Iowa Trails
A project of Genealogy Trails

Genealogy Trails logo

Biographical Dictionary of Iowa Biographies


Dudley Warren Adams
(November 30, 1831-February 13, 1897)

Fruit Grower and Grange Leader - was born in Winchendon, Massachusetts. His family moved to a small farm when he was four. Educated at home and in the district school, he became a teacher in his native state, where his family had been eminent for nearly two centuries. At age 21, Adams became an early settler of Waukon, Allamakee County, Iowa, where he was a surveyor and held the elective office of County Assessor for a decade.

In 1854 Adams became president of Allamakee County's new horticultural society. Two years later he started Iron Clad Nursery, where he soon had about 4,000 trees that produced a variety of apples. As secretary of the State Horticultural Society of Iowa and a participant in its exhibits, he showed 100 apple varieties in 1871 and 172 in 1879. He won the society's sweepstakes prize both years.

In 1869 Adams helped to organize the Waukon Grange, a unit of the Order of the Patrons of Husbandry, which had been established in 1867. After Granges had been organized in Washington, D.C., and then in New York State, the Order came to the Midwest. There it flourished until the mid 1870s. Adams was elected the first Master of the Iowa State Grange in 1871, became lecturer of the National Grange in 1872, and early in 1873 began almost three years of service as National Grange Master.

Adams's importance in Grange history included his fervent insistence that the Order should engage in political action. Replying to conservatives who wanted the Order to stay clear of politics, Adams asserted that it was "the duty of Patrons of Husbandry to take such action in politics as shall ensure the prosperity of agriculture."Grange political action focused on regulation of railroad rates. Efforts to secure federal regulation, including a bill that Adams helped to write, failed, but in the early 1870s Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, and Wisconsin all passed regulatory laws.

The Order, however, generally failed to take effective political action. Adams thought that it failed to do so because too many Grange members were "speculators, demagogues, small politicians," and other "leeches" rather than farmer Under his leadership, the National Grange tightened its membership requirements, demanding that members not only be "engaged in agricultural pursuits" but that they not have interests "in conflict with our purposes."The number of Grange members plummeted soon after standards were tightened.

Adams ended his Grange service in early 1875, moved to Florida in December, and there planted orange and other fruit trees. He helped to found Florida's State Horticultural Society, and served as its president for the rest of his life.

Sources include E. O. Painter, "Adams, Dudley W.," in Cyclopedia of American Agriculture, ed. L. H. Bailey (1909); Charles M. Gardner, The Grange: Friend of the farmer (1949); Thomas A. Woods, Knights of the Plow (1991); Who Was Who in America (1963); and Dictionary of American Biography vol. 1 (1958). Contributor: Donald Marti

Cite as: Marti, Donald. "Adams, Dudley Warren" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009.


Ephraim Adams
(February 1818-November 30, 1907)

One of the 11 original members of the Congregationalist "Iowa Band" of missionaries who came to Iowa in 1843 at the request of Home Missionary agent Asa Turner, a key figure in the establishment of Iowa College (later Grinnell College), and an antislavery and temperance advocate-was born in New Ipswich, New Hampshire. According to fellow Congregationalist pastor George F. Magoun, Adams was born "on a rocky farm" and "converted at the age of 12."He went to Appleton Academy and Phillips Andover Academy to prepare for college, but was one of 50 students who walked out of Phillips because the school's principal forbade them to join an antislavery society. He graduated from Dartmouth in 1839, taught for one year at the Petersburg Classical Institute in Virginia, and then entered Andover Theological Seminary, from which he graduated in 1843.

When Asa Turner, an agent of the American Home Missionary Society, requested assistance in the task of establishing Congregational churches and schools in frontier Iowa, Adams, along with 10 other Andover graduates-Benjamin Spaulding, Erastus Ripley, James J. Hill, Ebenezer Alden, E. B. Turner, Horace Hutchinson, Daniel Lane, Harvey Adams, A. B. Robbins, and William Salter -formed "the Iowa Band" and agreed to come to Iowa. While still at Andover, Adams, discussing his hopes for Iowa, wrote, "If each one of us can only plant one good permanent church, and all together build a college, what a work that would be!" In October 1843 Adams and some of his companions arrived in Burlington, and on November 15, 1843, Adams and six others were ordained at the Denmark Academy, a simple log structure in Lee County.

Adams preached at Mount Pleasant for a year, then settled in Davenport, where he would remain until 1855. His sermons frequently targeted the evils of slavery and alcohol, sometimes alienating the German immigrants and Southern-born settlers moving into the rapidly growing Mississippi River town, but he continued to push these themes despite some opposition. On September 16, 1845, he married Elizabeth Douglass, and the marriage would last for 60 years.

Adams devoted increasing amounts of time to fostering the new Iowa College, of which he was one of the founders. Asa Turner had proposed the new college on March 12, 1844, at a meeting of Iowa Congregational ministers, with funds to be raised by buying 24,000 acres of public land for $30,000 in borrowed money and reselling those lands as land values increased. On April 16, 1844, the plan was approved for the establishment of an Iowa College Association. Between 1844 and 1847, when the college still had no president, Adams was annually elected president of the trustees. When the college was officially incorporated in 1847, Adams became one of the original members of the board of trustees. He worked successfully to raise funds for the new school. The first classes were held on November 1, 1848, attracting six students; in 1849 the school had 34 students, and the college was under way. In 1855 Adams left his position as a preacher in Davenport to work for two years as college financial agent raising funds back east for the college. Although he resented that he had to "creep about picking a dollar here and there like poor folks bone-picking in a great city," he raised more than $11,000, leading historian Joseph Frazier Wall to conclude that "Ephraim Adams did more than any other man to ensure that the college would survive during the first decades of its existence."

