By Dorothy Schwieder, professor of history, Iowa State University

Marquette and Joliet Find Iowa Lush and Green

In the summer of 1673, French explorers Louis Joliet and Father Jacques Marquette traveled down the Mississippi River past the land that was to become the state of Iowa. The two explorers, along with their five crewmen, stepped ashore near where the Iowa river flowed into the Mississippi. It is believed that the 1673 voyage marked the first time that white people visited the region of Iowa. After surveying the surrounding area, the Frenchmen recorded in their journals that Iowa appeared lush, green, and fertile. For the next 300 years, thousands of white settlers would agree with these early visitors: Iowa was indeed lush and green; moreover, its soil was highly productive. In fact, much of the history of the Hawkeye State is inseparably intertwined with its agricultural productivity. Iowa stands today as one of the leading agricultural states in the nation, a fact foreshadowed by the observation of the early French explorers.

The Indians

Before 1673, however, the region had long been home to many Native Americans. Approximately 17 different Indian tribes had resided here at various times including the Ioway, Sauk, Mesquaki, Sioux, Potawatomi, Oto, and Missouri. The Potawatomi, Oto, and Missouri Indians had sold their land to the federal government by 1830 while the Sauk and Mesquaki remained in the Iowa region until 1845. The Santee Band of the Sioux was the last to negotiate a treaty with the federal government in 1851.

The Sauk and Mesquaki constituted the largest and most powerful tribes in the Upper Mississippi Valley. They had earlier moved from the Michigan region into Wisconsin and by the 1730s, they had relocated in western Illinois. There they established their villages along the Rock and Mississippi Rivers. They lived in their main villages only for a few months each year. At other times, they traveled throughout western Illinois and eastern Iowa hunting, fishing, and gathering food and materials with which to make domestic articles. Every spring, the two tribes traveled northward into Minnesota where they tapped maple trees and made syrup.

In 1829, the federal government informed the two tribes that they must leave their villages in western Illinois and move across the Mississippi River into the Iowa region. The federal government claimed ownership of the Illinois land as a result of the Treaty of 1804. The move was made but not without violence. Chief Black hawk, a highly-respected Sauk leader, protested the move and in 1832 returned to reclaim the Illinois village of Saukenauk. For the next three months, the Illinois militia pursued Black Hawk and his band of approximately 400 Indians northward along the eastern side of the Mississippi River. The Indians surrendered at the Bad Axe River in Wisconsin, their numbers having dwindled to about 200. This encounter is known as the Black Hawk War. As punishment for their resistance, the federal government required the Sauk and Mesquaki to relinquish some of their land in eastern Iowa. This land, known as the Black Hawk Purchase, constituted a strip 50 miles wide lying along the Mississippi River, stretching from the Missouri border to approximately Fayette and Clayton Counties in Northeastern Iowa.

Today, Iowa is still home to one Indian group, the Mesquaki, who reside on the Mesquaki Settlement in Tama County. After most Sauk and Mesquaki members had been removed from the state, some Mesquaki tribal members, along with a few Sauk, returned to hunt and fish in eastern Iowa. The Indians then approached Governor James Grimes with the request that they be allowed to purchase back some of their original land. They collected $735 for their first land purchase and eventually they bought back approximately 3,200 acres.

Iowa's First White Settlers

The first official white settlement in Iowa began in June 1833, in the Black Hawk Purchase. Most of Iowa's first white settlers came from Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Indiana, Kentucky, and Virginia. The great majority of newcomers came in family units. Most families had resided in at least one additional state between the time they left their state of birth and the time they arrived in Iowa. Sometimes families had relocated three or four times before they reached Iowa. At the same time, not all settlers remained here; many soon moved on to the Dakotas or other areas in the Great Plains.

