Iowa City’s Top 50 Influencers: Part Two – 1846-1939.

Back on February 9, 1979The Iowa City Press Citizen ran a special seven-page section called Chronology 1841/1979 and it featured Iowa City’s famed historian – Irving Weber – and his look at 25 People Who Left Their Stamp On Iowa City. You can check it out here.

So, here we are – forty-four years later – and I’d like to offer you my version of Weber’s salute to those who have greatly influenced our city. I’ve been posting stories about Iowa City, Johnson County, and eastern Iowa, now, for several years, and here’s my list of Iowa City’s Top 50 Influencers over the first 100 years or so of our fair community’s existence.

This page features the Second 25, and as you can see, each of the 25 names has a brief overview with a link(s) to read more, if you like. Enjoy!

Here’s a link to the First 25 – Iowa City’s Top Fifty Influencers (TFI) – 1832 to 1845.

It’s Thursday, February 25, 1847 in the late morning. On Capitol Square In Iowa City, the first General Assembly of the newly formed State of Iowa is meeting in the State Capitol. Iowa is only 59 days old, yet the Iowa Legislature has just decided that our state would commit itself to developing a university of higher learning, a place where doctors, lawyers, and other professionals would be trained for service to our state. How many of those state legislators walked out of the Capitol Building that day, wondering to themselves how very foolish it seemed for this new state – which was barely able to pay for a state government – to attempt this crazy idea of starting a new university? And then, it happened! Within a few hours of their proclamation, the heavens opened and the Marion Meteorite passed over Iowa City with a mighty boom so loud, it was heard throughout Johnson County! Was it just a coincidence? Or was it a heavenly sign of holy confirmation? Let it be. S.U.I. Amen.
February 25, 1847 – SUI Begins With A Bang.
+ SUI – The Early Days 1847-1860.
In 1854, many in the North – including Iowa – were fed up with a political system that refused to stand up for those in our midst who were enslaved – treating them as property instead of human beings. You see, in the 1850’s, the political system across America was failing to address a very sad truth. Here in Iowa, for example, while we were, technically, a “free state”, there were still many in both the Democrat and Whig Parties who either supported the practice of holding slaves, or simply believed it best, politically, to ignore the subject. Now, with James W. Grimes as the new Governor – many see him today as the Father Of Republicanism – the die had been cast – not just here in the Hawkeye State – but across the North. Soon, the many anti-slavery voices – groups like the Wide Awakes, the Free Soil Party, and other abolitionist groups will consolidate their strength and focus on the birth of one new political organization – the Republican Party – which went on in 1860 to nominate one young man from Illinois for U.S. President. You might recognize him – Abraham Lincoln.
Gov. James W. Grimes – The ‘Wide Awake’ Father Of Republicanism.
The Letters Of Governor James W. Grimes.
1853 – Grimes To Mason – Farmer To Farmer.
An artist specializing in portraits, Isaac A. Wetherby was enthralled by the commercial possibilities of daguerreotyping. As one of the first Bostonian artists to experiment with this new form of art, Wetherby used his “dags” to serve his artwork, painting oil portraits from his photographs. After a successful stint in Louisville, Kentucky, Wetherby began reading Sketches of Iowa – the classic “travel guide” of Dubuque photographer & entrepreneur John Plumbe, Jr. It was this book that stirred Isaac’s dreams of coming west, and by 1854, Wetherby had purchased land in Iowa, and on his first trip, opened up a photography studio – his Daguerrian Room – in a small second-floor office on Clinton Street in Iowa City. Over the next few decades, Isaac Wetherby would become our city’s most prolific 19th-century photographer, leaving for us the oldest known photos of Old Capitol and downtown Iowa City.
Isaac A. Wetherby – One Artist with Many Dreams.
Iowa City – Through The Eyes Of Isaac Wetherby.