Although Adams wanted to keep Iowa College in Davenport, growing Congregationalist concerns about whether Davenport was a good site for the school and a decision by the city to extend Main Street right through the campus up to the top of the bluff led the trustees in 1859 to endorse the plan to move Iowa College to Grinnell, Iowa. The name of the school would be changed in 1909 to Grinnell College, in honor of Josiah Grinnell, the Congregationalist abolitionist who founded the town.

In 1857 Adams moved to Decorah, Iowa, where he preached until 1872, when he took a position as Superintendent of Home Missions in Iowa. After 10 years in that position, he served as a pastor in Eldora for six years, although he continued to do service for the college and served on the board of trustees throughout his life. After two years in Ann Arbor, Michigan (1888-1889), he returned to Waterloo, Iowa, where he spent the rest of his life preaching and doing pastoral work. He died in Waterloo on November 30, 1907. Of the original Iowa Band, Adams was survived only by William Salter, who wrote of Adams, "For years, though he was the personification of modesty, he was the real leader of the Congregational hosts of Iowa. Iowa has never had such a useful citizen."

Sources on Adams include Joseph Frazier Wall, Grinnell College in the Nineteenth Century: From Salvation to Service (1997); Truman O. Douglass, The Pilgrims of Iowa (1911); The Iowa Band (1870); William Salter, The Old People's Psalms, with Reminiscences of the Deceased Members of the Iowa Band (1895); Howard A. Bridgeman, New England in the Life of the World (1920); F. I. Herriot, "The Nativity of the Pioneers of Iowa," Iowa Official Register, 1911-1912; and George F. Magoun, Asa Turner: A Home Missionary Patriarch and His Times (1889). Contributor: Scott R. Grau

Cite as: Grau, Scott R. "Adams, Ephraim" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009.


Mary Newbury Adams, (or Newberry)
(October 17, 1837-August 5, 1901)

Suffragist - was born in Peru Township, Miami County, Indiana, to Samuel and Mary Ann (Sergeant) Newbury. Her prominent New England family had included five governors. Born on the frontier, she spent her early childhood living in a log cabin in the wilderness with Native peoples as neighbors and visitors. She received her early education from her mother. Upon moving to Cleveland, Ohio, she entered the classes of the prominent educator Emerson E. White. At age 18, she graduated from the Emma Willard Seminary at Troy, New York. At age 19, she married Austin Adams, a promising young lawyer. They relocated to Dubuque, Iowa, where he became a judge, was eventually elected to the Iowa Supreme Court, and became chief justice. The Adams children included Annabel (b. 1858), Eugene (b. 1861), Herbart (b. 1863), and Cecilia (b. 1865).

Both Austin and Mary were lifelong students of science, history, philosophy, poetry, and the progressive ideas of the time. Mary believed that the advancement of women required education. She held memberships in the Anthropological Society, National Science Association, and American Historical Association. She was chair of the Historical Committee of the Columbian Exposition at Chicago in 1893.

Mary Newbury Adams was instrumental in establishing the Federation of Women's Clubs and the Association for the Advancement of Women. She had her eyes and ears open for opportunities to advance progressive ideas and laws, including those that would promote equal access to education. Her first study club, the Conversational Club of Dubuque, was established in 1868. She had attended arranged conversations in the home of her sister, who was married to Governor John J. Bagley of Michigan. Those club meetings were held in the parlors of the members because most women had duties to home and children. The topics, prepared in advance, included education, local progress, political science and economy, mental and moral philosophy, the fine arts, political revolutions, belles lettres, ecclesiastical history, natural philosophy, and physical sciences. That same year the Grinnell Ladies Literary Society invited Adams to lecture at Iowa (later Grinnell) College during commencement-week exercises, but the faculty thought that it would be inappropriate for a woman to speak.

After hearing Elizabeth Cady Stanton lecture in 1869, Adams became active in the women's suffrage movement as a speaker and organizer of state, regional, and national meetings. She was a founding member of the Northern Iowa Woman Suffrage Association, the first such organization in Iowa. She was chosen to be the corresponding secretary and fulfilled her role by carrying on correspondence with women and women's groups in Iowa and other states. Her local efforts joined with those of nationally known suffragists such as Amelia Bloomer, Susan B. Anthony, and Lucy Stone.

In 1870 and 1874 the Adamses hosted A. Bronson Alcott, who considered Mary New-bury Adams "the representative woman of the West" and a prophetess or "Sibyl."She visited him in the East in 1872 and in later years and maintained correspondence with the Alcotts about both mundane and philosophical matters. As an active member of the Transcendentalist movement, Mary Newbury Adams traveled and lectured on reform topics, including human potential and woman suffrage. In her later years she explored theosophy, a blend of spirituality, science, and philosophy.

