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Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 25, 2018

A lunchtime history lesson: IW’s Brown Bag Lecture Series kicks off with trip back to 1918

Mar 08, 2018
Photo by: Karyn Spory Anna Villareal, director of the Harlan-Lincoln House, kicked off the Brown Bag Lecture Series on Tuesday, March 6, by taking guests back in time 100 years to discuss the Class of 1918. The event was held in the International Room in the Chadwick Library on the Iowa Wesleyan Campus. The Brown Bag Lecture Series will be held every Tuesday, from noon to 1 p.m., throughout the month of March.

By Karyn Spory, Mt. Pleasant News


On Tuesday, March 6, guests attending Iowa Wesleyan’s Brown Bag Lecture Series were transported back 100 years to campus life of the Class of 1918.

Anna Villareal, director of the Harlan-Lincoln House, kicked off the four-part lecture series with a walk to the past, which highlighted what the campus was like 100 years ago, how the Class of 1918 dealt with the Great War and how their legacy has continued to influence the university.

“I knew this was a great place,” said New London resident Darlene Lutes about the university, “but I didn’t realize the history and the longevity of the campus.”

This was the first Brown Bag Lecture Series Lutes had been to and when asked if she’d come back for one of the three remaining lectures she replied with an enthuastic, “of course!” Lutes said it was her love of history that brought her out to the International Room at Chadwick Library for the first of four lectures in the Brown Bag Lecture Series.

The lecture began at noon and jumped right into campus life in the early 1900s. During that time, Iowa Wesleyan students had to complete 128 credit hours as well as write a thesis before obtaining either a Bachelor in Arts or Bachelor in Science in their subject area. “The biggest difference between the Bachelor of Arts degree and Bachelor of Science was the language requirement,” said Villareal. To obtain a Bachelor of Arts degree, students had to have five years of foreign language to graduate. “I think it speaks to the caliber of student in 1918 had a caviat that if you already had five years of language experience before coming to college you had to do another one while you were here.”

Of the 128 credit hours students had to complete, 120 were in academic work while the other eight were split between physical training and student chosen electives. For women physical training credits were two hours in the gym a week. Male students had military training, which proved to be vital when the United States entered World War I.

“Our Iowa Wesleyan has the distinction of being the first in America to adopt compulsory military training as part of its curicullum after (President) Wilson’s declaration of war in 1917,” recounted Villareal.

Villareal said it wasn’t just the male students that heard the call to action, female students did their part to help in the war effort. The women at Iowa Wesleyan organized a local Red Cross unit. “They organized and oversaw fundraisers across campus, across town and across Iowa,” she said. “Their major push was education about and production of surgical dressings that they could then send to the front.”

During the lecture Villareal also touched on the faculty as well as athletics and extracurricular activities the university had 100 years ago. But it was life outside of the classroom that lecture guests found so interesting. Villareal said the university had an expansive list of social organizations as well as Greek life open to IW students. However, no matter the setting, the university expected its students to refrain from dancing, card playing and similar social behaviors. In their free time, students often flocked to the K-Train, a line that ran from Mt. Pleasant to Keokuk. Students rarely went to Keokuk, often exiting the train a few miles outside of Mt. Pleasant as to picnic with friends and explore the area outside of town. “This was the idealized college experience,” Villareal said, commenting that a page of each yearbook in the 1910s was dedicated to the K-Train.

As Villareal opened the floor to questions, most centered on the location of the K-Train and what the students did just a few miles outside of town. “I need to do a presentation on the K-Train,” Villareal remarked after the presentation. “The questions are my favorite part; it gives me something to build off and it gives me perspective as to what people are most interested to know.”

Villareal said a presentation on the Class of 1918 just kind of happened. Villareal and the Friends of the Harlan-Lincoln House knew she would be kicking off the Brown Bag Lecture Series and needed a topic to present over. “We picked a date to study, it really was that simple and unintentional,” she said. “Slowly through the research we just developed a sense of understanding of that class and realizing how special those students and those experiences were.”

“I love that it shows how an intention can turn into something much bigger. An initial interest in something in history can bring about a broader understanding. You never know what you’re going to find.”

Paul Juhl, a member of the Friends of the Harlan-Lincoln House said he was “really impressed with the research and the scholarship” Villareal put into the presentation. “She’s a relative newcomer to the Mt. Pleasant community and she’s really embraced it.”

The Brown Bag Lectrue Series is held every Tuesday in the month of March from noon to 1 p.m. The lectures are held in the International Room in Chadwick Library on the Iowa Wesleayn campus. On March 13, Lyell D. Henry will discuss his book “The Jefferson Highway: Blazing the Way from Winnipeg to New Orleans” as he recounts the story of the Jefferson Highway and looks at its route through Iowa 100 years ago and today.

On March 20, author Rachelle Chase will share the history of Buxton, a coal mining town of 5,000. For years half of Buxton’s population was comprised of African Americans and until 1914 had the largest ethnic group. However, by 1922 it was a ghost town.

The lecture series will conclude on March 27, as Leo Landis, curator for the State Historical Museum, discusses the experience of Iowans and Henry County residents in WWI.

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