Women’s History Month: Civil Engineers Alda and Elmina Wilson

Alda and Elmina Wilson were sisters and Iowa natives who held the distinction of being the first female graduates from Iowa State‘s Civil Engineering program. Neither was the first woman in the United States to formally study Civil Engineering – that honor belongs to Elizabeth Bragg of California. Nevertheless, Elmina was the first woman in the country to earn a master’s degree in Civil Engineering, and she and her sister were also the first women to earn their living as successful full-time professionals in the field.

Elmina Wilson was born on September 29th, 1870 and Alda Wilson on September 20th, 1873. They lived in Harper, Keokuk County Iowa with their parents, John Chesney and Olive Eaton Wilson and six older siblings. Both their parents and grandparents were apparently very progressive and encouraged pursuit of higher education. It is unclear whether all of the older children did so (though one sister named Olive studied Agriculture at Iowa State before marrying). But Elmina, at least, seems to have settled on her career choice early in life. In a 1905 interview with the New York Sun, she mentions her love of mathematics and surveying as motivational factors, as well as of the necessity of having a degree to teach. She also speaks about having spent time doing railway field work as a teen, “walking the ties for miles, carrying transit and chain, whenever a fence crossed the path of the surveying party of which I was a member, the men went over it, but, of course, I went under.”

Elmina earned her B.S. in Civil Engineering from Iowa State in 1892.

Elmina Wilson at her 1892 graduation from ISU with a B.S. in Civil Engineering (University Photographs, RS# 21/07)

Elmina Wilson at her 1892 graduation from ISU with a B.S. in Civil Engineering (University Photographs, RS 21/07)

Alda soon followed in her footsteps, earning her B.S. in 1894, the same year Elmina made history by graduating with an M.S. and becoming the first female instructor in the department. During their time in school, both sisters were members of Pi Beta Phi, and both supplemented their ISU coursework with practical summer internships for various architectural and engineering firms in Chicago. Elmina also took advanced courses at Cornell, and Alma completed a masters at MIT, after which she took a job in Chicago, where she worked until 1904.

Elmina’s time as an instructor at ISU spanned over a decade post-graduation. She worked as an Assistant of Civil Engineering from 1892-1897, as an Instructor of Civil Engineering from 1898-1902, and an Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering from 1902-1904. 

1894 Bomb yearbook, page 54. Elmina is listed as a department instructor even before she had officially graduated with her masters', as she taught while pursuing her graduate degree.

1894 Bomb yearbook, page 54. Elmina is listed as a department instructor even before she had officially graduated with her M.S., as she taught while pursuing her graduate degree.

While an instructor at ISU, Elmina also periodically collaborated on design projects with her supervisor and mentor, Anson Marston, the head of the Civil Engineering department. Most notably, she contributed to designs of the Marston Water Tower, now on the National Register of Historical Places.

1899 Bomb yearbook, page 23. Faculty. Civil Engineering. "By hammer and hand, all arts do sand. Yet too low they build who build beneath the stars." When this department was first established in the early years of the College history, there being no adequate place in which to conduct such a course, the students were taught simply land surveying and leveling. To-day the whole upper story of Engineering Hall is devoted to the work of this department. This includes a large class room, drafting room, office and instrument room, and is supplied with instruments for ordinary field work, including transits, levels, compasses, plane tables and the like, besides a cement testing outfit and testing machines. The students test in the laboratory, building stones, paving brick and other materials used in the construction of buildings. There is also a hydraulic laboratory connected with the new water works which furnishes facilities for many kinds of experiments in the mechanics of the flow of water. The best preparation, to our mind, that an engineer can have is a thorough knowledge of the underlying principles of his profession, without attempting an application of these principles by the use of formulas or rules, unless the laws and theory on which these formulas are based and the means by which they are deduced are thoroughly understood. Prof. A. Marston has had charge of this department since the Spring of '92, and Miss Elmina Wilson is the assistant professor.

1899 Bomb yearbook, page 23. She has no portrait in the faculty section, but Elmina is listed as assistant professor directly under the department chair Anston Marston.

From 1903 to 1904, Elmina took a sabbatical from teaching to reunite with her sister Alda (who had been working for some time in Chicago) for a trip to Europe. The sisters took the opportunity to study and draw, as well as marvel at, great European architecture. Happily, the ISU University Archives collection of Alda and Elmina’s papers contains all of their sketchbooks and journals from this period.

