Iowa Agricultural College and Model Farm, now Iowa State University, was officially established by the Iowa General Assembly on March 22, 1858, but classes were not held until 1869. In 1868 the Board of Trustees began touring the United States and visiting Agricultural Universities and Colleges on observe how they were organized, the course of instruction, and rules and regulations governing them. They also toured a number of institutes that had been coeducational since their inception as they weighed the option in making the new college coeducational.
Board of Regents Minutes, Volume 1, Page 246 (RS 1/8, Board of Regents Minutes)
Paragraph 2 Transcription
We also visited Antioch College at Yellow Springs, Ohio, one of the best and most successful Colleges in the country, in which girls have been admitted from the time of its organization. The plan has given the most entire satisfaction, and many of the young ladies stand at the head of the regular college classes.
The Board concluded that it would be beneficial to all that women be admitted to the College, pending they meet admissions standards, for the first session, which was slated for March of 1869. All Board members were also in agreement that they had no grounds not to admit women to the new college, as funding of the college came from state tax-payer monies.
Board of Regents Minutes, Volume 1, Page 248 (RS 1/8, Board of Regents Minutes)
Paragraph 2 Transcription
Again – we hold that we as Trustees have no right to exclude girls from the benefits of our State Agricultural College. The funds for the purchase of the Farm, and the erection of buildings , are derived from the tax-payers of the state and upon what principle of justice can we declare that only those who have sons shall enjoy its benefit. The general government has appropriated a vast tract of the public domain for the endowment and support of these industrial institutes, and what right have we to exclude the girls and young women of our state from any share in its beneficiaries
The two days following the opening of the college, applicants for admission were given exams in local geography, arithmetic, English grammar, and reading and spelling. Those who proved proficient were enrolled in classes, while those who fell below the required standard but were deemed sufficient with a year of study were entered into the preparatory department. The first semester saw 93 students enrolled as freshmen and 80 in the preparatory department. Of those 173 students 16 women were admitted to the freshmen class, and 21 to the preparatory department.
The Iowa State Agricultural College held its first commencement on November 13, 1872. Out of the original 93 students enrolled, only 26 graduated. Two of those were Fannie H. Richards and Mattie A. Locke, the first female graduates of Iowa State University.
March is Women’s History Month, and this year marks the hundredth anniversary of the adoption of the Nineteenth Amendment, which enfranchised (some) women in the United States. Special Collections and University Archives houses many collections focused on women’s history, work, and lives both at Iowa State and around the world: women’s history is Iowa State history, and vice versa.
The administrative records and photographs of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women in Politics (RS 13/21/06) document the establishment and operations of the Center, from its inception in the department of Political Science in 1992 through former director Dianne Bystrom’s resignation in 2018.
In some ways, the history of the Center itself reflects the ways in which the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment was an incomplete victory for women’s liberation: the renovation of the former Botany Hall and its re-dedication as Catt Hall, envisioned as a home for the Center and a celebration of women’s political power, sparked action by students who, already living in the incomplete victory of white woman suffrage and the white feminist movements of the 20th century, raised serious questions about naming the building for Carrie Chapman Catt, given her mixed legacy on race in America. The Catt Center’s website addresses some of those questions more fully; evidence of the student protests and the administrative response to them appear in these records largely as newspaper clippings*.
Materials related to the Center’s programs start the early 1990s, keeping pace with changes in the political and material realities of women’s lives in the United States as they moves forward into the current century. The photographs in this collection document the variety of speakers and visitors the Center has hosted, recipients of the Strong Minded Women Award, Mary Louise Smith Chair honorees, and many others (spot Anita Hill, Elizabeth Dole, and Amy Klobuchar); they also offer more candid looks at the workshops, student trips, and daily work of the Center’s staff.
Recently processed, these records will be open to researchers just as soon as SCUA is.
*Those protests (the September 29th movement), are documented in the University Archives in RS 22/03/03, the September 29th Movement records and RS 22/01/08, the records of the Catt Hall Review Committee. For more about Catt herself, check out this previous post.
The year 2020 marks 100 years since the 19th amendment was ratified by the Supreme Court, granting (some) women the right to vote. Though the success of the women’s suffrage movement is notable, the struggle for gender equality continues today.
In 1987, Congress declared March to be National Women’s History Month. In celebration of this month, and the anniversary of the first women’s movement, let’s take a look at one of the ways Iowa State students have made their voices heard – buttons! Shown below are some women’s rights buttons from the 1970s.
