In the early 20th century, nothing was bigger in towns like Jefferson than the annual “Chautauqua”!


JEFFERSON, Iowa, April 7, 2021 – Chautauqua!

President Theodore Roosevelt called Chautauqua “the most American thing about America.” Chautauquas were based on the idea that learning continued throughout life. The Chautauqua Movement’s mix of education and entertainment was the predecessor of today’s NPR, and TED talks. At the time, it was dubbed “the common people’s college.”

Mikki Schwarzkopf

Imagine no radio, TV, or other gadgets – only occasional newspapers. That was life in Jefferson and Greene County in the early 20th century. But Chautauqua week, once a year, brought the outside world to you. Speakers & entertainers traveled to small towns across the country.

Chautauquas were always held in huge tents.  (Jefferson’s tent seated 2500 people!) And because they were held in tents, people today exclaim, “Oh, a Chautauqua was like a circus!” But no, Chautauqua was definitely not like a circus.

As Paul Stillman wrote in the 1905 Jefferson Bee: “Did you ever notice the difference between the advertising matter for a Circus and a Chautauqua Assembly? One is gay, bold, glaring, showy; the other is quiet, plain, substantial, wholesome. One appeals to the senses and to curiosity; the other to the intelligence and the reason.”

Jefferson’s Chautauquas ran from 1905 until 1931.

The concept was born in 1876 in Chautauqua, New York, the idea of Rev. John Vincent, and grew from there. In the early years, religious speakers were the main draw. But later, lighter entertainment became popular. The Chautauqua movement always promoted wholesome family entertainment. Today you’ll find thousands of Chautauqua Parks across the country, and younger people have no idea why. These Chautauqua Parks just are, and sound vaguely Native American.

In the early 20th century, Chautauquas featured polar explorers, senators, World War I heroes, inventors, preachers, humorists, and musical performers of all kinds. Jefferson even hosted a native South American tribal chief.

You could buy a single or a season ticket. Mrs. M.C. Sayers got her money’s worth on this season ticket in 1915 and attended most performances.

Lots of local people got involved. Orel Garland wrote in his 1917 diary that “I and Aaron and Cecil B. went up in the morning to help with the tent…  Nellie phoned Lillie and we all went to Jefferson to hear Verne Marshall on the war. Got back about 11:00.” A few days later, he wrote, “We all went down to Jefferson in p.m. to chautauqua. There was an indian chief singer and talked about Chile. Good. We all went up to the tent meetings at night.”

Nellie Oxenford also had diary entries about her visit. Aug. 7: “…we went to Jefferson to hear Verne Marshall speak on the war. A very large crowd there. 398 cars, 28 buggies.” On Aug. 12, “I went to Garlands for dinner and went to Jefferson p.m. to the Chautauqua.”

Our Greene County Historical Museum provided some old photos from Chautauquas here. No dates, but on some, names were written on the back. I’ll include those later.

Many of those performers who came here were famous at the time, but 100 plus years later, we only recognize a few names, such as these:

–Evangelist Billy Sunday, “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to a garage makes you an automobile.”

The famous evangelist Rev. Billy Sunday.

–U.S. Rep. William Jennings Bryan, of Nebraska, argued against the gold standard, and was famous as the prosecution attorney at the famous “Scopes Monkey Trial,” arguing against teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Congressman William Jennings Bryan on Chautauqua circuit.

Bryan spoke so often on the lucrative Chautauqua circuit, that many chided him for neglecting his elected duties.

–Temperance fighter Carrie Nation, who broke up saloons and said, “Men are nicotine-soaked, beer besmirched, whiskey greased, red-eyed devils.”

Farm leader Henry Wallace, head of a family that served the nation from the community of Orient, Iowa, came to the Chautauqua circuit as a campaigner against rural poverty.  Known as “Uncle Henry,” he was a passionate advocate for farmers. A senator once told Wallace’s pastor, “I pity you to have to preach to a man as brainy as Henry Wallace.”  Uncle Henry was an advisor to then-President Theodore Roosevelt, and promoted the Agricultural Extension Service. He co-founded Wallace’s Farmer magazine with his sons Henry C. and John in 1895. His grandson, Henry A. Wallace, became Secretary of Agriculture and later Vice-President to Franklin Roosevelt.

But I’ll introduce a few who spoke or performed here who were once famous but are now less well-known. I’ll finish with the evolution of our own Chautauqua Park.


One of the most interesting, but little known, were the Jubilee Singers.

These were groups of accomplished Black singers. The first group was from impoverished Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn., formed in 1866. The university started in an old Civil War Army barracks, and taught former slaves, many of them still teenagers, how to count their wages, how to write the new names they had chosen for themselves, and how to read both the ballot and the Bible.

The university treasurer proposed taking Fisk’s most gifted singers on a fundraising tour of the North. They followed the northern path of the Underground Railroad, starting in Cincinnati. But they made very little money, while enduring cold and illness on the road.

After many weeks, the group began to sing spirituals – “Steal Away” and other songs associated with slavery and the dark past, sacred to our parents,” as soprano Ella Sheppard recalled. It was one of the first public performances of the music African Americans had sung in fields.

“Every church wanted the Jubilee Singers from that time on,” wrote Maggie Porter. They sang for Mark Twain, President Ulysses S. Grant, congressmen, diplomats, and also toured overseas for seven years, raising enough to save their school.

Jefferson’s Chautauquas began in 1905, so it was too late to host the original Fisk Jubilee singers. But nearly every year, groups of Black Jubilee Singers came to Jefferson, usually to raise money for Black colleges. These included The Nightingale Jubilee Singers, Williams Dixie Jubilee Singers, Sterling Jubilee Singers, Eureka Jubilee Singers, and others. The Eureka singers even dressed in clothes that slaves might have worn on plantations.

Greene Countians were moved by hearing spirituals for the very first time. Favorites were “Midnight When I Rise,” “Couldn’t Hear Nobody Pray,” and “Steal Away.”


Carolyn Geisel

She held three medical degrees and traveled thousands of miles under the auspices of the Battle Creek, Mich., sanitarium, often giving more than 400 speeches in a season relating to social, moral, physical, and mental hygiene. Geisel established 16 rescue homes for girls and created chairs of health at many girls schools and colleges.

