The Iowa State Agricultural College is founded on March 22 when Governor Ralph P. Lowe signs a bill to establish a State Agricultural College and Model Farm, "which shall be connected with the entire agricultural interests of the state." An appropriation of $10,000 is made for the purchase of land and improvements, and a board established to purchase a farm and establish the college.  The following subjects were to be taught: natural philosophy, chemistry, botany, horticulture, fruit growing, forestry, animal and vegetable anatomy, geology, mineralogy, meteorology, entomology, zoology, veterinary anatomy...."and such mechanic arts as are directly connected with agriculture."

By Louis Bernard Schmidt, Dept. of History and Government (1929)

State of Iowa Legislative Act 91, 1858State of Iowa Legislative Act 91, 1858

State of Iowa Legislative Act 91, 1858


The Board of Trustees is organized in January and it selected Story County as the site of the new Agricultural College on June 21. A picnic on the site is held on July 4 to commemorate the occasion. Suel Foster is elected first president of the Board of Trustees, a position he holds until 1865. An early and persistent champion of industrial education he helped to draft the original bill which was introduced in the Sixth General Assembly in 1856. Two years later this bill in revised form became the organic act of the Iowa State Agricultural College and Model Farm. The original college farm of 648 acres is purchased from five different owners at a total cost of $5,379. Story and Boone counties pledge private subscriptions, bonds, and land gifts valued at $21,355.

An attempt is made in the Legislature to repeal the act providing for the establishment of the College. It is defeated largely through the efforts of legislator Benjamin G. Gue, who was one of the framers of the original act.

 White man with thick black beard and medium length hair slicked back

Benjamin G. Gue

The Farm House and accompanying Cattle Barn are completed by local builders. The first occupant of the Farm House is W.H. Fitzpatrick, who rents the farm in 1861. The Farm House is the home of the superintendent of the Model Farm and in later years, the deans of Agriculture, such as Seaman Knapp and "Tama Jim" Wilson. In 1966, the house is placed on the National Register of Historic Places and currently serves as a campus museum showcasing the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The Federal Land Grant College Act (named the Morrill Act for Vermont Senator Justin Morrill) of July 2 is signed by President Abraham Lincoln, providing grants of land and land scrip to the states in furtherance of instruction in agriculture and mechanic arts. On September 11, the Iowa legislature officially accepts the provisions of the Morrill Act, which brought to Iowa the honor of becoming the first state in the U.S. to do so.
 Report of the Office of the Secretary of Iowa State Agricultural College and Farm
While the legislature briefly considers awarding the land-grant to the State University, this issue is resolved on March 21 when the Legislature votes $20,000 for the erection of a college building for the Agricultural College in Ames by October 1, 1865.  The Agricultural College thus becomes Iowa's land grant college.
The legislature appropriates $91,000 for the College, and the act is approved on April 2.  The Planning Committee then commences planning the structure of the college: president, faculty, the subjects to be offered, a system of instructive farm labor, and admission requirements. 
Academic life:

Adonijah Welch is appointed the first President on May 11. Trained as a lawyer, he had been the first principal of the Michigan State Normal School. At the time of his appointment he is living in Florida and had been elected to fill out an unexpired term in the U.S. Senate.

White man with thick white beard and white hair  








   Adonijah S. Welch



The first unit of the Main Building (Old Main), predecessor of Beardshear Hall, is completed at a cost of $10,570.  The building contains a reception room, library, lecture hall, a specimen museum, professors' and recitation room, students' rooms, a chapel, kitchen, laundry, and dining room as well as rooms for the housekeeper and maids.

Very wide 4.5 story tall building with many many windows and multiple towers on the corners

Old Main, n.d.

Student life:

A preparatory class of seventy men and women students is received on October 21, making Iowa State coeducational from the beginning.

The Philomathean Literary Society is founded for both men and women and by 1873, there are 50 members.  Originally meeting in the chapel, they later establish a long-term home in the Freshman Room of Old Main, and the group is chaired by Professor T.S. Townsend, instructor in agriculture and zoology.


Known as the Iowa Agricultural College, the college is often identified by its initials, I.A.C.

Academic life:

Iowa State Agricultural College is formally opened for the admission of students on March 17. The Main Building is also dedicated and President Welch inaugurated. Curricula in agriculture and mechanic arts are offered. In the first term, classes are taught in rhetoric, landscape gardening, German, algebra, arithmetic, bookkeeping, geography, analysis, and instrumental music.


Three "professors" houses are constructed:

Two story house with ornate window decorations and porchSouth Hall, n.d. South Hall (also known as South Hall, Domestic Economy Hall, and Music Hall): This residence serves as a home for President Adonijah Welch and stands south and east of the Campanile. Later known as South Hall, Domestic Economy Hall, and Music Hall, it is destroyed by fire in 1912.
Small brick two story house Music Hall, 1923 Music Hall (also known as "The Maples" and "Stanton House"): The house known as "The Maples" is erected for Professor George W. Jones. Long the home of Edgar Stanton (Class of 1872) and professor of mathematics until his death in 1920, it then housed the Music Department until it is razed in 1978.
Brick two story cottage Marston Cottage, n.d. Marston Cottage is first occupied by Professor William A. Anthony until he resigns in 1872.  The house is named for Anson Marston, Dean of Engineering, who resides there from 1892-1949. His widow continues to live there until it is razed in 1958.