As early as the 1840’s, Iowans were clamoring for the railroad to come into the Hawkeye State. Actually, in 1838, Dubuque’s John Plumbe, Jr. presented his idea of a transcontinental railroad to the U.S. Congress but was laughed out of the Chambers. In 1849, efforts were made and petitions signed that would provoke state legislators to get behind Asa Whitney’s plan for a coast-to-coast railway. By the early 1850’s, investors were now on board, and several Illinois-based lines were nearing completion, but it was the Great River – the Mississippi – that was keeping everything on hold. In May of 1853, two Iowa City representatives – LeGrand Byington and William Penn Clarke traveled by stage coach over to Davenport in order to make a sweet offer to the owners of the Mississippi & Missouri Railroad. If the M&M could complete their tracks into Iowa City by December 31, 1855, our city would give them a $50,000 bonus! In a nearly unbelievable story – on New Years Eve 1855 – the miracle happened. At the stroke of midnight, the M&M steam locomotive and its small crew limped into town – nearly freezing up under the sub-zero temperatures, and finally, the long-awaited railroad had come into Iowa City!
Iowa City – Here Comes The Railroad!
1849 – Iowans Want The Transcontinental Railroad!
The 1850’s – The Birth Of Iowa Railroads.
1853 – The $50,000 Investment In Iowa City’s Future.
The Rock Island Iowa City Depot.
Riding The Five Rails Of Iowa City.
From the moment Iowa was first proposed to become the 29th State in the Union, the pressure was on the good people of the Hawkeye State to decide if we would be a “free” state, siding with those against slavery, or join with our neighbors to the south, Missouri, which was a “slave” state. Iowa overwhelming supported freedom for all, thus becoming an important stop in The Underground Railroad, and by the 1850’s, the anti-slavery movement was gaining momentum, with Iowa strategically located to be right in the midst of the battle. When Kansas Territory opened up, John Brown and many others needed the help of compassionate Iowans to organize safe passage. Iowa Citian George D. Woodin was one of those Iowans. Named for abolitionist James H. Lane, The Lane Trail was established by Woodin and others in 1856 to bypass pro-slavery strongholds in Missouri and provide free-state settlers a safe route into Kansas. The trail originated in Iowa City, passing through Tabor, Iowa, crossing the Missouri River at Nebraska City where it turned south before ending in Topeka of Kansas Territory.
George D. Woodin & The Lane Trail.
Iowa & The Underground Railroad.
From day one of statehood in 1846, there were those who wanted to see Iowa’s capital moved westward. In 1847, a new location was suggested – picking “a beautiful prairie” site in Jasper County and naming it Monroe City. The idea was pursued, lots surveyed and sold, but, alas, in 1849, the idea was overruled. Several more unsuccessful attempts were made throughout the 1850’s, but finally, in 1857, a new deal was cut. The capitol would move westward to Des Moines, and in return, Iowa City would get the complete workings of the State University (SUI), which at that time was scattered across multiple campuses throughout Iowa. Just as The Big Move to Des Moines was being planned (fall of 1857), The Great Financial Panic hit, closing banks and disrupting business across the entire country! It was in this radically-challenging environment, when Iowa City found herself at the biggest crossroads since her creation in 1839. Over the next decade – which included The Civil War, Iowa City would either completely transform herself, or most likely, die from attrition.
1857 – A Capitol Moving Day.
Iowa City’s Banking Corner.
On February 25, 1847, the State University of Iowa (SUI) began – but only on paper. It actually wasn’t until 1855, when SUI first began offering a small number of classes in Mechanics Academy – a privately-owned school building located across from City Park, three blocks from the Capitol building. In all honesty, between 1855 and 1860, the university was failing miserably at attracting students from across the state, with SUI actually closing down its college-level courses for a short season. During that time, it was only the Normal School – the advanced high school assigned to train up public school teachers – that kept SUI afloat. Behind this success story was one young man – D. Franklin Wells – the dedicated teacher from Muscatine who oversaw SUI’s first graduating class in 1858, and helped start the Iowa State Teacher’s Association while becoming a key mover-n-shaker for the advancement of state-supported public education across Iowa.
D.F. Wells – It Is Well With SUI.
SUI – The Early Days 1847-1860.
1855-1860 – Everything’s ‘Normal’ in Iowa City.
Mechanics Academy – The Cradle of SUI.
