Trove of documents, photos made public in hopes of livening Iowa history lessons

State history adopted in May as social studies standard

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If teachers in Iowa want to talk to their students about President Herbert Hoover’s inauguration, they now will be able to show them a copy of his actual inaugural address — water stains and all.

It was raining that day in 1929, and scans of the document that Iowa’s only president held at the podium also show faint pencil marks, where he might have planned to pause for effect.

It’s one of dozens of primary sources the State Historical Society of Iowa and the Library of Congress made available to teachers and the general public Monday.

Jennifer Cooley, the education and outreach manager for the State Historical Museum of Iowa, said she hopes the authentic materials will encourage students to investigate their state’s past.

With primary sources, “kids are able to understand a time period, rather than just a snippet of time that might be brought through a textbook,” Cooley said. “We’re trying to encourage more active learning in the hands of students.”

The new resources also are meant to help teachers as the state implements new social studies standards. Those standards, scheduled to take effect in 2020, now include the history of Iowa.

“We had our fingers crossed those standards would be adopted, which they were in May of this year,” Cooley said. “ ... These do touch on what students will be learning with the new standards.”

The website, on, features sets of lessons — the abolitionist movement, underground railroad and the Clutch Plague, as examples — that include global and national perspective as well as a closer look at Iowa.

“We realized that teachers may not know the history of Iowa and how it was impacted by larger global events,” Cooley said.

She noted teachers should be able to use the website to “tuck in Iowa history fairly easily” to existing lesson plans.

Cooley said the State Historical Society of Iowa, with the help of consulting teachers from across the state, plan to grow the database for the next three years.

The project thus far has been funded by a $100,000 grant from the Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources program. Cooley said the project hopes to receive a total of $300,000 from the program.

“By the time all school districts have to adopt this standard, we’ll have about three times as much resources,” she said. “But they can use them today if they want to. And they don’t have to be traditional educators, t could be (used by) a family, or a home school family, or even a college.”

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