(July 8, 1897 - May 23, 1997)
Long before our cooking, home and DIY blogging craze, Elizabeth “Bess” Storm Ferguson broke ground as a notable Iowa home economics journalist, author and educator.
Elizabeth "Bess" Storm was born in Nevada, Iowa, in 1897. She received her bachelor’s degree in home economics and agriculture from Iowa State College (ISC, now Iowa State University) in 1921. In addition to courses in her two majors, Bess also studied journalism, English, sociology and psychology. She didn’t wait until after graduation to begin her career as a journalist; during her student years she contributed to several student publications, including the I.S.C. Student and the Iowa Agriculturist. Most notably, she also founded and served as the initial co-editor of the Iowa Homemaker, a special interest magazine dedicated to and run by home economics majors which envisioned itself as “A Magazine for Homemakers from a Home Maker’s School.”
With Gwen Watts as her co-editor, Ferguson organized the Iowa Homemaker’s debut issue to showcase the work and research of the home economics faculty and student body. The first issue had original cover art produced by an ISU applied art student followed by 16 pages of content, including recipes and advice on topics which the editorial staff considered to be of interest to homemakers all over Iowa: foods, clothing, health and home management, among others. In 1961, Ferguson was interviewed for the Homemaker, and in her own words stated the goals of the publication: “…to bring the newest ideas in homemaking to the homemakers of Iowa. The purpose of the founding mothers of the Iowa Homemaker was as simple as that; and the homemakers of Iowa were our mothers, our sisters, our cousins, and our aunts and their neighbors” (Ferguson, 1961).
Funding this new publication was a challenge from the start; advertising and a grant from ISU’s Home Economics Club supported the initial issues, but within a year or two new funding sources had to be identified. The Home Economics Club compiled a cookbook, Foods & Cookery: A Handbook for Homemakers and Teachers of Home Economics, and set aside the proceeds to fund continued publication of the Iowa Homemaker. These trials and challengers were, for Ferguson, part of the fun of running a magazine, and a subtle means of introducing female students to the skill set of the male-dominated world of journalism and publishing: “in time, the Homemaker became the practical laboratory for home economics students in journalism, with a local audience. Here is valuable experience in writing, editing, and publishing” (ibid.).
Bess claimed that she was interested in "homemaking, people, cooking, gardening, and housework, in that order,” but her professional journalistic and editorial accomplishments were many. After her work with the Iowa Homemaker, from 1921-1923, she worked with the Extension Service of Iowa State. She went on to serve as the editor of other journals and publications, including The Journal of Nursery Education and the National Association of Foreign Student Affairs newsletter, women's editor for the Iowa Rural Electric News and Tractor Farming, and publicity chairman for the Iowa Home Economics Association. Later, she co-authored several books, including A Century of Home Economics at Iowa State University with Ercell Epright, published in 1971, and Charles Atherton Cumming, Iowa's Pioneer Artist-Educator in 1972.
Later in her career, her work as a writing and journalism educator, in addition to her own freelance writing career, came to the forefront. From 1969 to 1971, she was an Instructor in the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication at Iowa State. She wrote several instructional articles about writing and journalism, including her own book, A Careful Writer, in 1976. She also encouraged local high school students in creative writing and journalism, presenting a feature writing award to Ames High School seniors in 1974.
Her career in journalism extended into broadcasting as well. Bess had regular segments on WOI AM/FM radio during Martha Duncan's "Homemaker's Half-Hour," appeared on the WOI-TV program "Sixty-Plus," and she wrote for and contributed to other broadcasts. She received the first Iowa Woman of Achievement Award from Iowa Press Women, Inc. and was the recipient of the Professional Achievement Award in Home Economics from Iowa State and the 1971 Alumni Merit Award from the ISU Alumni Association.
Bess’s interest in foods, agriculture and cooking was lifelong; she grew and cooked with her own herbs, was a member of several herb societies including the Herb Society of America, and published recipes and articles about cooking with herbs throughout her career. She also donated her time to Ames’ Octagon Center for the Arts, where she applied her freelance writing skills to help publicize the center’s programs.
Bess met her husband, Fred Anderson, while the two were working together on the Iowa Agriculturist at Iowa State. They were married in 1923 and had four children. Fred died in 1953 and Bess passed away over 40 years later, in 1997. Both are interred at the Iowa State University Cemetery. Along with her husband’s, Bess’s large collection of recipes, papers and writings can be found in the Iowa State University Special Collections and University Archives.
Ferguson, Elizabeth S. and Ercel S. Eppright. A Century of Home Economics at Iowa State University: A proud past, a lively present, a future promise. Ames: The Iowa State University Home Economics Alumni Association, 1971.
Iowa State University Special Collections and University Archives. Bess and Fred E. Ferguson Papers, 1887-1986, undated, finding aid. http://findingaids.lib.iastate.edu/spcl/arch/rgrp/13-13-52.html
Storm Ferguson, Elizabeth (1961) ""I Was the Editor of the First Homemaker"," The Iowa Homemaker: Vol. 41 : No. 8 , Article 2. Available at:
“Octagon Arts Center.” Ames Daily Tribune, March 4, 1974, page 7.
The Iowa Homemaker database: https://lib.dr.iastate.edu/homemaker/