In 1855, Samuel Kirkwood traveled west from Ohio to became a partner in the family business – Coral Mills in Johnson County. A successful businessman, Kirkwood’s nickname soon became Dusty Miller – a colorful reference to his occupation – a hands-on manager of a flour mill. Although he intended to leave politics behind when he left Ohio, Kirkwood’s friends summoned him from his mill, and while still coated in flour dust, gave a rousing speech at the founding meeting (February 1856) of the Iowa Republican Party – which positioned itself as a foe of slavery expansion. As a result, Dusty Miller Kirkwood was convinced to run – and win – a seat in the Iowa Senate (1856 to 1859), after which he was nominated for governor. After the Lincoln-Douglass debates changed American politics, gubernatorial candidates Samuel Kirkwood and Augustus Dodge crisscrossed Iowa debating the pros and cons of slavery. In 1860, Iowans chose rightly, sending Kirkwood to Des Moines, opening the door for a humble miller from Coralville to become Iowa’s famous Civil War Governor.
Samuel J. Kirkwood – Iowa’s Civil War Governor.
Iowa & The Civil War – 1861-1865.
Meet Four Iowa City Civil War Veterans.
Iowa City’s Civil War Postmaster – J.R. Hartsock.
In a move that no other public university in the U.S. had ever done, SUI’s first year’s enrollment of 124 students (1856) included 41 women! That’s one-third of the total class! You see, from the very beginning, Iowa City has been a beacon for freedom and equality – a place where men and women of all color, race, religion, or national origin can be treated equally. In 1857, The Great Financial Panic, combined with the move of the state capital to Des Moines, put a real cramp on businesses in Iowa City. The Park House – located across from City Park and just one block from Capitol Square – was a thriving hotel catering to those coming to town to interact with state government. When the financial crash hit, the owner – Ferdinand Haberstroh – closed the Park House, and in 1861, his widow – Mary Haberstroh – donated the property to the Sisters of Charity (BVM), with the condition of it being transformed into a cutting-edge educational haven for women. Over the next fifty years (1862-1911), St. Agatha’s School/Seminary joined the State University of Iowa (SUI) in making Iowa City into one of the most opportune places in the nation when it came to attaining equality in education for women.
St. Agatha’s of Iowa City – Breaking The Glass Ceiling.
Iowa City’s Commercial Colleges – Taking Care Of Business.
In 1864, Washington F. Peck – a young 23-year-old doctor, fresh from serving as an army surgeon in the Civil War – relocated to Davenport to open a medical practice in the expanding West. Over the next twenty-seven years, he helped start two hospitals – Mercy Hospitals in Davenport and Iowa City; a home for orphans in Davenport; and most importantly, Peck became the founder and first director of the State University of Iowa (SUI) School of Medicine. Prior to 1870, the state-sponsored medical school was located in Keokuk, and was under-staffed and poorly financed by the state. In a strong desire for more centrally-located medical education, Dr. Peck, in 1868, began a pursuit to convince the legislature in Des Moines to build a first-class medical school in Iowa City. By 1870, the school was open with Dr. Peck serving as surgeon, medical educator, and hospital director! Realizing the shortcomings of clinical demonstrations, Peck worked to create a hospital in which to teach. He raised $4,000 from Iowa City businessmen and $1,500 from the regents in order to convert Mechanics Academy into a 20-bed hospital complete with a surgical theater and outpatient dispensary. Peck then persuaded his good friends from Davenport – the Sisters of Mercy – to provide four nuns “specially educated in the treatment of the sick” to serve as nurses, and by September of 1873, Peck and his medical faculty had created Iowa’s first teaching hospital!
SUI’s Wise Choice – Picking Dr. Peck.
Iowa City – The Hospitals.
Dental Building – SUI’s Eye Tooth for 80 Years.
Homeopathic Medical Building #2 – SUI’s 2nd Medical Opinion.
A 22-year old pioneer – Cyrus Sanders – came to Johnson County (1839) just as Iowa City was being formed. Fortunately, Cyrus was a dedicated diary keeper because, today, his journal about his earliest days here in Iowa provide us with an amazing overview of our city’s history. Around 1880, at the suggestion of Iowa City Daily Republican editor Herbert S. Fairall, 63-year-old Sanders began writing down the early history of Johnson County. As Cyrus wrote, combining his first-hand knowledge with his wit and wisdom, Fairall published the material, and Iowa Citians absolutely loved it. Knowing that the Sanders’ column was helping to sell newspapers, Fairall created a new department at The Republican, calling it Early Iowa, with Cyrus as the primary contributor for material. In 1882, a bit of under-handed shannanigans literally stole away much of Cyrus Sanders’ material, publishing it under other people’s names! But today, we’re giving honor to where honor is due, for without the writings of Cyrus Sanders, much of Iowa City’s early history would have been lost.