Iowa's earliest white settlers soon discovered an environment different from that which they had known back East. Most northeastern and southeastern states were heavily timbered; settlers there had material for building homes, outbuildings, and fences. Moreover, wood also provided ample fuel. Once past the extreme eastern portion of Iowa, settlers quickly discovered that the state was primarily a prairie or tall grass region. Trees grew abundantly in the extreme eastern and southeastern portions, and along rivers and streams, but elsewhere timber was limited.

In most portions of eastern and central Iowa, settlers could find sufficient timber for construction of log cabins, but substitute materials had to be found for fuel and fencing. For fuel, they turned to dried prairie hay, corn cobs, and dried animal droppings. In southern Iowa, early settlers found coal outcroppings along rivers and streams. People moving into northwest Iowa, an area also devoid of trees, constructed sod houses. Some of the early sod house residents wrote in glowing terms about their new quarters, insisting that "soddies" were not only cheap to build but were warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Settlers experimented endlessly with substitute fencing materials. Some residents built stone fences; some constructed dirt ridges; others dug ditches. The most successful fencing material was the osage orange hedge until the 1870s when the invention of barbed wire provided farmers with satisfactory fencing material.

Early settlers recognized other disadvantages of prairie living. Many people complained that the prairie looked bleak and desolate. One woman, newly arrived from New York State, told her husband that she thought she would die without any trees. Emigrants from Europe, particularly the Scandinavian countries, reacted in similar fashion. These newcomers also discovered that the prairies held another disadvantage - one that could be deadly. Prairie fires were common in the tall grass country, often occurring yearly. Diaries of pioneer families provide dramatic accounts of the reactions of early Iowans to prairie fires, often a mixture of fear and awe. When a prairie fire approached, all family members were called out to help keep the flames away. One nineteenth century Iowan wrote that in the fall, people slept "with one eye open" until the first snow fell, indicating that the threat of fire had passed.

Pioneer families faced additional hardships in their early years in Iowa. Constructing a farmstead was hard work in itself. Families not only had to build their homes, but often they had to construct the furniture used. Newcomers were often lonely for friends and relatives. Pioneers frequently contracted communicable diseases such as scarlet fever. Fever and ague, which consisted of alternating fevers and chills, was a constant complaint. Later generations would learn that fever and ague was a form of malaria, but pioneers thought that it was caused by gas emitted from the newly turned sod. Moreover, pioneers had few ways to relieve even common colds or toothaches.

Early life on the Iowa prairie was sometimes made more difficult by the death of family members. Some pioneer women wrote of the heartache caused by the death of a child. One women, Kitturah Belknap, had lost one baby to lung fever. When a second child died, she confided in her diary:

"I have had to pass thru another season of sorrow. Death has again entered our home. This time it claimed our dear little John for its victim. It was hard for me to give him up but dropsy on the brain ended its work in four short days... We are left again with one baby and I feel that my health is giving way."

But for the pioneers who remained on the land1, and most did, the rewards were substantial. These early settlers soon discovered that prairie land, although requiring some adjustments, was some of the richest land to be found anywhere in the world. Moreover, by the late 1860s, most of the state had been settled and the isolation and loneliness associated with pioneer living had quickly vanished.

Transportation: Railroad Fever

As thousands of settlers poured into Iowa in the mid-1800s, all shared a common concern for the development of adequate transportation. The earliest settlers shipped their agricultural goods down the Mississippi River to New Orleans, but by the 1850s, Iowans had caught the nation's railroad fever. The nation's first railroad had been built near Baltimore in 1831, and by 1860, Chicago was served by almost a dozen lines. Iowans, like other Midwesterners, were anxious to start railroad building in their state.

In the early 1850s, city officials in the river communities of Dubuque, Clinton, Davenport, and Burlington began to organize local railroad companies. City officials knew that railroads building west from Chicago would soon reach the Mississippi River opposite the four Iowa cities. With the 1850s, railroad planning took place which eventually resulted in the development of the Illinois Central, the Chicago and North Western, reaching Council Bluffs in 1867. Council Bluffs had been designated as the eastern terminus for the Union Pacific, the railroad that would eventually extend across the western half of the nation and along with the Central Pacific, provide the nation's first transcontinental railroad. A short time later a fifth railroad, the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul, and Pacific, also completed its line across the state.