Mary Newbury Adams was inducted into the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame in 1981.

Sources The Adams Family Papers, 1836- 1976, are in Special Collections, Iowa State University, Ames. Further information about Mary Newbury Adams can be found in W. Barksdale Maynard, Walden Pond: A History (2004); J. C. Croly, The History of the Woman's Club Movement in America (1898); Benjamin Gue, History of Iowa (1903); The Letters of A. Bronson Alcott, ed. Richard L. Herrnstadt (1969); Louise R. Noun, Strong-Minded Women: The Emergence of the Woman-Suffrage Movement in Iowa (1969); Madeleine B. Stern, "Mrs. Alcott of Concord to Mrs. Adams of Dubuque," New England Quarterly 50 (1977), 331-40; and the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame Web site. Contributor: R. Cecilia Knight

Cite as: Knight, R Cecilia. "Adams, Mary Newbury (or Newberry)" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009.


Emanuel Philip Adler,
(September 30, 1872-March 2, 1949)

Newspaper editor and publisher, president of Lee Syndicate newspapers, businessman; civic leader in Davenport, Iowa; and philanthropist for community and religious causes of several faiths-was known to family and close friends as Mannie, and to business associates and the general public as E. P.

Adler was born in Chicago to German immigrant parents, Philip Emanuel Adler from Laubheim, Württemberg, and Bertha (Blade) Adler from Worrstadt, Hesse. In 1875 the Adler family moved to Ottumwa, Iowa, where the elder Adler was a partner in the Rosenauer and Adler Saloon and later became involved in real estate and insurance businesses. In her autobiographical writings, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edna Ferber remembered Ottumwa as being a generally anti-Semitic place; she also recalled the Adler family as active members of the town's small Jewish congregation. Certainly Ottumwa was a place of opportunities for the young E. P. He left school at age 13 and went to work for the Ottumwa Journal 's weekly German edition. He apprenticed as a "printer's devil" setting newspaper type; his wage of $1 per week was actually paid, under the table, by Philip Emanuel Adler by agreement with the newspaper's editor.

After working for a few years at the Ottumwa Courier, E. P. was seized by wanderlust and set out for short-term newspaper jobs in Chicago; Galesburg, Illinois; Omaha; and Denver. Finding himself broke in Colorado, E. P. contacted A. W. Lee, publisher of the Ottumwa Courier, asking to return to his old job. Lee hired Adler back at a salary of $10 per week. In 1893 E. P. was promoted to reporter and in 1895 became city editor. Subsequently he was elevated to managing editor and business manager.

Meanwhile, A. W. Lee acquired the Davenport Times and set the stage for the establishment of the Lee Syndicate, a consortium of independent newspapers in Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Nebraska. Lee invited Adler to become the business manager of the Davenport Times, and in 1901 promoted Adler to publisher of the newspaper. After the untimely death of A. W. Lee in Europe in 1907, Adler was appointed president of the Lee Syndicate. Under Adler's leadership, the Davenport Times beat out competing newspapers in that city, and the Lee Syndicate expanded. E. P.'s sister Betty moved from Ottumwa, where she had been a newspaper proofreader, to join the Davenport Times as head of its women's society pages.

In 1902 E. P. married Lena Rothschild of Davenport. Their son, Philip David Adler, became a noted journalist in his own right as an undergraduate editor of the Daily Iowan at the State University of Iowa, and then editor and publisher of the Star Courier in Kewanee, Illinois. Later Philip assumed publishing Lee Enterprises' Davenport newspapers and was appointed president of the consortium.

E. P. Adler served as president of the Inland Daily Press Association and vice president of the Associated Press. His public service included being a charter member of the Greater Davenport Committee, director of the Davenport Commercial Club, founder and vice president of the Davenport Industrial Commission, trustee of the Davenport Municipal Art Gallery, and advisory board member of the Davenport Visiting Nurse Association. He served as the president of the Davenport Bank and Trust and was largely responsible for keeping that institution from failing during the Great Depression. Adler was an inveterate Davenport booster. During his career, he turned down an offer from Gardner Cowles to join the Des Moines Register and also declined a position with the Hearst Partnership newspapers in New York.

Adler was an active member of the Jewish community in Davenport. He served as president of the board of Temple Emanuel, headed the Tri-City Jewish Charities, and led campaigns for Davenport's United Jewish Appeal and the national Joint Distribution Committee. He was an advisory board member of the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, and on the Jewish Council of the State University of Iowa's School of Religion.

In addition to Adler's dedication to Judaism and Jewish causes, he was elected to the board of Davenport's Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA). His philanthropy extended to supporting Davenport's St. Ambrose College and chairing its fund-raising program among non-Catholics. He served on the board of St. Luke's Hospital and helped raise funds for that Episcopal institution. After Adler died on March 2, 1949, one headline in the Democrat and Leader newspaper referred to him as "Acknowledged No. 1 Citizen of Davenport"; another read "Foe of Intolerance and Bigotry, E. P. Adler Aided All Faiths."

