W.T. Hornaday honorary plaque: ISU actions and selected context, 2020


On June 9th, 2020, via a  Twitter thread, Iowa State University officials were made aware of the racist actions of William Temple Hornaday, who was bestowed an honorary degree in 1903 and a memorial plaque in 1926. On June 11th, President Wendy Wintersteen issued a statement to the ISU community calling Hornaday’s actions “indefensible, reprehensible, and racist,” and implemented an interim action removing the plaque, which was installed on the south side of LeBaron Hall on ISU's campus, pending the development of a renaming policy and review of the plaque based on the new policy.

To reflect the basis for the University's interim action related to W.T. Hornaday plaque, the University Library’s Special Collections and University Archives, Preservation Department, and Digital Scholarship & Initiatives have attempted to provide limited context to the issue. This webpage focuses mainly on the resources or information within the library's collections related to time Hornaday spent at ISU, plus selected external links to Hornaday and his actions as director of the Bronx Zoo.

Background on Hornaday and his treatment of Ota Benga

How can I find out more about Ota Benga?

While Iowa State University staff have not found any documentation in the archives regarding Ota Benga, there is information to be found elsewhere that may be used to provide a fuller impression of them.

Other potential sources include:

An Oral History containing info on Ota Benga


Newkirk, Pamela,Spectacle: The Astonishing Life of Ota Benga(New York: Amistad, 2016)

Verner Bradford, Phillips, and Harvey Blume, Ota: The Pygmy in the Zoo(New York: Delta, 1993)



What did W.T. Hornaday study at Iowa State (1872-1873)?

Hornaday studied under Charles Bessey, Chair of Botany and Zoology, taking classes in Zoology and informally studying Taxidermy via self-directed study at the College Museum. He left Iowa State College in November 1873 without completing the requirements for a degree. 
Source: The Most Defiant Devil  William Temple Hornaday and His Controversial Crusade to Save American Wildlife by Gregory J. Dehler (2013) . Chapter 1: Iowa Farm Boy (pp. 9-30). 

Did Hornaday obtain an undergraduate degree from any institution?

No, Hornaday did not complete the requirements for a baccalaureate degree. 
Source: The Most Defiant Devil William Temple Hornaday and His Controversial Crusade to Save American Wildlife by Gregory J. Dehler (2013) , p. 70. 

Who nominated Hornaday for the honorary degree and what was the rationale?

No specific mention of who nominated him has been found thus far. The motion to recommend Hornaday to the Board of Trustees for the honorary degree of Master of Philosophy was carried out during the January 3, 1903 meeting of the College Faculty. 

General Faculty Records (RS 8/3/3) meeting minutes, 1890-1904, p. 400.
Iowa Board of Regents Minutes (RS 01/08), volume 6 (1898-1903), 1903-06-03, p. 611.

Why was the plaque installed?

The plaque near LeBaron Hall was installed at the direction of State Board of Education in recognition of Hornaday’s distinguished work in zoology and conservation service and as one of the world’s leading naturalists. Louis Hermann Pammel noted of Hornaday: “His work in the protection of our wild life has been of great service to this country. He was born in Marion County, IA. In early life, he was thrown on his own resources. Dr. Hornaday received his education at Iowa State college. He is one of the truly great men turned out of Iowa State College.”
Source:  Des Moines Register, 1926-06-12

Was the September 8, 1906 incident covered in the Des Moines Register?

Preliminary searching found no mention of the incident in the Des Moines Register from September 8-16, 1906.

Last Updated: August 27, 2020