Alda Wilson European Sketchbook page, pencil illustration of architecture from an aerial view, entitled "Vaulting of San. Francisco - Lower Church Assisi 3-8-1904" (RS#21/7/24, folder 5)

Alda Wilson European Sketchbook page, entitled “Vaulting of San. Francisco – Lower Church Assisi 3-8-1904” (RS 21/7/24, folder 5)

Alda Wilson European Sketchbook page, pencil illustration of architecture dissected with numerical dimensions of components, entitled "Gothi Stone Staircase Pecci Palace Siena. Mch.16 1904" (RS#21/7/24, folder 5)

Alda Wilson European Sketchbook page, entitled “Gothi Stone Staircase Pecci Palace Siena. Mch.16 1904” (RS 21/7/24, folder 5)

Alda Wilson European Sketchbook, 2 page spread, pencil illustration of architecture from an exterior view, entitled "Pompeii Dec. 5 1903" and Cave Dec 6th 1903" (RS#21/7/24, folder 5)

Alda Wilson European Sketchbook, 2 page spread, entitled “Pompeii Dec. 5 1903″ and Cave Dec 6th 1903” (RS 21/7/24, folder 5)

Following their trip, the Wilson sisters decided to move to New York City together to pursue more hands-on work experience, as well as to become active in the movement for Women’s Suffrage. While there, Alda designed architecture, and Elmina first took a job with the James E. Brooks Company and then, several years later, with Purdy and Henderson. The latter company was associated with the era’s foremost innovators in engineering design and headed by a man nicknamed the “father of skyscrapers.” Among other projects she completed at P&H, Elmina is reported to have collaborated with another newly-minted female engineer, Marian Sarah Parker, on designs for the Flatiron Building.

Elmina’s life was cut tragically short in 1918 due to illness. She was 48 years old, childless, unmarried, and at the height of her career when she died. A 2010 article in the journal Leadership and Management in Engineering points out that she also just missed the passing of the 19th Amendment, for which she fought actively, by a mere two years.

Alda, however, lived a long and varied life. Despite having spent much of her career in her sister’s shadow, and despite having been deprived, by an accident of birth-order, the historical notoriety of being “first,” she continued to prove herself resourceful and innovative, even in the wake of her grief. She moved back to Iowa after Elmina’s death, only to find that the Iowa Department of Transportation (IDOT) was suffering from a shortage of competent drafters, as most of the men who had previously been employed in the office had shipped overseas to fight World War I. So Alda became the superintendent of the first ever Department of Women Drafters in Ames.

1918 Report of the State Highway Commission, page 15, listing Alda Wilson as Superintendent of the Women's Drafting Department (RS# 21/7/24, folder 1)

1918 Report of the State Highway Commission, page 15 (RS 21/7/24, folder 1)

Shortly thereafter, having strengthened a friendship with fellow ISU graduate and women’s rights leader Carrie Chapman Catt, Alda became Catt’s personal secretary in addition to her other professional responsibilities. By the time her own death arrived in 1960, Alda, aged 87, had advanced to the powerful position of executive secretary and executor of Catt’s estate. It is thanks to her that many important documents related to the women’s rights movement from the early 20th century now reside at the Library of Congress.


Rare Book Highlights: Maria Gaetana Agnesi

Black and white engraved head-and-shoulders portrait of a woman with hair pulled back from her face and wearing a dress with a furred or feathered collar.

Portrait of Maria Gaetana Agnesi (1718-1799), Italian mathematician, from the Scala Museum, Milano

“For, if at any time there can be an excuse for the rashness of a Woman, who ventures to aspire to the sublimities of a science, which knows no bounds, not even those of infinity itself, it certainly should be at this glorious period, in which a Woman reigns, and reigns with universal applause and admiration.”

So Maria Gaetana Agnesi writes in the dedication of her major work Instituzioni analitiche (Analytical Institutions) to Empress Maria Teresa of Austria, as translated by John Colson in 1801. It was typical for an author to dedicate a book to a monarch, hoping to win favor and patronage, but here Agnesi (although with the usual flattery and praise) also speaks as woman to woman in a world dominated by men.

Agnesi (1718-1799) is considered the first woman mathematician, born in Milan, Italy to a wealthy merchant. She was a highly intelligent child, who spoke fluent French by the age of 5, knew Latin by age 9, and by 11 added Greek and Hebrew to her classical language repertoire as well as several modern languages. Her father provided her and her younger sister with tutors, and he liked to show her off at gatherings in his home with scholars and celebrities. She presented theses on a number of subjects and then defended them in academic disputations with the scholars present. These discussions were held in a variety of languages, and she answered in the language in which she was addressed.

In 1738, she published Propositiones philosophicae, a compilation of her defense of 190 theses that she gave at a gathering as a kind of capstone to her studies. Following this publication, she announced that she wished to join a convent. At her father’s objection, she reconsidered, but insisted on living a simple life devoted to study and contemplation and free from social obligations. At this time she turned her attention to studying mathematics, and after ten years, she published Instituzioni analitiche ad uso della gioventù italiana (1748), or Analytical Institutions for the Use of Italian Youth.

This volume, written in Italian rather than Latin, and presented as a handbook for educating young people in mathematics, was noted for its clarity and comprehensiveness. She treated not only algebra and geometry, but also the newer fields of integral and differential calculus.

Instituzioni Analitiche ad uso della gioventu Italiana Didna Maria Gaetana Agnesi, Milanese, Dell' Accademia delle Scienze di Bologna, Tomo I. In Milano, MDCCXLVIII. Nella Regia-Ducal Corte. Con licenza de' Superiori.

Title page of Instituzioni Analitiche.