Sources include Lee P. Loomis, Philip D. Adler, and Donald Wells Anderson, The Lee Papers: A Saga of Midwestern Journalism (1947); Wilbur Cross, comp., Lee's Legacy of Leadership: The History of Lee Enterprises, Incorporated (1990); Davenport Democrat and Leader, 3/2/1949; Jack Wolfe, A Century with Iowa Jewry, 1833-1940 (1941); and Edna Ferber, A Peculiar Treasure (1939). Contributor: David Mayer Gradwohl

Cite as: Gradwohl, David Mayer. "Adler, Emanuel Philip" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009.


Bess Streeter Aldrich,
(February 17, 1881-August 3, 1954)

Writer - was born in Cedar Falls, Iowa, into a family that, on both sides, had pioneered in Iowa. Her mother's family had moved from Frazerburgh, Scotland, to Quebec, to Illinois, and then to northeastern Iowa. Her father's family had moved steadily westward through the years, settling first in New York, then Illinois, and finally near Cedar Falls, Iowa. When her mother's family arrived in Cedar Falls, they lived first in a sheep shed with quilts covering the door opening while they built their house. Bess's mother, Mary Wilson Anderson, had little formal education, but at 18 she taught in one of the first log schools in the area, "boarding around" and receiving $20 for three months of teaching. Bess's father, James Streeter, had come to Iowa with his family in 1852. He and Mary married in 1855.

Bess, the youngest of eight children, was the only one of the children born in town, as her father's health no longer allowed him to farm. Bess attended grade school and high school and, with the aid of an older sister and brother-in-law, graduated with a teaching degree from Iowa State Normal School. She taught for five years, then met (in 1904) and married (in 1907) Captain Charles Sweetzer Aldrich, attorney and Spanish-American War veteran. They remained in Iowa for two years before jointly (with Bess's sister Clara and her husband, John Cobb) purchasing the American Exchange Bank in Elmwood, Nebraska.

Aldrich had been writing stories since childhood; she had won a camera at age 12 for a story and a $5 prize at age 17. The thrill of seeing her name in print, she said, led her to know she would be a writer. Under the pseudonym Margaret Dean Stevens, she won a larger prize from the Ladies' Home Journal in 1911. She used that pseudonym, a combination of her two grandmothers' names, until 1917. Altogether, Aldrich wrote more than 100 short stories, including "The Woman Who Was Forgotten" (1926), which later formed the basis for her book Miss Bishop (1933) and the film Cheers for Miss Bishop (1941). "The Man Who Caught the Weather" won the O. Henry Award in 1928.

She continued to see the short story as her forte until 1924, when an editor challenged her to write a book. Four days after her husband mailed off her first novel, The Rim of the Prairie (1925), he suffered a fatal cerebral hemorrhage, leaving Bess with four children ranging in age from 4 to 14. Writing was no longer an avocation, but a necessity.

All of Aldrich's books are set either in her first home area of Iowa or in the area of her subsequent home in southeastern Nebraska. The book most closely associated with Iowa is Song of Years (1939), in which she used letters, clippings, and diaries belonging to one of the first Cedar Falls families, the Leavitts. For some time, Harvey Leavitt had been sending Aldrich boxes of material, urging her to use what she wanted to write an Iowa book. She also drew on stories she had heard as a child in Cedar Falls when family members or early settlers came to town for supplies and visited with her parents.

Early Iowa stories and life were the background of almost all of her books, though they were often transported in families and in relationships across the Missouri River to Nebraska. At the end of a radio talk about her first book, The Rim of the Prairie, which dealt with early midwestern pioneer life, she asked listeners to send her material that she could use to write another book about pioneers. From the resulting letters, diaries, and clippings that came to her Elmwood post office, she wrote A Lantern in Her Hand (1928), which was so popular that it continued to rank third in nationwide sales three years after publication.

Readers often sent Aldrich articles that they hoped she could turn into a book. Her last work, The Lieutenant's Lady (1942), resulted from the loan of an Iowa family's diary. The book was a tribute to the courageous women who had endured the hardships of wartime separation from the men they loved and to the heroic men who endured the hardships of war. Aldrich maintained the diary format, and she thoroughly researched all of the details, as she did with all of her books.

Aldrich won awards for various short stories and claimed that she never wrote a story that was not published. She also has to her credit eleven novels and three compilations of short stories. Her stories were frequently reprinted in Canada and England. Her books were translated into most of the European languages, and some were translated into Arabic, Chinese, and Japanese. Many of her books are still in print.

Sources The University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, has Aldrich historical materials, and the Nebraska State Historical Society, Lincoln, has many linear feet of her correspondence, telegrams, and other materials. There is additional material at the Bess Streeter Aldrich House and the Aldrich Museum in Elmwood, Nebraska. A full biography is Carol Miles Petersen, Bess Streeter Aldrich: The Dreams Are All Real (1995). Contributor: Carol Miles Petersen

Cite as: Petersen, Carol Miles. "Aldrich, Bess Streeter" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009.


Charles Aldrich,
(October 2, 1828-March 8, 1908)

Journalist and museum curator - was born in Ellington, Chautauqua County, New York, the son of Stephen and Eliza Aldrich. He had a common school education and spent one year in the Jamestown Academy, Jamestown, New York. He began an apprenticeship as a printer in 1846 and established the Cattaraugus Sachem newspaper in New York in 1850. He married Matilda Olivia Williams in 1851. She shared a lifelong interest in the study of birds with her husband until her death in 1892. In 1898 Aldrich married Thirza Louise Briggs.

