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Friley, Charles E.

Published onJul 30, 2021
Friley, Charles E.

(August 27, 1887 – July 11, 1958)

Quick Facts

The ninth president of Iowa State College (University) from 1936-1953.



Born in Louisiana in 1887, Friley attended Sam Houston Teachers College (1905) and Baylor University (1905-1907) and received his BS (1912) from Texas A&M University and an MS (1923) from Columbia University where he also conducted research on educational administration.

After three years of teaching in the public schools in Louisiana and Texas, Friley served as Registrar (1912-1924) at Texas A&M and as Dean of the School of Arts and Science (1924-1932).

In 1932, Friley was appointed Dean of the Division of Science at Iowa State College and was named Vice President of the College in 1935. He succeeded Dr. Raymond Hughes as president of Iowa State in 1936 after serving as interim for five months.

Charles Edwin Friley, President, Iowa State College, 1936-1953, 1953. by James Murray Haddow (Scottish, 1911 - 1965). Oil on canvas. Commissioned by the Iowa State Alumni Association, Friley Portrait Fund. In the Presidential Portrait Collection, Art on Campus Collection, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. U88.15

Location: Iowa State University, Parks Library

Friley’s 17-year term was the longest of Iowa State's first eleven presidents, and spanned higher education's most turbulent era, from the closing phase of the Depression through World War II and into the post-war "educational revolution." But his tenure also marked one of substantial growth and expansion for Iowa State College with enrollment doubling from 5700 to 11,200, fueled in part by the post-war influx of GI Bill-eligible veterans. Faculty and staff numbers increased from 1100 to more than 2700 and the number of faculty with PhDs tripled.

His was an administration characterized by emergency efforts, most notably Iowa State's participation in the Manhattan Project (atomic research) to purify uranium for the war effort. Following World War II, the Atomic Energy Commission established the Ames Laboratory on campus, with a significant facilities footprint, positioning Iowa State to elevate its lead role in research of national importance.

Friley also saw the value of the new communication method of television as an educational medium. He was directly responsible for Iowa State's establishment of the nation's first educationally-owned and operated television station, WOI-TV.

To accommodate the influx of students, faculty, and staff, the physical plant expanded during Friley’s tenure, growing in value from $10 million to $30 million. This included new facilities such as Electrical Engineering, Agronomy, Women’s Gymnasium, Elm, Oak and Friley residence halls, and Pammel Court. The Agricultural Engineering Building, which was destroyed by fire, was replaced, and the Memorial Union was expanded three times.

Described as a liberal and progressive leader, Friley continued to foster the belief held by his predecessor that the relationship between teacher and student was immensely important and that a college education was attained through experiences and lessons both inside and outside the classroom. He emphasized that technically trained students must first be good citizens with a broad understanding of cultural, moral, and spiritual values. He viewed science and the humanities as equally important in understanding the world at large, which led to an increased emphasis on a broad educational background for students, including a larger number of elective courses from which students could expand and shape their educational exposure.

Friley was also credited with elevating the prominence of the college’s research and extension missions. He promoted interdisciplinary research, motivating faculty to attract an increase in research grants from $26,000 to more than $1.2 million, and strengthened the college’s commitment to taking the results of agriculture, engineering, and home economics research to the citizens of Iowa. He established the Iowa State College Foundation farms to solve agricultural problems beyond the capacity of the Agricultural Experiment Station.

The motto of his tenure was quality over quantity in education, but it was not without controversy. Highly publicized complaints made by some alumni, faculty, and staff in early 1947, claimed that Friley had “created a personal regime in the college, overridden the wishes of department heads, and been brusque and inconsiderate in his actions,” resulting in a loss of faculty and the inability to recruit new members. A small, but vocal group of detractors called for his resignation. After investigating, the State Board of Education eventually responded, giving Friley their full endorsement and stating their “utmost confidence” in him, which paved the way for another six years of his administration.

Friley was forced to retire in 1953 after reaching his 65th birthday, a rule that was first imposed by his predecessor, but he remained on staff as a teacher and researcher focused on college organization and administration.

Friley was a Mason, Fellow of the Iowa Academy of Science, and was a member of numerous organizations and societies, including the National Council of Presbyterian Men, Iowa State Fair Board, Iowa Geological Survey, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, Phi Kappa Phi, and Phi Mu Alpha. Friley was awarded several honorary degrees throughout his career and received an honorary doctorate (1958) from Iowa State University.

He was married three times. In 1913, he married his first wife, Nina Lynn Wood, who died in 1918. They had two sons Charles Edwin, Jr. and William Alva. Friley married his second wife, Vera Foreman in 1921, and she died in 1947. They had one daughter, Frances Foreman (Kuyper). In 1951, he married Magdalen Ranney. 

Friley died July 11, 1958, following a year of ill health. He is interred with second wife Vera in the Iowa State University Cemetery.

Friley Hall, one of the largest residence halls in the nation, is named for him.

Selected Sources

Charles E. Friley Papers, RS 2/9, Iowa State University Library, Special Collections and University Archives.

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