As you can see from the 1939 Iowa City Centennial Program above (left) – the theme of the 1939 Iowa City Centennial is The Old Stone Capitol Remembers. That’s no coincidence – because in 1939, Iowa’s most renowned historian – Benjamin F. Shambaugh – released what would become his best-known book of the same title (above right).
Benjamin Franklin Shambaugh was an Iowa farm boy. Born on January 29, 1871, Shambaugh grew up on a farm outside Elvira, Iowa – near Clinton – in eastern Iowa. He was the youngest of seven children born into a prosperous but frugal farm family who valued education, giving generously to the small Clinton Country school where all the Shambaugh children attended.
Benjamin was highly motivated to continue his education, so he attended the Iowa City Academy for two years (1896-1888) to prepare for college and then entered the State University of Iowa (SUI). Earning his Bachelor’s degree in 1892, he continued his studies at Iowa with graduate work in history. It was during this time, that Shambaugh began mining the earliest collections of the State Historical Society of Iowa, which was housed near the SUI campus in a small leased building on Washington Street.
Who would have known at the time that within a few years, Shambaugh would not only be teaching history and political science at Iowa, but he would also be overseeing the Society, taking it from a small one-room office to what it has become today, a broad and wide historical organization that leads the way for many who believe that if one can better understand our past, we will live a much-improved future.
Since many credit Shambaugh for being the foundational center of this organization, this might be a good place to insert a bit of the “history” behind the State Historical Society of Iowa. Allow me to do so by quoting from Shambaugh’s 1907 article, A Brief History of the State Historical Society of Iowa 1857-1907...
The State Historical Society was created by the Iowa State Legislature in 1857, but finding a suitable place for their growing collection wasn’t always easy. As we have discussed in earlier posts, classroom space at SUI was hard to come by in those early years (1855-1895). Even after the state capital was moved to Des Moines in 1857, the Old Stone Capitol was not equipped to handle all of the University’s needs, let alone house the State Historical Society.
By 1868, the Society, in a move to address their need for more space, began renting “off-campus.” As mentioned earlier, it was during this season on Washington Street (1882-1901) when Benjamin Shambaugh first involved himself with the Society. In 1895, while earning his Ph.D in political science at the University of Pennsylvania, SUI offered Shambuagh a position teaching history and political science. He accepted, then went to Germany to pursue postdoctoral studies before taking his post in Iowa City in January 1896.
(P-0024) Shambaugh, in his typically humble manner, doesn’t mention this fact in his article, but it was he who, in 1901, negotiated with the University to find suitable space for the Society in the new Hall of Liberal Arts – directly across the hall from his Political Science Department.
Eventually, SUI hired Shambaugh to be the founding chair of a new Department of Political Science. In addition to taking up that charge, he began forging a productive partnership between the university and the State Historical Society. As a member of the Board of Curators, he voluntarily assumed the duties of editor and set scholarly standards for the society’s publications. In 1907, the organization established the Office of Superintendent and Editor and unanimously elected Shambaugh to the position.
In August 1897, Benjamin married Bertha Maude Horack, his college sweetheart.
Like her husband, Bertha M.H. Shambaugh was a creative force to be reckoned with. She was an accomplished naturalist, a skilled photographer, an artist, and a published historical author. Born in Belle Plaine, Iowa on February 12, 1871, and later moving (1880) to Iowa City with her parents and two younger brothers, Bertha became interested in art and music and from 1890 to 1891, she took more than 100 pictures of the historic Amana Colonies near Iowa City.
As part of the 1901 Ninth Biennial Report of the Bureau of Labor Statistics for the State of Iowa, Bertha completed a study about the industrial phases of the Amana society. In 1896, her essay about the Amanas appeared in the Midland Monthly, and she published an article about the same subject (October 1902) for World Today, featuring her photographs. In 1908, her book Amana: Community of True Inspiration (above left) was published by the State Historical Society of Iowa – causing her to be named “the chief historian of Amana.”
While Benjamin & Bertha Shambaugh had no children, their home in Iowa City was always a busy place – a social center for students and colleagues. After Benjamin & Bertha died (1940 & 1953) the Shambaughs bequeathed their home to the University, and it has been used to house the International Center, the Honors Center and, currently, the International Writing Program. Note – The Shambaugh home, in 2001, was moved to make room for the new Blank Honors Center, and is now at 430 North Clinton.
Benjamin Franklin Shambaugh was a dynamic administrator and teacher, and although he never established an equal reputation as a scholar, he authored three books – the best known of which is The Old Stone Capitol Remembers (1939)–edited nine more, and wrote scores of articles. Here at Our Iowa Heritage, his writings have served as a cornerstone to all we have published.
Shambaugh Auditorium in the University of Iowa Main Library is named in his honor, as is the Historical Society’s Benjamin F. Shambaugh Award – established in 1987 to recognize annually – the book judged as the most significant published on Iowa history.
(BH-004) Iowa City-Contribution to the Early History of Iowa, Benjamin F. Shambaugh –
State Historical Society of Iowa (1893) (BH-038) The Constitution of Iowa 1857 – 1907, edited by Benjamin F. Shambaugh – State Historical Society of Iowa (1907).
(BH-045) In our growing Iowa book collection, we have a very rare first edition of The Constitutions of Iowa published in 1902. In it, Shambaugh personally signed a greeting with his name – September, 1902 – for one of his “faithful” students. (BH-044) Below is the 1934 updated edition – The Constitutions of Iowa, Benjamin F. Shambaugh – State Historical Society of Iowa – signed for SUI President W.A. Jessup.
(BH-012) Benjamin F. Shambaugh’s classic book on Iowa City and University of Iowa history (1939). Throughout Our Iowa Heritage webpages, we use this classic book by Benjamin F. Shambaugh as our primary source for historical information. Published in 1939, upon the one-hundredth anniversary of the founding of Iowa City, The Old Stone Capitol Remembers contains a huge collection of facts and figures, but more importantly, it includes many of the entertaining stories surrounding the history of Iowa City, the University of Iowa, and the Territory/State of Iowa. Click here to read one of Shambaugh’s best Iowa City stories, The Midnight Ride of Philip Clark. (BH-015) Benjamin Franklin Shambaugh – As Iowa Remembers Him – State Historical Society of Iowa (1941)
Thank you, Benjamin Franklin Shambaugh & Bertha Maude Horack . . . we remember you well!
Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.