The completion of five railroads across Iowa brought major economic changes. Of primary importance, Iowans could travel every month of the year. During the latter ninetieth and early twentieth centuries, even small Iowa towns had six passenger trains a day. Steamboats and stagecoaches had previously provided transportation, but both were highly dependent on the weather, and steam boats could not travel at all once the rivers had frozen over. Railroads also provided year-round transportation for Iowa's farmers. With Chicago's pre-eminence as a railroad center, the corn, wheat, beef, and pork raised by Iowa's farmers could be shipped through Chicago, across the nation to eastern seaports, and from there, anywhere in the world.

Railroads also brought major changes in Iowa's industrial sector. Before 1870, Iowa contained some manufacturing firms in the eastern portion of the state, particularly all made possible by year-around railroad transportation. Many of the new industries were related to agriculture. In Cedar Rapid, John and Robert Stuart, along with their cousin, George Douglas, started an oats processing plant. In time, this firm took the name Quaker Oats. Meat packing plants also appeared in the 1870s in different parts of the state: Sinclair Meat Packing opened in Cedar Rapids and John Morrell and Company set up operations in Ottumwa.

Education and Religion

As Iowa's population and economy continued to grow, education and religious institutions also began to take shape. Americans had long considered education important and Iowans did not deviate from that belief. Early in any neighborhood, residents began to organize schools. The first step was to set up township elementary schools, aided financially by the sale or lease of section 16 in each of the state's many townships. The first high school was established in the 1850s, but in general, high schools did not become widespread until after 1900. Private and public colleges also soon appeared. By 1900, the Congregationalists had established Grinnell College. The Catholics and Methodists were most visible in private higher education, however. As of 1900, they had each created five colleges: Iowa Wesleyan, Simpson, Cornell, Morningside, and Upper Iowa University by the Methodists; and Marycrest, St. Ambrose, Briar Cliff, Loras, and Clarke by the Catholics. Other church colleges present in Iowa by 1900 were Coe and Dubuque (Presbyterian); Wartburg and Luther (Lutheran); Central (Baptist); and Drake (Disciples of Christ).

The establishment of private colleges coincided with the establishment of state educational institutions. In the mid-1800s, state officials organized three state institutions of higher learning, each with a different mission. The University of Iowa, established in 1855, was to provide classical and professional education for Iowa's young people; Iowa State College of Science and Technology (now Iowa State University), established in 1858; was to offer agricultural and technical training. Iowa State Teachers' College (now University of Northern Iowa), founded in 1876 was to train teachers for the state's public schools.



Iowans were also quick to organize churches. Beginning in the 1840s, the Methodist Church sent out circuit riders to travel throughout the settled portion of the state. Each circuit rider typically had a two-week circuit in which he visited individual families and conducted sermons for local Methodist congregations. Because the circuit riders' sermons tended to be emotional and simply stated, Iowa's frontiers-people could readily identify with them. The Methodists profited greatly from their "floating ministry," attracting hundreds of converts in Iowa's early years. As more settled communities appeared, the Methodist Church assigned ministers to these stationary charges.

  Catholics also moved into Iowa soon after white settlement began. Dubuque served as the center for Iowa Catholicism as Catholics established their first diocese in that city. The leading Catholic figure was Bishop Mathias Loras, a Frenchman, who came to Dubuque in the late 1830s. Bishop Loras helped establish Catholic churches in the area and worked hard to attract priests and nuns from foreign countries. Before the Civil War, most of Iowa's Catholic clergy were from France, Ireland, and Germany. After the Civil War, more and more of that group tended to be native-born. Bishop Loras also helped establish two Catholic educational institutions in Dubuque, Clarke College and Loras College.