She recommended a yearly checkup for everyone, and believed people take better care of their automobiles than of their bodies.

In her 1914 Jefferson speech, she got us to ponder: “We could carpet this state with the bodies of babies who died in this country last year. Why do so many babies die? Because mothers are ignorant. We spent $90 million in taxes last year to educate farmers on raising pigs. Why don’t we spend as much money educating women to raise children? We have put science behind the farmer. Why not put science behind the mother?”


This scientist and inventor was a colleague of Thomas Edison and a close friend of magician Harry Houdini. Wood held many patents, including a torpedo that could detect the sound of an enemy propeller, which revolutionized warfare, and the 2-button light switch, which can still be found on older homes.

Wood with his patents.

At the Jefferson Chautauqua, Wood produced handwriting on the side of the tent with a ray of light acting as his crayon. He invited audiences to wrestle a 24-inch gyroscope fitted with an equilibrator that could throw a man to the ground as if he were a rag doll.

He also amazed audiences by sending a monorail car on a slack wire above aisles in the tent. It also used the new gyroscope to keep the car level.


Only two years after the 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote, Minnesotans had the chance to vote for the first woman ever to be endorsed by a major political party for the U.S. Senate in the election of 1922. Anna Dickie Olesen, whose name was once known from coast-to-coast in political circles, counted William Jennings Bryan and Franklin Roosevelt as good friends.

It was said that she spoke with such flair and magnetism that you could almost see the rays shining out among the audience. She was listed in “Who’s Who in America.”Her opponent was in Washington, D.C., and didn’t plan to return to Minnesota to campaign, because it was only “some Swede woman” running against him. A friend looked up in surprise, and exclaimed, “That’s no Swede. She’s a Welsh woman and the devil rides her tongue. You’d better get back to Minnesota!”

She lost the election, but commented, “Prejudice is the enemy of progress. Eventually there will be a woman in the U.S. Senate. Why not now?”


Chief Caupolican was billed as a “real Indian.” He was born in Chile, and he sang and spoke about mistreatment of South and North American native people. Despite his native headdress, he was a thoroughly modern man. In addition to Chautauquas, he performed with the New York Metropolitan Opera and in vaudeville.


Senator J.K. Vardaman of Mississippi was known as “The Great White Chief” and was a controversial speaker. Vardaman had gained electoral support for his advocacy of white supremacy, saying: “If it is necessary, every Negro in the state will be lynched; it will be done to maintain white supremacy.” He appealed to the poorer whites, yeomen farmers, and factory workers.

J.K. Vardaman, from Mississippi.

The 1912 Jefferson program booklet described Vardaman as “The White Man’s Candidate,” mentioning that he was elected by a 6 to 1 majority after campaigning dressed in white, riding in a white carriage drawn by six white mules. The booklet states, “You may not agree with him on the negro problem, but he is…a fiery Southern orator and a universal favorite among the Chautauquas.”


The first Jefferson Chautauqua Association was formed in 1905. Shares of stock were sold in 1905 and 1906 to help pay the expenses for tents, facilities, and hiring entertainment.

The first directors included James A. Henderson, E.B. Wilson, I.A. Roberts, Paul E. Stillman, Edward W. Foy, John Stevenson, and A.J. Oblinger. The 1905 Chautauqua was very successful, and the directors set right to work to book dates and talent early, since there were over 40 Chautauquas across Iowa competing for entertainers.

The board of directors varied over the years, later including S.J. Sayers, J.A. Henderson, D.L. Howard, Paul E. Stillman, and J.M. Forbes. In 1930-31, members included Dr. J.K. Johnson Sr, P.L. Cockerill, Dr. D.E. Lyon, Clyde Slininger, W.E.S. Hutcheon, R.H. Maloney, and W.A. McDonald.

The first Chautauqua location was on the southwest corner of Lincoln Way and Grimmell Road, on an acreage owned by the Jefferson Loan Company. The Camden apartment complex sits there now.

Tent camping at old Chautauqua Park on Grimmell Road.

A large tent was rented, and there were places to tie up horses. It included food stands and “sanitary facilities.” Season tickets were $2 for the week. Individual tickets were 25 cents.

For a few years, Chautauqua week was in July, but most years was held the first or second week of August, when farm work slowed. It never interfered with the county or state fairs since both were held later.

The Chautauquas were so popular that the local Chautauqua Association began looking for a permanent home.

In 1915, the association bought some lovely and wooded land from J.M. and Edith Forbes for the Chautauquas. Nearly 150 people across the county pledged money to purchase the land which later became Chautauqua Park and Kelso Park.  Donors got the benefit of a free season ticket.

The original deed stated that if someday the Chautauqua Association no longer held assemblies & abandoned the property, the land would be given to the City of Jefferson. Donors were listed on the deed. If you’re interested in finding if your own ancestors were involved, all the donors are listed at the end of this article.

The entrance to the Chautauquas was on the east side, where a pillar with a commemorative plaque now stands, donated by Home State Bank and Jefferson Monument Works.

The historical marker today.

There was originally an impressive white arch marking the entry. A huge tent was raised near the west end of the park, where the skating rink is now. The tent could seat 2,500, as I mentioned earlier, and measured 90 by 150 feet. A popcorn stand was set up just north of the tent, and the vendor had a hard time keeping up with demand, especially when the wind was blowing from the northeast.

Along the south boundary, Russell Street, a row of tents was set up for rent. Many farm families tented for the whole week. Each tent’s rent was around $3, depending on the size. Business at the Head House hotel on the courthouse square was also brisk, with rooms at $2 per person.

Jefferson’s Chautauqua also drew travelers who were passing through town.

Camping at Chautauqua: Families include E.E. Gallup, E.A. Milligan, O.L. Dicks, O.E. Cain, Cora McCulley & John. Mrs. Jones was cook for the gang. One tent was a dining hall.

Chautauqua was only one week long, but the grounds were used for other events during the year. They were rented for family reunions, picnics, and wedding receptions.