Cyrus Sanders – Setting Johnson County History Straight.
Surveying the Life of Cyrus Sanders – Iowa City Pioneer.
Cyrus Sanders – My 1839 Iowa Adventure.
Beginning in the 1840’s – and continuing right up thru the turn-of-the-century – an eclectic group of Iowa City newcomers gathered together to make up a small but widely-diverse community that’s often over-looked in Iowa City history. Built on less-desirable, flood-prone land at the base of Iowa Avenue, this area today, is the home of the Iowa Memorial Union and Hubbard Park, but, during the second half of the 19th century, it was simply called Blocks 96-98. In 1891, Bertha Horack – the future wife of Iowa City historian Benjamin F. Shambaugh – was taking a number of photographs around town when she reached Block 98 – deciding to take the now-iconic photograph of Paul & Rachel Ward standing outside their dilapidated home located on Lot 5 of Block 98. The Wards didn’t live here for too many years after this picture was taken, since the University began purchasing this land and using it for new construction. But it’s important that we not forget the Wards and others like them, who for many years, made up, what is today called, the old Rinella Neighborhood – based on the family grocery store that became the centerpiece of this unique community well into the 1910’s.
Meet The Good People Of Block 98.
Hubbard Park – Diversity Down By The Riverside.
When the State University of Iowa (SUI) started classes in 1855, the only building available at the time was Mechanics Academy – located across from City Park, and three blocks from the Iowa Capitol Building. When the state government moved to Des Moines in 1857, Capitol Square was renamed University Square, and by the early 1880’s, the entire University was housed in four buildings – Central Hall (Old Capitol), South Hall, North Hall, with Mechanics Hall – reconditioned as the SUI Hospital. By the turn-of-the-century, that number had increased to twelve buildings with many crammed onto University Square or within two blocks of Old Capitol. The Red Brick Campus, as it was called, was beautiful, but largely ineffective in serving the rapidly-growing student body. There were two consecutive Presidents of SUI – Charles A. Schaeffer and George MacLean – who envisioned the University in ways that no one else could, and under their leadership – around 1900 – the New University plan was revealed – taking SUI from University Square to today’s Pentacrest and beyond.
From University Square To The Pentacrest.
SUI Red Brick Campus – The Golden Age of the State University of Iowa.
Most U of I folks know about Thomas Macbride (Macbride Hall) and Samuel Calvin (Calvin Hall), but there was a third person in what was called “The Great SUI Triumvirate”. Charles C. Nutting, served as professor of natural science and curator of the Natural History Museum from 1886 -1927, and many don’t realize that it was Professors Nutting, MacBride, and Calvin who stepped in to save their teaching home – Science Hall – also known as the Geology Building – from the wrecker’s ball in 1905. This beautiful, three-story, red-brick building was built on University Square – just north of Old Capitol – in 1884 for the purpose of housing the sciences. But to make room for President MacLean’s New University plan – which included a new Hall of Natural Science (today’s Macbride Hall) – the older Science Hall would have to go. But wait! In 1905, the SUI Triumvirate blew a whistle on MacLean’s plans – drawing up their own idea to actually move the older building rather than tear it down! So, during the summer of 1905 – inch by inch over a distance of 200 feet – Science Hall was moved to its present location on the corner of Capital and Jefferson Streets. Today, thanks to MacBride, Calvin & Nutting, Calvin Hall, as it is now known, still stands as the sole survivor from the 1895 SUI Red Brick Campus that once was.
Science Hall – SUI’s Only Mobile Home.
