Ada Hayden

Ada Hayden was born on August 14, 1884.  From an early age she was influenced by the natural flora that surrounded her family's home just north of Ames and eventually melded her conservation interests with her skills in art, photography and with her flair for writing, as she devoted her life to the documentation and conservation of Iowa's few remaining prairies.

Ada Hayden met an Iowa State College Professor, Dr. Louis Pammel, while she was still in high school.  Pammel, a conservationist and the father of the Iowa park system, took an active interest in Ada and encouraged her to pursue her interests in botany.  The two became close friends.  After graduating with honors from Ames high School in 1904, Hayden studied under Pammel as she earned a Bachelors degree in botany from Iowa State College.  A very active student, Hayden was a class officer, an honor student, a member of the literary society, and a member of the women's basketball team. 

More biographical information:
City of Ames, Ada Hayden Heritage Park
Ada Hayden: Champion of Iowa Prairies (pdf format)
By Deb Lewis for the 2001 North American Prairie Conference

From 1874 to 1914, an 80 acre portion of Shearer's 200 acre tract was transferred to David Maitland Hayden (1852-1938) and Robert's daughter, Christine Shearer Hayden (1853-1926).

The couple had one child, Ada, who became the first woman to earn a Ph.D. from Iowa State (1918), and the champion of Iowa prairie conservation.  Ada (1884-1950) grew up on this 80-acre farm, and also knew her maternal grandparent's adjoining farm to the east.  It was here that she was introduced to the attraction of native prairie plants.

In 1914 title to the property was transferred to Ada.  There was prairie to the north of the house continuing down to the wetlands to the west.  Ada would often bring a carload of her botany students out to walk through the prairie and examine the different plant species.

An orchard of apple and plum trees was on that property, and crops of corn, oats and sorghum were grown.  Wildflowers flourishing then are now gone.  East of the house was a hollow where a creek ran.  The farm house was located on the north side of the road at the end of the now private drive where Top-O-Hollow jogs before joining Bloomington.  Ada was eventually forced to sell the beloved farm in 1941 to Don and Dorothy Hunter to meet expenses.  In town, Ada lived at several addresses, including 417 Welch and Cranford Apartments, #23.

After Ada graduated Ames High School with the class of 1904, she obtained her Iowa State B.S. degree in Botany in 1908.  From Ames, she went to Washington University in St. Louis to receive her M.S. degree in 1910.  Eight years later she became the first woman to earn a Ph.D. from Iowa State.  From 1920 until her death in 1950 she was a faculty member at ISC in the Botany Department where she taught and did research.

Ada also assisted Dr. Pammel with his publications by writing text and drawing botanical illustrations.  While a researcher at the Agricultural Experiment Station she took trips to the Iowa lakes region to study wetland vegetation.  Ada was appointed assistant curator (actually the functional curator) of the Herbarium in 1934.  [Dr. Richard W. Pohl was curator from 1950-1986; Deb Lewis currently holds the position.]  As curator Ada actively collected plant specimens, carefully preserving and labeling them, being certain to include flower color and typically habitat and ecological notes.  Duplicate specimens were often collected for exchange with other institutions.  She would not add unworthy specimens, writing that she was discarding annually bushels of improperly cured and undocumented material brought in by untrained collectors.  She is credited with adding over 40,000 specimens to the collections during her tenure.  In 1987, the ISU Herbarium was officially named in honor of Ada Hayden, following a proposal by Dr. Duane Isely.

After a period of extensive writing about prairies, Ada began proselytizing for their conservation.  As a member of the Iowa Academy of Science conservation committee she surveyed prairie remnants in the state and made recommendations about their preservation.  She made the case for establishing static prairie preserves, a task more difficult than promoting state parks with their amenities of fishing, boating, camping and picnicking.  In all, Ada was responsible for having 26 remnant prairies formally preserved.  In recognition of her efforts, Ada was inducted into the Iowa Conservation Hall of Fame in 1967.  A prairie in Howard County now honors her name, and the 437-acre Ada Hayden Heritage Park in north Ames was dedicated in 2004.