She received much acclaim for the book. Maria Theresa of Austria, to whom she dedicated the book, sent Agnesi a diamond ring and letter. Pope Benedict XIV also sent a letter along with a gold medal and gold-and-gemstone wreath. He also appointed her to the chair of mathematics and natural philosophy at the University of Bologna, which she accepted as a purely honorary position. In spite of all this, Agnesi continued to withdraw from society and mathematical work and worked more and more for the church and the poor. Later in life, she became the director of a poorhouse, and held that position until her death.

Four drawings of conical sections, including figures 58, 59, 60, and 61.

Table 10 from volume 1 of Instituzioni Analitiche.

It is often noted that her fame is not due to any major mathematical discoveries of her own, but is based on her reputation for brilliance, which convinced some men of the time that women had the capacity to understand complex scientific and mathematical concepts. In fact, in John Colson’s “Introduction” to his English translation, he challenges English women to take up the study of mathematics in order not to be outdone by Italian women: “[Women] seem only to want to be properly introduced into these studies, to be convinced of their usefulness and agreeableness, and to prevail on themselves to use the necessary application and perseverance. They have here a noble instance before them, of what the sex is capable to perform, when their faculties are exerted the right way. And they may be fully persuaded, that what one lady is able to write, other ladies are able to imitate, or, at least, to read and understand.”

Two books bound in vellum stacked on top of each other showing leather spine labels that have been partly chipped off the spine.

Iowa State University copy of Agnesi’s 2 volume work.

The ISU library copy of Instituzioni analitiche includes the bookplate and signature of Henry Bickersteth in each of the two volumes. It is bound in simple vellum with spine labels. Henry Bickersteth (1783-1851) was an English lawyer who, in 1836, became a member of the Privy Council and was created Baron Langdale, of Langdale in the County of Westmoreland.

The bookplate indicates that Bickersteth likely acquired this book before he was given a peerage. The bookplate is simple, with no coat-of-arms, and simply the name followed by “Lincoln’s Inn.” This is, to me, a bit of a puzzle. Lincoln’s Inn is one of the four Inns of Court in London, the professional organizations for barristers in England. The puzzling part to me is that in 1808 Bickersteth was admitted to the Inner Temple, another of the Inns of Court, as a student. Why would he be a student at one, and have his residence at another? But there is more evidence that he did, in fact, live at Lincoln’s Inn. The Memoirs of the Right Honourable Henry Lord Langdale by Sir Thomas Duffus Hardy (1852) include a letter from Henry Bickersteth to his brother dated “Lincoln’s Inn, May 31st, 1827.”

Do you know why this would be? Leave a comment!

Maria Gaetana Agnesi. Instituzioni analitiche ad uso della gioventù italiana. Milan: Nella Regia-ducal corte, 1748. Call number: QA35 A27

Bibliography

Agnesi, Maria Gaetana. Analytical institutions, in four books, originally written in Italian. Translated by John Colson, London: Taylor and Wilks, 1801.

“Bickersteth, Henry, Baron Langdale (1783-1851).” Dictionary of National Biography. Edited by Leslie Stephen. London: Smith, Elder, & Co., 1885-1901.

Hardy, Thomas Duffus. Memoirs of the Right Honourable Henry lord Langdale. London: R. Bentley, 1852.

Harvey, Joy and Marilyn Bailey Ogilvie. “Agnesi, Maria Gaetana (1718-1799).” The Biographical Dictionary of Women in Science, Routledge, 2000. 14-16.

Kramer, Edna E. “Agnesi, Maria Gaetana.” Dictionary of Scientific Biography, Scribner, 1981. 75-77.


Women’s History Month: Evidence of Exclusion at ISU

Last month, a SCUA blog post on Black History Month and audiovisual recordings referenced the problem of “cultural memory gaps,” which is to say, gaps in the historical record that came about as the direct result of exclusionary attitudes and practices of the time. Sometimes, the loss or absence of a record is noticeable, as was the case with Ralph Ellison’s undocumented visit to Iowa State University. Sometimes, however, this loss or absence takes the form of lost potential, as is the case when members of underrepresented groups are systematically denied access to education, opportunity, and association that might have allowed them to better develop their talents in the first place.

Traditionally, Women’s History Month draws attention to the achievements and contributions of extraordinary individuals who proved exceptions to the rule of their time. It is equally important, however, to remember why so few achievements and contributions exist (at least, in documented form) to celebrate. Today, therefore, we are going to look at material which evidences some discriminatory practices and attitudes connected with ISU history.

The first example is a rejection letter from the Vet Med school, dated 1957.

The picture below features a photocopy of the original letter, with the name of the individual to whom it is addressed redacted for privacy purposes. The photocopy also contains markings from a patron who once included the letter in a class guide and wished to draw special attention to the justifications offered for the rejection.

March 11, 1957. Dear Miss: It is the policy of the Division of Veterinary Medicine at Iowa State College not to admit women to the professional curriculum. Because of limited educational facilities it has been necessary to restrict the number of new students who may be admitted to approximately sixty-four. Each year we receive more applications from men students than can be accommodated. If women were admitted, they would displace the same number of men. In many cases women are not physically equal to the educational requirements of the large animal clinics. There are many good fields for women which are closely related to veterinary medical science, such as medical technician, radiologist, major study in bacteriology or zoology, and possibly human medicine. We are sorry to disappoint you. If you wish, we will be happy to consider your application for admission to some other curriculum offered by the Iowa State College. Sincerely yours.