In 1857 Aldrich moved to Webster City, Iowa, and founded the Hamilton Freeman newspaper. In 1862 Governor Samuel Kirkwood appointed him as first lieutenant and adjutant of the 32nd Iowa Infantry Regiment. On July 3, 1863, he was promoted to captain but refused the promotion. He was discharged for health reasons in 1864.

In 1860 he had begun a long association with Iowa government when he became chief clerk of the Iowa House of Representatives. He served from 1860 until he joined the Union army in 1862 and again in 1866 and 1870. In 1882-1883 he served in the Iowa House of Representatives. During his time as chief clerk and in his legislative service, Aldrich authored or championed legislation that provided for the preservation of public documents, offered protection for songbirds, prohibited the issuance of railroad passes to public officials, and changed the system of county government by establishing boards of supervisors.

Aldrich had a strong interest in ornithology and was a founding member of the American Ornithologists' Union in 1883. This interest is apparent in his later museum work.

Aldrich had his most significant impact in the founding and early shaping of the Iowa Historical Department. In 1884 Aldrich presented to the state of Iowa his large and valuable collection of manuscripts, portraits, and autograph letters of famous individuals, which became the core of the Iowa Historical Collection, established by the Iowa legislature in 1892. Aldrich was appointed the first curator of the collection and what would become the Iowa Historical Department in 1893. His association with Iowa Senator William Boyd Allison led to Allison's assistance in securing specimens of birds, American Indian baskets, and an important collection of southwestern American Indian pottery from the Smithsonian Institution and the Bureau of Ethnology for the Iowa museum collections during the 1890s. That same association led to donations of historic military weapons from the Rock Island Arsenal. As a newspaperman, Aldrich began the collection of Iowa newspapers, which continues today.

The legislature provided space in the lower level of the capitol for the museum, but by the mid 1890s there was no space for collection expansion. Property across from the capitol was acquired, funds were appropriated, and a new museum building was completed in 1899. Aldrich recognized the need to preserve the permanent records of government and began the State Archives program in 1906. Aldrich also revived the historical journal, the Annals of Iowa, and became its editor in 1893. Under his leadership, some of the first scientific archaeological investigations of prehistoric sites were conducted by museum director Thompson Van Hyning. Aldrich's personal relationships with early Iowa pioneers, lawmakers, veterans, and businessmen resulted in the donation to the department of many artifacts, portraits, artworks, manuscripts, and photographs. His contemporaries credited him as the first "Conservator of Iowa History."Aldrich saw the importance of establishing and supporting a museum for Iowa. In the Historical Department's first annual report in 1893, he wrote, "the State should build up and fairly maintain a great Historical Museum.... Such an institution should be kept growing, for a finished museum is a dead museum."He oversaw the department until his death in 1908.

Sources The Aldrich collections of correspondence for his years as curator for the Iowa Historical Department are preserved in Special Collections, State Historical Society of Iowa, Des Moines. The department's annual reports are also valuable sources, as is Annals of Iowa 8 (1908), 563-639, an issue devoted to his memory. Contributor: Jerome Thompson

Cite as: Thompson, Jerome. "Aldrich, Charles" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009.


Archie Alphonso Alexander,
(May 14, 1888-January 4, 1958)

Engineer, designer, builder, and community leader - built a number of structures still in use around the nation. "Engineering is a tough field at best and it may be twice as tough for a Negro," a professor at the State University of Iowa told Alexander in 1909. Moreover, the dean had "never heard of a Negro engineer."Yet 40 years later Carter Woodson, founder of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, recognized that Alexander had overcome those discouraging words to become "the most successful Negro businessman in America."That same year Ebony Magazine profiled Alexander as an accomplished and wealthy African American businessman. His commercial success as a design engineer is noteworthy for an unusual business structure: an interracial partnership.

Only about 500 African Americans lived in Ottumwa, Iowa (pop. 14,000), at the time Archie Alexander was born there. Among them were his parents, Price and Mary Alexander. Price earned a living as coachman and janitor. One of young Archie's play activities with his eight brothers and sisters involved building dams in a creek behind his home. In 1899 the family moved to a small farm outside Des Moines. His father became head custodian at the Des Moines National Bank, a prestigious job for an African American. In Iowa's capital, Archie attended Oak Park Grammar School and Oak Park High School, and for one year he attended Highland Park College, which no longer exists.

Alexander's engineering education began in earnest at the State University of Iowa, where he also played football, earning the nickname "Alexander the Great," and joined Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity. During the summers he worked as a draftsman for Marsh Engineers, a Des Moines bridge designing firm. In 1912 Alexander received his B.S.- the university's first black engineering graduate. He continued his education at the University of London, where he took some coursework in bridge design in 1921, and obtained his civil engineering degree in 1925 at the State University of Iowa. Howard University granted him an honorary doctorate in engineering in 1947.

His first years in the business world seemed to bear out his professor's prediction. Every engineering firm in Des Moines turned down his employment application. Initially discouraged, he became a laborer in a steel shop at Marsh Engineering, earning 25 cents per hour. Within two years he was earning $70 per week supervising bridge construction in Iowa and Minnesota.