Chautauquas lagged in the late 1920s, partly due to the Great Depression, radio, and new moving pictures. Chautauqua was only once a year, but big-name performers became available every day.

By 1931, the association was $672 in the red, and no more Chautauquas were held. So the park was given to the City of Jefferson, as planned. It wasn’t until 1962 that the west portion became Kelso Park, named after former city councilman Jack Kelso.

Congratulations and thanks go to the early Chautauqua organizers in Greene County. They brought residents education, culture, and entertainment. 


Adams, W.E.

Albert, E.G.

Allan, Geo.

Allan, John

Barker, G.G.

Barker, W.H.

Barker, W.L.

Barrett, Art

Battles, Al

Black, John R.

Black, Thos. K.

Bowley, Geo.

Bowley, John

Brady, W.G.

Brannen, J.P.

Brannen, E.H.

Brian, M.D.

Broadsack, E.H.

Brown, F.M.

Brown, Geo. M.

Brown, P.O.

Buchmiller, R.M.

Cain, E.E.

Carlisle, B.B.

Carter, E.H.

Caufield, Tom

Church, Z.A.

Cobb, M.L.

Cockerill. Chas. G.

Cockerill, Mrs. Hattie

Cuddy, James

Culbertson, S.C.

Culter, E.B.

Custer, Mat

Davis, C.W.

Dick, O.L.

Dunbar, Wm.

Dunphy, Pat

Ecklund, E.

Elliott, H.S.

Enfield, C.D.

Enfield, Minnie A.

Finch, D.E.

Finn, A.J.

Flack, Geo. W.

Flack, S.

Forbes, F.J.

Forbes, J.R.

Forbes, J.M.

Frederick, Mrs. Ida

Freund, Leo

Gallup, E.E.

Gamble, Fred E. & Bro.

Gilliland, A.S.

Gray, Percy

Grisier, L.J.

Haag, Minnie B.

Hamilton, B.C.

Hamilton, Dr. D.C. Jr.

Harding, Harry

Head, M.M.

Henderson, J.A.

Higgins, D.E.

Howard & Sayers

Howard, D.L.

Hutchinson, Fred

Jefferson Bottling Works

Johnson, J.K.

Johnson, J.P.

Judy, S.C.

Kendall, L.B.

Lacock, D.P.

Lampman, C.A.

Lovejoy, V.H.

Luther, J.L.

Lyon, C.P.

Lyon, D.E.

Lyon, Will I.

Manker, R.H.

Marquis, C.E.

Martin, F.M.

Martin, Mrs. Mary K.

Martin, R.T.

McCauliffe, J.

McCully, B.S.

McCully, D.C.

McCully, G.B.

McDonald, W.A.

McDonald, W.A. Jr.

McDuffie, M. G.

Mehan, J.L.

Melson, S.J.

Miller, O.D.

Milligan, D.

Mugan, D.W.

Myers, J.J.

Myers, Mrs. Mary C.

Newton, F.A.

Noyes, Mrs. E.A.

Oliver, Mrs. D.W.

Oppenheimer, Julius

Osborn, W.M.

Osgood, P.B.

Ostin, Mrs. Densmore

Owen, James

Perkins, W.C.

Phillips & Cudahy

Potter, J.I.

Potter, Ross

Price, W.W.

Puffer, F.S.

Reeder, W.J.

Richardson, H.E.

Ridnour, S.P.

Rowles, J.W.

Salzburg, Leonard

Schroeder Bros.

Semple, L.D.

Shultz, P.L.

Smith & O’Brien

Smith, C.L.

Smith, J.E.

Smith, J.E. & H.E.

Smith, Walter H.

Snodgrass, Frank

Snodgrass, J.E.

Stidwell, F.C.

Stillman, Mrs. E.B.

Stillman, Paul E.

Taylor, S. H

Thomas, W.E.

Thomson, H.W.

Toliver, G.S.

Tronchetti, Louis

Tucker, J.L.

Warrington & Cockerill

Weiser, E.H.

White, C.E.

White, W.B.

Whittaker, C.W.

Wiggins, J.M.

Wills, W.V.

Wilson, D.W.

Wilson, E.B.

Wood, Mark

Woolwine, Harry

Wright, E.O.

Wright, L.C.

Young, W.M.

Mikki Schwarzkopf, of Jefferson, the author of this story, is a member of the Greene County Iowa Historical Society.  She loves researching community history, and sharing it in stories and programs for the society.  For this story on the Chautauqua Movement in Jefferson, she explored resources at the Greene County Historical Museum and was assisted by Abby and Margaret Hamilton, Dianne Piepel, Jane Millard, The Jefferson Public Library, and Tom Morain’s book “Prairie Grass Roots” on early Greene County history. You can write to her by email at


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We’re going to showcase a great era of history — from the 1950s thru the ’70s — global & Greene County!


JEFFERSON, Iowa, March 18, 2021 — As the Greene County Historical Society looks to the future and what it might look like, the board of directors and a handful of volunteers feel that it is an appropriate time to change, update and add to some of the historical displays at the museum in Jefferson.

One of the new displays that we feel is needed, and overdue, is a new historical display on the decades of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. If you are my age, it might be hard to believe that these three decades would be listed in the historical category. But, remember, we are talking 50 to 70 years ago! I am not here to make you think about how old you are but I am asking for your help.

The museum has very few items from these decades, but you do. We need items that represent your early and middle years of life. Things that you think represent how life unfolded in these three decades. Could be personal items, business items, things that represent these 30-odd years, and by odd I really don’t mean “ODD.”

Photos with this story are icons from the 1950s thru the 1970s, the era in which the Mahanay Memorial Carillon Tower was built and opened on the Greene County Courthouse square in Jefferson.

You also have a choice. You can straight out donate your items to the museum, making them ours to keep and use as we see fit. Or you can loan your item to the museum; the length of the loan will be at least through the summer of 2021, and possibly the summer of 2022.

The museum will be open to drop off these display items on Wednesdays from 1-to-4 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m.-to-12 p.m. for the next three weeks. That’s on the Wednesdays and Saturdays, March 24 through April 10.