C. C. Nutting – Hidden Gem Of The Great SUI Triumvirate.
In 1906, The Iowa City Commercial Club published a little booklet entitled Our Live Ones – Iowa City – hiring a cartoonist by the name Hruska to draw 40 sketches of our city’s most prominent leaders. From Mayor George W. Ball to County Attorney W.J. McDonald, from Department Store Owner Frank R. Hatch and Pharmacist W. E. Shrader to Cigar Shop Owners Otto H. Fink and Thomas A. (Buster) Brown, the list offered an entertaining look at 39 men and – wait for it – one woman! Remember now – this is 1906, so the fact that any woman was on this list of those “who made and are making Iowa City” is miraculous. But that fact, all-the-more, tells us about the grit and determination of this turn-of-the-century, visionary named Elizabeth Hannah Irish, who opened a business college, becoming one of Iowa City’s first business women to be included in The Commercial Club – the forerunner of the Chamber of Commerce. Amazingly, over a 45 year span (1895-1940), Irish’s University Business College successfully prepared 12,000 students for productive jobs in the business community!
Hannah Elizabeth Irish – Iowa City’s Business Entrepreneur.
40 Turn-of-the-Century Leaders Who Shaped Iowa City.
Iowa City’s Commercial Colleges – Taking Care Of Business.
In 1863, H.J. Wieneke returned to Iowa City from the Civil War, becoming a tobacconist, partnering with the Fink family in opening a highly-popular cigar shop on Clinton Street. By the end of the century, the Wieneke family had successfully cornered the penny-postcard market, working out of the popular St. James Hotel. Poppa H.J., along with his oldest son, Harry, ran Wieneke’s St. James Arcade Cigar & Notion Store, but wait – there’s more. Carrie L. Wieneke – the family’s oldest daughter – stepped up to operate her own separate retail store next door – the Arcade Book & Stationery Store. From the late 1890’s until 1916, Carrie developed her own line of penny postcards, having them printed and imported from Germany. Sadly, on Good Friday, April 21, 1916, fire totally destroyed the St. James Hotel and all of the Wieneke operations were lost in the disaster. The resilient family gathered up their insurance payouts and reopened within two years on Clinton Street, later moving their Wieneke operations to Washington Street. Obviously, Carrie was quite the survivor and her unique penny postcards of Iowa City – circa 1910 – are highly prized by collectors even to today!
The Wieneke Family – Iowa City’s Penny Postcard People.
Iowa City At The Turn-Of-The-Century.
In October 1910, Thomas S. Baldwin – a former circus showman who had traveled extensively as a hot-air balloon daredevil – came to Iowa City. The Johnson County Fall Farm Festival was in full swing and the highlight this year was Captain Tom and his Red Devil aeroplane. A month earlier, Baldwin made history with the first airplane flight over the Mississippi River, and now, in October 1910, communities all over the Midwest were clamoring for Captain Tom to come to their city to show off his new flying machine. So, on October 13, Iowa aviation history was made when Captain Tom accomplished two feats – 1) the first successful flight in Iowa, and on his second fly-around, 2) Iowa’s first plane crash! Fortunately, both Tom and the Red Devil survived, and after $300 of repairs, Baldwin went on to become one of America’s best-known pilots. Did you know, by-the-way, that eight years later (1918), Iowa City became one of the earliest commercial airports in the country – serving as one of the strategic stops in America’s first cross-country air mail route? As a matter of fact, today, Iowa City’s airport is the oldest airstrip west of the Mississippi River that’s still in its original location – with many of the early pioneers of flight landing here – including Wiley Post, Jack Knight, Charles Lindbergh, and Will Rogers!
Captain Tom, Iowa City & The Red Devil Airship.
The Iowa City Airport – A Rich Aviation History.
A Bird’s Eye View Of Iowa City.
Over much of the first fifty years of the State University of Iowa (1860-1910), the only “official” mascot was the nickname “Hawkeyes”, with no costumed student running up and down the sidelines. But between 1908 and 1910, the SUI football team decided to bring on a live mascot. His name? No – it’s not Herky. Everybody’s favorite hawk wouldn’t be “invented” until 1947 when SUI graduate Dick Spencer would create Hercules the Hawk – affectionately known as Herky. So, in 1908 through 1910, the best option was Burch the Bear! That’s right – a live bear cub that grew up before the team’s eyes, and eventually caused a big stir wherever he went. Sadly, Burch met an untimely demise when he escaped from his pen during the winter of 1910, fell through the ice on the Iowa River, and drowned. That led to Mascot #2 – Rex the ROTC Dog who roamed the Hawkeye sidelines during the 1920’s and 30’s. Ironically, Rex met with the same fate as Burch the Bear during the icy winter of 1935! But fear not, Herky appeared in the flesh (feathers?) in the early 1950’s, and has been safe and sound, leading Hawkeye cheers now for over 70 years!
