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Ross, Earle Dudley

Published onJul 30, 2021
Ross, Earle Dudley

(December 20, 1885–March 22, 1973)

Quick Facts

Earle Dudley Ross — college history professor, author, and pioneering academic— helped bring attention and respectability to state and local history with his books on Iowa agriculture and the history of Iowa State College.

University Archives, Iowa State University Library

Earle Dudley Ross was born at Ross Hill, New York, to John and Fanny (Coleman) Ross. He graduated from Waverly (New York) High School in 1905 and received a PhB (1909) and PhM (1910) from Syracuse University and a PhD from Cornell University (1915). He interrupted his graduate work at Cornell to teach history and economics at Muhlenberg College for one year. He also took graduate courses at the University of Wisconsin. After receiving his PhD, he taught at a number of schools, including Missouri Wesleyan College, Simpson College, Illinois Wesleyan University, and North Dakota Agricultural College. He married Ethel Newbecker on June 27, 1917. In 1923 he accepted a position as associate professor of economic history at Iowa State College (now University); he became professor of economic history and college historian in 1943. In 1956 he retired from teaching but remained a part-time member of the faculty. In 1973 Iowa State officials named the building that housed the history, political science, English, and philosophy departments in his honor.

Ross had a stellar academic career at Iowa State. He published more than 50 scholarly articles in historical, social science, and educational journals. He authored five books, The Liberal Republican Movement (1919), A History of Iowa State College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts (1942), Democracy's College: The Land-Grant Movement in the Formative Stage (1942), Iowa Agriculture: An Historical Survey (1950), and The Land-Grant Idea at Iowa State College: A Centennial Trial Balance, 1858-1958 (1958), commissioned for Iowa State's centennial celebration of that year. He coauthored The Growth of the American Economy (1944) and edited The Diary of Benjamin F. Gue in Rural New York and Pioneer Iowa (1962) and A Century of Farming in Iowa, 1846-1946 (1946). He coedited Readings in Economic History of American Agriculture (1925). He also contributed to The Dictionary of American Biography and The Dictionary of American History.

Ross's scholarly interests were wide ranging, and he published in several different fields. He viewed himself primarily as an agricultural historian, but he also authored books and articles in political and economic history and published numerous articles in educational journals. Democracy's College became the authoritative history on the subject. Ross also published works on midwestern and state and local history at a time when American historians generally dismissed such work as antiquarian. Ross helped bring attention and respectability to state and local history with his books on Iowa agriculture and the history of Iowa State College.

Ross held memberships in both national and state historical and professional organizations. He served as president of the Agricultural History Society, representative for the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Association in North Dakota, president of the Iowa State College chapter of American Association of University Professors (AAUP), and member of the Special Committee on Teaching, Mississippi Valley Historical Association.

Ross was held in high regard and with affection by his colleagues at Iowa State. In 1973, at the dedication of Earle D. Ross Hall, President W. Robert Parks paid tribute to Ross's personal and professional life. Parks described Ross as a modest man, a gentle and kindly person whose "keen sense of humor was not overworked." Parks, who had served in the Department of History, Government, and Philosophy along with Ross, remembered that younger people in the department looked upon Ross as their "intellectual mentor and father-confessor." Parks also noted that Ross was an ardent baseball fan who had great knowledge of the game.

Ross's professional accolades were many. He was known as "the father of agricultural history," the foremost historian of the land-grant movement, and the official historian of Iowa State College. In 1952 he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Grinnell College. The citation read in part: "Distinguished member of the faculty of a sister institution, discriminating observer of the American scene; a recorder in brilliant fashion of the economic history of the Middle West; and inspiring teacher who has added dignity and luster to the teaching profession." During his later years, Ross could be seen making his way across campus to the Iowa State University Library with a big bag of books slung over his shoulder. He continued his scholarly pursuits well into his 80s.

Ross died in Ames at age 87 and is interred in the Iowa State University Cemetery.

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

Earle D. Ross papers, RS 13/12/23, University Archives, Special Collections, Iowa State University Library, Ames.

correspondence and related material are also in the Louis Schmidt Papers, 1864–1975, University Archives, Special Collections, Iowa State University Library.

See also the entries on Ross in the National Cyclopedia of American Biography, vol. 57; Encyclopedia of American Agricultural History (1975); and Who’s Who in America (1969– 1973).

Schwieder, Dorothy. "Ross, Earle Dudley" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009. Web. 9 June 2017

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