Congregationalists were the third group to play an important role in Iowa before the Civil War. The first group of Congregationalist ministers here were known as the Iowa Band. This was a group of 11 ministers, all trained at Andover Theological Seminary, who agreed to carry the gospel into a frontier region. The group arrived in 1843, and each minister selected a different town in which to establish a congregation. The Iowa Band's motto was "each a church; all a college." After a number of years when each minister worked independently, the ministers collectively helped to establish Iowa College in Davenport. Later church officials move the college to Grinnell and changed its name to Grinnell College. The letters and journal of William Salter, a member of the Iowa Band, depict the commitment and philosophy of this small group. At one point, Salter wrote the following to his fiancee back East:
"I shall aim to show that the West will be just what others make it, and that they which work the hardest and do the most for it shall have it. Prayer and pain will save the West and the Country is worth it..."2

Throughout the nineteenth century, many other denominations also established churches within the state. Quakers established meeting houses in the communities of West Branch, Springdale, and Salem. Presbyterians were also well represented in Iowa communities. Baptists often followed the practice of hiring local farmers to preach on Sunday mornings. And as early as the 1840s, Mennonite Churches began to appear in eastern Iowa. The work of the different denominations meant that during the first three decades of settlement, Iowans had quickly established their basic religious institutions.

The Civil War

By 1860, Iowa had achieved statehood (December 28, 1846), and the state continued to attract many settlers, both native and foreign-born. Only the extreme northwestern part of the state remained a frontier area. But after almost 30 years of peaceful development, Iowans found their lives greatly altered with the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861. While Iowans had no battles fought on their soil, the state paid dearly through the contributions of its fighting men. Iowa males responded enthusiastically to the call for Union volunteers and more than 75,000 Iowa men served with distinction in campaigns fought in the East and in the South. Of that number, 13,001 died in the war, many of disease rather than from battle wounds. Some men died in the Confederate prison camps, particularly Andersonville, Georgia. A total of 8,500 Iowa men were wounded.

Many Iowans served with distinction in the Union Army. Probably the best known was Grenville Dodge, who became a general during the war. Dodge fulfilled two important functions: he supervised the rebuilding of many southern railroad lines to enable Union troops to move more quickly through the South; and he directed the counter intelligence operation for the union Army, locating Northern sympathizers in the South who, in turn, would relay information on Southern troop movements and military plans to military men in the North.



Another Iowan, Cyrus Carpenter, was 31 years old when he entered the army in 1861. Living in Ft. Dodge, Carpenter requested a commission from the army rather than enlisting. He was given the rank of captain and was installed as quartermaster. Carpenter had never served in that capacity before, but with the aid of an army clerk, he proceeded to carry out his duties. Most of the time, Carpenter was responsible for feeding 40,000 men. Not only was it difficult to have sufficient food for the men, but Carpenter constantly had to keep his supplies and staff on the move. Carpenter found it an immensely frustrating task, but most of the time, he managed to have the food and other necessities at the right place at the right time.

  Iowa women also served their nation during the war. Hundreds of women knitted sweaters, sewed uniforms, rolled bandages, and collected money for military supplies. Women formed soldiers' relief societies throughout the state. Annie Wittenmyer particularly distinguished herself through volunteer work. She spent much time during the war raising money and needed supplies for Iowa soldiers. At one point, Mrs. Wittenmyer visited her brother in a Union army hospital. She objected to the food served to the patients, contending that no one could get well on greasy bacon and cold coffee. She suggested to hospital authorities that they establish diet kitchens so that the patients would receive proper nutrition. Eventually, some diet kitchens were established in military hospitals. Mrs. Wittenmyer also was responsible for the establishment of several homes for soldiers' orphans.