SUI Mascots – The Big Three.
The Wonderful World of SUI Colors – Black & Golden.
Our Hawkeye Sing-Along.
The Hawkeyes Take The Field.
Iowa Homecoming: Hawkeye-Style.
Continuing in the fine tradition set by Isaac A. Wetherby – Iowa City’s best-known 19th-century photographer – Fred W. Kent was best known as a versatile and talented photographer who documented everything from family and community life to sporting events to landscape and natural vistas throughout Iowa City. Arriving at SUI as a student in 1911, Fred spent the next 50+ years serving our community through his amazing gift of photography. Well into the 1970’s, Fred was often seen on campus – taking pics of people, places, and things, and as early as the 1920’s, Kent even dared to fly overhead to get the shots he wanted. Today, Fred Kent’s collection includes over 50,000 photographs – an amazing array that offers us all an amazing 50-year overview of Iowa City and SUI history.
Fred W. Kent – Continuing The Photographic Tradition.
Fred W. Kent’s Iowa City Classics.
Wetherby & Kent – Two Generations – Two Cameras – One City.
While racism still raises its ugly head from time to time, ever since the earliest days of SUI, people of color have often found a receptive environment in Iowa City. In 1895, for example, Frank “Kinney” Holbrook – the son of a runaway slave – overcame many obstacles, fighting the good fight for racial equality, as he embarked on one amazing journey, becoming the first African American college football player in the state of Iowa. In 1921, Iowa had an All-American football player from Clinton that single-handedly took the Hawkeyes to a mythical national championship. Sadly, Duke Slater has largely been forgotten over the last century, primarily because of his skin color. But no more. Beginning in 2021, the Hawkeyes are now playing on Duke Slater Field in Kinnick Stadium. In 1933, a young black man from Texas showed up in Iowa City, looking to follow in the footsteps of Holbrook and Slater. Before he graduated in 1936, Ozzie Simmons had become an All-American football player, but more importantly, he blazed a trail for other people of color and is remembered each year with Floyd of Rosedale – going to the winner of the Iowa/Minnesota game.
Duke Slater – Iowa’s All-American Trailblazer.
Frank “Kinney” Holbrook – Tipton’s Iron Man.
Ozzie Simmons + Racial Targeting = Floyd of Rosedale.
On June 24, 2021, Johnson County, Iowa did something counties rarely do. Originally named for the ninth Vice President of the United States, Richard M. Johnson (1837-1841), the Johnson County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to change our county’s eponym (namesake), placing Lulu Merle Johnson (1907-1995) into that lofty position. Johnson was a BA and MA graduate of The University of Iowa (1930), the second African-American woman in the U.S. to earn a Ph.D. in History, and the first to receive a Doctorate of any kind in Iowa!, Lulu was born into a successful farm family in 1907 in the small southwestern Iowa town of Gravity, where the Johnsons were the only black family in town, yet highly respected. Lulu’s father, Richard, was a freed slave who rented out his land – which had been in the family since 1882 – while working as a barber in his own shop in town. After her years at Iowa, Lulu went on to become an esteemed educator while researching the lives of African Americans, teaching at Florida A&M and West Virginia State College, before joining the faculty of Cheyney State College in Pennsylvania as a history professor and dean of women in 1952. Throughout her lifetime, Lulu was an activist against segregationist policies. In the 1940’s, for example, she joined with a group of SUI alumni, leading a campaign to desegregate our university’s residence halls, which finally happened in 1946.
Johnson County’s New Namesake – What a Lulu!
Courting Johnson County.
1838 to Today – Unity Through Diversity.
Rich Stories of Diversity Timeline.
