Student Residences

Iowa Agricultural College & Model Farm and Iowa State College, 1891 to 1940

Gloria J Betcher, Ph.D. and Ted Grevstad-Nordbrock, Ph.D. co-curators

January 5, 2022


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, BIPOC 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. As late as 1926, ISC had only 13 Black students and had just graduated its first Black woman, Willa Juanita Ewing, according to The CrisisA Record of the Darker Races (“A Record,” 1926).

The housing situation of most BIPOC students at Iowa State in the years before it became a university remains unstudied in any systematic way. This ESRI Story Map project is an initial step toward addressing that research gap. It is also intended as a means of illuminating just who the Black students at ISC were and what contributions they made after leaving Iowa State.

The College and Its Housing Policy

In a letter dated 21 June 1910, W. E. B. DuBois wrote to ISC President A. B. Storms, inquiring about the college’s Black graduates to date. Storms replied on 27 June, listing its two graduates: “Geo. W. Carver, B. Ag., 1894,” and “P. C. Parks, B. S. A., 1904” (Storms, 1910, p. 1). The ISC President also assured the co-founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) that “Negro students are entirely welcome in this institution” (Storms, 1910, p. 1). Storms went on to affirm, “They have no discourtesy whatever shown them by fellow students or others. It is not always easy for a negro student to find rooming and boarding accommodations except where there are enough to room and board together, as is the case with the Philippinoes (sic) and with students of other nationalities” (Storms, 1910, p. 1). As the sole Black students on campus during their years of study, Carver and Parks could not meet the must-room-together requirement. In fact, the unwritten housing policy meant that, until the late 1940s, most Black students lived off campus in Ames or other communities, notably Des Moines. The exception to this rule were the few Black students before 1920 who lived with professors on campus or who were housed in rooms individually in facilities where they also worked–the Horticulture Barn, the Experiment Station Barn, the Horse Barn, the Horticulture Laboratory, and elsewhere.

Growth of the Black Ames Community and Housing Options

By 1920, a steady, if limited, stream of Black enrollees at ISC had been ensured by the influence of George Washington Carver and Perry C. Parks at Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University); a growing number of supportive and enthusiastic ISC alumni at Prairie View State Normal & Industrial College (now Prairie View A & M University) and other Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs); and the recruitment efforts of ISC professors like Louis Pammel, who were enthusiastic about working with Black students in their disciplines. Iowa State had developed a reputation for being a Predominantly White Institution (PWI) that welcomed the enrollment of Black students from Southern HBCUs. More Black students began to enroll, particularly for graduate credit during summer sessions, during which instructors at HBCUs could acquire continuing education and advanced degrees to take back to their own schools (Ewing, 1937).

Concurrently, the African American community in Ames was increasing in size. The arrival, after 1912, of influential families, like the Martins, Shipps, Anthonys, Lawries, and Gaters; the establishment of Ames as the home of 1914 ISC graduate Walter G. Madison, Sr.; and the foundation in 1918 of an organization for the “colored ladies of Ames” as a mutual aid club “to promote unity, culture and mutual helpfulness” for the Black students and other Black community members in Ames (Hardin, 1918, p. 8).¬†More importantly, the growth of the African American community led to Black families opening their homes to Black ISC students seeking room and board, generating opportunities for socializing and activism within Ames that were previously available only in Iowa’s larger cities, like Des Moines and Waterloo.


A record of the Negro at college 1926. (1926, August). The Crisis, 32.4., pp. 167-78.

Ewing, Willa Juanita. (1937). Ewing, Willa Juanata (sic), M.S. 1935, Alabama State Teachers College, Montgomery, Ala. Horticultural Annual Newsletter, 12, n.p.

Hardin, Mrs. L.G. (1918, March 15). Mutual aid club. Ames Evening Times. p. 8.

Storms, A. B. (1910, June 27) Letter to W.E.B. DuBois. Ames History Museum.

U.S. Department of Education. (n.d.)  White House initiative on advancing educational equity, excellence, and economic opportunity through historically Black colleges and universities : What is an HBCU? U.S. Department of Education., para. 1