The Political Arena

The Civil War era brought considerable change to Iowa and perhaps one of the most visible changes came in the political arena. During the 1840's, most Iowans voted Democratic although the state also contained some Whigs. Iowa's first two United States Senators were Democrats as were most state officials. During the 1850s, however, the state's Democratic Party developed serious internal problems as well as being unsuccessful in getting the national Democratic Party to respond to their needs. Iowans soon turned to the newly emerging Republican Party; the political career of James Grimes illustrates this change. In 1854, Iowans elected Grimes governor on the Whig ticket. Two years later, Iowans elected Grimes governor on the Republican ticket. Grimes would later serve as a Republican United States Senator from Iowa. Republicans took over state politics in the 1850s and quickly instigated several changes. They moved the state capital from Iowa City to Des Moines, they established the University of Iowa and they wrote a new state constitution. From the late 1850s until well into the twentieth century, Iowans remained strongly Republican. Iowans sent many highly capable Republicans to Washington, particularly William Boyd Allison of Dubuque, Jonathan P. Dolliver of Ft. Dodge, and Albert Baird Cummins of Des Moines. These men served their state and their nation with distinction.

Another political issue facing Iowans in the 1860s was the issue of women's suffrage. From the 1860s on, Iowa contained a large number of women, and some men, who strongly supported the measure and who worked endlessly for its adoption. In keeping with the general reform mood of the latter 1860s and 1870s, the issue first received serious consideration when both houses of the General Assembly passed a women's suffrage amendment in 1870. Two years later, however, when the legislature had to consider the amendment again before it could be submitted to the general electorate, interest had waned, opposition had developed, and the amendment was defeated.


For the next 47 years, Iowa women worked continually to secure passage of a women's suffrage amendment to Iowa's state constitution. During that time, the issue was considered in almost every session of the state legislature, but an amendment was offered (having passed both houses of the state legislature in two consecutive sessions) to the general electorate only once, in 1916. In that election, voters defeated the amendment by about 10,000 votes.

The arguments against women's suffrage ranged from the charge that women were not interested in the vote to the charge that women's suffrage would bring the downfall of the family and would cause delinquency in children. Regarding the defeat of the 1916 state referendum on the female vote, Iowa-born Carrie Chapman Catt, a leader for the women's suffrage cause, argued that the liquor interests in the state should accept responsibility as they had worked hard to defeat the measure. During the long campaign to secure the vote, however, the women themselves were not always in agreement as to the best approach to secure a victory. Catt herself led the final victorious assault in 1918 and 1919 in Washington with her "winning plan." This called for women to work for both state (state constitutions) and national (national constitution) amendments. Finally, in 1920, after both houses of the United States Congress passed the measure and it had been approved by the proper number of states, woman's suffrage became a reality for American women everywhere.

Iowa: Home for Immigrants
While Iowans were debating the issues of women's suffrage in the post Civil War period, the state itself was attracting many more people. Following the Civil War, Iowa's population continued to grow dramatically, from 674,913 people in 1860 to 1,194,020 in 1870. Moreover, the ethnic composition of Iowa's population also changed substantially. Before the Civil War, Iowa had attracted some foreign-born settlers, but the number remained small. After the Civil War, the number of immigrants increased. In 1869, the state encouraged immigration by printing a 96-page booklet entitled Iowa: The Home of Immigrants. The publication gave physical, social, educational, and political descriptions of Iowa. The legislature instructed that the booklet be published in English, German, Dutch, Swedish, and Danish.

Iowans were not alone in their efforts to attract more northern and western Europeans. Throughout the nation, Americans regarded these new comers as "good stock" and welcomed them enthusiastically. Most immigrants from these countries came in family units. Germans constituted the largest group, settling in every county within the state. The great majority became farmers, but many also became craftsmen and shopkeepers. Moreover, many German-Americans edited newspapers, taught school, and headed banking establishments. In Iowa, Germans exhibited the greatest diversity in occupations, religion, and geographical settlement.