Photocopy of 1957 letter of rejection (Iowa State University, Margaret Sloss Women’s Center, Subject Files, RS 3/6/1; Iowa State University, College of Veterinary Medicine, Office of the Dean, Administrative Records, RS 14/1/8)

Notice how none of the justifications for rejection reference the applicant’s personal qualifications, but instead emphasize a desire to give male applicants priority consideration based exclusively on their gender.

The practice of discriminating against qualified applicants based on gender ended shortly thereafter, in 1960. Unfortunately, though, the attitudes which shaped the original policy seem to have persisted within the institution beyond the following decade, as there is later evidence of discriminatory practices that limited female students’ access to opportunities for professional development in more subtle ways, even after they had been admitted.

For example, we have a piece of correspondence from 1971, written in the name of the Osborn Research Club and signed by distinguished professors in animal husbandry and bacteriology, one of whom was dean of the graduate college at the time. The purpose of the letter was to establish unwritten policies in response to a challenge, though it is unclear whether this was common practice, as Osborn did not have a constitution at the time of founding.

The Osborn Research Club is a prestigious, now nearly-century-old, group on campus. It is not merely a student club or an honorary, but rather an academic, discussion-based, professional organization, intended to stimulate debate among active researchers in various branches of science. Unfortunately, certain matters were not up for debate.

2. No, women should not be admitted to membership; nor should they be guests at the meetings. (Unanimous). There are several good arguments for not accepting women as members (or even as guests). The presence of women, as members or guests, would make less free the discussions both at the table and after the paper; their presence might also restrict the freedom of selection of the content of the paper or the manner in which it was presented. The rules of politeness in our society are different when women are present than when the affair is stag. Almost all women view matters from a subjective viewpoint; many men can, and some do, view matters objectively. A woman presenting a paper is most likely to view serious and deep discussion as criticism; a man is not likely to react this way. In the presence of women men have to be careful not only what they say but how they say it. Sigma Xi, which is much more impersonal than Osborn Research Club, should serve better the needs of the woman scientist on our campus until such time as the campus women start some activity of their own.

Correspondence from Osborn Research Club, 1971 (Iowa State University, Osborn Research Club Records, RS 20/2/1, box 1, folder 11)

It is especially interesting to note that, despite the authors’ confidence in the absolute truth of their assertions, there was a pointed reluctance to open this question up for discussion among their reportedly objective-minded members. In fact, the authors of this letter – who, incidentally, signed themselves as “The Patriarchs” – burdened their membership with the responsibility of raising the issue in the first place, perhaps hoping it would simply not come up during their time in office.

3. We advise against the chairman going out of his way to present these questions of membership to the club for action. By tradition any member has always been free to bring any matter before the group for consideration at any meeting. It is probably wise that the chairman be informed in advance of such intention. 4. The chairman should decide the amount and nature of background material presented at the outset in a formal way. Discussion should be free and complete. (But we warn that there will be more wind than wisdom.)

Correspondence from Osborn Research Club, 1971 (Iowa State University, Osborn Research Club Records, RS 20/2/1, box 1, folder 11)

But, indeed, the patriarchs‘ hesitance to democratize the issue and create “wind” seems to have been well-founded, as the young men of the club voted to admit women in 1972, the year immediately following. Today, the Osborn Research Club counts numerous female researchers among its officers and members.

Nor is this the only moment in ISU history when students have stood up to their elders in the name of a social justice cause.

In the summer of 1943, the ISU chapter of Mortar Board, then an honor society for senior women (now a co-ed honorary for upper-classmen), initiated a letter-writing campaign to debate a national board ruling, which had excluded a highly-qualified black student from joining the Ohio State University chapter, even though the girl’s classmates had already unanimously voted her in.

The letter, after quoting the Mortar Board constitution, summarizes the incident below:

As you will note after reading carefully our purpose and membership qualifications we have no statement in that which bars a girl because of race, color or creed. However, in the past your Council has made it a policy to admit only members of the white race except where special permission has been requested and granted. This spring one of our chapters unanimously elected a girl of the negro race. This girl has all the necessary qualifications for membership: high scholarship, service to the school, and holds many importatn [sic] offices including that of president ofthe [sic] Y.W.C.A. and A.W.S. board member. The chapter advisors, knowing of our former policy, referred the matter to Council. Since the six members of the Council are so widely separated it was difficult in so short a time to discuss adeqately [sic] the situation and to decide wisely and fairly. also, we did not wish to pass judgment hastily on a matter of national policy of some years standing. Therefore, we reqested [sic] the chapetr [sic] to elect the other new members this spring and if, after our Council meeting, we decided to sanction the election of a negro, this action would be retroactive and the chapter in the fall would initiate the girl in question and she would still have her full year of active membership.

