS 413, Box 100, Folder 29

More information on the work that CFRA has done can be found in the collection, along with more information on the farm crisis and many other matters pertaining to agriculture and rural America. Special Collections and University Archives has many other resources on the farm crisis, which can be found in this collections guide. In addition, we have a copy of Iowa Public Television’s 2013 documentary “The Farm Crisis,” also available for viewing here. Stop in and have a look at our resources!


“Life in Iowa”

In 2002, Iowa State University (ISU) Extension and ISU Philosophy Professor Nancy Bevin founded “Life in Iowa,” an undergraduate community-based internship and academic program that combined classroom study of Midwestern culture and identity along with experiential learning through internship, service, and community research in an Iowa community. The course focused on issues and concerns specifically related to the cultural and natural landscape of Iowa.

The program had several desired outcomes: 1) cultivating the personal, social, and ethical growth of students; 2) renewing Iowa’s leadership via encouraging students to stay in Iowa after graduation and preparing students for professional and civic life; and 3) fostering sustainable quality of life and ongoing partnerships between Iowa State University and communities in Iowa (Brochures, RS 16/5/5, box 1, folder 9. See also Leopold Center Competitive Grant Report M02-2003).

Diagram of 2002 Life in Iowa partner sites

“Life in Iowa Communities – Summer 2002” (RS 16/5/5, box 1, folder 4)

The Life in Iowa program supported ISU students via paid internships and work in a variety of areas. Each student had to complete 300 intern hours and 100 hours of community service during the 10 weeks of their summer placement. Some of the projects for 2003 involved:

CSA Life in Iowa participants with onions

Life in Iowa participants, L-R: Betty Wells (faculty mentor), Tim Landrgaf (One Step at a Time CSA co-owner), and Ann Holste (student participant), 2003 (RS 16/5/5 box 3, folder 2)

  • Organizing and running a fishing club for local youth (Adams County)
  • Revitalizing kestrel nest boxes (Green County)
  • Interviewing ESL students about their immigration/refugee experiences (Henry County)
  • Developing a website for a visitor center (Allamakee County)
  • Researching and describing historical artifacts (Montgomery County)
  • Coordinating a community garden (Dallas County)

“As you know, an important goal of this program is to encourage ISU graduates to stay in Iowa and build a future here. At the same time, we know that life presents each of us with a series of choices, many – if not most – of them unexpected, and so we have asked not for promises, but rather for newly explored possibilities of vocation and community, of leadership and service in Iowa. What I can say with certainty is that wherever these young persons someday will live will be made better for their presence…and that without exception, the communities where they lived and worked this summer will always welcome them home.” – from Nancy Blevin’s remarks at the “Life in Iowa Celebration,” September 8, 2002. (RS 16/5/5 box 1, folder 3)

A display of brochures.

An array of publications about the Life in Iowa program and its interns. (RS 16/5/5 box 1, folder 8)

By 2004, over 78 students had participated in the program in over 33 counties (“Life in Iowa” website). The program closed in 2007.

To learn more about the Life in Iowa program, see the Life In Iowa Internship Program Records (RS 16/5/5). Information about service learning and related initiatives can be found in the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching Administrative Records (RS 06/10/03).


An Iowa woman heads to the “wilds of Arkansas” in 1850

Two of St. John Cook's journals on top of large paper onto which the journals were recopied in larger handwriting, MS 314, Box 1 Folders 2 and 3.

Two of St. John Cook’s journals on top of large paper onto which the journals were recopied in larger handwriting, MS 314, Box 1 Folders 2 and 3.

I almost didn’t write this blog post. Instead, I was lost in the pages of Lucia St. John Cook’s journal, as she described her adventures traveling from Iowa to Arkansas in 1850 to teach school for five months. What was so fascinating about reading her journal? Perhaps it was her lively, intelligent, and opinionated way of writing (Sun. Went to meeting today, heard Mr. Banks preach from the text, Behold how great a matter a little fire kindleth. A good subject but not very well handled. I have not the most exalted opinion of that man. He is literally only Mrs. Banks’ husband. — Louise A. Carson and Lucia St. John Cook Papers, MS 314, Box 1, Folder 3, all quotations punctuated for readability) .

Or perhaps it was her very human, very relatable internal debate about whether to return home after completing her five months in the south and her reluctance to abandon her friend, committed there for a year (Three weeks has passed very quickly yet is seems as though it had been two months since I saw Louise. Bless her heart. I wish she were not obliged to stay here a year. We would then go north when my five months were expired. As it is I do not know what to do. I am very anxious to go north but I do not like to leave her. I wish I had someone to tell me what is right and best. –ibid.).

Certainly, her journal also gives a glimpse into the particularities of living in a specific time and place in history.

Born Lucia Williams in 1830, this interesting diarist grew up in Illinois, where she married Rufus St. John in 1848 at the age of 18. They moved to Ohio, but Rufus died only two years later, at which point Lucia moved to Farmington, Iowa. Soon after, she and her friend Louise Carson, also from Farmington, headed south for a teaching adventure.