Student life:

The first class is comprised of 173 students, 136 men and 37 women. They enrolled from 55 Iowa counties.


Benjamin Gue (former lieutenant governor of Iowa, and president of the Board of Trustees) states in his inaugural address: "Who of us can foresee the future of this Institution, which we this day dedicate to the education of the working people of Iowa?  It needs no prophet to foretell that its influence upon the youth of these classes, must in no very distant future be felt far and wide.  We may not live to see this day, but the time will surely come in which graduates of the Iowa Agricultural College will be found among the most eminent men and women that our State or this country can produce....inculcating correct principles, pure morals, free from prejudice, bigotry and false pride, they cannot fail to attain the highest positions of honor and trust....and by their lives honor the institution to whose fostering care they are so indebted."

Addresses Delivered at the Opening of the Iowa State Agricultural College, March 17, 1869, p. 15


Academic life:

President Welch and I.P. Robert, professor of agriculture, hold 3-day farmers' institutes at Cedar Falls, Council Bluffs, Washington, and Muscatine. These are the earliest institutes held off-campus by a land grant institution, and were the forerunners of 20th century extension.


 The first part of the Chemical Laboratory is built at a cost of $5,003.  The North Farm of 140 acres is purchased for $3,500 (where the former Pammel Court and the current Veenker Golf Course are now located).  President Welch also requests legislative funding for a 2-wing expansion of Old Main.

Student life:

Two additional literary societies are formed, The Bachelors' Debating (which allowed only male members) and the Crescents, which had thirteen original charter members.  This original thirteen includes Edgar Stanton (professor and first to receive an I.A.C. diploma), Millikan Stalker (professor of Veterinary Medicine), and LaVerne Noyes (who donates the funding for Lake LaVerne).

The rules of the College are fairly strict, and included the following examples:

1. The recitation hours of the day and hours of the evening from 7:00 p.m. till 10:00 p.m. (except Saturday and Sunday) are set apart as study hours.

2. During study hours all students except such as are detailed for work, shall study quietly in their rooms.

4. Lights shall be extinguished at 10:00 p.m.

7. Loud talking, whistling, scuffling, gathering in hall or stair cases, and boisterous and noisy conduct, are at all times forbidden.

12. Students shall be detailed for labor by the President, and shall work as directed an average of two hours and one half per day for five days in the week.  (Young women worked in the dining or laundry services; young men on the farm.  Equal wages for both men and women were to be paid, as directed by President Welch.

14. Students may not visit the dining-room, laundry, kitchen, bakery, store-room, cellar, ice-house, workshop, or barns, nor walk through the meadows, lawns, or growing crops, without special permission.

15. The use of intoxicating liquors is prohibited to members of the College.


Donations to the College include one hundred rhubarb roots, an industrial plow, an American bee hive, monthly reports from the Department of Agriculture, and geological specimens.

Academic life:

The following classes are taught in Chemistry: inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry, quantitative analysis, theoretical chemistry, qualitative analysis, agricultural chemistry, and physiological chemistry. 

President Welch teaches classes in landscape gardening, the study of words, rhetoric, and analysis.

The College Herbarium (now the Ada Hayden Herbarium) is established by Charles E. Bessey, professor of botany.  A herbarium is a plant library containing dried and pressed plants.  The Herbarium, in 2006, contains 640,000 specimens of flowering plants, conifers, ferns, mosses and liverworts, algae and lichen, grasses and legumes.


Two wings are added to Old Main at a cost of $47,455.  The College also constructs a workshop, chemical laboratory, a horse barn, a professor's house, a corn crib and hen house, and a root cellar.

In examining the College's budget, it is discovered that an excess of $19,073.77 has been spent on the College building (Old Main) for lighting, heating, and supplying water.

While the main object of the campus garden is to serve as a means of illustration, the produce raised provide supplies for the College, Farm House, and professors' families.  The crops raised were beans, beets, cabbages, carrots, corn, cucumbers, lettuce, melons, onions, parsnips, peas, potatoes, radishes, salsify (a vegetable whose root and leaves can be used for cooking purposes. It is also known as white salsify, goatsbeard, vegetable oyster, and the oyster plant, PageWise.com), squashes, turnips, and tomatoes.  79 varieties of potatoes are also planted.

Student life:

To enter Iowa State College as freshmen, students must pass examinations in grammar, spelling, geography, arithmetic, and algebra.  Some sample questions:

1.     Name and define all parts of speech

2.     Name in order of size the 3 largest rivers in the world

3.     Divide 365729 by 365

4.     If 4 men in 6 days cut 36 cords of wood, in how many days will 9 men cut 27 cords?

Excuses for any absences from any college exercise must be granted personally by the President through a personal application from the student.

