(November 30, 1933 – August 13, 2014)
University Professor and “Dean of Iowa History.”
Dorothy Schwieder was born in Presho, South Dakota. She was one of ten children, and her father worked as the local International Harvester (IH) dealer to support the family. An avid participant in speech and debate, Schwieder attended Dakota Wesleyan University, where she continued as a debater under the tutelage of Professor George McGovern, who later ran as a Democratic candidate for president. She graduated summa cum laude from Dakota Wesleyan University in 1955, and married her classmate and debate partner, Elmer Schwieder. The couple had two children, David and Diane.
Schwieder continued her education after the family moved in 1962 to Ames and her husband began his graduate studies at Iowa State. In 1968, she received an MS in History from Iowa State University. She earned her PhD in History from the University of Iowa in 1981, writing a “Social and Economic Study of Iowa’s Coal Mining Population, 1895-1925.” She taught history as she continued her studies, and became a full time instructor at ISU in 1974. She was promoted to assistant professor in 1981, upon completion of her PhD She rose quickly through the ranks, becoming an associate professor in 1984, and being promoted to full professor in 1988. She received her final promotion to the position of University Professor in 1997. She was the first woman to be tenured in the History Department, and the only member of the department, as of this writing, to be named a University Professor.
She was instrumental in bringing both women’s history and the history of Iowa into the curriculum of the History Department at Iowa State University. She was a particularly popular instructor both with undergraduate and graduate students. Her work in Iowa history made her famous throughout the state, and she is known as the “Dean of Iowa History.” She is the most prolific author of state history, and she devoted countless hours to spreading the word about Iowa history.
Her expertise led her into many different activities. She served on the Board of Curators of the State Historical Society of Iowa, as well as serving on the society’s governing board. Between 1972 and 1974, she presented a weekly radio program, “Iowa’s Heritage,” on WOI AM and FM. She was chief consultant for the Iowa History Project, which resulted in the production of fifteen half-hour television programs on Iowa history for the public schools. She was project administrator for a grant from the U.S. Department of the Interior that funded a two year study of Buxton, Iowa. She participated in dozens of these activities during her tenure at Iowa State. Additionally, between 1970 and 1990, she presented more than seventy talks on various aspects of Iowa history to organizations around the state, including church groups, student clubs and business and professional organizations, among others. It was for this work that she received her nomination for, and promotion to, University Professor.
Her interest in Iowa’s history led her into publication. She is the author or editor of numerous books. Her first was Patterns and Perspectives in Iowa History (1973). She followed with A Peculiar People: Iowa’s Old Order Amish (1975), written with Elmer Schwieder. She published her dissertation as Black Diamonds: Life and Work in Iowa’s Coal Mining Communities (1983), and followed with Buxton: A Black Utopia in the Heartland, written with Elmer Schwieder and Joseph Hraba (1987). She then wrote a more general text, Iowa Past to Present: The People and the Prairie (1991). She also wrote 75 Years of Service: Cooperative Extension in Iowa (1993), and Iowa: The Middle Land (1996). Her list of articles and chapters is long and varied, including titles in the history of Iowa and rural women’s history.
In 2000, Schwieder retired from the History Department, but not from her work as a publishing historian. With Gretchen Van Houten, she edited Tradition and Transformation: A Sesquicentennial History of Iowa State University (2007). Her most recent book is an autobiographical study of her hometown of Presho, South Dakota, titled Growing Up With the Town: Family and Community on the Great Plains (2002). Her honors also continued to accumulate. In 2009, Agricultural History Society made her a Fellow. In 2012, the Iowa Commission on the Status of Women named her to the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame, and DMACC began its Dorothy Schwieder Lecture Series. In 2013, the History Department honored her by naming a seminar room in Ross Hall in her honor.
Dorothy Schwieder passed away at her home in Ames on August 13, 2014, following a courageous battle against lymphoma. She was 80.
Dorothy Schwieder Papers, RS 13/12/54, Special Collections Department, Iowa State University Library.
Dorothy Hubbard Schwieder, Growing Up with the Town: Family and Community on the Great Plains.