Lucia St. John (as she was then known) began her diary from 1850 with the following, “Started from Farmington Sept 25, for the wilds of Arkansas, rather a sad parting for I could not tell when we should meet again, if ever.

A close-up view of St. John Cook's small handwritten journal in pencil. (click for larger image)

A close-up view of St. John Cook’s small handwritten journal in faint pencil. (click for larger image)

She and her friend were heading into antebellum South, and they encountered slaves along their journey. Her observations of the women she met at this juncture and the language she uses to describe her experience reveal a woman very rooted in her own time and class. They indicate her own privilege as a white woman and make use of common stereotypes from that time of African Americans as childish and simple:

Of all the places I ever saw the one where we staid last night was the worst. There is no white woman there, nothing but negroes and an overseer. The negroes looked as though it was quite a treat to see a woman and I have no doubt it was. They are certainly true daughters of Eve for their curiosity is unbounden [sic]. Their astonishment at finding we were travelling [sic] without a gentleman was really ludicrous and many were their conjectures as to who we were. One old negro woman came into our room lighted her pipe and set herself down comfortably upon the floor and commenced asking questions, a perfect stream of them, the answers to which were however not always satisfactory. It was really quite amusing. (MS 314, Box 1, Folder 2).

One night on their journey, they were not able to find a house to stay in, so they had to camp out. She declares it “something entirely new and not altogether unpleasant.” Later, she goes on,

I am writing by the light of the moon, setting all alone while the rest of our party are camped all around me. It is just about midnight and all are asleep or trying to be but myself. The moon not being quite full does not give the most brilliant light in the world to write by but it is on the whole decidedly romantic. This is quite an episode in our lives and will not easily be forgotten. I am only sorry on Louisa’s account as she cannot put up with such hardship as well as I can, her health not being as good. (ibid)

Portrait of Louise Carson, St. John Cook's companion on her travels, whose health she worries about.

Portrait of Louise Carson, St. John Cook’s companion on her travels, whose health she worries about. Undated. MS 314, Box 1, Folder 9.

When they finally reached the end of their travels, St. John describes her first day of teaching school, on February 25, six months after leaving Farmington, Iowa: “Commenced my experience as teacher in Arkansas. Only seven scholars but probably shall have more soon. Wise ones prophesy that the school will not last a month. We shall see.” (ibid)

As she continued teaching, she discovered some differences between the North and the South:

How different the girls are educated in the south and in the north. Were I in the north I should not think of sweeping this schoolroom myself – the girls would do it, but here I should not think of asking them to do so for they would think I was going to make a servant of them. Surely it is true a northerner has no business in the south – the manners and customs of the people are so different that it is difficult to act and speak as you have been accustomed to without giving offence [sic]. I do not know but the freedom of manners with which I treat gentlemen sometimes shocks their sense of delicacy but I can’t help this. Oh this is a strange world. (ibid)

She writes more on the subject of gentlemen, including this later passage when two preachers come to call. Here she refers to Mary, a woman with whom she shared a house:

A couple of preachers staid here last night. M[ary] and I took them to be old married men and talked as gravely to them as could be but one of them took the trouble to tell Mary before he left that he was not yet married but wanted to be and that he was going to quit preaching and settle down on a farm. Pretty well. Molly, you won’t hear the last of that preacher soon. (MS 314, Box 1, Folder 3)

Can you see now why I had trouble pulling myself away long enough to write?

For more from Lucia St. John Cook, see the Louise A. Carson and Lucia St. John Cook Papers, MS 314. For other collections related to rural Iowa women see our collection guide for women.


CyPix: Autumn on the Farm

Today marks the first full day of autumn – the equinox actually occurred last night. Some may be sad to see summer go, but I for one am more than ready for fall weather and all of the wonderful things that go along with it (pumpkin everything comes to mind). One of autumn’s most notable sights here in Iowa is that of combines plowing through golden fields of corn and soybeans.

Harvest is a busy time for farmers, full of long days and short nights. It’s also dangerous, with lots of large machinery and massive amounts of grain to work with. As it happens, this first week of autumn is also National Farm Safety and Health Week! Farm safety is an important issue to farmers and their families, and we farm kids had it instilled in us at a young age. Below is a great example of a child doing something he shouldn’t.

A child climbs up a crop conveyor belt that leads into the corn crib on the Irving Sorenson family farm - an example of what not to do during harvest time, 1953, RS 9/7/F.

A child climbs up a crop conveyor belt that leads into the corn crib on the Irving Sorenson family farm in Kelley, Iowa – an example of what not to do during harvest time, 1953, RS 9/7/F.

This and four other photos taken on the Irving Sorenson farm are mounted on a card labeled “Farm Safety,” so these photos were presumably used for farm safety education. The Sorenson farm photos are available on our Flickr page. We have several collections regarding farm safety, including the Norval J. Wardle Papers, the Wesley Fisher Buchele Papers, the Dale O. Hull Papers, the Iowa Farm Safety Council Records, and the Herbert Plambeck Papers. For more information, search through our website or ask us about our other holdings!


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.