Collection Details

Agriculture and rural life have been a central focus of collecting for Special Collections and University Archives since the department’s beginnings in 1969, and its collections in this area number more than 700. The core of the collections documents agriculture in the Midwest, particularly Iowa, while the records of agriculture and scientific organizations are national in scope.

Archival collections in agriculture and rural life cover sixteen broad categories, including business, agribusiness, and marketing; cooperatives; engineering and technology; extension; the farm crisis of the 1980s; farmers and farming; farmers organizations and protest groups; government agencies and public officials; historians and social scientists; journalism and broadcasting; producer and distributor organizations; professional and scientific organizations; scientists and scientific research; soil, water, and wildlife conservation; town and rural life; and veterinary medicine and animal welfare.

Search for agriculture and rural life collections in  CARDinal.

Collection highlights include:

  • Roswell Garst and the Garst family : Roswell Garst (1898-1977) was an Iowa farmer, business man, entrepreneur, and promoter of new techniques and technology. He co-founded the Garst and Thomas Hi-Bred Corn Company and aggressively promoted the use of hybrid corn throughout the state. Garst is also known for his relationship with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, whom he hosted on his farm in Coon Rapids in 1959. He sold hybrid seed corn to the Soviet Union and participated in several exchanges to share agricultural knowledge and technology with the Soviets. The department holds the Roswell Garst papers, the Garst and Thomas Hybrid Corn Company Records, as well as the papers of several other family members and businesses.
  • Norman E. Borlaug papers : 1970 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and founder of the World Food Prize, Borlaug spent much of his career in agronomy working to combat global hunger through increases in food production, known as the Green Revolution. His papers document his work to improve wheat production in Mexico and other parts of the world.
  • Center for Rural Affairs Records : This non-profit organization was established in 1973 as a response to the closing of federal anti-poverty programs under the Nixon presidency. The collection documents the work of the CFRA in political advocacy, in addition to projects related to clean energy, rural healthcare, and improving the overall welfare of rural Americans.
  • Rural women: The lives of rural women are documented in a number of collections such as the personal papers of Celestia Lee Barker and Sarah Underwood. Barker was born in Springwater, New York, in 1846. She moved with her family to Macksburg, Madison County, Iowa in April of 1855. The main feature of her papers is a journal, which she began in 1863 at the age of 17. She maintained the journal on a regular basis until 1866, documenting her time attending a seminary in Indianola, Iowa; a visit with her sister and brother-in-law, at Fontanelle, Iowa; five months teaching school in Fontanelle; and her courtship with her future husband, William Beeson Barker, during his service as a Civil War soldier. After 1866, there are only occasional entries, written on birthdays or anniversaries, and relate to Barker’s marriage and family.  Sarah (Tefft) Underwood was born in 1829 in Kingston Rhode Island. She married Horace Underwood in 1851, after which they moved to Princeton, Iowa, a small farming community on the banks of the Mississippi River just north of Davenport. The Sarah Underwood papers include a number of handwritten letters to her sisters and other family members back in Rhode Island. In the letters, she describes farm activities, local weather, and the people she met in Iowa.

Image Collections

These collections contain significant numbers of images related to Iowa's agriculture, rural life, and local history. Some may also include images of the larger Midwest region. These collections have been donated to the department largely by private individuals and organizations. It is important to note that this is just a selection of the collections held by the department that contain visual images related to agriculture and rural life.