Please think of the things you might have, in boxes in the basement or attic, in your grown-up child’s room, or maybe even on top of the buffet, but you have thought about moving it to the basement for years but never had the urgency to do that. The museum would like things that represented your life and times.Meantime, let our vintage photos here stir your thoughts about that special era of history — from global to Greene County!

Roger Aegerter, who wrote this story, is executive director of the Greene County Historical Society.  You can write him by email at

Jefferson’s Doreen Wilber, winner of the Olympics gold medal for archery in 1972.
Rock ‘n’ roll was born.
The world was shocked when Roswell Garst, of neighboring Coon Rapids, invited and hosted Nikita Khrushchev, leader of the enemy Soviet Union, for a visit to the Garst farm.
Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. led the Civil Rights Movement.
Jack Oatts, “the father of high school jazz in Iowa'” directed great bands at Jefferson High School.
Governor Robert D. Ray became the most popular governor in Iowa history.
The Barbie doll emerged as the most popular toy in history.
The Beatles transformed not just rock music, but culture.
Saddle shoes truly became popular.

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Sorting out one family’s history: The researcher, Jean Tucker, keeps surprising the descendent, her husband Doug Tucker!


JEFFERSON, Iowa, Dec. 7, 2020 – One hundred forty-eight years ago, there was another highly contagious disease that brought sickness and death to Greene County residents. One known victim was Nancy Tucker, the great-great-great-great grandmother of Doug Tucker of Jefferson.  The cause may have been “henfluenza.”

Stories about that have emerged as Doug’s wife Jean Tucker has been doing careful research into Tucker family history, sometimes finding facts that have corrected decades of folklore passed down through the generations.

Mary Weaver Profile“An explosive fatal epizootic (widespread in an animal population) in poultry, prairie chickens, turkeys, ducks and geese, occurred over much of the populated United States between 15 November and 15 December 1872,” documents from the National Library of Medicine and the National Institute of Health tell us. “The epizootic spread very rapidly in association with a well-reported panzootic (pandemic in animals) of equine influenza (horse flu) that had begun in Canada during the last few days of September 1872.

“The rapid spread was associated with rail transportation, as the disease moved quicky from Canada to New York, and Michigan and throughout the Midwest. The disease present was about 100 miles either side of the railroad.”

Nancy Bradford Tucker was born March 27, 1781, to John Bradford and Johanna Regina Shrout.  Eventually, Nancy and her husband, James P. Tucker, moved to Ohio and later moved to Tippecanoe County, Indiana.

Nancy and James P. were the parents of 10 children. The 10th child appears to have died in infancy.

James P. Tucker’s father was John Tucker. John and his four boys came to America and settled in West Virginia. Jean Tucker has been unable to document where they lived prior to traveling to America.

Doug Tucker, the descendent, and Jean Tucker, the researcher.

She further states the Tucker family story about four brothers coming to America is “hearsay,” but two of the brothers, John Jr. & James P., have been documented as sons of the father, John Tucker, as they are both listed on early tax lists. It was not unusual to give the first-born male child to be given the same name as their father.

Nancy’s husband, James P. apparently died around 1839 (as he was not listed on the census records in 1840). Deeds recorded in 1846 show the children then having 1/9th interest in the farm.  Following her husband’s death, Nancy rotated living with her sons, and came to Iowa with her son, William, as she is recorded in the 1856 Greene County census.

She died on February 27,1872, at age 91. There seems to be some dispute regarding her age, as the community thought she was 104, but the birth and death records obtained by Jean Tucker through her research indicates her age at 91 at the time of her death.

There are several nostalgic, even romantic stories in the Pleasant Hill Church area history, but, as a result of Jean’s research, some of those stories now have to be considered folklore.

One is that Nancy Tucker “was the first White buried in Greene County,” but Jean indicates this is untrue, as there are settlers’ graves older than 1872 in the Pleasant Hill cemetery.

The gate along the east side of the Pleasant Hill Cemetery, west of the Pleasant Hill Church.

Secondly, verbal history given by Nancy Tucker’s great-great-granddaughter, Mrs. Charlie (Dollie) Thompson, relates that an Indian who claimed to be a doctor, helped care for Nancy Tucker when she had the “plague.” He dug roots, boiled them and gave her the liquid.  The story continues he also contracted the disease, and three days after her death, he also died. They were buried beside each other on the hillside.  Her grave is reported to be under the fence by the gate west of the Pleasant Hill Church, where you can walk into the cemetery.

So sorry, but through genealogical research, Jean Tucker has learned that Nancy Tucker died at the home of another of her sons, Isaac Tucker, in neighboring Carroll County. She was returned for burial in Greene County.

Jean found an excerpt from the diary of Thomas Terrill, an early Greene County settler, written March 1, 1872, stating: “Chored etc, chopped stove wood Hitch to wagon and went to Tuckers to the funeral. Did not go to the graveyard. She was said to be 104 years old —Grandmother Tucker. Came back and chopped stove wood   Cloudy N.W.”

While Pleasant Hill Church history has it that Nancy Tucker is buried near the gate to the cemetery, the diary excerpt regarding the graveyard indicates others had been buried there. So that’s more folklore.

Thanks to Doug and Jean for relating this story and sharing family genealogical information about the Tucker family.

Dates to remember while reading:

–The Revolutionary War started in 1775 and lasted until 1783.

–Iowa became a state in 1846.

–The Truman Davis family came to Greene County in 1849.

–The Western Stage Company, which had a route going through the Pleasant Hill Church property, was established in 1854, allowing people to travel from Des Moines to Sioux City aboard stagecoaches.

–Pleasant Hill Church was erected in 1881, although services were held earlier in the homes of the settlers.

–The railroad came to Greene County in 1867.

You can comment on this story in the space below here, or write directly to the columnist by email at The author, who lives outside Rippey, is an active member of the Greene County Historical Society.


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Leading Iowa historian Tom Morain, a native of Greene County, will be memorialized in special state program online on Tuesday evening, Nov. 24

DES MOINES, Ia., Nov. 22, 2020 — One of Iowa’s leading historians, Tom Morain, the Greene County native who died of cancer at 73 last month, will be honored in a special online program on Tuesday evening, Nov. 24, at 7 p.m.  Hosting the free public event will be Leo Landis, curator at the State Historical Museum in Des Moines, and Charity Nebbe, host of Iowa Public Radio’s “Talk of Iowa” show, who often called on Morain for his expertise on historical topics.