On April 4th, 1987, Iowa State University hosted it’s first “Taking the Road Less Traveled: Science, Math, Engineering and Technology” Conference for Girls Grades 6-12. The 1987 conference was proposed and organized by the Margaret Sloss Women’s Center. Iowa State’s event drew inspiration from a similar conference for women in STEM fields at Western Michigan University, which had taken place the year prior. The conference was much more popular than anticipated, with an expected turnout of 200 participants compared to the actual 600 that showed up. The goal of this conference was to educate young women, parents, and educators on how women can be successful in fields related to science, engineering, and math.
One way they sought to achieve this goal was by exposing the girls to successful women in STEM career fields, along with providing information about the types of classes they should take in high school to prepare for a college program in these fields. I found it very interesting that the conference also provided information on programs from several other universities, and not just the ones available at Iowa State. To me, including information about other options for the girls shows the organizer’s commitment to giving the girls at the conference an overall look at all their options, rather than simply attempting to get more students to attend the university.
The above image depicts an advertisement brochure promoting engineering programs at Iowa State, and can be found in collection RS 3/10/4 Box 1. In that same box there are also letters from speakers and mentors who were present at this event, and future events like it, all relaying how much they enjoyed the experience, and several inquiring about future opportunities. A great deal of effort went into organizing and running this conference, and it appeared to be very successful. This incredible event was made possible by funds provided by a Carl Perkins Vocational Education Grant from the Iowa Department of Education.
World War II proved an age of female empowerment on the home–front, as women kept the world running by stepping up to fill both jobs and societal roles traditionally held by men while the men were off at war. The same principle held true for education, and ISU (Iowa State College at the time) was not the only co-ed college in the country where female students temporarily outnumbered their male counterparts. The majority of these women still veered towards liberal arts and home economics majors, but a large number also waded into the hard sciences. Many of them discovered that they possessed an untapped talent for STEM research. Below are a handful of examples.
Beatrice Bruner Dowd (1924-1998), a native of Rolfe, Iowa, graduated from Iowa State College with her B.S. in Mathematics in 1941. She was very active in clubs and societies, and she also saved a great deal of correspondence from her time in school, where it appears she was well-loved and had many friends.
Such letters are always interesting to peruse, because they reveal glimpses of life on campus at the time, above and beyond the education and career of the individual. Price changes in particular catch my attention. For example, did you know that Beatrice paid only a $5.00 deposit on her dorm room in 1940? With inflation taken into account, that’s about $90 in today’s currency. And one of her friends wrote that she was worried about having already spent $0.20 (equivalent to about $3.60 today) at the Union for her meals that morning – that it was so difficult to keep one’s daily expenses under $0.60 (about $10.80 today).
It is unclear who, if anyone, might have encouraged Beatrice to pursue mathematics, but her college friends’ letters reference her aptitude in STEM subjects, particularly physics, several times.
In 1943, after graduation, Beatrice joined the Navy, whereupon she was assigned to study meteorology at the University of California at Los Angeles so she could work as a Naval Weather Forecaster. Her papers containher notes (and some doodles) from various courses she took at UCLA.
Her papers also include procedural documents and training materials from the Navy. Some of these employ humor as a memory aid, as is the case with the cartoons below. Researchers who would like to peruse the full collection of training cartoons, however, should be aware that some of these contain racist depictions of Japanese military personnel.
After the war, Beatrice worked for a company called Sylvania Electronic Products (later known as GTE Government Systems), where she eventually became the Engineering Department Manager before retiring in 1986. Curiously, she also belonged to a group known as the Association of Old Crows (AOC), begun in the 1960s by veterans who had worked as Electronic Countermeasures (ECM) officers in World War II, disrupting enemy communications and radars. The group exists to this day, creating symposiums and journals to educate the public about electronic warfare.
Hilda S. White (1953-1997) received her Ph.D. from Iowa State after earning her bachelors in Chemistry from Bethany College, West Virginia, in 1942.
While a grad student at Iowa State, she met her future husband, Phil White, who went on to earn his D.Sc. at Harvard, where both he and Hilda were employed as biochemists in the Department of Food and Nutrition for about two years.
Immediately following this, Phil’s program at Harvard sent him to Lima, Peru to perform analysis on food consumption in that country, and Hilda accompanied him. It is unclear precisely what her role in the expedition was, as even her own subsequent write-up of the trip centers around her husband’s job and paints her own experience primarily as that of a housewife, referencing the birth of her first child (which would undoubtedly have consumed much of her time!).
But she was also, it seems, performing research connected to the project simultaneously, publishing papers in professional journals, and receiving her own salary from Harvard.