In 1914 Alexander embarked on a career as a self-employed engineer, A. A. Alexander, Inc. Desiring to extend his construction projects beyond minority clients, he became partners with a white contractor, George F. Higbee, in 1917. Alexander and Higbee, Inc. specialized primarily in bridge construction, sewer systems, and road construction. Alexander lost his partner in 1925, when Higbee died from an injury suffered in a construction accident.

Shortly after Higbee's death Alexander received his largest contract to date-the construction in 1927 of a $1.2 million central heating and generating station for the State University of Iowa. Perched along the Iowa River, it is still in use. The following year he finished two other projects for his alma mater in Iowa City: a power plant and a tunnel system under the Iowa River designed to pipe steam, water, and electricity from the power plant to the campus buildings on the west side of the river. A year after completing these projects, Alexander teamed with his second white partner, Maurice A. Repass, a former football teammate. They completed a number of successful projects, but as the Great Depression worsened, the firm struggled to stay in business despite a good reputation. Alexander and Repass's fortunes improved considerably after they affiliated with Glen C. Herrick, a prominent white contractor and road builder in Des Moines. Herrick, under contract to develop a canal system in Nebraska, hired Alexander and Repass for the accompanying bridge work. Herrick provided financing for a number of other Alexander and Repass projects, including some bridge building projects in Des Moines.

A positive reputation, proven ability, and solid financial reSources: And capitalization enabled the firm to bid successfully on projects in other parts of the country. The expansion of federal contracts brought on by World War II helped the firm make a successful bid to build at the Tuskegee Army Air Force base field, where the Tuskegee Airmen trained. During the war, Alexander and Repass established a second office in Washington, D.C., and continued to receive federal and local government construction projects, such as the granite and limestone Tidal Basin Bridge and Seawall.

Alexander had an aggressive style. His role in the partnership was to pursue the bids. "Some of them act as though they want to bar me but I walk in, throw my cards down and I'm in. My money talks," Alexander once asserted, "just as loudly as theirs."Alexander, with his football player frame, was a capable taskmaster and known for his directness and honesty. Repass served as the inside man, checking contracts and handling mechanical details.

Alexander's financial success made him a prominent figure around Des Moines and the nation. He led a number of civic and racial improvement efforts, and was a trustee at both Tuskegee Institute and Howard University. In Iowa, Alexander served as state chairman of the Republican Party and held positions on the Negro Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) board, the Des Moines branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and the Des Moines Interracial Commission.

Alexander's prominence did not allow him to escape the clutches of racism. One of the worst examples occurred in 1944, when he purchased a large Des Moines home in a fashionable white neighborhood and had to fight a restrictive covenant. The morning after he moved into his new home, he and his wife, Audra, woke up to a cross burning on their front lawn.

The culmination of his public service was his selection by President Dwight Eisenhower to serve as governor of the Virgin Islands in 1954. That turned out to be an unhappy experience. His blunt, outspoken style and aggressive agenda to develop the islands did little to endear him with the population. After 18 months he resigned, partially because of declining health. He also retired from active construction work and moved back to Des Moines, where he died of a heart attack in 1958.

Sources Archie Alexander's papers are in Special Collections, University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City. Secondary sources include Jack Lufkin, "Archibald Alphonse Alexander (1888-1958)," in African American Architects: A Biographical Dictionary 1865- 1945, ed. Dreck Spurlock Wilson (2004); and Charles E. Wynes, "'Alexander the Great,' Bridge Builder," Palimpsest 66 (1985), 78-86. Contributor: Jack Lufkin

Cite as: Lufkin, Jack. "Alexander, Archie Alphonso" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009. Web.


Benjamin Franklin "Frank" Allen,
 (April 26, 1829-April 15, 1914)

Early Des Moines businessman-was known at the height of his career as a great and humane capitalist. He was born into a family of Scotch-Irish immigrants who settled in the Ohio Valley at the turn of the 19th century. His father, John, was a printer and part owner of a newspaper at Salem, Indiana. During the cholera epidemic of 1833, John and his wife, Jane, died within a few days of each other.

Two of the boy's uncles were officers in the regular army and at the same time keen for private business ventures. Captain James Allen Jr., commandant at Fort Des Moines, not only chose the site for the fort but in 1843 sold the army materials to build it. Troops were stationed there to keep settlers off the land until October 11, 1845, when title to a huge tract of land would pass from the Sauk and Meskwaki Indians to the United States.

Residents of the tiny settlement who had taken over the old fort buildings first saw Ben jamin Franklin Allen in the fall of 1848, shortly after he had served as a civilian teamster in Mexico during the Mexican War. He was an affable 19-year-old, sociable and full of ambition. His immediate task was to manage the land claims of his uncle James, who had died in 1846 at Fort Leavenworth.