The Marx Goettsch family of Davenport serves well as an example of German immigrants. At the time of his emigration in 1871, Goettsch was 24 years old, married and the father of a young son. During a two-year term in the German Army, Goettsch had learned the trade of shoemaking. Goettsch and his family chose to settle in Davenport, among Germans from the Schleswig-Holstein area. By working hard as a shoemaker, Goettsch managed not only to purchase a building for his home and shop, but also to purchased five additional town lots. Later, Goettsch had homes built on the lots which he rented out. He had then become both a small business man and a landlord.

During the next 25 years, Goettsch and his wife, Anna, raised six children and enjoyed considerable prosperity. For Marx and Anna, life in America, surrounded by fellow German-Americans, did not differ greatly from life in the old country. For their children, however, life was quite different. The lives of the Goettsch children - or the second generation - best illustrate the social and economic opportunities available to immigrants in the United States. If the family had remained in Germany, probably all five sons would have followed their father's occupation of shoemaker. In the United States, all five pursued higher education. Two sons received Ph.D.s, two sons received M.D.s, and one son became a professional engineer. With the third generation, education was also a crucial factor. Of seven grandchildren, all became professionals. Moreover, five of the seven were female. As the Goettsch experience indicates, opportunities abounded for immigrants settling in Iowa in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The newcomers and their children could take up land, go into business, or pursue higher education. For most immigrants, these areas offered a better, more prosperous life than their parents had known in the old country.

Iowa also attracted many other people from Europe, including Swedes, Norwegians, Danes, Hollanders, and many emigrants from the British Isles as shown by the following table. After 1900, people also emigrated from southern and eastern Europe. In many instances, immigrant groups were identified with particular occupations. The Scandinavians, including Norwegians, who settled in Winneshiek and Story Counties; Swedes, who settled in Boone County; and Danes, who settled in southwestern Iowa; were largely associated with farming. Many Swedes also became coal miners. The Hollanders made two major settlements in Iowa, the first in Marion County, and the second in northwest Iowa.

Proportionately far more southern and eastern immigrants, particularly Italians and Croatians, went into coal mining than did western and northern Europeans. Arriving in Iowa with little money and few skills, these groups gravitated toward work that required little or no training and provided them with immediate employment. In Iowa around the turn of the century, that work happened to be coal mining.

Coal Miners

Italian emigration differed from earlier emigration in that it tended to be male dominated. Typically, the Italian male emigrated with financial support of family or friends. Once in Iowa, he worked in the mines to pay back his sponsors; then he began to save to bring his wife and family from Italy. For two generations, Italian males worked in coal mines scattered throughout central and southern Iowa. Beginning around 1925, however, the Iowa coal industry began to decline. By the mid-1950s only a few underground mines remained in the state.

Foreign-born in Iowa, 1880, 1900, and 1920
Country 1880 1900 1920
All countries 261,650 305,920 255,647
Germany 88,268 123,162 70,642
Sweden 17,559 29,875 22,493
Norway 21,586 25,634 17,344
Denmark 6,901 17,102 18,020
Netherlands 4,743 9,388 12,471
England 22,610 21,027 13,036
Scotland 6,885 6,425 3,967
Wales 3,031 3,091 1,753
Ireland 44,061 28,321 10,685
Switzerland 4,584 4,342 2,871
France 2,675 1,905 2,125
Austria 12,027 13,118 4,334
Czechoslovakia*     9,150
Russia 535 1,998 7,319
Italy 122 1,196 4,956
Canada 21,062 15,687 8,929

Source: Leland Sage, A History of Iowa (Ames: Iowa State University, 1974), p. 93
*Residents from Bohemia numbered 9,098 and 9,500 in 1915.
Totals for other countries, such as Belgium, Hungary, Poland, Yogoslavia, and Greece, are not included because each country's foreign-born was less than 1,000 in any census year.