When they returned home in 1953, Phil joined the staff of the American Medical Association in Chicago. The chair of the organization was in the process of looking for a qualified candidate to teach Nutrition at the Home Economics department for Northwestern University at the time, and Phil recommended Hilda, who got the job. She taught there until 1973, when the department dissolved.
While at Northwestern, Hilda continued to perform and publish research, this time on “Inorganic Elements in Weighed Diets of Girls and Young Women” and “Utilization of Inorganic Elements by Young Women Eating Iron-Fortified Foods.” She eventually went on to work at the Chicago Nutrition Association and the journal board of the American Dietetic Association.
Although her the status of her work was so frequently downplayed in favor of her husband’s, it is clear that she made major contributions to her field in her own right.
Darleane C. Hoffman (1947-2011), nuclear chemist, might be the most well-known of the alumni featured in this post.
She received both of her degrees from ISU: a B.S. in Chemistry in 1948 and a Ph.D. in Physical (Nuclear) Chemistry in 1951. Her biographical web page for the Women in Technology Hall of Fame (WITI), into which she was inducted in 2000, notes that she had not originally intended to study science at all. She had arrived at Iowa State intending to pursue a career as a commercial artist. However, according to the write-up, the influence of an unnamed female professor in one of her freshman courses peaked her interest in STEM fields, and she decided to switch her focus to chemistry.
After graduating with a specialization in nuclear and radiochemistry (interests which would later make her famous), she applied for a job with the radiochemistry group at the Los Alamos National Laboratory only to be told, “We don’t hire women in that division.” Perhaps simply to prove she could, she continued applying to this institute until she landed a position in their Isotope and Nuclear Chemistry division, where she quickly took on leadership roles and worked for 30 years.
During this period of her life, in the 1960s, she also raised two children and would reportedly return to work each night after putting the children to bed.
In the 1970s, while serving as the Division Leader for the Isotope and Nuclear Chemistry division, Darleane discovered a naturally-occurring form of an element called plutonium-244, which scientists had previously believed to be a manufactured substance that existed only in laboratories.
Her group also performed the world’s first aqueous chemistry on hathnium, element 105, around this time.
And these discoveries led to even more innovation once she had accepted a professorship at University of California Berkeley’s Department of Chemistry. In collaboration with European scientists, the groups she led at UCLA discovered the first super-heavy elements, 118, 116, and 114. These became the focal point of her studies in later years.
Among other honors, Darleane received the University of California Berkeley Citation of Merit in 1996, the President’s National Medal of Science in 1997, and the Priestley Medal (the highest honor conferred by the American Chemical Society) in 2000.
We are immensely proud of these alumni here at ISU, and we hope their stories will inspire current students. If you would like to learn more about any of these scientists, feel free to visit the archives and browse through their papers.
The following post was written by Amanda Larsen, who is working at SCUA this year as an Undergraduate Research Assistant (URA). Her project revolves around historical feminist activism on the ISU campus. Regarding today’s article, note that the Monday after next, exactly two weeks from today, will mark 43 years since the “Alice Doesn’t Day” strike.
Assistant University Archivist
Alice Doesn’t Day
October 29th, 1975 was one of the first days to show the nation how much women contribute to society. The National Organization for Women (NOW) created a national strike day for women in order to emphasize how important women are for society. They called it “Alice Doesn’t Day,” a reference to the 1974 film Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. NOW called for every woman to refrain from work or spending any money. The alternative for women who could not skip work was to wear an armband and discuss its purpose.
On campus, the Government of the Student Body (GSB) was asked to support the strike by on campus women’s organization. The bill to support Alice Doesn’t Day was sponsored by Roxanne Ryan, a student in sciences and humanities.
Various groups scheduled programs supporting Alice Doesn’t Day on the Iowa State campus according to news articles. For those who wished to participate in the event, the YWCA had seminars on women’s health, practical consumerism, pampering ourselves, and women and the law. If the participants had young children, there were male-run daycare and babysitting services provided. GSB passed the bill supporting Alice Doesn’t Day, to the dismay of some. In the community, Ames Mayor William Pelz showed support for Alice Doesn’t Day by signing an official proclamation naming October 29th as “Alice Doesn’t Day.”
Not everyone supported Alice Doesn’t Day. The Iowa State Daily’s “Point of View” section notes that some believed calling for women not to go to work was not the best tactic for showing women’s roles in society. While it might have shown how much women contribute, it could also have shown unprofessionalism and little regard for their work. Others felt that women should double their efforts on the 29th with the same goal of showing how much they can contribute to society. A group opposed to Alice Doesn’t Day vowed to wear pink dresses and call for the firing of any woman protesting. In terms of students, most told the Daily that the reason they could not participate in the strike was that they had classes and “school is more important than my ethical views.” Since they could not miss classes, many of the women interviewed said they would refrain from spending money that day.