Correspondence from Iowa State University chapter of Mortar Board (Mortar Board. Torch Chapter (Iowa State University), RS 22/2/3, box 1, folder 10)

The language of the ISU chapter letter remains carefully diplomatic throughout, framing the issue as one of local democracy, in which each chapter should be allowed to decide on their own admissions policies. It does, however, repeatedly call for response from its sister chapters (implying that the complaint, although addressed to the national president, was not posted privately). It is also filed together with just such a response from the Mortar Board chapter at the University of Washington, and the latter minces fewer words:

It has seemed to us that there is very little room for debate on the matter. Mortar Board is a national organization to recognize and honor coed achievement and leadership. It is not an organization to honor white achievement and leadership. mortar Board loses its entire meaning if it refuses to recognize ability outside of a certain selected group. If a Negro girl -- or a girl of any other race -- has met the standards set forth by Mortar Board for membership, then there is no conceivable reason why she should not be admitted. If National refuses to verify her initiation, then national would be guilty of one of the basic principles against which we are fighting -- racial intolerance. And we as sub-chapters of the organization would share that guilt.

Correspondence from University of Washington chapter of Mortar Board, 1943 (Mortar Board. Torch Chapter (Iowa State University), RS 22/2/3, box 1, folder 10)

Sadly, we have little evidence on the outcome of this specific incident. The folder contains only a reply from the national president, along with a note on onion skin paper from an unidentified alumnae association. Both the president and the alumnae repeatedly, almost redundantly, classify the matter of whether or not to admit black students as a “problem,” find the University of Washington chapter’s tone “belligerent,” and generally agree with the ISU chapter that such policies, such “problems,” are best decided upon at the local level. There is no indication of whether or not Ohio State permitted the girl to join Mortar Board, let alone whether she had any remaining desire to do so.

With this lack of resolution in mind, here are a few take-away points:

1). Despite what the first two documents examined in this blog post imply, the attitudes and prejudices which shape exclusionary practices, at ISU and elsewhere, are not, and have never been, the sole property of men. Women of color have faced systematic exclusion much longer than, and frequently at the hands of, white women.

2). Historically speaking, it is not at all a new phenomenon for young people to champion policy-based change, only to hear their elders patronize and dismiss them for their zeal. In fact, many individuals who make sweeping generalizations about Generations X, Y, and Z today would themselves have belonged to the generations that protested exclusion with such recognizable turns of pandering, “wind,” and “belligerence.” 

3). The missing pieces from all of these stories are the thoughts, reactions, and even identities of the women whom these exclusionary policies impacted. All of these individuals must have had some perspective on what had happened to them and why. All of these individuals had lives before and after they butted up against the policies. But their stories are filtered exclusively through the words of their oppressors and/or, occasionally, the people who chose to stand up for them. This is unfortunate, because it frames our entire knowledge of these women as victims who required saving, and there is no evidence that this is how they saw themselves. For all we know, they may have been glad to discover upfront how prejudiced these organizations were, or what a potentially toxic environment they had escaped. A number of them may have gone on to be very successful in the context of other institutions, other organizations, or in other fields. Without hearing the story from multiple sides, we have no way of knowing what precisely was lost.

The real loss in all of these cases, then, is the institution’s loss, the archives’ loss, the historical record’s loss. Not only was ISU denied many opportunities to boast a role in shaping young talent, but current and future historians have been denied the opportunity to gauge with any accuracy precisely how much damage these exclusionary policies caused, or to whom. All we know for certain is that they existed, they were implemented, and why.

 

 


Rare Books Highlights: Squire on the Longitude

A book open to two pages showing interspered text and rows of symbols.

Pages of Squire’s Proposal showing symbols of her own invention.

Squire, Jane. A proposal to determine our longitude. London: Printed for the author, and sold by S. Cope … and by the Booksellers of London and Westminster, 1743. Call number: QB225 S66x, 1743.

Women’s History Month was established to honor the contribution of women to society, and Jane Squire was not at all shy about putting herself forward as a women with a contribution to make.

Squire was an eighteenth century British woman and the only woman to participate openly when the British Parliament passed the Longitude Act in 1714 that offered a reward to whomever could establish a workable method for determining longitude at sea. Latitude was much easier to calculate than longitude, and the inability to accurately determine a ship’s east-west location sometimes resulted in shipwrecks.

Jane Squire boldly put forward her proposal, expecting it to be taken seriously, even though it was not considered proper at the time for women to engage in navigation and mathematics, especially for monetary gain. In a letter to Sir Thomas Hanmer, published in the book, she counters the objection with a hint of sly wit:

The Term Mathematick, I with great Ease resign to Men; but to count, to measure, &c. which are now generally suppos’d to be included in it; are so naturally, the Properties of every reasonable Creature, that it is impossible to renounce them, and deserve that Honour. (30)

And later she writes, in a frequently-quoted passage, “I do not remember any Play-thing, that does not appear to me a mathematical Instrument; nor any mathematical Instrument, that does not appear to me a Play-thing: I see not, therefore why I should confine myself to Needles, Cards, and Dice; much less to such Sorts of them only, as are at present in Use” (31).

If you are interested in learning more about Squire’s unusual and sometimes difficult life, I highly recommend the blog post, “The Lady of the Longitude: Jane Squire,” from the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Science and Humanities (CRASSH) at the University of Cambridge.