Life in a coal camp differed greatly from life in more settled Iowa communities. Most residents described the camps as bleak and dismal. The typical coal camp contained a company store, a tavern and pool hall, a miners' union hall, and an elementary school. Only rarely did coal camps contain churches or high schools. Coal camp residents had few social or economic opportunities. Most sons followed their fathers into the mines, and daughters tended to marry miners and continued to live in the camps.

The majority of blacks who migrated to Iowa during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries also worked as coal miners. Before the Civil War, Iowa had only a small black population, but in the 1880s that number increased considerably. Unfortunately, many of the early blacks were hired as strike breakers by Iowa coal operators. In later decades, however, coal companies hired blacks as regular miners.

The most notable coal community in Iowa was Buxton. Located in northern Monroe County, Buxton contained almost 5,000 people. By contrast, most coal camps averaged around 200 residents. Consolidation Coal Company owned and operated Buxton and instigated many progressive policies. Perhaps most unusual, Buxton had a high black population, at one time almost 54 percent. Most social and economic institutions were racially integrated and the town contained many black professionals. Buxton existed from 1900 to 1922 when coal seams around the area were depleted. Black families then moved on to Des Moines, Waterloo, Cedar Rapids and to communities outside the state.

The Family Farm

After the Civil War, Iowa's agriculture also underwent considerable change. By the 1870s, farms and small towns blanketed the entire state. Also in that decade, Iowa farmers established definite production patterns, which led to considerable prosperity. During the Civil War, Iowa farmers had raised considerable wheat. After the war, however, prominent Iowa farmers like "Tama Jim" Wilson, later to be national secretary of agriculture for 16 years, urged farmers to diversify their production, raise corn rather than wheat, and convert that corn into pork, beef, and wool whenever possible. For many generations, Iowa farmers have followed Wilson's advice.

Even though farmers changed their agricultural production, farm work continued to be dictated by the seasons. Wintertime meant butchering, fence mending, ice cutting, and wood chopping. In the spring, farmers prepared and planted their fields. Summertime brought sheep shearing, haying, and threshing. In the fall, farmers picked corn, the most difficult farm task of all.

Farm women's work also progressed according to the seasons. During the winter, women did their sewing and mending, and helped with butchering. Spring brought the greatest activity. Then women had to hatch and care for chickens, plant gardens, and do spring housekeeping. During the summer, women canned large amounts of vegetables and fruit. Canning often extended into the fall. Foods like apples and potatoes were stored for winter use. Throughout all the seasons, there were many constants in farm women's routines. Every-day meals had to be prepared, children cared for, and housekeeping done. With gardens to tend and chickens to feed and water, farm women had both indoor and outdoor work. Through their activities however, women produced most of their families' food supply.

During the late 1800s and early 1900s, social activities for farm families were limited. Most families made few trips to town. Some Iowans remember that even in the 1920s, they went to town only on Saturday night. Family members looked to each other for companionship and socializing. Moreover, the country church and the country school were important social centers. Families gathered at neighborhood schools several times each year for Christmas programs, spelling bees, and annual end-of-the-year picnics.

Many rural neighborhoods had distinct ethnic identifications, often merged into religion. Throughout the Iowa countryside, churches abounded with designations such as German Lutheran, German Catholic, German Methodist, Swedish Lutheran, Swedish Methodist, and Swedish Baptist.

Vast Changes

In 1917, the United States entered World War I and farmers as well as all Iowans experienced a wartime economy. For farmers, the change was significant. Since the beginning of the war in 1914, Iowa farmers had experienced economic prosperity. Along with farmers everywhere, they were urged to be patriotic by increasing their production. Farmers purchased more land and raised more corn, beef, and pork for the war effort. It seemed that no one could lose as farmers expanded their operations, made more money, and at the same time, helped the Allied war effort.

After the war, however, Iowa farmers soon saw wartime farm subsidies eliminated. Beginning in 1920, many farmers had difficulty making the payment for debts they had incurred during the war. The 1920s were a time of hardship for Iowa's farm families and for many families, these hardships carried over into the 1930s.