The event is titled “Historian Stories: Remembering Tom Morain.”  You can register beforehand for the program by clicking here, and then you will receive email instructions how to join in on the Zoom audience.

Brothers Tom (left) and Rick Morain, when they presented a Greene County Historical Society program in 2018.

Morain, who grew up in Jefferson, retired in the past year after a distinguished career, the last stop of which was director of government relations at Graceland University, in Lamoni, where he also taught and assisted with the honors program.

He formerly served as director of Living History Farms and also was administrator of the State Historical Society of Iowa.   He taught and shared Iowa history at Graceland, Iowa State University, several other colleges and across the state as a speaker for the Humanities Iowa program.    He has consulted on the development and displays of local history in the museums across Iowa, including our Greene County Historical Society Museum in Jefferson.

He also presented several historical programs for the Greene County historical group, most recently in November, 2018, when he and his brother Rick Morain, retired editor and publisher of the Jefferson Bee and Herald, gave an overview of the political history of their home county.

One especially notable achievement in Tom’s career came early-on, in 1988, when he authored the book “Prairie Grass Roots.”  That 287-page book is a well-researched and well-written portrayal of the history of Jefferson and Greene County from settlement up through the 1930s.

That followed an oral history project he conducted in 1979, when he did in-depth interviews of more than 40 Jefferson residents.  In 1989, that book won the prestigious Benjamin Shambaugh Award from the State Historical Society as the best recent book focusing on Iowa history.

You can read Tom’s obituary in the Jefferson Herald by clicking here.


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Historical museum is now closing again, and until further notice, out of concern over corona virus spread

JEFFERSON, Iowa, July 14, 2020 — The Greene County Historical Museum in Jefferson was closed throughout the spring by threat of the corona virus but re-opened for Saturday mornings in July.  It is now being closed to the public again – until further notice.

“The uptick in COVID-19 cases in surrounding counties is one of the main factors in our decision,” said Roger Aegerter, executive director of the Greene County Historical Society.

He added that he and society president David John looked “at many factors related to the museum being open, and agreed that the negative factors out-number the good things. So at this time, we are closing down the museum until further notice.”

There were few visitors when the museum was open on the first two Saturday mornings of July.


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Roger Aegerter’s fun new artwork lets you walk the full length of the historic Lincoln Highway!

JEFFERSON, Iowa, July 8, 2020 — Roger Aegerter has long been intrigued by the historic Lincoln Highway.  Maybe it’s because for 42 years, he has lived just a half-block of the highway’s route as it goes through Jefferson. Over that time, he’s driven nearly the entire route, from its beginning in New York City to its finish in San Francisco.  And now he’s painted it!

Aegerter, a former art teacher, school administrator, working artist and for eight years the executive director of our Greene County Iowa Historical Society, had been thinking “a couple of years” about doing a public art project on the highway, and decided in March it was time to act.  He talked to the City of Jefferson streets department officials about the idea, got their permission and arranged to borrow the paint sprayer they use for traffic markings on local streets.

Roger Aegerter shown on his representation of the Lincoln Highway. (Photo by John Brunow)

Then he went to work on the math part of the project.  He wanted to paint the 3,389 miles of the trans-USA highway “in scale” on the 295-foot-long sidewalk of one block of East Lincoln Way in downtown Jefferson, so some calculating was required.  “So one foot on the sidewalk is the equivalent of 11.5 miles on the real route,” Aegerter said.

That sidewalk is on the block just southeast of the courthouse square in Jefferson, so it extends past the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Gardens, the Stitch quilt shop and the Greene County Historical Museum.  And both East and West Lincoln Way in Jefferson are the actual route of the original Lincoln Highway.

Aegerter gathered his paint — “regular outdoor latex paint” — other equipment, then scheduled around other commitments and activities so he would have plenty of time in the last week of June and first week of July.  He was blessed with mild weather.  Since he was using spray paint, he generally painted in the early morning and evening, “when winds are almost always lighter and it’s usually 10 degrees cooler, too.”

Another artist Jolene Peters, who operates the “Art on the Fly” studio in Jefferson, volunteered to cut stencils with the names of 13 towns and cities that Aegerter wanted to paint on his highway, to help people know its real route.

When the public art project was near completion. (Photo by Jan Rosdail Aegerter)

On the sidewalk, the highway is painted as a 15-inch-wide green strip, but it meanders as it goes the length of the block. “Where the real highway route goes, so does the green highway on the sidewalk,” he said.

He also painted a representation of the borders of Iowa on the sidewalk, and people will note that it seems extremely wide.  “The width of Iowa really is in scale there,” Aegerter said. “When you think about it, the Lincoln Highway route across Iowa is about 350 miles long, so it really is about 10 percent of the entire highway route across the U.S.”

Total cost of the project wound up being $200, he said, and that was paid from the budget of the Tower View Team, which promotes public art for the Jefferson Matters Main Street program.

Sidewalk superintendents were watching his work closely.

“When all I had done was the green strip for the highway, and it was kind of bending and curving the length of the sidewalk, I heard a couple of guys speculating that this might be a walkway where the police officers could give people sobriety tests,” Aegerter said. “Since I got it done, it’s been kind of neat to see a couple of kids riding their bicycles there, trying to stay on the green highway.”

He and his wife Jan drove the east half of the Lincoln Highway over the years, as part of several different trips they took to various locations in the U.S.  In the fall of 2016, Roger drove the route from Jefferson to San Francisco in three and a half days.  He then drove to Seattle, where Jan flew in to join him.  Then they made a leisurely drive back to Jefferson via a northerly route. Roger did a historical society program on that trip, with great photos, in August, 2017.

The art highway, just like the real Lincoln Highway, goes right by the front door of the Greene County Historical Museum.

Note the names of the cities along the way. 

Where it ends.