The Sunday schedule for students:

7:00 a.m.:      Prayers

9:00 a.m.:      Bible History

11:00 a.m.:     Singing

3:00 p.m.       Preaching

7:00 p.m.:      Students' Prayer Meeting

Students are only required to attend prayers and the 3:00 service.


Donations to the College for 1870 and 1871: Rhubarb roots, garden seeds, mowers, plows, a bee hive, quartz geodes, a copy of the Dubuque Daily Times, and cattle portraits.

Farmer's Institutes are held at Cedar Falls, Council Bluffs, Washington, and Muscatine, involving several hundred farmers.  The program topics include beef animals, fruit culture, stock breeding, bee culture, the milch cow, and agricultural education.

The Library contains 2,400 volumes (and spends $1,244.01 on new books).


Academic life:

The first courses are given in domestic economy (home economics, family and consumer sciences) and are taught by Mrs. Mary B. Welch, the president's wife.  Iowa State becomes the first land grant university in the nation to offer training in domestic economy for college credit.

The first courses in Veterinary Science during the fall term are taught by Dr. Henry H. Detmers.  A course on the management of bees, taught by Mrs. Ellen Tupper, is also offered.

The Herbarium contains 2,500 specimens, and also displays a grains and textiles collection from the Paris Exposition of 1867.


The popular sports are baseball (for men) and croquet (for both men and women).  While Iowa Agricultural College (I.A.C.) does not play other schools in baseball, they do occasionally play town teams.


$45,000 is appropriated for a general laboratory building by the State Legislature.

The President's salary is raised to $3,500, and due to the isolation of the College, he is also allowed a residence.

Student life:

The freshman class schedule consisted of campus labor from 7 a.m. till 10 a.m., study time from 10 to noon, classes beginning at 1:30 through 5, and the evening was for studying.  Chapel was compulsory, and any absence resulted in 3 demerits.


A total of 106 swine are owned by the College: 38 Berkshires, 36 Chester whites; 2 Poland China, and 30 cross breeds.

The Library's collections are particularly strong in architecture, physics, natural history, and agriculture.

26 students graduate in the first class:  24 men and 2 women.  The first commencement is a great event (held at West House in Ames), beginning in the early afternoon and lasting till late in the evening, ending with a supper.  Each graduate delivers an oration and many people attend from throughout the state.  President Welch also speaks (his address is on display in Special Collections, 403 Parks Library, for the Sesquicentennial).

Graduate Mattie Locke states in her commencement speech, “The world must learn that in woman's heart there are longs for better things.  We want it understood that we are neither dolls nor drudges, but participants in a common humanity.”


Academic life:

The classes taught include landscape gardening, architecture, field artillery, analysis of the English sentence, German, mechanical drawing, constitutional law, stock-breeding, and algebra.

C.P. Wellman (Class of 1872) registers as the first graduate student.  J. K. Macomber (Physics) and Edgar Stanton (Mathematics), both of the Class of 1872, joins the faculty.


The Chemical Laboratory is furnished with furnaces, sandbaths, hoods, balances, filter pumps, and other apparatus for the Chemistry classes.

Student life:

The literary magazine, the Aurora, is published monthly by the students for the four literary societies on campus (The Philomathean (1868); The Bachelor (1870); the Cliolians (1870) and the Crescent (1870)).  The cost of a year's subscription is $1.00 and a single issue cost $.15.  The Aurora contains essays, reviews, and musings relating to culture, reading, and science, as well as local notes relating to alumni, the campus, and student activities and life.

The college terms runs from March through November.

Oyster suppers are in vogue.  Pies baked by the night watchman's wife are also available for purchase.


An investigation is undertaken of Major Samuel E. Rankin, who is serving as the College treasurer (as well as the State Treasurer).  Some $38,000 of College funds have been appropriated to cover drafts.  College officers are absolved of any wrongdoing.  Rankin turns over enough of his personal property to cover the loss.

The University motto, "Science with Practice," is first used.

The Class of 1873 includes 11 gentlemen and 4 ladies for a total of 15 graduates.  Their commencement supper is held at the Waring House in Nevada.  President Welch also gives a presentation.


Academic life:

President Welch teaches landscape gardening, psychology, political economy, and stock-breeding.  There are 263 students enrolled in the college.


Baseball is very popular, and there are numerous games played between the Iowa Agricultural College (I.A.C.) classes, resulting in sprained and broken fingers, one dislocated jaw, and some smashed teeth (according to the Aurora).


The telegraph is extended to Ames and to the College.

Student life:

Croquet continues to be played on campus, and during the summer, many are out at night to go comet-watching.


Edgar Stanton is appointed Secretary of the Board, and in conjunction with the College Treasurers (including Major Geddes and Herman Knapp) keeps close watch over the College's financial affairs.  Stanton serves in this position until 1909.

Time line, 1875-1899

Iowa State Sesquicentennial

Time Line


Cyclone Facts and Trivia
Campus Buildings
Student Life
People of Distinction
Oral Histories


This is a historic exhibit and the information provided within it may be out of date. Please contact the Special Collections and University Archives Department with questions about Iowa State history (archives@iastate.edu).