As economic difficulties worsened, Iowa farmers sought to find local solutions. Faced with extremely low farm prices, including corn at 10 cents a bushel and pork at three cents a pound, some Iowa farmers joined the Farm Holiday Association. This group, which had its greatest strength in the area around Sioux City, tried to withhold farm products from markets. They believed this practice would force up farm prices. The Farm Holiday Association had onlylimited success as many farmers did not cooperate and the withholding itself did little to raise prices. Farmers experienced little relief until 1933 when the federal government, as part of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, created a federal farm program.

In 1933, native Iowan Henry A. Wallace went to Washington as secretary of agriculture and served as principle architect for the new farm program. Wallace, former editor of the Midwest's leading farm journal, Wallace's Farmer, believed that prosperity would return to the agricultural sector only if agricultural production was curtailed. Further, he believed that farmers would be monetarily compensated for withholding agricultural land from production. These two principles were incorporated into the Agricultural Adjustment Act passed in 1933. Iowa farmers experienced some recovery as a result of the legislation but like all Iowans, they did not experience total recovery until the 1940s.

Since World War II, Iowans have continued to undergo considerable economic, political, and social change. In the political area, Iowan experienced a major change in the 1960s when liquor by the drink came into effect. During both the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Iowans had strongly supported prohibition, but in 1933 with the repeal of national prohibition, Iowans established a state liquor commission. This group was charged with control and regulation of Iowa's liquor sales. From 1933 until the early 1960s, Iowans could purchase packaged liquor only. In the 1970s, Iowans witnessed a reapportionment of the General Assembly, achieved only after a long struggle for an equitably-apportioned state legislature. Another major political change was in regard to voting. By the mid-1950s, Iowa had developed a fairly competitive two-party structure, ending almost 100 years of Republican domination within the state.

In the economic sector, Iowa also has undergone considerable change. Beginning with the first farm-related industries developed in the 1870s, Iowa has experienced a gradual increase in the number of business and manufacturing operations. The period since World War II has witnessed a particular increase in manufacturing operations. While agriculture continues to be the state's dominant industry, Iowans also produce a wide variety of products including refrigerators, washing machines, fountain pens, farm implements, and food products that are shipped around the world.

Strong Traditions

At the same time, some traditions remain unchanged. Iowans are still widely known for their strong educational systems, both in secondary as well as in higher education. Today, Iowa State University and the University of Iowa continue to be recognized nationally and internationally as outstanding educational institutions. Iowa remains a state composed mostly of farms and small towns, with a limited number of larger cities. Moreover, Iowa is still a place where most people live stable, comfortable lives, where family relationships are strong and where the quality of life is high. In many peoples' minds, Iowa is "middle America." Throughout the years, Iowans have profited from their environment and the result is a progressive people and a bountiful land.


Population of Iowa: 1840 to 1990
(A minus sign (-) denotes decrease)

  Increase over preceding census
Census Population Number Percent


-137,053 4.7
1980 2,913,808


1970 2,825,368




136,464 5.2
1950 2,621,073 82,805 3.3
1940 2,538,268 67,328 2.7
1930 2,470,939 66,918 2.8
1920 2,404,021 179,250 8.1
1910 2,224,771 -7,082 -0.3
1900 2,231,853 319,556 16.7
1890 1,912,297 287,682 17.7
1880 1,624,615 430,595 36.1
1870 1,194,020 519,107 76.9
1860 674,913 482,699 251.1
1850 192,214 149,102 345.8
1840 43,112 --- ---

Includes population of area now constituting that part of Minnesota lying west of the Mississippi River and a line drawn from its source northward to the Canadian boundary. This area formed a part of Iowa Territory in 1840.



1Quoted in Glenda Riley's, Frontiers woman: The Iowa Experience (Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1981), p. 81.

2Quoted in Joseph Wall's, Iowa: A History (New York: W.W. Norton & Company Inc., 1978), p. 70.