Rosl Gowdey, one of the publicity workers for the project, stated that the goal of the day was to “focus on what happens to the women who participate, than on the number of participants. If only one or two women get something out of it, then that’s great, and we’ve accomplished our purpose.” While most think that the day was a failure, others viewed the event as successful because of the awareness: “In terms of awareness and talking about women’s contributions, it was successful,” said by Susan Newcomer, the president of the Ames chapter of the National Organization for Women.
If you or anyone you know has any information about women activist from 1960-1979 here at Iowa State, please feel free to contact Special Collections to discuss preserving the material.
This year, two talented upperclassmen have joined SCUA through the Undergraduate Research Assistantship (URA) program to help us uncover some of the “hidden histories” of ISU through research into underrepresented communities in the university’s past. They are working on digital exhibits that will serve as a resource for future scholars, and both URA students will be writing blog posts throughout the school year to update you on their discoveries. Today, it is my pleasure to introduce the work of Amanda Larsen, who has chosen to research feminist activism at ISU.
Assistant University Archivist
Ghosts of the Suffrage Club
When thinking of the early days of campus life, it is easy to distance ourselves from those who were here at the turn of the century. Women on campus had to live in dorms with few exceptions, endure strict curfew rules, and were not allowed to leave the city without special permission. Despite the restrictions to their campus life, women on campus decided to take part in gaining the right to vote. So, they created the suffrage club.
On April 14th, 1916, the newly created suffrage club met for the first time. Around 150 women showed up to vote Ava Johnson as the president, Jeanette Knapp as the secretary, and Katherine McCarrell as treasurer. During the meeting, Dean Katharine McKay and those listed above spoke to the crowd. They goal of the club “was stated to be the support of the suffrage movement in Iowa with particular emphasis on the securing of pledges of votes favoring the suffrage measure to be submitted to the voters of the state in the June election.” One of the first speakers brought in by the “suffrage boosters” was Mrs. Carrie Chapman Catt, president of the American Woman Suffrage association and former student of Iowa State, for a highly anticipated lecture at the university.
Despite having 150 women at the first meeting, there is little mention of this suffrage club in the archives and no mentions of it in the Bomb (the yearbook). Ava Johnson, who was the president of the club graduated in 1916, but the suffrage club was not listed within her group involvement.
Nor is the club mentioned when Jeanette Knapp or Katharine McCarrell are listed the following year.
This was not the only suffrage club in Ames, but it is only one created by students at Iowa State. All the clubs in Ames, including the suffrage club, were focused on securing the votes for suffrage during the June 1916 election. The results of the vote were 2671 votes in favor of suffrage in Story County, while only 1606 voted against.
If you are a part of an Iowa State club or organization and have documents (any inactive records, meeting minutes, photographs, etc.) pertaining to the club, then please bring them to Special Collections on the fourth floor of Parks Library. Those records can be stored for future generations to have a better understanding of your club.
Meet the Author!
Amanda Larsen is in her third year at ISU with a triple major in criminal justice, psychology, and history. She has already proven herself to be a hard worker and innovative researcher, and SCUA is looking forward to watching her project unfold. She hopes that you have enjoyed the post!
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 CountyIowa 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 for boys and girls alike. It is unclear whether all of the older children did so (though onesister 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 abouthaving spent time doing railway field workas 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 rumored (though, sadly, I have no evidence with which to corroborate) 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 — also without ever marrying or having children, as far as I know. 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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.”
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.
Bookplate reads, “Henry Bickersteth, Lincoln’s Inn.” Handwritten notation reads, “I e | 20.” This is likely a shelf mark.
Owner signature reads, “Henry Bickersteth.”
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
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.
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 withISU history.
The first example is a rejection letter from the Vet Med school, dated 1957.
The picture below featuresa 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.
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 developmentin more subtle ways, even after they had been admitted.
For example, we have apiece 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.
It is especially interesting to notethat, despite the authors’ confidence inthe absolute truth of their assertions, there was a pointedreluctance 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.
But, indeed, the patriarchs‘ hesitance to democratize the issue and create “wind” seems tohave been well-founded, as the young men of the clubvoted to admit women in 1972, the year immediately following. Today, the Osborn Research Clubcounts 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:
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 latterminces fewer words:
Sadly, we havelittle evidence on the outcome of this specific incident. The folder contains onlya reply from the national president, along witha 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 remainingdesire to do so.
With this lack of resolutionin 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 wouldthemselves have belonged to the generations that protested exclusionwith 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 ofother 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.