Our copy of Squire’s Proposal is a second edition, bound in leather and decorated with some unusual symbols that seem to be Squire’s invention and can be seen within the text in the image that heads this post. According to the aforementioned CRASSH blog post, this is the common binding for this book, which is interesting at a time when most books were sold unbound.

Shows front cover of book bound in leather with a black circle in the center fo the cover with cross-shaped symbols stamped in gold into the circle.

Front cover of Squire’s Proposal, showing symbols stamped into the leather binding.

Inside the front cover, there is evidence of an interesting provenance, or ownership history, for our copy, indicating that it was owned by at least two notable people.

Inside front cover of a book showing a bookplate in the center with a coat of arms of a birth of pray with wings extended rising out of a crown surrounded by a ring with the words White Wallingwells. Second bookplate is a simple name in white on gray reading Harrison D. Horblit

Two bookplates inside ISU’s copy of Squire’s Proposal.

The round armorial bookplate in the center has the words “White” and “Wallingwells” in the circle and appears to belong to the White Baronetcy of Tuxford and Wallingwells in County of Nottingham, England. Sir Thomas Woollaston White, 1st Baronet, lived from 1767-1816, and could easily have added this book to his library. The plain name plate reading “Harrison D. Horblit” indicates the noted collector of rare books in the history of science, navigation, and mathematics. Horblit is the author of One hundred books famous in science: based on an exhibition at the Grolier Club (call number: Q124 H781o), now a common reference book for rare book collectors and librarians–though it does not include Squire’s Proposal. It is pretty exciting to have a book with such an interesting provenance!

The copy also includes the fold-out summary of the proposal.

Unfolded large sheet of paper with many sections of text and charts of symbols

Fold out summary of Squire’s proposal bound into the front of the book.

This summary gives a visual demonstration of the proposal’s complexity. The CRASSH blog post describes the proposed method as based on “real astronomical research and intellectual trends” but not easy to put into practice. “The scheme centred on dividing the heavens into more than a million segments which could be recognised visually, so that young sailors would not need advanced mathematics, and which were described through a new universal language.”

This book presents an interesting element in the history of navigation and a woman who was not afraid to tread in new paths.

Cited

“The Lady of the Longitude: Jane Squire.” CRASSH blog, Posted 1 Dec. 2014, CRASSH: Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Science and Humanities, www.crassh.cam.ac.uk/blog/post/the-lady-of-the-longitude. Accessed 28 March 2017.


Gloria Steinem’s 1984 visit to ISU #TBT @iowastatedaily @GloriaSteinem

When reading the Iowa State Daily today I was pleased to see an article on Pat Miller and her role in building the ISU Lectures Program. It is a vibrant program and has had as many as 177 lectures in a year. The article mentions Gloria Steinem‘s participation in the ISU Lectures Program. I thought it would be fun to share an article about Gloria Steinem’s first lecture from the Bomb, the Iowa State University yearbook printed from 1894-1994. If you didn’t catch her previous lectures, you are in luck! Gloria Steinem is returning to campus, on October 11.

Pages 92-93 of the 1985 Bomb. The white string vertically crossing page 93 is  a weight. We use weights to gently hold down pages without putting undue pressure on the spine of our books. The pages describe Women's Week '84 at ISU, pictured are Gloria Steinem at her "Everyday Rebellions" lecture, people protesting Steinem's lecture, and the prediction run.

Pages 92-93 of the 1985 Bomb. The white string vertically crossing page 93 is  a weight. We use weights to gently hold down pages without putting undue pressure on the spine of our books. The pages describe Women’s Week ’84 at ISU, pictured are Gloria Steinem at her “Everyday Rebellions” lecture, people protesting Steinem’s lecture, and the prediction run.

Drop by the Reading Room to check out the Bomb! We’re open Monday – Friday from 9-5. You can also view all of the Bombs online, thanks to Digital Initiatives!

 


Notable Women of ISU: Barbara Forker

It’s time for our third installment of Notable Women of ISU! This time we’re going to take a look at physical education expert Barbara Forker. Some of you may know her only as the namesake of the Barbara E. Forker Building, or “Forker” as it’s commonly called. The building, originally the Physical Education for Women (PEW) Building, was renamed in her honor in 1997. Let’s shed some light on why this building was named after her.

Barbara Forker speaking at the Forker Building dedication, 1997. [photo location]

Barbara Forker speaking at the Forker Building dedication, 1997. RS 10/7/13, Box 26, Folder 2

Born in 1920 in Kendallville, Indiana, Dr. Forker earned a B.S. (1942) from Eastern Michigan University, a M.S. (1950) from Iowa State College (University), and a Ph.D. (1957) from the University Michigan. Dr. Forker worked at Iowa State in some capacity from 1948 until her retirement in 1990, beginning as a temporary instructor and eventually becoming Emeritus Professor. She served as Head of the Women’s Physical Education Department from 1958-1974, and was the first Head of the Department of Physical Education (the men’s and women’s departments combined) from 1974-1986.

