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Hayden, Ada

Published onJul 30, 2021
Hayden, Ada

(August 14, 1884 – August 12, 1950)

Quick Facts

Alumni, botanist, ecologist, educator, and prairie preservationist.


Ada Hayden was the only child of Maitland David Hayden and Christine Hayden, who owned and operated a farm near Ames, Iowa. As a high school student, Ada's interest in botany came to the attention of Louis Pammel, one of Iowa's preeminent botanists, who became her lifelong mentor. She studied botany at Iowa State College (now University), earning her bachelor's degree in 1908. With the award of a research fellowship at the Shaw School of Botany, she undertook graduate work at Washington University in St. Louis, receiving a master's degree in 1910. In 1911 she returned to Iowa State and received her PhD in 1918, the first woman to receive a doctorate from Iowa State, and remained at the college thereafter.

Beginning in 1911, Hayden taught botany at Iowa State as an instructor. In 1920 she became assistant professor of botany, and in 1934 her appointment changed to research assistant professor at the Agriculture Experiment Station (Lakes Region) and curator of the herbarium. During her lifetime, she added more than 40,000 specimens to the herbarium, founded in 1870 by C. E. Bessey.[1] Until Pammel died in 1931, much of Hayden's research was done in collaboration with her mentor and Charlotte King, another of his protégés. Ada contributed chapters as well as illustrations to two of Pammel's major works: The Weed Flora of Iowa (1926) and Honey Plants of Iowa (1930). After 1931 she refocused her attention on prairie plants in the lakes region. Duane Isely, writing in 1989, called her 1943 floristic study of Clay and Palo Alto counties, derived from her experiment station research, "possibly the best published native flora survey... of any part of Iowa... an important historical document for Iowa and the midwest."[2]

Hayden is primarily associated with prairie preservation in Iowa. Within a year of earning her PhD, her research on the ecology of prairie plants in central Iowa was published in the American Journal of Botany (1919) and the Proceedings of the Iowa Academy of Science (1919). She issued a tentative call for prairie preservation in a short piece, "Conservation of Prairie," published in Iowa Parks: Conservation of Iowa Historic, Scientific and Scenic Areas (1919), suggesting that a few acres of relict prairie, preferably tracts located near larger schools, be preserved in each county of the state. During the next two decades, while she was busy teaching and conducting floristic research, Hayden also made public presentations to educate Iowans about prairie ecology, illustrated with her own set of hand-colored lantern slides. By the 1930s a few other voices had joined hers to promote prairie conservation, notably those of Bohumil Shimek, professor of botany at the State University of Iowa, as well as Margo Frankel and Louise Parker, members of the State Board of Conservation.

Source: Iowa State University Library Special Collections and University Archives

The movement for prairie preservation began in earnest in 1944, when Hayden and J.M. Aiken, chair of the Conservation Committee of the Iowa Academy of Science (IAS), issued a report on the status of conservation in Iowa and then proceeded to identify patches of relict prairie worthy of preservation. Hayden directed the Prairie Project, as it was called, and the IAS published her findings in "The Selection of Prairie Areas in Iowa Which Should Be Preserved" (1945), followed by "A Progress Report on the Preservation of Prairie" (1947).

By systematically developing the scientific database from which the State Conservation Commission (SCC) could make informed decisions about land acquisition, she and the IAS, in collaboration with the SCC, launched a fledgling prairie preservation program. During the late 1940s, the SCC purchased two areas of relict prairie: three adjacent parcels in Howard County and another 160 acres in Pocahontas County known as the Kalsow Prairie. As a result, in 1949 the Exploratory Committee of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Bureau of Plant Industry cited Iowa as one of the leaders in prairie preservation. That same year, the IAS established an advisory committee to assist the SCC with prairie management. Hayden and Aikman carried out just one of those studies before her death, from cancer, in 1950. Later in 1950 the SCC named the Howard County prairie tract in her honor. Hayden Prairie holds the additional distinction of being the first area dedicated as a preserve under the 1965 State Preserves Act. Other posthumous honors include the Iowa Conservation Hall of Fame Award from the Iowa Chapter of the Wildlife Society (1967), induction into the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame (2007), Ada Hayden Heritage Park in Ames, Iowa (2004), and formal designation of the Iowa State University herbarium in 1987 as the Ada Hayden Herbarium.

Selections of text republished with permission from the Iowa Biographical Dictionary, edited by David Hudson, Marvin Bergman, and Loren Horton. Published by the University of Iowa Press, Iowa City, IA. Online publication, 2009.

Selected Sources

A small collection of Hayden's papers and publications is housed in Special Collections, Iowa State University Library, Ames. The Digital Collection can be viewed online at

“Botanist, Basketball Player, and Budding Conservationist: Ada Hayden's Student Years at Iowa State” Online exhibition, Iowa State University Library.

Two excellent biographical articles are Jan Lovell, "She Fought to Save Iowa's Prairies," Iowan 36 (Winter 1987), 22–26, 56– 57; and Duane Isely, "Ada Hayden: A Tribute," Journal of the Iowa Academy of Science 96 (1989), 1–5.

Ames History Museum, online exhibition:

Additional publications by Ada Hayden include:

Hayden, Ada. "An Ecological Study of a Prairie Province in Central Iowa." Proceedings of the Iowa Academy of Science 18 (1911): 55-56.

Hayden, Ada. "Notes on the Floristic Features of a Prairie Province in Central Iowa." Proceedings of the Iowa Academy of Science 25 (1918), 369-388.

Hayden, Ada. "The Ecologic Foliar Anatomy of Some Plants of a Prairie Province in Central Iowa." American Journal of Botany 6 (March 1919): 87-105.

Hayden, Ada. "Conservation of Prairie." in Iowa Parks: Conservation of Iowa Historic, Scientific and Scenic Areas. Des Moines: State Board of Conservation (1919), 283-284.  

Hayden, Ada. "The Selection of Prairie Areas in Iowa Which Should be Preserved" (1945) Proceedings of the Iowa Academy of Science  52 (1945): 127-148.

Hayden, Ada. "A Progress Report on the Preservation of Prairie." Proceedings of the Iowa Academy of Science  53 (1947): 45-82.

Hayden, Ada. "The Value of Roadside and Small Tracts of Prairie in Iowa as Prairie Preserves." Proceedings of the Iowa Academy of Science  54 (1947): 28-29.

Hayden, Ada and J. M. Aikman. "Considerations Involved in the Management of Prairie Preserves." Proceedings of the Iowa Academy of Science  56 (1949): 133-142.


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