On Jan. 28, the State Historical Society of Iowa marked its 160th birthday.
Founded in Iowa City, the same year the capital was moved to Des Moines, the society flourished under the care of respected historians like Benjamin Shambaugh. Iowans over the years discovered their roots by digging into society records, broadened their understanding of the state’s people and cultures through its publications, and trusted the society with donations of family diaries, letters from Civil War ancestors, historic photographs of Main Streets long gone, and artifacts capable of reflecting the diversity of past lives.
This essential link with our shared past has been threatened over the last decade by what some call benign neglect, but what seems more like planned demolition. Shrinking budgets and a professional staff reduced to bare-bone numbers are the most obvious efforts to dismantle the society. Last year a plan surfaced to tear down part of the society’s Des Moines building and replace it with a venue for social functions, using the gold-domed capitol as a spectacular backdrop. The plan failed in the state legislature, but efforts to renew it again this year are expected and dreaded by those who care deeply about preserving Iowa’s history.
Please help by contacting your state legislators and showing public support. If the society is dismantled or shrunk, its collections will be lost forever and generations of future Iowans will lose their heritage. Let’s discuss the future of this venerable old institution. Speak up and let your opinions be known.
Jan Olive Full