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Greene County Historical Museum to re-open, on Saturdays in July

JEFFERSON, Iowa, June 23, 2020 — After being closed all spring and early summer, out of concern for the spread of the corona virus, the Greene County Historical Museum in Jefferson is going to begin re-opening to the public – starting with Saturday mornings in July.

“We will be open Saturdays from 9 a.m. until noon on July 4, 11, 18, and 25,” Roger Aegerter, the historical society’s executive director, said this week. “And then we’ll evaluate what additional times we can be open.”

Aegerter said for now, visitors as well as the volunteer guides at the museum will all be encouraged to observe social distancing of six feet, wear masks, and refrain from touching or handling the exhibits. There will not be organized group tours available, and the total number of people in the museum at any one time will be limited to 10.

“This may sound like a lot of restrictive regulations but we want our visitors and volunteers to stay safe and healthy,” he added.

In other corona virus-related decisions, the historical society will not be opening its two historical buildings at the Greene County Fairgrounds this summer, and its regular monthly lunches and programs will not be resumed until at least September.


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At the centennial of women receiving the right to vote, a look back at the battle in Greene County


Mikki Schwarzkopf

JEFFERSON, Iowa, March 30, 2020 – This year marks the centennial of the passage of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, guaranteeing women the right to vote. Nationally, the amendment came after approximately 60 years of effort. And Greene County had its share of heated controversy and debate, both pro and con.

But 60 years? Why so long?

As with today’s politics, it’s complicated. So I’ll start with a little background on suffrage before getting to Greene County specifically.

Firstly, the word “suffrage” originated from Latin, “to support.” Its first use regarding voting was in the U.S. Constitution in 1787.

Also, the words “suffragist” and “suffragette” meant different things. Suffragist is far older, but in 1906, a London journalist coined “suffragette” as a mocking, demeaning term for women who were militant supporters. These women were disillusioned with peaceful methods. They spat at officers, sent letter bombs, and chained themselves to railings. But over time, the words came to mean the same thing.

Tradition held that Victorian values, Democratic ideals, and the Bible agreed that women should be protected from sordid politics. They should stay home and tend to their proper duties. Both men and women firmly believed that each sex had a different role in life. The fear of changing roles, and that women might vote for Prohibition, both played a part in the long delay for women’s right to vote.

Many women wanted the vote because they depended almost entirely on their husbands for income, and were afraid of becoming destitute. Drunkard husbands put the lives of the family at risk. Understandably, many Iowa women joined the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) in the 1840s and 1850s.

Women had little chance at training, education or jobs. Even women who were schoolteachers had to quit once they married.

Iowa was considered an ideal state for debating “the women’s question,” because many felt the state was already progressive. For example, by 1851 Iowa women could legally control their own property under “dower rights.” So by the 1850s, famous suffragists began speaking throughout Iowa.

But both the Civil War and World War I put the measure on the back burner. In 1870, black men nationwide were granted the right to vote as part of the 15th amendment, and women were outraged that they won nothing. That same year, the Iowa Equal Suffrage Association was founded.

Surprisingly, the 1870 Iowa legislature voted for women’s suffrage as well. Most women were certain that the 1872 general assembly would quickly approve it.

But, there were increasing conflicts in the women’s movement. In 1871 a “free love” scandal splintered the proponents. A few members believed in “free love,” and people soon became afraid that suffrage would destroy families. The most famous was Victoria Woodhull, of Chicago, who believed in both sexual freedom and birth control. In 1872, she was also the first woman to run for U.S. president after she founded the Equal Rights Party, with Frederick Douglass as her running mate. Douglass was a former slave in Maryland who, after emancipation, became one of the nation’s leading abolitionists and a pastor in Massachusetts and New York.

Victoria Woodhull

The following quotes from Woodhull express just how unconventional she really was:

–“The American nation, in its march onward and upward, can not publicly choke the intellectual and political activity of half its citizens by narrow statutes.”

–“All that is good and commendable now existing would continue to exist if all marriage laws were repealed tomorrow…”

Iowa suffragists worked hard to separate themselves from these extremists in the movement.

Annie Savery

Annie Savery, perhaps the most famous Iowa feminist, was heavily pressured to denounce Woodhull. Savery refused, reminding all that Woodhull had donated over $10,000 to the suffrage cause. “The Iowa Women’s Suffrage Association has no responsibility for anyone’s opinion, except the question of granting women the vote.”

Because of her stance, Savery was denounced as being too liberal, and was drummed out of IWSA membership. The issue had lost momentum, although suffragists continued to fight for rights.

In 1894, Iowa women were allowed to vote on local bond issues and similar matters because those were felt to be of natural interest to women and mothers. They could not vote for candidates running for office. This was called “partial suffrage,” and existed in 19 states. Legislators required separate ballot boxes and tallies for men and women. Women voters were handed shortened ballots, since they could only vote on one or two issues. They then inserted their ballots in boxes clearly marked “Women Voters.”

Even partial suffrage met with objections. A full page ad in the Iowa Homestead magazine inflamed farmers, warning that their taxes would be much higher. City women had easier access to the polls and would vote for “hysterical legislation.”

Victor Hugo Lovejoy, editor of the Jefferson Bee, later addressed these fears of higher taxes and of men’s motives in voting. He wrote: “Man thinks too dern much of dollars and too little of humanity. He does not see idealism as does woman. When a new schoolhouse is needed woman looks at the child and the child’s future, while man looks at his purse.”

About the woman voter, Lovejoy wrote: “She is going to arrive at her voting decisions on public affairs with a mental attitude at variance with man. She is not going to say, ‘How much will it cost’, but rather, ‘how much will this measure add to human service, human well being, human convenience, and human betterment.’”

But full suffrage would be another 26 years in coming. It wouldn’t become national law until 1920 with the passage of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Meanwhile, advertising and articles on both sides were printed & distributed in Iowa and all over the country.

In Greene County, the famous suffragist Dr. Anna Shaw, of Philadelphia, spoke April 2 and 3, 1897, in Jefferson, both in the county courthouse and at the Presbyterian Church. Nearly all county churches adjourned their Sunday evening services so members could listen to Shaw’s presentation.