Barbara Forker, 1955. [photo location]

Barbara Forker, 1955. University Photographs, RS 10/7/A, Box 782

Throughout her career, Dr. Forker was active in many organizations and projects. She served as advisor for NAIADS (synchronized swimming team at Iowa State) and “I” Fraternity (honorary for outstanding women athletes). She was president of the Iowa Association of Health, Physical Education and Recreation (IAHPER), the Central District Association for Health, Physical Education and Recreation (CDAHPER), and the American Association for Health, Physical Education, and Recreation (AAHPER). She was active in several other organizations as well, and was a member of three professional fraternities.

Barbara Forker and President Gerald Ford, signed by President Ford, circa 1977. [photo location]

Barbara Forker and President Gerald Ford, signed by President Ford, circa 1977. RS 10/7/13, Box 25, Folder 2

In addition to presenting over 100 speeches and receiving several awards for her work, Dr. Forker notably worked with the United States Olympics from 1975-1984. She was a member of the President’s Commission on Olympic Sports and in 1977 served as a United States Delegate in the Second Educationists Session at the International Olympic Academy. From 1980 to 1984, she was a member of the United States Olympic Committee Executive Board and the United States Olympic Committee Education Council. In her last year with the Olympics, she was Chairman of the United States Olympic Committee Symposium at the Pre-Olympic Scientific Congress.

For more information about Dr. Forker and her impressive career, come in and have a look at the Barbara Ellen Forker Papers, RS 10/7/13. A couple other items of interest are this online feature from Iowa State University’s sesquicentennial celebration and this Women’s History Month blog post we did four years ago. Stop by sometime!

 


Notable Women of ISU: Margaret Sloss

It’s Women’s History Month and perfect timing for another post in our Notable Women of ISU series. This time we’ll take a look at Margaret Sloss, the first woman to graduate with a D.V.M. at Iowa State (1938).

Margaret Sloss, undated. RS 14/7/51, box 4, folder 9.

Margaret Sloss, undated. RS 14/7/51, box 4, folder 9.

Margaret Wragg Sloss was born in October 28, 1901, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. She and her family moved to Ames in 1910, where her father, Thomas Sloss, was hired as the superintendent of buildings, grounds, and construction at what was then Iowa State College. Sloss House, the home of the Sloss family for 11 years starting in 1925, is now the home of the Margaret Sloss Women’s Center.

Invitation addressed to Dr. Sloss from Eleanor Roosevelt to attend a luncheon. Dr. Sloss unfortunately was unable to attend. 1944. RS 14/7/51, box 2, folder 4.

Invitation addressed to Dr. Sloss from Eleanor Roosevelt to attend a luncheon. Dr. Sloss unfortunately was unable to attend. 1944. RS 14/7/51, box 2, folder 4.

Sloss spent her entire career at Iowa State, working her way up from Technician in Veterinary Pathology (1923-1929) to Professor (1965-1972), and Professor Emeritus upon her 1972 retirement. She was the author of many publications and was active in several professional associations including the American Veterinary Medical Association, Iowa Veterinary Medical Association, Phi Kappa Phi, and helped establish the Women’s Veterinary Medical Association (1947) for which she served as president (1950-1952).

In one of her writings, she made the following observation (from a shortened paper or possible speech derived from her publication “Women in the Veterinary Profession,” undated, RS 14/7/51, box 3, folder 10):

The question presented most frequently to the woman veterinarian is, “Why did you decide to study veterinary medicine?” This question always puzzled me as I am sure it has puzzled other women veterinarians. Should, I ask myself, one have to have a reason for taking the course that seems logical to everyone, simply because they belong to the female sex? Are men veterinarians plied with this question as constantly as women? It seems just as illogical to ask a woman why she decided to study veterinary medicine as it would be to ask a man why he took up dancing, singing, costume design or any number of other things as a profession.

Undoubtedly, many female veterinarians have been asked that over the years, and women in other traditionally male-dominated careers have encountered (and still encounter) the same. Being the first woman to graduate veterinary school at Iowa State, Sloss helped pave the way for future women veterinarians – who now dominate the profession.

Margaret Sloss, 1960. RS 14/7/51, (locate image)

Margaret Sloss, 1960. University Photographs, box 1286.

Sloss received much recognition for her achievements, including an honor by the Women’s Centennial Congress as one of 100 women in the United States to successfully follow careers in 1940 that were not followed by women 100 years previously. She also earned the Iowa State Faculty Citation (1959) and the Stange Award for Meritorious Service (1974), as well having Iowa State’s women’s center – the Margaret Sloss Women’s Center – named after her (1981).

She passed away on December 11, 1979 and is interred in the Iowa State University Cemetery.

For more information on Margaret Sloss, stop in and see the Margaret W. (Margaret Wragg) Sloss Papers, RS 14/7/51. See also a couple of online exhibits – one created for ISU’s sesquicentennial celebration, and the other on Twentieth Century Women of Iowa State.


Notable Women of ISU: Carrie Chapman Catt

This is the first in a series of blog posts featuring notable women of ISU. To kick off this series, I am beginning with an obvious choice – Carrie Chapman Catt. Catt is known for her work in the women’s suffrage movement and is so notable that a campus building was named after her (Catt Hall). [It’s worth noting that in 1998 there was a controversy about the naming of the building, known as the September 29th Movement (collection RS 22/3/3), and a review committee was formed in response (RS 22/1/8).]

