This project seeks to illuminate the lives and experiences of the more than 100 Black students who enrolled at Iowa State College between its founding and 1950 and map their residences while in school. The names and lives of these students deserve to be known as an important part of the history of Iowa State just as are the names “Carver” and “Trice.” Impressive Black Iowa Staters span the decades of the 1890s and early part of the twentieth century, and their stories merit recognition.
Black students at ISC
Since its founding in 1858 as Iowa Agricultural College & Model Farm, Iowa State University has allowed Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) to enroll as students. Iowa State’s first Black student, George Washington Carver, enrolled in classes in 1891. At that time, the question of where Black students could live while enrolled at the college became a concern, but it was left largely unaddressed by the institution until after World War II. Prior to that time, Black students at Iowa State College (ISC) were kept from rooming on campus by an unwritten policy that required Black students to room together. This requirement was difficult to meet when so few Black students attended the college at any given time.
Just how many Black students, both American and international, enrolled at Iowa State at any given time is an open question. As late as 1926, ISC had only 13 Black students registered during the regular session and had just graduated its first Black woman, Willa Juanita Ewing, according to The Crisis: A Record of the Darker Races (“A Record,” 1926). Ewing, writing to her degree-granting department, told readers of the “Horticultural Annual Newsletter” of 1937 that “At Ames what few colored people live there are apt to think thirty or forty colored students coming there to school are an awfully lot of people” and that “forty or even fifty” enrolled each summer in classes, many more than the 13 during her senior year (n.p.). Yet, most people, when pressed, are likely to know of only two Black Iowa State students: George Washington Carver and John “Jack” Trice.
The biographies of students included on this WordPress site are not a comprehensive collection, but a work in progress. New names of students are surfacing regularly as research continues. Ultimately, the project will illuminate who the Black students at ISC were, what their experiences were while in Ames, and what contributions they made after leaving Iowa State.
The housing situation of most Black students at Iowa State in the years before it became a university also remains unstudied in any systematic way. The ESRI Story Map linked into this site is an initial step toward addressing that research gap. For some students included among the biographies, no record of their in-session residence has been found to date. The map, like the project itself, is a work under construction, as we add more information on the students’ lives.
A note about terms
Throughout this site, you will find the terms “Negro” and “Colored” used in quoted material and in the names of many Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). These terms are meant to accurately reflect the words of the sources and the names of the HBCUs at the time the ISC students had connections to those institutions. When referring to Iowa State graduates or enrollees and their experiences at HBCUs, the site reflects the names of the institutions appropriate to the time the ISC grads were active there. The term “Black” is used more often than “African American” in recognition of the Black ISC students from outside the country.
Do you have information to share?
The project team is continuing their research on these early Iowa State students. If you have information to share about their lives or about their residences while at Iowa State, please contact us. We want to hear from you. Share your insights and stories, help us fix errors in our information, and contribute to making this project as good as it can be.
About the project graphics
The masthead graphics for this project were designed by Haylee Sheppard, Graphic Designer for the Iowa State University Library. We thank her for her efforts to bring the project to life. Sources for the photos used in the masthead include the following:
Students, left to right: Thomas Campbell, Wikimedia Commons; Mattye Flowers, Tennessee State University; Holloway Smith, Iowa State University Library Special Collections and University Archives; Alpha-Nu Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha, The Sphinx; Irma Dawkins, Ancestry.
Background, left to right: South side of Main Street, Ames History Museum; Campus in the winter, Iowa State University Library Special Collections and University Archives; Map of the ISC campus, Ames History Museum.
Contributors to this project
Many people and organizations have put in time on this project, supplying research material, researching, writing, photographing, uploading, and editing maps to bring these ISC students into focus. All contributors have our sincere thanks and appreciation for the work they did and the contributions they made to the project.
Contributors, in alphabetical order, include the following: Ames Branch of the NAACP, Ames History Museum, Greg Bailey, Jeanne Beck, Gloria J. Betcher, Doug Biggs, Atlas Cahill, Robb Chapman, City of Ames Electric Services, City of Ames Public Works Department, Edna Clinton, Wayne Clinton, Rebecca Dinslage, Alex Fejfar, Ted Grevstad-Nordbrock, Andrea Gronau, Jim Gunning, Ma-aruf Al-Hassan, Iowa State University Digital Scholarship and Initiatives, Iowa State University Special Collections and Archives, Becky Jordan, Hannah Scates Kettler, Donald Kom, Ben McConville, Erin Ridnour, Anita Rollins, Anne Shipp, Melanie Shipp, Arie Sirotiak, Kaitlyn Squiers, Zoe Stonetree, Story County Recorder’s Office, Kayonna Topp, Rhys Walker, Al Warren, Mary Warren, Nicole Wilson, Sharon Wirth, Margaret Wolfe, Bill Woodward, and historic preservation students in the Community and Regional Planning class, CRP 511 Documenting the Historic Built Environment, Fall 2021: Aminat, Emily, Jacob, Jacob, Kyle, Lighton, Sarah, Shifa, Sydney, and Taylor. Special thanks go to Shaina V. Destine, whose HBCU Connections at Iowa State University was an invaluable starting point for this project; to Brad Kuennen, whose research on early Black ISC veterinary medicine students added several previously unknown students to our list, and to Kay Ann Taylor, whose research on the life of Eleanor Powell Archer provided not only invaluable biographical information on several students but also helped to fill in gaps in our understanding of the student experience in the 1940s.
A record of the Negro at college 1926. (1926, August). The crisis: A record of the darker races, p. 174.
Ewing, W. J. (1937). Ewing, Willa Juanata (sic), M.S. 1935, Alabama State Teachers College, Montgomery, Ala. Horticultural Annual Newsletter, 12, n.p.