Speaking to a packed house were Shaw, several lecturers from around the U.S., and, from around Greene County, Mrs. Jesse Johnson of Farlin, Mrs. L. B. Sheldon of Scranton, Mrs. O. W. Lowery of Grand Junction, Mrs. S.L. Child of Jefferson, and the Presbyterian pastor Rev. A.C. Kaye of Jefferson. According to the Bee, a Mrs. Campbell gave an early history of the cause, “when it was thought a disgrace to speak in public, and she was not even allowed to even sit with a body of men as a delegate, but could sit in the gallery or behind a curtain.” Topics covered by the speakers listed different types of women and whether or not they needed the vote: wives, mothers, unmarried women, business women, tax-paying women.

Rev. Kaye spoke on “Would Woman Suffrage Benefit the State?” He pledged to advance the cause, saying “This is not a government of the people when a part were not represented.”

Anna Shaw was a logical and convincing speaker. Her credentials could only help her credibility. She was a medical doctor and also an ordained Methodist minister.

Dr. Anna Shaw

Quotes by Shaw became famous:

–“If we ever get to the polls once, you will never get us home.”

–“Around me I saw women overworked and underpaid, doing men’s work at half men’s wages, not because their work was inferior, but because they were women.”

–“When I hear that there are 5,000,000 working women in this country, I always take occasion to say that there are 18,000,000 but only 5,000,000 receive their wages.”

According to the April 10, 1897, story of the events in the Souvenir, an early Jefferson newspaper, Shaw believed that “women should vote, or their property should not be subject to taxation.” And, Shaw “presented the most convincing argument in favor of Woman Suffrage ever heard in Jefferson.”

Continuing from the Souvenir’s story: “The Court room was decorated with numerous banners…all of them bearing some emblem touching upon the question of woman’s rights. At the back of the Judge’s bench was a large silk flag having the usual thirteen stripes, but in the corner only four stars appeared. These represented the states of Wyoming, Colorado, Idaho, and Utah, in which women are privileged to vote at the present time.”

The “suffrage flag.”

At one of the sessions, a Greene County suffrage group was organized, and the following officers were chosen: Mrs. Emily (Harvey) Church, president; Rev. A.B. Buckner, vice president; Mrs. Frank Wayt, secretary, and Mrs. J.J. Madden, Treasurer.

Judge E.G. Albert

Meanwhile, Greene County Judge E.G. Albert firmly believed that women weren’t meant to engage in politics, and he didn’t change his mind even after women won the vote nationwide. With the 19th amendment, women could not only legally vote, but could serve on juries – but NOT in Judge Albert’s courtroom. He routinely excused women from jury duty for trivial reasons, but only rarely would he excuse men. Eventually, women weren’t even summoned as potential jurors.

Contrast his opinion to that of Anna Shaw:

In 1898, a hearing was held in the Iowa State Capitol, letting both suffragists and anti’s have their say. Rep. Peter Stillmunkes, of the Iowa General Assembly, argued, “I have always been taught and Scripture says, God first made man and afterwards took a rib out of man’s side, out of which he made a woman. Now it seems to me a disgrace and an injustice to let that rib dictate to men in any way, shape or form whatsoever in regard to the law making power in this state. Therefore, I vote no.”

Rep. Peter Stillmunkes

The “No’s” carried the day.

Soon after, a Greene County Woman Suffrage Conference was held in April of 1898, organized by Grand Junction suffragist, Mrs. Jessie Johnson. In a March 31, 1898 article in the Bee, Johnson wrote, “The legislature, although petitioned by over 50,000 citizens of the state, has refused the submission of the question to a popular vote.” She urged locals to protest vigorously and demonstrate their convictions and strength of purpose.

But the issue wasn’t so much between men and women, but between conservatives and progressives of both sexes.

A lively debate was conducted in – and between – Greene County’s newspapers, according to historian Tom Morain’s highly-acclaimed book “Prairie Grass Roots, An Iowa Small Town in the Early Twentieth Century,” which was published in 1988.

Morain,who grew up in Jefferson, wrote how Lowrie Smith, the Scranton Journal editor, was outspokenly anti-women’s suffrage, while Lovejoy, the Jefferson Bee editor, was vehemently pro-suffrage.

Victor Hugo Lovejoy of the Jefferson Bee.


Lowrie Smith of the Scranton Journal.

And they hurled insults in print for years to each other on the issue.

In the Bee, Lovejoy voiced, “On suffrage, Lowrie needs fixing. We have tried it, but have given it up as a bad job! …the only way to fix him is with a club!”

Concerning fears about women voting against liquor, Lovejoy argued, “The liquor business is afraid of women. It is no wonder, for woman-kind has suffered more from booze than any other part of the human race.” He accused the Lowrie camp of “unutterable, indefatigable, uncompromising, inexpressible, ineffable, unspeakable, unremitting, untiring, unwearying, everlasting and eternal opposition to woman suffrage.”

Smith retorted that the Bee was “bumptious,” and said that his paper, the Journal, “regards unlimited participation by women in public affairs as the greatest evil impending in this country.” Women were too lofty and saintly, and according to Smith, “…directing the affairs of government is not within woman’s sphere and political gossip would cause her to neglect the home, forget to mend our clothes and burn the biscuits.” He said that women might “approach the polling places with cleaner hands and hearts….but still the old couplet is true: ‘We can live without poetry, music, or books but civilized men cannot live without cooks’.”

Interest in suffrage was reaching a fever pitch all over Iowa.

Parades were held everywhere.

This photo is from a march in Boone:

Hecklers also attended the marches:

Pro-suffrage groups repeatedly lobbied Iowa legislators to approve a referendum, and let Iowa men decide. But suffrage didn’t even reach the Iowa statehouse until 1916, when Iowa men voted on the issue, Greene County men approved the proposal, 1,692 to 1,018, but the issue lost statewide by about 10,000 votes. Historian Morain noted, in a 1979 Bee article, that the “wet river counties poured in massive margins against it.”

While the statewide suffrage vote was set for June 5, 1916, a Greene County parade took place in May, with participants from all over the county. This was a mile-long Community Clubs parade that wound from the fairgrounds, through Russell Park, to the Chautauqua grounds, where a picnic was attended by over 3,000 people from all over the county.