Grant Wood was born on a farm located four miles east of Anamosa, Iowa in 1891, the son of Francis M. Wood and Hattie (Weaver) Wood. When Grant was ten years old, his father died, and Hattie moved with her four children to Cedar Rapids. While attending school, Wood worked at odd jobs, including apprenticing in a local metal shop, to help support his family. On occasion, Grant entered art competitions, and in 1905, his drawing of oak leaves took third place in a national contest sponsored by Crayola. Grant Wood went on, of course, to become one of the world’s best-known artists. Working out of a small studio located above a Cedar Rapids mortuary garage, Wood created one of the most familiar images in 20th-century American art: the iconic American Gothic (1930). In 1934, Grant was offered the position of director of the Public Works of Art Program (PWAP), a work relief program in Iowa City, developed by Franlkin Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration (WPA). Once Grant’s PWAP work concluded, SUI offered him a full-time position as Associate Professor of Fine Art, which he kept until his death in 1942.
Grant Wood – Iowa’s Iconic Artist.
Iowa’s Very Own – U.S. Postage Stamps.
Iowa Celebrates Three Sesquicentennials.
Helen Lemme was born in 1904 in Grinnell, Iowa. She was the oldest of six children and as one of the few black students in the Grinnell public school system, she won an essay contest in 8th grade, but was not given the gold-medal prize because of her race. Four years later, Helen graduated from Grinnell High School, chosen as valedictorian of her senior class, for which she did win (and received!) a $5 gold coin scholarship. She began her university studies in 1923 at Fisk University in Nashville, but in 1925 moved to the State University of Iowa, where she studied science and biology and served as the president of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority. In 1930, Helen Lemme returned to Iowa City and helped transform it by opening doors for people of color. When prejudice closed SUI dorms to African Americans, Helen and Allyn Lemme freely opened their home, setting in place an example of servanthood that touches people’s hearts even to today. In 1970, a new elementary school in Iowa City was named Helen Lemme Elementary School in her honor. In 1984, University of Iowa African American graduate students founded the Helen Lemme Reading club, to serve as both a forum for African Americans to discuss literature by or about African Americans and a support group for black students living in a predominantly white community.
Remembering Helen Lemme – Grinnell’s Golden Girl.
1838 to Today – Unity Through Diversity.
Rich Stories of Diversity Timeline.
A Wisconsin native, Mildred Pelzer was born in 1889, but raised in Montana, and was serving as the director of the art department at Dakota State Normal School in Madison, South Dakota, when she met a nice young man – a fellow teacher – named Louis Pelzer – a 1907 graduate of the SUI. The couple married and moved to Iowa City where Louis was working on his PhD while serving as an associate history professor alongside one of the best-known historians of the day – Benjamin Shambaugh. A student of Grant Wood, Mildred gained fame with her oil paintings of flowers – with one of her pieces appearing on the cover of Better Homes & Gardens in July 1934. Later that year, the Jefferson Hotel commissioned Pelzer to create eight large murals that represented our rich Iowa City heritage, focusing on the theme of transportation. For fifteen years, these magnificent murals were proudly displayed in the hotel lobby until a ill-fated remodeling effort nearly sent these beauties to an early demise. Today, five have been rescued and remain as a beautiful tribute to both Mildred Pelzer, and our rich Iowa City history.
Mildred W. Pelzer – An Iowa City Artist.
The Mildred Pelzer Iowa City Murals.
Professor Benjamin Shambaugh was born in 1871 near Clinton, growing up as an Iowa farm boy yet always with a deep hunger for education. Over time, he became a dynamic administrator and teacher, authoring three books – the best known of which is The Old Stone Capitol Remembers (1939), editing nine more, and writing scores of articles as the first Supervisor/Editor of the State Historical Society of Iowa. Here at Our Iowa Heritage, his writings have served as a cornerstone to all we have published. In July of 1939, the good citizens of Iowa City took time out of their summer schedules to celebrate 100 years of existence. And quite the party it was – with three days of celebration – July 2-3-4. A party well worth remembering and, of course, Professor Benjamin Shambaugh was right there, serving as one of the event’s primary organizers.
The Old Stone Capitol Remembers – Benjamin F. Shambaugh.
Iowa City 1839-1939 Centennial.

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