Without further adieu, here is the lady of the hour.

Carrie Chapman Catt's graduation photo, 1880.

Carrie Chapman Catt’s graduation photo, 1880. University Photographs, RS 21/7/A.

Carrie Chapman Catt was born January 9, 1859, to Maria Clinton and Lucius Lane in Ripon, Wisconsin. Around 1865, the family moved to Charles City, Iowa. Catt then attended Iowa State College and graduated in 1880 at the top of her class.

During her time in Ames, she established military drills for women, became the first woman student to give an oration before a debating society, earned extra money as assistant to the librarian, and was a member of Pi Beta Phi.

Post-graduation, she became the high school principal in Mason City and then in 1883 the superintendent of Mason City Schools. While there, she met her first husband, Leo Chapman, editor of the Mason City Republican. They married in February 1885. After his death in 1886, she went to California and worked as a newspaper reporter before returning to Iowa to take on women’s suffrage.

Early on in her suffrage work, she ran into a classmate from Ames, George W. Catt. They were married in 1890. He supported his wife’s work both financially and personally until his death in October 1905.

Carrie Chapman Catt served as president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association from 1900-1904 and from 1915 until women’s right to vote was attained (1920). In addition, she formed the International Woman Suffrage Alliance and served as president of that organization for many years. When women won the right to vote, Catt encouraged the formation of the League of Women Voters.

Throughout her life, Catt received a great deal of recognition for her work, including many awards such as the Chi Omega (1941), the Pictorial Review Award (1931), and induction into the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame. She died at her home in New Rochelle, New York in 1947.

Brochure from a celebration of Catt and the 75th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, 1995. RS 21/7/3, Box 3, Folder 8

Brochure from a celebration of Catt and the 75th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, 1995. RS 21/7/3, Box 3, Folder 8

More information and materials related to Carrie Chapman Catt can be found here in Special Collections and University Archives in the Carrie Chapman Catt Papers. We also have other women’s collections, including the Woman Suffrage Collection. In addition, see this webpage for resources available online. Have a look, and stop by sometime!


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.


Émelie du Châtelet, Voltaire, and Newtonian physics: one woman’s contribution to Enlightenment thought

ISU Special Collections has added a new title to its Archives of Women in Science and Engineering (WISE). The WISE Archives seeks to preserve the historical heritage of American women in science and engineering, and to complement it is a growing rare book collection. The newest addition is Institutions de physique by Gabrielle-Émelie Du Châtelet, a first edition of the work, published in 1740.

"Gabrielle du Châtelet (1706-1749)." Image courtesy of Mathematical Association of America, licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

“Gabrielle du Châtelet (1706-1749)” by Mathematical Association of America is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

Born Gabrielle-Émilie le Tonnelier de Breteuil (1706-1749) in Paris to a family of minor French nobility, du Châtelet lived a colorful life. She was married at 18 to Florent Claude, marquis Du Châtelet, a military man who was frequently away from home for long periods of time, leaving her free to pursue her scientific interests.

1733 was an important year for du Châtelet for two reasons. First, it was the year she began studying advanced mathematics under Pierre-Louis Moreau de Maupertuis and Alexis-Claude Clairaut, two prominent mathematicians and members of the French Academy of Sciences. Second, it was in that same year that she met the important French writer and philosopher Voltaire, who became her lover and lifelong companion. Significantly, considering du Châtelet’s later work, all three of these men were supporters of Newtonian physics, the legitimacy of which was considered questionable at that time in France, where the Establishment favored Cartesian physics.

Voltaire came under fire from the French authorities after the publication of his controversial work Lettres Philosophiques in 1734, which included a letter detailing Newton’s natural philosophy. With a warrant out for his arrest, Voltaire took refuge with du Châtelet at her husband’s estate of Cirey and lived there with her until her death. While at Cirey, Voltaire wrote another work on Newtonian physics, Elémens de la Philosophie de Neuton, published in 1738, with substantial help from du Châtelet.

Meanwhile, du Châtelet began work on her own contribution to Newtonian physics (and ISU’s recent acquisition), Institutions de Physique, published in 1740. This text provided a metaphysical basis for the natural philosophy of Newton, revealing her high-level understanding of math, and it is frequently regarded as a work of original and innovative thinking. The book was expanded in a second edition, published 1742.

Her other major work is a French translation of Newton’s Principia, including a 287-page commentary and mathematical addendum. Begun in 1745, it took four years to complete. During this time, she had begun a new love affair with the poet Jean-François de Saint-Lambert, after Voltaire had begun an affair with his niece Madame Denis in 1744. Discovering that she was pregnant in February 1749 at age 42, she expressed concern to a friend that she would not survive the pregnancy, and so by April she was working at the feverish rate of 17 hours a day to finish the mathematical addendum to her translation. She gave birth to a daughter on September 10, 1749, and died ten days later. Her daughter lived for only about eighteen months before also dying.

Special Collections is excited to acquire the work of this significant woman and Enlightenment thinker! Stop by to learn more about women’s contributions to science and engineering.