Unlike most other settlers in the area, Frank held substantial funds for investment, especially to buy land. With a partner, he ran a general store for a time, then went on to private banking as B. F. Allen & Co. Until 1857 banks were technically illegal in Iowa but were tolerated. In 1857 the state adopted a law permitting qualified banks to issue their own paper money. Allen got a charter but was disappointed in the small volume of bank notes the law allowed. In Nebraska, where he also got a charter, the law was more lenient, so he concentrated on his Nebraska currency. The new institution's office was in Omaha, but on each bank note was stamped notice that it was redeemable at face value either there or from Allen in Des Moines. Since the young banker always exchanged in specie, the notes circulated at par. That turned out to be of tremendous importance when the Panic of 1857 struck. Banks and other businesses throughout the nation, caught overextended and unable to borrow, failed. Allen came to the rescue of Des Moines firms, making loans from his stack of solid Nebraska bank notes. Further, he endorsed outstanding promissory notes of troubled companies, giving them a chance to recover and making himself a godsend to grateful creditors. The likely source of capital that made it possible for the 28-year-old with little financial experience to borrow money to redeem currency was his uncle Robert, an army quartermaster. Undoubtedly, another basis of strength was his lofty self-confidence.

As the city's leading booster, few matters of importance to the growing city of Des Moines escaped Frank Allen's attention. He was a director or president of insurance companies, railroads, banks, the gas company, and various industrial firms, and even served a term in the state senate. He always had time, energy, and money to devote to development projects and to good works generally. He made loans on little more security than a handshake. Nothing attracted more attention than his flamboyant Second Empire house, Terrace Hill (now the governor's residence). On January 29, 1869, Allen and his wife, the former Arathusa West, threw an extravagant party that jointly warmed the house and observed their 15th wedding anniversary. (The Allens had six children, two of whom died in infancy.) Yet just four years later he bought a bank in Chicago and moved his family there. People in Des Moines thought he wanted new worlds to conquer. Actually, he was insolvent and heavily in debt and wanted use of the bank's money and thus at least temporarily to avoid prison. When the facts came out, many Des Moines people would not accept them. Neither would two Chicago criminal juries.

Allen attempted a comeback in storekeeping in Leadville, a Colorado silver mining town, and so began a series of failures. He was dismissed from his final job-a good one with the federal forest service in California- for graft.

Sources For more on Allen, see Scherrie Goettsch and Steve Weinberg, Terrace Hill: The Story of a House and the People Who Touched It (1978); and David Wiggins, The Rise of the Allens: Two Soldiers and the Master of Terrace Hill (2002). Contributor: David Wiggins

Cite as: Wiggins, David. "Allen, Benjamin Franklin "Frank"" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009.


James Allen, Jr.
(1806-August 23, 1846)

Military officer, explorer, and founder of Fort Des Moines - was the son of James and Jane (Hethwood) Allen, Scotch-Irish immigrants to Madison, Indiana. Young James, the top student of eight in a local academy, entered the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1825. Of the 87 young men who entered the Military Academy in Allen's class, only 46 graduated four years later. The top two in his class were Charles Mason of New York (later an Iowa Supreme Court justice) and Robert E. Lee of Virginia.

Allen's first posting as a second lieutenant was to the Fifth Infantry at Fort Brady in the Michigan wilderness near the east end of Lake Superior. In 1832 he and 10 enlisted men were assigned to accompany a party made up mostly of Ojibwe, French Canadian fur traders, and a few Americans on a lengthy, difficult voyage to the source of the Mississippi River. The expedition's leader was Henry B. Schoolcraft, a scholarly Indian agent. He and, to a lesser extent, Allen became recognized as the discoverers of the river's source, newly renamed as Lake Itasca. Allen's report to the army described, with some literary flair, the lives of the people they encountered, natural resources (particularly copper), obstacles to travel, and what he believed was the hopelessness of the Indians' situation.

In 1833, commissioned in the recently organized First Regiment of Dragoons, Allen left the infantry to report for duty at the infant town of Chicago. The dragoons were the army's horse soldiers, but Allen's assignment had little to do with fighting or horses. Instead, he was to battle Lake Michigan, which kept filling the mouth of the Chicago River with sandbars, chilling the hopes of Chicago's boosters, whose plans for building a great city were based on cheap waterborne commerce with the East. The problem was that Chicago had no natural harbor and was subject to sudden violent storms. If the mouth of the river could be kept open with timber and stone piers extending out into the lake, it could provide a safe harbor. Allen's first construction season was under the command of an older officer, but the next year it became his job alone. When he left Chicago in 1838, it was as a captain. He had made progress, yet lake problems persisted. Socially, he had been a popular young bachelor about town. And, through land speculation, he had been considered a wealthy one until the Panic of 1837 struck.

Allen's most significant involvement in Iowa began in October 1842, when the Sauk and Meskwaki agreed to sell their vast remaining acreage of Iowa lands and, after three years, remove to Kansas. To maintain relative order during that period, the government assigned troops to the area. The captain's company of dragoons and one of infantry were under orders to keep white settlers out of the Indian lands until title passed to the United States in October 1845. Captain Allen not only chose a site for a temporary fort-on the west side of the Des Moines River at the Raccoon Fork-but was able to sell construction lumber from a mill in which he was a partner. The Sac and Fox Agency was relocated from Agency, Iowa, to a plot nearby on the east side of the Des Moines River.

While on this assignment, Allen, during a visit home to Indiana, stirred the imagination of a young nephew, Benjamin Franklin Allen, to see the opportunity for fortune once the area was opened to white settlement. Meanwhile, the captain was taking advantage of his position to further his own affairs by pursuing land claims and bankrolling the post's sutler and urging the Indians to buy from the sutler's store.

