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Anderson, Mabel

Published onJul 30, 2021
Anderson, Mabel

(Oct. 8, 1896 – Aug. 1, 1957)

Quick Facts

Mabel Anderson was an experienced food service manager whose high standards created the well-regarded Memorial Union dining. She served as the Union’s first food director and met the challenge of mass feeding of military personnel on campus during the World War II years.

Mabel Rice Anderson was born October 8, 1896 and graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1919.

Anderson was an early member of the Institution Management staff in Iowa State’s College of Home Economics, a department designated in 1924. She became known on campus as the able manager of the Maples Faculty Tearoom from 1926-28, a food service operation in the former home of Edgar Stanton (later Music Hall). In 1928, she agreed to develop and head food service in the newly constructed Memorial Union that opened in September 1928. Shortly before going to the Union, she helped the cafeteria in Alumni Hall remain open and operating. Both the Maples and Alumni Hall food operations ceased when the Union opened.

During the summer of 1928, with guidance from Ruth Lusby, Mabel put in long hours overseeing the installation of kitchen equipment, cafeteria serving counters and service kitchen facilities on main and second floors of the unfinished Memorial Union building. Although the kitchens were barely usable and not all equipment working, the first meal she served was a small dinner party for the general contractor, Arthur H. Neumann, his wife and a few of their friends. This was a "complete" dinner served on the third floor sundeck at the west end of the building overlooking the lake. A few days later, on Sunday, September 23, 1928 cafeteria-style food service started in the Commons. “Andy” as she was known, demanded excellence in food service and always required high standards in quality and cleanliness.

Guest Room service in the Union was also launched under Mabel’s supervision but was soon combined with other house operations under a different manager. Mabel eventually lived on the 5th floor of the Union to be readily available for any need or situation.

During the World War II years, the college was involved in the training, housing and feeding of Navy personnel as well as other specialty trainees. The Union was housing some and feeding all trainees on a non-profit basis for the College – operations in which Mabel Anderson had a leading hand.

The first contingent of 200 Navy enlisted men arrived on June 8, 1942 for training in the hastily-staffed electrical school. The next increment of 200 men arrived July 14 and additional increments of 200 each arrived at intervals of four weeks, each company receiving 16 weeks of training. By September 1942, 800 men were in training. About the time the first company of 200 was graduated in October, the Navy increased the size of the school from 800 to 900 men and a year later increased that number to 1200.

On October 12, 1942, the Navy opened a cooks and bakers school in the Union with Mabel Anderson in charge under the direction of Dr. Fern Gleiser, Head of Institution Management and a member of the Union's Board of Directors. Detachments of about 12 men each entered every month during the two years that school was in operation. During that period 280 men were trained and sent to stations afloat and ashore around the world.

One week after the cooks and bakers school was launched, another Navy school was opened in the then-unfinished Naval Armory on Bissell Road west of Marston Hall. That school was established to train naval personnel on diesel engines used in ships and submarines. Toward the end of 1942, when the College was training and the Union feeding about 900 navy electricians, 200 diesel specialists and 60 civilian pilots without seriously curtailing educational offerings to regularly enrolled stu­dents, the Navy made inquiries about expanding its programs. At about the same time the Curtiss-Wright company asked about training women for technical jobs in airplane factories.

Expansion of the various programs led to establishment of a second Navy-style mess in Friley Hall where most of the Naval personnel was housed. That mess, though outside the Union building, was technically a College operation but under the management of Mabel Anderson and the Union.

By the end of 1943, Memorial Union staff, headed by Mabel Anderson, was feeding - in the Commons but mostly in Friley Hall - about 1800 naval electrician and diesel trainees, 80 naval aviation cadets and 100 Curtiss-Wright Cadettes. She deserves special recognition for her devotion to duty in this trying period of food and labor shortages.

At the end of 1944 the Union building was entirely free of all military feeding for the first time since 1942, though Union personnel, headed by Anderson, continued to operate the military feeding in Friley Hall.

Throughout the war years, Mabel Anderson and her staff had produced food in ever-increasing volumes with very little more kitchen and storage space than had been available in 1928 when the Union was first opened. Then came a new factor in food production: frozen meats, fruits and vegetables. The Union had no facilities for storage of such supplies. The lack of proper storage facilities coupled with badly crowded conditions in the kitchen and dish-washing areas called for relief. Two small additions to the south were completed in 1948 to provide that relief for Anderson and her staff.

Starting in 1932, during her career at the Union, Mabel Anderson served as a part-time member of the Institution Management staff in the Home Economics College, providing many opportunities for students to receive hands-on training and practical experience.

In July 1957, Anderson entered the hospital for a minor medical procedure but she suffered a blood clot and died on August 1, 1957 at age 60. She had been head of the Union's food service since the day that service started. Harold Pride, Union Director, stated, “Her passing was a terrific blow to all who knew her.”

Anderson was a member of PEO/HN, Eastern Star and Alpha Gamma Delta sorority. Anderson House in Willow Hall, a student residence, is named for her. She is buried in the ISU cemetery.

Selected Sources

Excerpted from The First Fifty Years, a history of the Memorial Union 1928-78 by Harold Pride with additional information from A Century of Home Economics at Iowa State University by Ercel Sherman Eppright and Elizabeth Strom Ferguson; edited by Katherine Svec

Wahrenbrock, Edith (1939) "Biography of a Home Economist," The Iowa Homemaker: Vol. 19 : No. 3 , Article 14. Available at:

Mabel Anderson Papers, RS 21/05/02 and RS 21/05/51, University Archives, Iowa State University Library.

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