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From the Director

Lexie Olson and Mya Swyers, two sixth graders in Cedar Rapids, created a website on F. M. Hubbell, one of the leading figures in Iowa history, for their National History Day project.  Good for them and good for their teacher, Deb Siebenga, for suggesting a local topic.  Such history not only tells us about our neighborhoods, cities, state, and region, but also speaks to larger issues.

This year marks the 160th anniversary of F. M. Hubbell’s arrival in Des Moines.  Over the years, he became interested in real estate, railroads, insurance, and utilities.  He played a critical role in developing Des Moines, and his family remained involved in the businesses for well over one hundred years.

That same spring, 1855, carpenter Charles Weitz arrived in Des Moines as well and established the Weitz Company.  The Weitz family built the general contracting firm into one of the top fifty in the nation before selling it to employees in 1995.

The legacies of these two men live on today.  Hubbell Realty, Voya Financial, which purchased Hubbell-founded Equitable of Iowa, as well as the Weitz Company, and Life Care Services—a major owner and operator of senior living communities established by the Weitz firm—remain in Des Moines, and descendants of both men are active in the community.  Members of both families have also served on the Simpson Board of Trustees.

Bill Friedricks

Speaker Series: Iowa State Fair

The Iowa State Fair came to Simpson College a few months early. In March, we hosted three speakers who discussed the history and the importance of the Iowa State Fair. Photographer Kurt Ullrich, Iowa State University Professor of Architecture Thomas Leslie, and Chris Rasmussen, a historian at Fairleigh Dickinson College, all shared their perspectives on the fair and its place in Iowa history.  Rasmussen emphasized the debate over whether the primary focus of the fair was to be agriculture or entertainment, and all referred to how attitudes toward the fair have changed over the years.  Regardless of one’s belief on the purpose of the Iowa State Fair, there is no doubt it plays a significant role in our culture and offers something for all Iowans to enjoy.

Iowa IQ Contest

Similar in style to the well-known game show Jeopardy, the first annual Iowa IQ Contest featured Iowa History Center Scholar Robert Lyons acting as our very own Alex Trebek. Teams of three or four Simpson students were quizzed over a broad range of Iowa history facts compiled by our Iowa History Center Scholars. The contest was comprised of ten categories, including subjects such as the Iowa State Fair, education in Iowa, famous Iowans, and agriculture.  Taylor Gehrls, Emily Koss, Jasmine Meyer, and Jessalyn Holdcraft won the contest and were each awarded a $25 Visa gift card.

Iowa and the Midwest Experience Book Series

We have two new books out this spring in our series in partnership with the University of Iowa Press.  They are available at the Simpson bookstore, Beaverdale Books, Barnes and Noble, Amazon.com, and the University of Iowa Press.

Dubuque's Forgotten Cemetery
Excavating a Nineteenth-Century Burial Ground in a Twenty-First-Century City
Robin M. Lillie
Jennifer E. Mack

Atop a scenic bluff overlooking the Mississippi River and downtown Dubuque there once lay a graveyard dating to the 1830s, the earliest days of American settlement in Iowa; all of the graves had presumably been moved. Excavation fieldwork began after 2007 construction revealed human remains. Once the digging was done each summer, skeletal biologist Robin M. Lillie and archaeologist Jennifer E. Mack faced the enormous task of teasing out life histories from fragile bones, disintegrating artifacts, and the decaying wooden coffins. They pieced together the story of the cemetery and its residents, a story often surprising and poignant. Weaving together science, history, and local mythology, the tale of the Third Street Cemetery provides a fascinating glimpse into Dubuque’s early years.

The Archaeological Guide to Iowa
William E. Whittaker
Lynn M. Alex
Mary C. De La Garza

For people who want to experience Iowa’s archaeological heritage first hand, this one-of-a-kind guidebook shows the way to sixty-eight important sites. Many are open to visitors or can be seen from a public location. The guide also includes a few important sites that are not open to visitors because these places have unique stories to tell. Sites of every type, from every time period, and in every corner of the state are featured. Whether you have a few hours to indulge your curiosity or are planning a road trip across the state, this guide will take you to places where Iowa’s deep history comes to life.

Featured Interns

Stephanie Turner

My internship at the Iowa Jewish Historical Society has been a great experience. I have learned how to handle historical artifacts properly and how to catalog objects with PastPerfect,  the standard database software for museum collections. I've researched historical events, people, and artifacts and posted them on our newly launched social media platforms. My favorite part of my internship has been piecing together the life stories of Iowa Jewish families and having the opportunity to handle artifacts that still require research to reveal their historical context and story.

Katie Purvis

As an intern at Fort Des Moines Museum I have had a variety of jobs, including researching how other museums run tours, creating scripts for Fort Des Moines tour guides, and conducting tours myself. This has been a very rewarding experience.  I am now embarking on new research to provide more complete “after World War I” stories of some of the African American men who received their training at Fort Des Moines.  Being able to work in a museum in transition gives me a different understanding of behind-the-scenes work and the everyday struggles and joys that small museums face, especially those focused on a very specific range of history.

Preview: Speaker Series 2015-2016

Well-known financial analyst and author James Grant will open our 2015-2016 Iowa History Center Speakers Series on September 17.  Grant is the founder and editor of Grant's Interest Rate Observer, a biweekly journal of the investment markets. In his new book, The Forgotten Depression: 1921: The Crash that Cured Itself, Grant addresses the question of what role the government should play in the economy.  Here he argues the libertarian position that the economy recovered in the early 1920s because the federal government kept its hands off the markets.

Mark your calendar to hear this interesting and intriguing argument.