James Allen died at Fort Leavenworth in August 1846 while leading troops of the Mormon Battalion to California and the war with Mexico.

Sources For more on James Allen, see David Wiggins, The Rise of the Allens: Two Soldiers and the Master of Terrace Hill (2002). Contributor: David Wiggins

Cite as: Wiggins, David. "Allen, James, Jr." The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009.


Fran Allison,
(November 20, 1907-June 13, 1989)

Radio and television star - was born in La Porte City, Iowa. She graduated from Coe College, where she prepared for a teaching career. She got her first teaching assignment at Schleswig, Iowa. During vacations, she worked as a clerk in a Waterloo department store and directed a number of talent shows in Waterloo. After four years, she gave up teaching to take a full-time job with the local radio station, where she did spot announcements, cooking lessons, commercials-anything that came along-acquiring experience that would make her one of radio's most versatile performers.

One day she was standing outside the studio from which Joe Dumond was broadcasting his Cornhuskers program. Dumond sang out in a prankish mood: "Well, folks, look who's here. Our old Aunt Fanny! Come on up, Aunt Fanny, and tell us what's new."The startled Allison gave an impromptu takeoff on a gossipy, garrulous old spinster, thus creating a role that was her bread-and-butter standby ever after.

Her all-around experience on the little Waterloo station began to pay off when she landed a staff job with the NBC affiliate in Chicago, filling in wherever and whenever needed. Allison became a vocalist on the Breakfast Club, played in soap operas, and became an expert at singing commercials. Audiences became familiar with her from numerous radio appearances, first as a singer on such programs as Smile Parade, The Ransom Sherman Show, and Uncle Ezra's Radio Station (also known as Station EZRA), and later on The Breakfast Club as the gossipy Aunt Fanny, based on the character she first created for the Waterloo station. In 1939 the Aunt Fanny character was briefly spun off on her own 30-minute radio program, Sunday Dinner at Aunt Fanny's. But it was on Kukla, Fran and Ollie that Allison became "the First Lady of Chicago Broadcasting."

While living this dream, she suffered a serious automobile accident near Des Moines. For three weeks Allison remained in the hospital, wavering between life and death. Gradually, as she recovered sufficiently to leave her bed, she was consoled by the thought that she might be able to resume her career. After all, few people saw you in radio. Behind the microphone she was merely a voice. So she went back to her job, wanting no recognition, asking merely to live in obscurity. Self-conscious and timid, she went her solitary way, refusing interviews and turning down requests for personal appearances. A bright new world began for Allison after she met and married Archie Levington in 1940. Contented in her marriage, Allison won a name for herself on the Breakfast Club circuit, and her fan mail increased appreciably.

While her husband was serving in the army, Allison worked on bond-selling tours, during which she met and became good friends with puppeteer Burr Tillstrom. When the time came to choose an appropriate sidekick for his new television series, Tillstrom wanted to work with "a pretty girl, someone who preferably could sing," someone who could improvise along with Tillstrom and with the show's informal structure. According to Tillstrom, Allison was so enthusiastic about the show and working with her friend that she never asked how much the job paid. With only a handshake, they went on the air live for the first time that very afternoon.

Shortly before his death in 1985, Tillstrom described the unique relationship Allison had with his puppets: "She laughed, she sympathized, loved them, sang songs to them. She became their big sister, favorite teacher, babysitter, girlfriend, mother."Allison treated each character as an individual personality, considered each her friend, and, by expressing genuine warmth and affection for them, made the audience feel the same way. At the height of the show's popularity, the cast received 15,000 letters a day, and its ratings were comparable to shows featuring Milton Berle and Ed Sullivan.

Allison's radio and television work continued after the initial run of Kukla, Fran and Ollie. In the late 1950s she hosted The Fran Allison Show, a panel discussion program considered, at the time, "the most ambitious show" on Chicago television. She also continued to appear on television musical specials over the years. She reunited with Burr Tillstrom and the Kuklapolitans for the series' return in 1969 on Public Broadcasting and as the hosts of the CBS Children's Film Festival on Saturday afternoons from 1971 to 1979. In the 1980s Allison hosted a local Los Angeles (KHJ-TV) program, Prime Time, a show for senior citizens.

Allison was nominated once for an Emmy Award in 1949 as "Most Outstanding Kinescope Personality" but lost to Milton Berle. In 1988 she was inducted into Miami Children's Hospital's Ambassador David M. Walters International Pediatrics Hall of Fame, which honors people who have made a significant contribution to the health and happiness of children.

Allison died in Sherman Oaks, California, of bone marrow failure.

Sources More than 700 films of shows from 1949 through 1954 are stored at the Chicago Historical Society. A few are available for viewing at the Museums of Broadcasting in Chicago and New York. For more on Allison, see her obituaries in the New York Times, 6/14/1989, and Variety, 6/21/1989. There are also short articles on her in the Chicago Tribune, 6/14/1987; Collier's, 3/4/1950; Coronet (Chicago), October 1951; American Magazine, March 1950; and McCall's, March 1953. Contributor: Marilyn Jensen

Cite as: Jensen, Marilyn. "Allison, Fran" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009. Web. 19 January 2015



Copyright © Genealogy Trails
All data on this website is Copyright by Genealogy Trails with full rights reserved for original submitters.