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Allen, Edward Switzer

Published onJul 30, 2021
Allen, Edward Switzer

(December 12, 1887 – May 8, 1985)

Quick Facts

Edward S. Allen, a mathematics professor, was a founder of the Iowa Civil Liberties Union (ICLU), a group that worked, among other things, to protect students’ and educators’ rights against discrimination by their universities.

Allen, c. 1956. Source: University Archives, Iowa State University Library

Edward Switzer Allen was born in Kansas City on December 12, 1887. He attended a Quaker school in Baltimore and later joined the Religious Society of Friends. Allen received his A.B. (1909) and A.M. (1910) from Harvard University. He earned a PhD (1914) from Harvard in Geometry. Before coming to Iowa State University in 1921, he served on the faculties of Dartmouth (1913), Brown University (1914), the University of Michigan (1915-1919), and West Virginia University (1919-1921).

Allen taught mathematics at the University of Michigan for four years, but his teaching contract was not renewed because of his lack of support for World War I. He and his wife were pacifists, working for the abolition of all war and violence. Allen was fond of quoting Albert Einstein to the effect that, “the job of the peacemaker is not to abolish national boundaries but to make them unimportant.”

Dr. Edward Switzer Allen, Professor of Mathematics, 1943-1985, c. 1910 by an unknown artist (signed EBW). Oil on canvas. Probable gift of Dr. Edward S. Allen. In the Art on Campus Collection, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. U2007.256

Location: Iowa State University, Carver Hall, 208

Dr. Allen was invited to teach at Iowa State College by the newly appointed Mathematics Department Chair, Edwin R. Smith. During Allen’s tenure at Iowa State (College) University he was a full-time member of the math department from 1921 to 1960 and was promoted to the rank of Professor in 1943. Allen taught on a limited basis from 1960 -1985. He was a visiting Professor at Grinnell College (1960-1962), at Cottey College (1964-1964), and at Wartburg College (1967-1969). At Iowa State, his main areas of teaching and research concerned algebraic geometry, applications of mathematics to chemistry, enumeration, and probability.

Dr. Allen was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Sigma Xi, and served on the Iowa State University Art Committee. He coordinated the work of the university’s Civil Liberties Union chapter known as the Cardinal Area Chapter. Allen worked hard for the American Association of University Professors chapter and Faculty Senate at Iowa State. In the 1940s he was instrumental in winning the right of professors to speak on public issues outside the classroom. He was also a member of the American Mathematical Society, the Mathematical Association of America, The Circolo Matematico di Palermo in Italy, and a member of Deutsche Mathematiker Vereiningungg in Germany.

In 1935, Edward Allen founded the Iowa Civil Liberties Union (ICLU) and served as its President for several terms, as well as serving as a long-time Board member. The national American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) organization was originally organized around resistance to military conscription for World War I, and was officially reorganized in 1920. Initially, the ACLU worked with individuals in the state of Iowa, including Edward Allen, until the statewide chapter was formally organized in 1935. Their initial goal in Iowa was the repeal of criminal syndicalism laws (created in response to labor strikes) which specifically stated: “Criminal Syndicalism is the doctrine which advocates the duty, necessity, or propriety of crime, sabotage, violence or other unlawful methods of terrorism as a means of accomplishing industrial or political reform.” The laws used against striking workers during a Maytag strike in 1939 were eventually removed from the Iowa Code in 1978. The ICLU fought against an effort to remove Japanese-American students from Iowa colleges and universities during World War II “to accord the privileges of higher education to a group of young people, citizens by virtue of their birth in this country, whose loyalty and patriotism are rendered doubtful because of their racial extraction.”

Throughout the 20th century, the ICLU dealt with issues ranging from loyalty oaths being required of teachers and employees of the public universities, police practices, clothing controversies (particularly long hair for young men) in the schools, child custody, privacy of personal information, and racial, religious, and sexual discrimination. From the 1940s through the 1970s, the ICLU worked hard on behalf of the universities and their students in regards to local and state efforts to legislate against what was perceived as “moral pollution.” In the latter half of the 20th century, the ICLU handled legal cases relating to student activism, the rights of the disadvantaged such as the mentally ill and minorities, and religious rights. Allen was active in all of these battles. He was the author of a history of the ICLU’s growth and activities in Iowa, Freedom in Iowa: the Role of the Iowa Civil Liberties Union (1977).

On his 90th birthday in 1977, the Mathematics Department at Iowa State presented him with a Harvard Chair at the dedication of the Mathematics Reading Room in Carver Hall as the Edward S. Allen Mathematics Reading Room. His portrait, owned by Iowa State University Museums, hangs in the Reading Room to this day.

Dr. Allen died on May 8, 1985 at the age of 97, a prominent figure on campus. In 1986 the Government of the Student Body funded the installation of the Edward S. Allen Free Speech Platform, located near Carver Hall, in honor of Dr. Allen’s memory. The platform, which is now located west of the Hub, provides a visible place to hold impromptu speeches and assemblies and serves as a reminder of the need for oral debate. Allen married Minne Müller-Liebenwalde on August 9, 1915 in Berlin. The Allens had three children, Julius, Rosemarie, and Herman.

Selected Sources

Allen, Edward. Freedom in Iowa: the role of the Iowa Civil Liberties Union. Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1977.

Iowa Civil Liberties Union Collection, Special Collections, University of Northern Iowa

Edward and Minne Allen Papers, RS 13/14/51, University Archives, Iowa State University Library

Iowa State University, People of Distinction:

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