Cain, William Milton “Bill” (B.S., Horticulture, 1917)

Headshot of William Milton "Bill" Cain

William Milton Cain was born, in Waco, Texas, on 17 January 1895, the eldest of five children born to William D. Cain, a postal clerk, and his wife, Mary A. Blocker Cain. William the elder, an influential individual in the Waco Black community, later had the local NAACP Chapter named in his honor for his advocacy on behalf of African Americans in Waco and throughout Texas (Duncan, 2013). The younger William studied Horticulture at Iowa State College, where he lived at the Sigma Nu Fraternity house at 905 Douglas Avenue in Fall 1913, possibly working there as a waiter as Frederick Patterson’s experience suggests was a common employment for cash-strapped Black students at ISC (Patterson, 1991). From spring 1914 until his graduation in 1917, he resided at 1008 Burnett Avenue, the home of local Ames lawyer Chaucer Gory (C. G.) Lee and his wife Emma McCarthy Lee. While at ISC, Bill participated in the Horticultural Club and the ISC Cadet Corps, which he noted when he registered for the World War I Draft in Waco, Texas. According to Frederick Patterson, many male Black students stayed the full four years in the Cadet Corps to receive the subsidy to pay for their education at the school as Patterson did, and as one assumes, Cain did also (Patterson, 1991).

As a member of the Horticultural Club, Cain was on the Apple Judging Team. His membership was the focus of a racist incident during the interstate-judging competition in 1916, when students from Iowa, Nebraska, and Missouri competed at the state capitol (“Ames Team Wins,” 1916). The team from Missouri refused to compete against a Black student when they learned about Cain’s membership on the Ames team. Initially, the judges from the state horticultural society, the competition’s hosts, asked Cain to leave the team, which would have allowed Missouri to compete. It’s unclear what transpired after that decision, but the society changed its ruling in time for Cain to compete. Missouri withdrew from the competition and Iowa State went on to win (“Ames Team Wins,” 1916).

After graduation, Cain returned to Waco to be a farm laborer, likely at Prairie View Normal and Industrial College, as The Iowa State Bystander announced that Cain, employed at Prairie View, and his wife had welcomed their first child, a daughter, in September 1919 (Ames News, 1919). It’s unclear what happened to his first wife, but Cain eventually moved north and was employed by the U.S. Government as a railway clerk. He married Fostoria Dewey Logan in Chicago, Illinois, on 2 January 1931. He died 21 May 1977 in Dowagiac, Michigan. Cain was a Methodist at the time of his death. He is buried in Dailey Cemetery, La Grange, Michigan.


Photo Credit: Iowa State University. (1917). 1917 Bomb, p.83. 

Ames news. (1919, 26 September). The Iowa State Bystander. n.p.

Ames team wins: Missouri students draw color line. (1916, 15 December). The Iowa State Bystander. p. 2.

Duncan, Robert J. (2013). Cain, William D., 1867-1939. Texas State Historical Association Handbook of Texas. Updated 2020. 

Patterson, F. D. (1991). Chronicles of faith: The autobiography of Frederick D. Patterson. Tuscaloosa: U of Alabama Press.

Ewing, Willa Juanita (B.S., Botany, 1926; M.S., Horticulture, 1935)

Headshot of Willa Juanita Ewing

Willa Juanita Ewing, known as “Juanita,” was born 29 December 1903 in Keytesville, Missouri, to William Ewing and his wife Lee Ewing. Juanita’s mother married several times which resulted in Juanita’s name changing in her youth. Leaving her first husband in Missouri, Lee moved with her young daughter to Des Moines, where she married Edwin H. Carter. The Carter family moved to Ames in 1915, becoming one of the earliest known Black families in the community. By 1920 Lee was a widow, working as a housekeeper at the Tri Delta house and living there with her daughter, called “Waneeta Carter” in the 1920 census. By 1925 Lee had married her last husband, Charles A. Anthony, and with daughter “Juanita Ewing,” according to the 1925 census, had moved to a house at 2928 Woodman (now Wood) Street.

During her undergraduate years in the 1920s, Juanita lived with the Anthonys at their Woodman Street home. The family made money during the Depression by renting the house to Black ISC students for several years after 1930, during which time the family moved into the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity house, where Lee was a cook. This situation was similar to that which Lee and Juanita had experienced when they first moved to Ames between 1915 and 1920 and lived at the Tri Delta house.

Ewing was the first Black graduate of Ames High School in 1922 and is the first recorded African American woman to receive a degree from Iowa State College: a Bachelor’s of Science in Botany in 1926, and later, in 1935, a Master’s of Science in Horticulture. During her time at ISC, Ewing was active in the Ya-Wa-Ca Club, affiliated with the Young Women’s Christian Association (Y.W.C.A.) When she graduated in 1926, Juanita was one of only 13 Black regular session students at ISC (“A Record,” 1926). Her classmates included Compton Chapman, Benjamin Crutcher, and Maurice Thomasson.

After completing her Master’s degree in 1935, Ewing got a job at the Alabama State Teachers College (now Alabama State University) in Montgomery, Alabama, where she first served as an extension agent, then taught freshman and sophomore botany, and later was placed in charge of beautification of the college grounds. As a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Ewing was instrumental in establishing a chapter of the sorority at Alabama State and, later, in 1959, after she had moved to Fairbanks Alaska, was a charter member of the Alaska Alumnae Chapter in Fairbanks, Alaska.

By 1965, she was teaching at Joy Elementary School in Fairbanks. That same year she lodged charges of racism in teacher hiring against the district Superintendent, a move that would, no doubt, have garnered the approval of her long-dead mother, one of the earliest members of the Ames Branch of the NA.A.C.P.

Willa Ewing died in Des Moines, Iowa, on 8 May 1985.

Iowa State College Thesis Title: The comparative anatomy of the leaf of Brassica juncea (L.) Coss. and its broadleaved and curled varieties, 1935 

Iowa State University Catalog Record:


Photo Credit: A record of the Negro at college 1926. (1926, August). The crisis: A record of the darker races, p. 187.

Biography available at  HBCU Connections at Iowa State University  Willa J. Ewing  ( )

A record of the Negro at college 1926. (1926, August). The crisis: A record of the darker races, p. 174.