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Early Iowa Naturalists | Iowa's Natural Heritage

posted on October 9, 2009 at 1:39 PM

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Many Iowans, men and women, scientists and lay people, have played a role in preserving and conserving our natural heritage. 

John F. Lacey 

Mike Gipple, Executive Director, Mahaska County Conservation Board: “Teddy Roosevelt gets a lot of credit for being the first conservation president.  John F. Lacey was the one that was behind the scenes, brokering deals, making sure the legislation got passed.” 

John F. Lacey was a civil war veteran, successful lawyer and politician.  He made his home in Oskaloosa in Mahaska County.  The County Conservation Board remembers him with this display.       

Elected to Congress in 1888, Lacey served a total of 16 years. 

He guided many important conservation measures into law.

His accomplishments included:

  • the 1894 Lacey Act which provided protections for the already existing Yellowstone National Park.
  • the 1900 Lacey Bird Act which protected migratory fowl from women’s fashionable feathered hats.
  • the 1906 Antiquities Act that preserved sites of archeological significance as national monuments,and many other measures.

Put simply, John F. Lacey was one of the nation’s founding fathers of conservation.

Charles Reuben Keyes

While Iowa never did get a National Park, iit did eventually get a National Monument. 

That’s Effigy Mounds in the northeast part of the State.   It took decades and many people were involved,  one of whom was Charles Reuben Keyes.

Keyes was born in Mount Vernon in 1871 and taught German language and literature at Cornell College in Mount Vernon throughout his career.  But his avocation was archaeology.   He reportedly published many more articles on archaelolgy than his German studies.

In 1922,  the State Historical Society of Iowa named him director of the Iowa Archaeological Survey.   

The Keyes Collection, as it’s called, which he and others gathered, has over 120,000 artifacts, now housed at the Office of the State Archaelogist at the University of Iowa. 

As survey director, Keyes hired another self-educated archeaologist, Ellison Orr.  Their partnership was instrumental in getting Effigy Mounds declared a National Monument in 1949.

Ada Hayden 

This city park in Ames is named for another of Iowa’s early and important naturalists, Ada Hayden

Born in 1884, Hayden grew up on a farm not far from here, where her parents left a few acres of their land in native prairie.  Hayden would have a passion for prairies the rest of her life.

Sometime in her teen years, she met Louis H. Pammel, the well-known botanist at what would become Iowa State University. 

In 1918, Hayden was the first woman to receive a PhD at Iowa State.  She joined the faculty and worked with Pammel throughout his career.

This is the Hayden Herbarium at ISU.  A  herbarium is a plant library for dried and pressed plants.

Hayden collected her whole life through.  

Of the 630,000 specimens stored here from all over the world, close to 12,000 were collected by Ada Hayden. 

And the passion for prairies that took root on her parent’s farm would prompt her to encourage Iowa to save them.

Deb Lewis, Curator, Hayden Herbarium, ISU: “By the time of her death in 1950 they had purchased three areas to set aside the first of which they named in her honor as Ada Hayden State Preserve up in Howard County near the Minnesota border.”

Margo K. Frankel

This State Park recognizes another woman who played a role in preserving Iowa’s natural heritage.

Margo Kohn Frankel was a native of Rock Island, Illinois who came to Des Moines in 1911 to marry Henry Frankel.  He was a prominent business man in town.  She was active in the community and particularly passionate about Iowa’s natural heritage – advancing the cause through various organizations.          

One daughter remembered how, when her mother learned farmers were going to plow up virgin land, her mother would wake her at 3 or 4 am to go and save some prairie plants. 

In 1927, Frankel was appointed to the state board of conservation.  When that board was reorganized, into the Iowa, or State, Conservation Commission in 1934, she was its first chair.

Even before that, Frankel had received the bronze Medal from the American Scenic and Historic Preservation society for her work in improving the state park system.

Additional Images:  State Historical Society of Iowa, Des Moines - Aldrich Autograph Collection, John F. Lacey Papers; Mahaska County Conservation Board; Nelson Pioneer Farm; Effigy Mounds National Monument, National Park Service; Cornell College Archives, Russell D. Cole Library; The Iowan; State Historical Society of Iowa, Iowa City; The University of Iowa, Museum of Natural History; Iowa State University Library/Special Collections Department; Cynthia O’Brien

Tags: Iowa national parks nature parks preservation

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