Ames Daily Tribune, August 14, 1950

Dr. Ada Hayden, Assistant Professor at Iowa State College for many years, died on Saturday afternoon in Mary Greeley Hospital after a prolonged illness.  Funeral services were held this afternoon at 4 p.m. in the Congregational church and burial was in the Ames Municipal cemetery.

Dr. Hayden had concerned herself with the study of Prairie grasses and she was an ardent member of the Conservation Commission at the time of her death as well as curator of the herbarium at Iowa State.  Reports of her scientific research in the botanical field have been published from time to time and she was well-known and highly respected in her field of activity throughout the country.  Her early work was closely associated with Dr. Pammel who pioneered in the botanical field in this area and was a prominent member of the faculty of Iowa State College.

Dr. Hayden was the fourth Doctorate and the first woman to receive this degree from Iowa State College.  She was very active in alumni affairs both as a secretary of the class of 1908 and as an officer of the 25-year club.  She was an active member of the following societies:  Botanical Society of America, American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Society of Plant Taxonomists, Ecological Society of America, Ecologists' Union, Sullivant Moss Society, Grassland Research Foundation, American Association of University Professors, Sigma Delta Epsilon (Pres. '30-32).  American Society of Range Management, Iowa Academy of Science.

She was also a member of Phi Kappa Phi, Gamma Sigma Delta, Sigma Xi honorary societies, and of Alpha Delta Pi sorority.  Her friends and associates say that the outstanding characteristic of Dr. Hayden's life and career was her unusual devotion to duty and her loyalty to her friends.  A sparkling sense of humor endeared her to her associates.  She had the power to discern talent in her students and was an inspiration to them in shaping their careers.  Her grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Bruce Shearer were early pioneers in story county as were her parents, Mr. and Mrs. D.M. Hayden....

Prairie preservationist Ada Hayden engaged in a project in the early 1920s to prepare instructional lantern slides for the Iowa State College Botany Department, often taking the photos and coloring them herself.  She is reported to have gone through 15 brushes and used up 12 colors during the three-week effort.  For many years these slides were thought to be lost to history.

In April 2008, retired Ames Lab physicist Howard Shanks appeared at the doorstep of Ames Historical Society to donate a box of 101 glass lantern slides of plants plus miscellaneous photos of prairie flora.  Interestingly, some were marked with the name of Ada Hayden.  Howard said that he had found them in a cabinet he had purchased at one of the weekly sales held at ISU Surplus.

Ames Historical Society accepted the slides and photos and set them aside for later authentication.  Eventually, Collections Curator Dennis Wendell contacted ISU Herbarium Curator Deb Lewis, who visited the Ames Historical Society archives and confirmed that some of the slides indeed bore Ada’s handwriting and printing styles.  The concentration of Liatris (Blazing Star) slides also meshed with Ada’s interests.

Deb then produced a copy of the 1989 tribute to Ada written by Duane Isely published in the Journal of the Iowa Academy of Science (volume 96, number 1) noting the missing slides.  Could these be the very ones?  The consensus is that they are, indeed, Ada's slides because of the correct dates, handwriting, provenance and painstakingly careful coloring.

Lost history often lacks a happy ending, but this case proved to be an exception, for the lost has been returned to its original owner through official deaccessioning and transfer from Ames Historical Society to the care of ISU Special Collections for the Ada Hayden Herbarium.  Pictured above from left: Deb Lewis, Curator of the Ada Hayden Herbarium; Dennis Wendell, Collections Curator for Ames Historical Society; Tanya Zanish-Belcher, Head of Special Collections, ISU Parks Library.

Moral of the story, paraphrasing an oft-quoted line: Eternal vigilance is the price of preserving history. While we don’t know the exact circumstances of why these historic slides were discarded by the University, this episode further illustrates another reality in today’s economy as institutions, organizations and businesses shed multitudes of long-time employees.  Rapid clearing out of desks and closets may have devastating results for history if the significance of rejected material is not recognized by staff.