Suffragists marching in Russell Park in Jefferson.

Supporters parading through Jefferson enroute to a rally of 3,000 people.

Suffrage had a large part in both the parade and picnic. Thousands of suffrage flyers and buttons were distributed at the Greene County Suffrage tent at the picnic. This was especially timely because the statewide vote was just around the corner.


The local news editors’ feud must have had some effect on that 1916 vote. Scranton Township had the largest “no” vote, 98 to 106 against, and Willow came in 31 to 47 against. Cedar Township split 40-40. Approving suffrage were Grand Junction 160 to 155, and Jefferson by a large margin. Greene County men were overall in favor, but the issue was defeated statewide.

So women still couldn’t vote, even after years of working toward it.

After the loss, suffragist Carrie Chapman Catt made this color-coded map of Iowa. It detailed the counties where suffrage passed and defeated, but also where there were irregularities in voting. Our county sports the gold circle indicating passage, and NO irregularities.

But the long, slow fight for suffrage achieved its main goal in 1920, after Congress had submitted a national amendment to the states. Iowa and other states ratified it, and Greene County women voted in their first national election in 1920.

There were celebrations across America after ratification in 1920.

The Prohibition issue is interesting. Women had no say in that decision, no matter what their opinions. Prohibition was passed by Congress in 1919, a full year before women could vote on it one way or another. Public feelings were changing, thanks to increasing awareness of alcohol’s effects on society.

As Morain explained, “the story wasn’t quite over.” Women still were prevented from becoming state legislators. That restriction wasn’t lifted until 1926, with yet another referendum. Greene County voters approved the proposal 721 to 222, and it also carried in the state. This was the last step to full political rights for Iowa women.

To conclude, I simply want to remind women that their right to vote came from many years of effort. Greene County women and men contributed to that effort. Voting is a hard-won right, and not to be taken for granted.

The author of this story, Mikki Schwarzkopf, of Jefferson, Iowa, is a member of the Greene County Historical Society. She is scheduled to present much of this research in a program for the historical society on Friday, Aug. 7, at the United Methodist Church in Grand Junction. Schwarzkopf grew up in Ames, and moved to Jefferson from Omaha in 1980, seeking a smaller city. Her favorite pastimes include historical research, reading, and gardening. You can contact her by email at


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All officers re-elected as our historical society closes out 2019 programming

JEFFERSON, Iowa, Dec. 7, 2019 — The Greene County Iowa Historical Society had its final meeting of 2019 on Friday, Dec. 6, with a holiday meal at the Greenewood Center in Jefferson.

Officers re-elected for 2020 are David John, president; Margaret Hamilton, programs chairperson; Joyce Ausberger, secretary; Becki Cunningham, treasurer; Dale Hanaman, past-president, and Roger Aegerter, executive director. Newly elected to the board of directors is Jed Magee, who has moved back to Jefferson this fall after years in Charles City.

Entertainment was by an instrumental quintet from Greene County High School.

The newly re-elected officers for 2020 are president David John (front right), secretary Joyce Ausberger (front left), treasurer Becki Cunningham (middle left), programs chairperson Margaret Hamilton (middle right), executive director Roger Aegerter (rear left), and past-president Dale Hanaman (rear right).

New board member Jed Magee.

The holiday luncheon for our members at the Greenewood Center.

The instrumental quintet from Greene County High School.

Executive director Roger Aegerter in the holiday spirit.


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Historical society hosting “museum party” Saturday Aug. 24 for re-enactment of 1919 military convoy

JEFFERSON, Iowa, Aug. 19, 2019 — The Greene County Historical Society is hosting a “museum party” this Saturday, Aug. 24, to help welcome those coming to Jefferson on the re-enactment of the trans-USA 1919 military vehicle convoy.

The historical museum at 219 E. Lincoln Way will be open for its normal Saturday business hours from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Then it will be re-opened from1 to 4 p.m. for the special “museum party.”

More than 50 restored military vehicles are now on their way across the nation on the Lincoln Highway. They are re-enacting a 1919 military convoy, which was led then by a young Lt. Col. Dwight D. Eisenhower, who later became president of the U.S. The troops were explaining how effective the Transcontinental Highway, as it was becoming known, would be for moving soldiers and equipment. That experience is said to have shaped Eisenhower’s thinking three decades later in directing the construction of the interstate highway system.

Part of the convoy of restored military vehicles now on the way across America. (Photo by Military Vehicle Preservation Association)

The convoy of re-enactors in their restored vehicles left York, Penn., on Aug. 10 and is traveling about 150 miles per day en route to a Sept. 14 finish in San Francisco.

These vehicles will be crossing Greene County this coming Saturday, Aug. 24, arriving in Jefferson at about 3 or 3:30 p.m. for a stop of up to an hour. The public is encouraged to turn-out and cheer on the convoy participants, who’ll be parking around the courthouse square in Jefferson.

At the museum, Janice Harbaugh, of Raspberry Ridge Publishing here in Jefferson, will be displaying and selling her line of historical re-publications, which include vintage postcards and other early books that portray the settlement and development of this area. The Greene County postcards have been especially popular with visitors here.

There will also be free refreshments during the afternoon at the museum.

“The idea for the museum party is to give people a place to gather as we get ready to welcome those coming in on the convoy,” said Margaret Hamilton, a board member and program director for the historical society. “We’ll welcome the re-enactors to stop-in at the museum, too, after they get parked around the courthouse square.”

The military vehicles convoy will then go on to Denison for an overnight stay Saturday.

A second convoy across the U.S. on the Lincoln Highway is expected to arrive in Greene County on Sept. 7. It will feature antique and customized civilian vehicles.


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There have been three courthouses built where the Greene County Courthouse stands today.  Ground was broken on the current courthouse in November of 1915, the cornerstone was set in May 1916 and the new building was dedicated in October of 1917. The centennial celebration of the courthouse is already underway, with events being planned by the “Courthouse 100” committee, with support from the Greene County Historical Society.  You can learn more about the courthouse history and the celebration plans on the Facebook page “Courthouse 100: Greene County, Iowa.”


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